Chengdu, the capital of the enormous heart shaped province in the “center of China, is more than 2,000 years old. It was once one of the most beautiful towns in China, but “modernization” has left its mark. The old walls and towers have been torn down, and a number of modern struts have been bulldozed through the center of town. However, the modern streets quickly give way to small side streets and lanes where there are old women house, busy marketplaces, stalls, restaurants, and food shops.
Sicuan,, one of the important provinces in China, means “Four Rivers,” and is so named because of the rivers that flow from the north of the province into the Yangzi in the north. The Yangzi, or Changjiang as it is now known, flows through the province close to the southeastern border. Most of the western order of the province is delineated by the Yangzi, also known in that area as the Jinsha Jiang, or River of Golden Sand.
Marco Polo visited Chengdu in the thirteenth century, a short time after the region had been ravaged be the Mongol hordes of the Great Khan. Although his account tells us little of the town, it does provide some interesting comments on the regions. He related that the province and its surrounding areas were inhabited by lions, bears, and other wild beasts. Travelers who slept outdoors used to place green sugar cane on their campfires. The noise of the cane continuously bursting open frightened off predatory animals.
The customs of the inhabitants, said Marco Polo, were even more interesting: “When it happens that men from a foreign land are passing through this country and have pitched their tents and made a camp, the matrons from neighboring village and hamlets bring their daughters to these camps, to the number of twenty or forty, and beg the travelers to take them and lie with them. So these choose the girls who please them best, and the others return home disconsolate.
It is the custom for every man to0 give the woman with whom he has lain some trinket or token so that she can show, when she come to marry, that she has had a lover. In this way custom requires every, girl to wear more than a score of such tokens hung round her neck to show that she is the most highly esteemed and the most acceptable as a wife: for they say that she is the most favored by the gods” Marco Polo concludes: ‘Obviously the country is a fille one to visit for a lad from sixteen to twenty- four.”