Today’s Jet Setter Show takes a historical turn as Jason Hartman invites author and travel writer John Man to the show. John’s specialist subject area is the Mongul Empire, including the rise and fall of Genghis Khan and the influence of Marco Polo. He also gives a few tips for adventurous travelers who are keen to explore parts of the world as yet unknown to most outsiders.

Key Takeaways
02.02 – John Man has researched and written extensively on the topics of the Mongul Empire and then branched out into a more specific work on Marco Polo.
05.00 – Consider your own travel complaints and musings and compare them to what Marco Polo would have endured.
08.37 – We can learn a surprising amount from some of the historical figures that shaped the world.
11.48 – In the West, we have such dismissive views about Genghis Khan, but perhaps that’s just ignorance.
13.29 – Everyone always talks about must-see places, but how does a travel writer’s view differ?
18.15 – The Atlas of the Year 1000 gives modern-day readers a chance to see how the world would have looked over a thousand years ago.
19.50 – John Man can be contacted on his personal email address at [email protected]
Mentioned in this episode
Marco Polo: The Journey That Changed The World by John Man

Tweetables

Even with the Internet and numerous guide books, hunt out the places no-one’s written about to see what you discover.
History and travel can always be combined. Find out what came before and it makes what’s ahead more exciting.

Transcript

Introduction:
This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company. For more information and links to all our great podcasts, visit www.HartmanMedia.com

Welcome to the Jet Setter Show, where we explore lifestyle-friendly destinations world-wide. Enjoy and learn from a variety of experts on topics ranging from up-scale travel and wholesale prices to retiring overseas, to global real-estate and business opportunities to tax havens and expatriate opportunities. You’ll get great ideas on unique cultures, causes and cruise vacations. Whether you’re wealthy or just want to live a wealthy lifestyle, the Jet Setter Show is for you. Here’s your host, Jason Hartman.

Jason Hartman:
It’s  my pleasure to welcome John Man to the show, he’s a former travel writer for Reuters and travel publisher and author. He’s a contributor to the new Netflix hit series entitled Marco Polo, he’s the author of Marco Polo: The Journey That Changed The World and author of other best-selling travel books The Travelers’ Atlas: A Global Guide to Places You Must See in Your Lifetime; Atlas of the Year 1000; Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan. I remember, actually, I came into contact with The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan many years ago – an interesting take on things. John, welcome, how are you?

John Man:
I’m fine, thanks very much. Greetings from London with a very, very warm Christmas that we’re approaching at the moment.

Jason:
Well, lucky you, that’s pretty odd in London, isn’t it?

John:
It is very unusual. This is, presumably, something to do with global warming – nobody’s explained it yet, but it’s very mild.

Jason:
Well, that’s good to hear. Maybe there are some benefits! Good stuff. Well, tell us a little bit about your work. I guess your latest thing is contributing to the Netflix original series, Marco Polo, right?

John:
Well, Jason, I must correct you a little bit there. It’s coincidental this relationship with the Netflix series. The writer, John Fusco, had had this dream of doing a series about Marco Polo and was well underway when he came across my book – and loved it, I’m glad to say. I didn’t have much of a chance to contribute, other than the fact that he read my book and liked it.

Jason:
Okay, good. So it sounds like we should focus on the book. Is that your last book, then? Is that your most recent?

John:
No, there’s one out in the UK, it’s not out in the US at the moment, which is on the whole Mongul Empire – a sort of consolidation of my life’s work, I suppose – Genghis Khan and Kubla Khan, which also includes Marco Polo. It was really working on the Mongul Empire that gave me the idea that Marco should have his own book.

Jason:
Right. Well, he’s certainly a popular historical figure so he should have his own book. Tell us a little bit about him. We’re going back to the 1200s – give us a little bit of information about his life and his travels.

John:
Yes, it’s the second half of the 13th Century. What happened was that his Father and his Uncle, who were merchants, started to make a living for themselves in the Middle East, got sucked into the far Western part of the Mongul Empire, and were then shepherded all the way across Asia by Mongul troops to the court of Kubla Khan, the greater ruler of the day and completely unknown to Europe, of course. He told them that they should go back and fetch for him 100 priests and some holy oil from Jerusalem, the idea being that this would rebalance the various religious factions in his own Empire. Well, they got home 17 years later, discovered that Marco had been born and was now a teenager. They picked him up and made the return journey with him. He was really learning to be a traveler on the job. He was, in fact, given by his Father into the service of Kubla Khan and stayed serving him for the next 17 years.

Jason:
Fantastic. So, how many countries did he visit?

John:
Ooh, countries?

Jason:
Well, I mean, they weren’t necessarily called countries by today’s standards, I guess is the way to answer that question, I’m not sure.

John:
By today’s standards, it would be in the mid-twenties. It depends what you call a nation these days, what you called a nation then. Certainly, it’s equivocal back then, but about 27, I reckon, of today’s countries he would have crossed.

Jason:
Isn’t that amazing? And we have people today who have never visited any countries outside of their own, or maybe one or two. Back then, travel must have just been a horrid experience. We complain about it today – it deserves some complaint.

John:
Yes, it would have toughened him up no end because by the time he and his Father and his Uncle made the return journey, inner Asia had collapsed into civil war and they couldn’t take the route that they had before, which was sort of north of the Black Sea and then across. He had to go to the south, ended up going through what is today Afghanistan. That was really tough, so they finally only got him to Kubla Khan’s territories when they hit China, on the other side of the Wakhan Corridor, which is that little strip of land which belongs to Afghanistan and runs between India and Russia and leads over a very high pass into China.

Jason:
That must have been very difficult travel, of course, like I mentioned – especially back then, right?

John:
It would have been really horrendous because he was also traveling in winter some of the time and it would have been on horseback and donkey and camel. There would have been guides and a lot of suffering along the way, which he doesn’t go into very much in his book.

Jason:
You’re quite a traveler yourself, I’d love to hear about some of your adventures and if you know the number of countries you’ve visited – a lot of people like to quantify things in that way. In fact, there are websites for this – the Centurion Traveler website and so forth.

John:
Well I haven’t been to all that many countries because I have this specialist interest in Mongolia and North China and have been there many times. That started as a post-graduate when I became interested in going to Mongolia. I joined an expedition that was planned, the deal being that I would learn Mongolian. I booked myself in and did that for a year, and then the expedition collapsed and I never went until the end of the Soviet Union. Then it all opened up in a big way and I discovered when I went there to do a book on the Gobi Desert that actually, the key to the place was Genghis Khan. Genghis [like George], by the way, is how he should be pronounced. We get it wrong for some reason.

Jason:
Yeah, I was going to ask you about that pronunciation because I’ve always grown up with it being the other way.

John:
Yes, we got it wrong about 150 years ago in English, and for some reason, it’s never been corrected.

Jason:
So Genghis Khan, okay.

John:
Yes, as in George. It’s spelled with a ‘g’ at the beginning and it should be a soft ‘g’. Anyway, I became intrigued by the Mongul Empire, wrote books on Genghis and his grandson Kublai, who took the Empire to its greatest extent. That’s what took me many times to Mongolia to do research into Genghis, his origins, his death, his burial, and to North China in the track of Kubla and North China, again, all across North China in pursuit of Marco Polo.

Jason:
So what kind of leadership secrets can we learn from Genghis Khan? How long ago did you write that book? I remember that book many years ago.

John:
Only about 5 or 6 years ago, I think.

Jason:
Okay, so that must have been Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun or something like that.

John:
That is a sort of spoof book. Mine is much more serious because it combines history and modern leadership theory. I was at pains to describe why he was so successful and in what his greatness consisted.

Jason:
So why was he so special? Was he a great leader? Is that your thesis?

John:
Yes, he was an absolute genius as a leader. We know him, of course, as a mass murderer, and so do his victims, but there was much more to him than that. I think when you see the nature of his achievement, which was to start from practically nothing and nowhere – nobody had heard of the Monguls and he was born in what was then nowhere, and he was a nobody. He was a down and out minor prince who was in fear of his life from rivals and yet he came back to found the world’s greatest land empire. He, himself, managed to build about half of it and as a result of his success – I’ll get back in a moment to why he was so successful – his followers came to believe that the whole world had been given to the Monguls. Of course, they had no idea of what the world consisted of, but they regarded it as their job to get everybody else on Earth to acknowledge this extraordinary fact.

This was picked up by Genghis’s grandson who took the empire to its greatest extent. You think ‘Why on Earth? How did he manage to do such a thing?’ The answer is that he was extraordinarily bright, he really knew how to win the loyalty of his own people, but I think the major achievement is that at every level of leadership as he acquired a level of competence, he was able to move up to the next level. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing, I think, about him is that he was a barbarian and nomadic leader, and yet had ambitions to rule the world. To do this, he had to admit his own inadequacy and acquire a script because they needed a script in order to record what was going on, in order to run the government, to have a bureaucracy, to have government departments, to raise taxes, to administer the taxes. All of this needed a script, and in order to do that, he had to say I need to employ people who are brighter than me, which he then proceeded to do from all over his conquests.

Jason:
Right, and so the thing we can learn from that today is that many managers and leaders, I guess too – they’re not the same thing, for sure – are intimidated by people who are brighter than them. They think they’ll take their job, they’ll get all the credit and Genghis didn’t have a problem with that. It sounds like he wasn’t affected by the old Peter principle either, right?

John:
No, he did not reach a level of incompetence.

Jason:
That’s great. Was he just a lifelong learner and a sponge for knowledge?

John:
Yes he was. That’s exactly what he was. He saw what it took to rule and he saw what it took to rule particularly in China. He’d rejected their script but there were many things about China that he had to take aboard if he wished to conquer it. One of them was the various religions. Monguls are notorious for their tolerance. It wasn’t tolerance such as we would know it now, but it was an acceptance that other people lived differently and that it was no good trying to crush other religions; you had to live with them. I think that was pretty extraordinary, really, for somebody who’s dismissed in the West as a barbarian mass murderer.

Jason:
It’s interesting. We can learn things, even from the people who are considered bad people. There’s definitely something to learn from them. If they gained a certain amount of power and I’ll say “success”, there’s definitely something to learn from them, no question.

John:
Bad, of course, is a relative thing. It was bad for his victims but good for his people. It was good also for his greatest conquest, China. At least they made it so, because his grandson founded a dynasty, and therefore by definition, Genghis was the founder of the dynasty; the Father of everybody. That is still a Chinese dynasty and the Chinese regard Genghis as a Chinese Emperor.

Jason:
Very good, very good. Let’s talk about must-see places in a traveler’s lifetime. What are some of the must-see places?

John:
Well, if you’re into adventure tourism, I think the one place that everybody ought to go to because it’s such a well-known name is Xanadu. It’s a corruption of the Chinese, Shangdu, upper capital, which was Kubla’s first capital in North China.

Jason:
And of course, there’s the famous poem by Calvin Coolidge, Xanadu, right?

John:
Yes, “In Xanadu, did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree” and everybody of a certain age used to know that from school.

Jason:
Right, there’s a more contemporary song about it by a band called Rush.

John:
Oh really, Rush? I know the film called Xanadu with Olivia Newton-John.

Jason:
Right. One of my childhood crushes!

John:
Absolutely. It’s got quite a cult following now, that film. Of course, the name has gone into our culture. It was the name of the mansion in Citizen Kane – John Foster Kane’s mansion was called Xanadu. Kane, of course, is Khan, or could be Khan. He was sort of a Khan of Xanadu. Xanadu is now a wonderful archaeological site. You can zoom in on Google Earth – I’ve got the reference in my book – and see it. It’s a square Chinese city as a square within a square. Right within the center is a palace city which has a mound, which is where Marco Polo actually met Kublai Khan. When I first went there, these wonderful rolling grasslands and wild flowers and just a few low walls, I was extremely moved at being able to stand on it and gather a bag of the dust of Xanadu. I still have it and I’m still wondering what to do with it!

Jason:
That’s excellent. What Chinese city is it near? I’m looking now.

John:
Oh, the nearest one is called Duol Lun. It’s up on the border of inner Mongolia.

Jason:
So it’s probably pretty hard to get to, I assume, right?

John:
It’s a long bus drive – it takes 6 or 7 hours. When I first went there, somebody had a big scheme to open it up for tourism and was running overnight buses from Beijing, but that fell by the wayside. There’s not enough going on in Xanadu now to draw tourists, except for the odd adventure tourist. I don’t know if buses still run there, but you could hire a car in Beijing and get up there in about 4 hours.

Jason:
Fantastic, good to know. How about another place?

John:
Well, I mean because I’m going to these quite remote spots, I suppose the next one that I would advise adventure tourists to go to is the place where Genghis died. It’s called Liu Pan Xian state park, and it’s completely unknown to outsiders. There’s no review of it on the Internet and there’s nothing in English as far as I know about it, but it’s a gorgeous place and it is in Ningxia province, and there’s a new road that leads into it. You wind this way and that and up and down and eventually the road ends. It ends in a most wonderful valley which I think Genghis used as a headquarters in his invasion of North China. He was in the middle of this invasion when disease struck. He survived about a week, was rushed back to this valley which has a lot of herbal remedies growing there – it’s still famous for its medical wild flowers – and it was there that he died. His body was then rushed back to Mongolia to his homeland where he was buried.

Jason:
Wow. Any other tips that you want to share with our listeners as far as travel and history? I love the way you combine history with it, and maybe I’ll give you a compound question here: tell us about the Atlas of the Year 1000. That’s how the world looked in 1000, I presume?

John:
It’s really a tour around the world in the year 1000. It was a millennial product for the year 2000 and I thought it would be interesting to see, and in particular because it struck me very strongly that the world in the year 1000 had become unified for the first time because the Vikings had arrived in North America. They were in contact with Greenland and with Iceland and their homelands back in Scandinavia. They were in contact then on the other side with Russia, which was in contact with the Islamic world and in contact with China, in contact with the tribes of Siberia who linked across the Bering Straits with the Inuit. It would have been theoretically possible, although, of course practically impossible to send a message all the way around the world. I very much wanted to sketch a portrait of the world in the year 1000 for people in the year 2000.

Jason:
That’s a really interesting way to look at the world, to view it from that perspective, or any other historical perspective like that. It’s a great thing. John, where can they find you and all your books? I don’t have a website for you.

John:
No, it’s a publisher’s website – well, there are two on both sides of the Atlantic. I haven’t got one of my own, but there are lots of references on the Internet and anyone who is willing, I’d be happy to hear from anybody. My email is in the inside of the Genghis Khan book, I think. It is [email protected]. If anybody wants to be in touch with me, I’d be very happy to reply.

Jason:
Excellent, well that’s very daring of you to give out an actual email or write it in your book. Good, that’s great. Well, John Man, thank you so much for joining us for this very interesting discussion.

Jason:
I’m delighted to be with you Jason, anytime.

Outro:
This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company, all rights reserved. For distribution or publication rights and media interviews, please visit www.hartmanmedia.com, or email [email protected]
Nothing on this show should be considered specific personal or professional advice. Please consult an appropriate tax, legal, real estate or business professional for individualized advice. Opinions of guests are their own, and the host is acting on behalf of Platinum Properties Investor Network Inc. exclusively.

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