Chinese city searching for 'modern Marco Polo'

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese city is searching for a foreign traveller to become a "modern Marco Polo", with a 40,000 euro (S$65,000) salary on offer to the winner, a tourism official said Wednesday.

Hangzhou in eastern China, renowned for its canals and bridges, was described as the "most beautiful and elegant city in the world" by the Venetian traveller, whose 13th-century journal was one of the first detailed accounts of China written by a European. Now, the city is "calling people around the world to follow Marco Polo's steps", said the Hangzhou tourism commission's Chen Li.

The promotion is akin to Australia's "best jobs in the world" campaigns, the first of which required the winner to live on a tropical island for six months.

The new Marco Polo will be recruited via Facebook, which is banned in China itself, and will undergo intensive training before being flown to the city for a 15-day trip, the tourism commission said in a news release.

Duties include making a short video about Hangzhou and promoting the city online. Both men and women are eligible, it said, without giving more details.

The Travels Of Marco Polo, composed in 1298, described a journey across Asia through realms of pygmies, exotic plants and cannibals. The book had an enormous impact on European perceptions of the continent, but modern historians have questioned the veracity of Polo's account, and some query whether he reached China at all.

China was the world's third most visited country in 2011, behind the United States and France, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, with 57.6 million international tourism arrivals.

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