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The topics that authors discuss offer insights into their interests. Those whose principal interest is conquest or control of a foreign land have often focused on the strengths and weaknesses of the societies they visited: their political structure, military capacity, social organization, economic productivity, and the like. Those with a particular interest in commerce or business opportunities have often paid special attention to the natural resources and manufactured products of foreign lands, as well as social and cultural customs that would be useful for merchants and businessmen to know about. Those seeking converts to a new religious faith have often concentrated on native cultural traditions, religious beliefs, educational institutions, and moral practices. Contrariwise, authors of travel accounts have sometimes been blind to those aspects of a foreign society that hold little interest for them. In hundreds of pilgrims’ travel accounts recording the experiences of Christians visiting Jerusalem or Muslims making a hajj to Mecca, the authors dwelled almost exclusively on religious and spiritual issues, barely noticing the material world that they traversed. Similarly, merchants doing business in foreign lands often found it difficult or uninteresting to explore local cultural values or family life. The Chinese merchant Zhou Daguan, for example, visited Cambodia in the 13th-century. In a brief report on his sojourn there, he pointed out that it was convenient and immensely helpful for Chinese merchants to take a local wife who was familiar with local business practices, but he manifested little interest in the private life of Cambodian society itself.

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