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Marco Polo in China



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Slow Progress
Photograph by Michael Yamashita

“They live on the fruit which they get from the land, but at trade they do not work at all,” wrote Marco about the inhabitants of northern Gansu Province, where medieval sights still inscribe the landscape. Outside the town of Wuwei, along the old Silk Road traveled by Marco, a camel pulls a plow for a poor wheat farmer. Man and beast labor beneath a sky stained by a dust storm blowing from the Gobi desert. In the background rises a mud fragment of China’s Great Wall, humbled by centuries of harsh weather.



Camera: Canon EOS I
Film Type: Fujichrome Velvia 50
Lens: 70-200mm zoom
Speed and F-Stop: 1/250 @ f/4
Weather Conditions: Cloudy and hazy
Time of Day: Mid-afternoon
Lighting Techniques: Available light

Special Equipment or Comments:
I never saw or heard of camels pulling plows before. Also this farmer’s proximity to the wall made this a good subject. Marco never mentions the Great Wall in his book, simply because it was not great in the 13th century, but low and made of pressed earth like this Han dynasty example. His not mentioning the wall is often pointed out by those who doubt he actually made it to China, but the Great Wall as we know it today was built two centuries later in the Ming dynasty.



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