Apr 22 2006, 01:17 PM
Embrace the inner Genghis
A new biography argues that the maligned ruler of the Mongols was a great entrepreneur and social reformer
By Gregory M. Lamb
He was a sadistic hedonist hiding beneath a fur-rimmed hat. A prairie bandit sporting a Fu Manchu moustache and a nasty disposition who set loose a horde of barbarians to loot the civilized world.
No, no, all wrong. That's what happens when you let your enemies define you, as modern-day political candidates know. The Mongols were always secretive about their revered leader, the man called Genghis Khan. To this day, his burial site has not been found. Over the years, as the Mongols' political influence subsided, anti-Genghis, anti-Mongol propaganda worsened. It became so bad that by the early 20th century the followers of the dubious science of eugenics coined "Mongoloid" as a term to describe retarded children, who, they surmised, must have inherited defective Mongol traits.
Western opinion hasn't been completely lopsided, of course. Geoffrey Chaucer cheered Genghis in the longest of his "Canterbury Tales." But the real turnaround has come in the last three decades as communism waned, opening up Mongolia to Western scholars, and translators finally cracked "The Secret History," an ancient Mongol text once thought indecipherable.
Among those scholars has been Jack Weatherford, who spent years in modern Mongolia learning to love its people and digging into their proud and neglected history. In "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" he aims to set the record straight. Take the Renaissance, for example. You probably think it was Europe rediscovering the lost knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome? Well, yes, a little. But it was really the paper, printing, gunpowder, and compass brought from the east by Mongols that set Europeans' thinking caps atwirl. Mongols even changed fashion, convincing European men to abandon their silly robes and put on practical pants.
Genghis Khan was, in fact, considerably less barbaric than his European counterparts, Weatherford argues. Instead of plunging the world into darkness, he let in the light. He punished only those who took up arms against him. He spent much of the 13th century building an empire that eventually stretched from Moscow and Baghdad in the west to India and China in the east. His successors, who divided his realm into four huge kingdoms, ruled so wisely and well that the 14th century became an unprecedented era of peaceful trade and diplomacy that radiated beyond the borders of the empire.
"On every level and from any perspective, the scale and scope of Genghis Khan's accomplishments challenge the limits of imagination and tax the resources of scholarly explanation," Weatherford enthuses.
He has plenty to say to back up that statement. In 25 years under Khan, the Mongol army, never bigger than 100,000, conquered more lands and people than the Romans did in 400 years. All other military geniuses - Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon - pale before the great Mongol leader, who developed innovative fighting techniques and elicited total loyalty from his troops. The Mongols had a saying, Weatherford reports: "If he sends me into fire or water, I go. I go for him."
His all-cavalry horde was unstoppable on the open steppes, its spread halted only by oceans (invasions of Japan and Indonesia failed), lack of interest (medieval Europe had few riches or innovative technologies worth assimilating), or unfavorable terrain (Europe again, full of forests and mountains).
Beyond the battlefield, Genghis established religious freedom throughout his realm (many Christians were family members or held high positions, along with Buddhists, Muslims, and others). He created a free-trade zone between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He ran a meritocracy: He held the wealthy and high-born to the same standard of justice as peasants, not hesitating to promote shepherds and camel tenders to generals. He judged people on their individual merits and loyalty, not by family, ethnic, or religious ties - a revolutionary act in the family-centric Mongol society, Weatherford says.
True, Mongols didn't create much of anything themselves. But they were oh-so-modern as disciples of the Knowledge Economy. They treated people who had learning and skills as important commodities to be acquired and utilized. They had no interest in turning conquered peoples into Mongols. Instead, they made sure that goods, ideas, and people traveled safely across most of the known world, unleashing an era of unprecedented innovation and prosperity.
Scholars may argue that Weatherford swings the pendulum too far by turning Khan the Oriental Monster into Khan the Entrepreneur and Social Reformer. But readers needn't get caught in any academic crossfire. They can enjoy immersing themselves in the absorbing details of the life of this extraordinary man who forever changed human history.
• Gregory M. Lamb is on the CSMonitor staff.
Apr 22 2006, 10:02 PM
On Chinggis Khaan
By Christopher Kaplonski
Chinggis Khaan: World conqueror, Emperor of all men, the Scourge of God. Whatever the title used, most people think they have some idea of who Chinggis Khaan (aka Genghis Khan) was. In the final analysis, Chinggis Khaan was nothing more (and nothing less) than a rather talented leader of steppe nomads. Establishing the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous land empire ever, Chinggis surely deserves his place among the great warriors of history, but in according him this place, we should not make him into a god. Neither god nor devil, Chinggis Khaan was, as various chronicles show, simply human.
Very little is actually known about the early years of Chinggis Khaan. We can not even be sure of when he was born. Several dates are plausible. The most commonly accepted one in Western scholarship is probably 1167, although the Mongols themselves, and the Yuan shih, the official dynastic history of the Mongol rule of China, gives 1162 as the year of his birth.
Almost all the information available about the early years of Temüjin's life (Chinggis Khaan was his title, adopted in 1206; Temüjin was his given name) can ultimately be traced back to the Secret History of the Mongols. Written mostly probably in either 1228 or 1240, with later amendations, the Secret History must be approached with caution. It was probably written by someone who knew Chinggis Khaan personally, and was intended as a sort of imperial history.
It is impossible to be sure that many of the events, especially the early years of Temüjin's life, took place as described in the Secret History, as folkloric elements are apparent in sections of the text (Bira 1990). In general, however, the basic outline of Temüjin's life and accomplishments are accepted by most scholars as given.
It is also known that Rashid al-Din, the famous Persian historian, and chief minister in the Il-Khanate (the Mongol khanate in Persia), had indirect access to the Altan Devter, another imperial history of the Mongols, and this is often cited as another source. Yet, without knowing more about the Altan Devter, lost to history, our caution must remain, as we can not be sure that it was not just a version of the Secret History.
A few other sources, such as Juvaini's History of the World Conqueror, do exist, but again, when dealing with the details of Temüjin's life, the ultimate source of the information is not clear.
With these caveats in mind, let us examine briefly the life and accomplishments of Chinggis Khaan. Temüjin was born to a noble family. His father, Yesühei Baatar, had been a minor leader of the Mongols, and his ancestry is traced back to Khabul Khan, who had briefly created a Mongol empire of his own.
Temüjin's father died when Temüjin was still young (about eight or nine), poisoned by a group of Tatars. The Tatars were the chief power on the eastern Mongolian steppe at the time, and long- time rivals of the Mongols. The rivalry would be settled years later when they were almost completely exterminated on Temüjin's orders.
With the death of Yesühei, his followers deserted Temüjin, leaving him, his brothers and his mother to fend for themselves. While there were noble lineages among the Mongols, such as Temüjin's, they did not enjoy the automatic loyalty of others on the steppe. Nor did seniority guarantee a position of influence or power. Leadership seems to have often been a more informal institution, open to those with the right to contest for it.
It is worthwhile to pause briefly to note here that the exact nature of Mongol social structure of this time is far from agreed upon. Although many scholars see it as tribal in character, some (myself included) argue for a more feudal social structure. This approach suggests that what are often taken as tribal names are better understood as named lineages - not referring in entirety to the people ruled.
After the death of his father, Temüjin's early years are reported to us as ones of hardship and trials. He early on allied himself with Tooril Khan of the Hereid, his father's and (sworn brother). He also allied himself with Jamuha (Jamukha), a boyhood friend and and who was also of noble blood, and a distant relative. Although these various alliances were not to last, they were instrumental in securing Temüjin's rise to power.
Around 1189 (perhaps later, depending on what date we accept for his birth), Temüjin was elected Khan of the Borjigid Mongols (his lineage). At this time, he was still a junior member of the lineage, and his election is thus somewhat of a surprise. It may well have been an attempt by senior members of the lineage to install a Khan they thought they could control. This political maneuvering (if that is what it was) was common throughout Mongol history - as elsewhere in the world.
From this tenuous position, Temüjin launched his campaigns against the other steppe nomadic groups. By 1206, he had united "all those who dwelled in felt-walled tents," and at a huriltai (assembly) of the nobles was proclaimed Chinggis Khaan. (The exact meaning of the title has never been completely made clear.)
Having the Mongol steppe under his control, Chinggis now turned his attention to neighboring states. He himself led battles against the Tangut state of Hsi-Hsia (related to the Tibetans) in what is now present day Xinjiang (northwest China), and the Chin in northern China, taking Peking in 1215. Neither of these campaigns, however, were to be definitively decided during Chinggis's lifetime.
In 1218, the Khwarazm Shah, Mohammed II, slaughtered a Mongolian caravan and a following delegation of ambassadors at Otrar in Transoxiana (roughly present day Uzbekistan). This precipitated Chinggis's attacks on Central Asia, although in any case it may well have been merely a matter of time before he attacked. Through such Persian historians as Juvaini and Rashid al-Din, the accounts of these campaigns were to become quite famous, and provide much of the groundwork for the European demonisation of Chinggis and the Mongols.
At approximately the same time, Chinggis's general Sübeedei (Sübedei) began campaigning in Russia, as part of a three year long reconnaissance through Russia and the area around the Black Sea. This was "highlighted" by the defeat of the numerically superior Russian army at the battle of the Kalka River in 1223. This was the beginning of what would become known in Russian history as the "Tatar Yoke," and led to the eventual establishment of the Golden Horde (1240-1480), ruled by the descendants of Jochi, Chinggis's eldest son. Not only would the Tatar Yoke be burned into the collective memory of the Russians, but it would also affect the structure of the future Russian Empire, as the shift from Kievan Rus' to the Moscovite Russia took place during this period.
Chinggis Khaan himself died in August 1227, during campaigns against the Tanguts, apparently as a result of a fall from his horse. His body was taken back to his birthplace, in what is today the Hentei aimag (province) of Mongolia, northeast of Ulaanbaatar. According to legend, anyone meeting the funeral procession was killed, so no one would know of Chinggis's death. The cart carrying his body is said to have bogged down in the Ordos region of China, and only began moving again after the prayers to his spirit by one of his followers not to abandon his people. As a result, however, a shrine was built in the Ordos region. Today most Mongols only claim that some effects of Chinggis' were buried in the Ordos, but at various points in history, it has also been claimed that Chinggis himself was buried there.
In any event, a herd of horses was said to have been driven back and forth over his grave in Hentei to obscure it, and soldiers posted until trees grew over it.
It is worthwhile to examine briefly the attributes and accomplishments of Chinggis Khaan. While normally thought of as a despot (at least in the West), Chinggis Khaan was also generous and loyal. A highly charismatic man, he nonetheless also expected loyalty from everyone, including those who served his opponents. He is reputed to have put to death people who, thinking they would gain his good graces, betrayed their lords to him.
In the West, it is usually Chinggis's brilliance as a military commander that is dwelt upon. And indeed, this attention is deserved. It should be noted, however, that certain misconceptions appear to linger concerning the Mongols. They did not, in fact, invent the tactics they used with such effectiveness against their enemies, such as the feigned retreat. Rather, they brought to a new level old steppe nomad military tactics. Even Chinggis's much vaunted organization of the military on a decimal system was to be found among the Xiong-nu, although arranging it to cut across lineages, and thus ensure greatly loyalty to the leader, apparently was an innovation. Innovative too, was Chinggis's tendency to pluck people from the ranks. Although noble birth may well have given one a headstart, one could only be assured of advancement through the ranks based on ability and loyalty.
One should further be aware that although we talk of the "Mongol" army, the reality is more complicated. The commanders were indeed "Mongol" (but even defining Mongol in this context can be tricky), but the soldiers were drawn from allies and conquered areas. Engineers from conquered sedentary populations were put into action as siege experts, and even the cavalry was a mixture of Mongol and other nomadic groups.
The success of the Mongol conquests should also be attributed at least in part to two other factors. One was military intelligence. The Mongols had a extensive network of spies and usualyl had extensive information of an enemy before they engaged them in battle. The other was their use of pyschological warfare. Much is made of the total destruction of cities in Central Asia by the Mongols. What is normally overlooked, however, is that this was more of an exception than a rule. If a city capitulated, Chinggis Khaan was usually content to let them be, once their defences had been pulled down. Only those who resisted faced the sword. This not only wiped out resistance, but more importantly, word quickly spread of the wrath of Chinggis Khaan, and many peoples found it easier to submit than to resist. In short, although the Mongol successes may appear astounding, they are explainable by ordinary means. One needs not look for some mystical explanation. Indeed, to do so does a disservice to the true talents of Chinggis Khaan and the Mongols of the thirteenth century.
In present-day Mongolia, however, it is not so much his military attributes that are emphasized (although they are well aware of them), but rather his administrative abilities. Chinggis is credited with the creation of the Ih Zasag (Great Law, usually rendered into English as "The Great Yasa".) Although portrayed as a codified set of laws, this is debatable. The Secret History mentions only that legal decisions were to be written down (sec. 203). Some scholars have suggested that the Ih Zasag was in fact a codification of existing steppe customs. The David Morgan suggests that although the Ih Zasag existed, it was not as a codification of law. Rather, he suggests, this belief was the resulf of a confusion of Chinggis's bilig (sayings or decrees), the legal decisions mentioned in the Secret History, and Mongol customary law. Igor de Rachewiltz, however, has recently argued for the existence of a more codified Ih Zasag. Whatever the case, the Ih Zasag is accepted by present-day Mongols as having existed, and selections from it, or Chinggis's bilig are quoted for any number of reasons, and have been published in various collections.
Many of the accomplishments of the Mongol Empire - the establishment of the örtöö (relay system, akin to the Pony Express) in fact took place under Chinggis Khaan's successors. (The örtöö is often referred to as the yam[un], but this is a misnomer.)
A note on sources:
There are several good works on Chinggis Khaan and the Mongol Empire (see the SROM for a more lengthy listing). There are also quite a few bad ones. The works listed below serve as a solid foundation for reading about Chinggis Khaan.
Paul Ratchnevsky, Genghis Khan: his life and legacy. Blackwell, 1991
David Morgan, The Mongols. Blackwell, 1986
Urgunge Onon, The history and the life of Chinggis Khaan. Brill, 1990. (This is a translation of the Secret History - there are others, but I find this the most readable.)
Nov 28 2009, 08:51 PM
hey, Germans have been claiming the great Khan for their ends for nearly three decades
As for the German claimed Chinggis Khaan to be Aryan, we know that it's extremely ludicrous assertion with no basis at all.
yeah, it's no difference than china trying to claim genghis khan or kubilai khan. We all know it's BS, but they keep on trying.
The difference is that the Chinese claim, though as preposterous as the German one, still they acknowledge the great Khaans as of Mongol descent and did not dispute on that subtle point.
The problem with the Kazakh claim is that they refused to associate Chinggis Khaan with the Mongol per se, stating that they arrived later from North Eastern Manchuria. Once, my Azeri friend also saying something to the same effect though at that time I didn't quite interested in his explanation. When I read some posts from "AKSL" in other forums, then I realized that something fishy is going on and why a person who was obviously and clearly a Mongol is said to be from another nations.
Hope that the Altaic nations can unite, instead of disunite. Each nations possess their own history and pride. Chinggis Khaan was a Mongol, so be it and that's the most acceptable facts. There's no point for Kazakh to hate the Mongol especially the Khalkha.
Humanity is but one family.
Nov 29 2009, 10:17 AM
Well there are no chinese sources which would deny that Chinggis Khaan was of Mongol descent, its just there is no contradiction between being a chinese of mongolian descent, even in the older days anyone can become chinese if he/she accept the chinese view and concept of the world order. However this shouldnt apply to Chinggis Khaan as he didnt even live long enough to conquer china or to face the decision to accept chinese ideals or not, it was kubilai khan who have adopted a new way of administration and made himself emperor (by which he has claimed the mandate of heaven), and he has also given his ancestors the titel of emperors. Kubilai khan wanted to effectively rule the country while avoiding his people being assimiliated in china, which was not really successful as his acting was viewed by the mongolians as too chinese while chinese seeing his rule not "sinified" enough, in the end his has to fight his relatives in the mongolian homeland while facing rebellions from the chinese, by which would bring end to his dynasty just several decades after he has setting up his rule. Nevertheless it has fallen into the "grey" part of chinese history by which people can have different argument about the national identity of the mongolian dynasty.
But it really doesnt matter so much as today the majority mongolians are living in china as legal chinese citizens.
Nov 29 2009, 11:09 AM
QUOTE (thehorsemen @ Nov 29 2009, 11:24 AM)
Lol that no where nearly makes Kubilai Chinese. So if I were to go over tomarrow and say, take over china. I'd automatically be chinese? Rofl
Of course its far more complicated than that, but if you have done so much things differentely as the kubilai khan, trusting chinese advisers for the governing of the country more than mongolian nobels and actively promote Confucianism education for young Mongolians, there will be doubt of your identity even from your own brothers. Kubilai khan never wanted to become chinese and was always aware of his identity, but the nessercities forced him to act against the traditional way, neither can he deny the various chinese influences from both his mother and teacher, while his mongolian relatives cant see the reason and understand the way of his acting.
"Khubilai’s influence of the Chinese way of life also came from his mother. After her husbands death Ögödei had reluctantly agreed to her request to have an appanage, and gave her in 1236 an area in northern China called Chen-ting. As a ruler over a population of Chinese peasants instead of Mongolian nomads, she recognized the politic that exploited the peasants and looted the resources of the country was shortsighted if not catastrophic. Her opinion was that the taxes could be greater if she took care of the agriculture that was already there instead of going into a more traditional Mongolian cattle economy."
Among others things he see the chinese way of life is far more advanced than the mongolian counterpart and also nessercary for upholding his rule, other mongolians cant understand him refusing to exploite chinese population and more importantly share power among mongolian nobels, calling him not a true mongolians anymore for only want to take care of the chinese, and so the conflicts grow into bloody battle while kubilai adopt the same methode as the chinese emperor against babarian threats who were in reality his own brothers and sisters, especially in his older day he was more chinese emperor than the greatkhan of mongolians
How you act and behave determine to which groups you belong, not only the blood or race, especially in china.
Nov 29 2009, 11:40 AM
Chinggis had chinese generals, are you going to say he's chinese now? I don't take that as a sign of being another nationality as it is smart tactics, you can talk about his views all you want. But that won't change his genetics, how he was raised, ect.
Nov 29 2009, 12:01 PM
I see, to you genetics is above anything else, but as a chinese I cant accept this view, in the older days somebody who have accept the chinese way of life in exchange of his own traditions (even if unintentionally) can be viewed as chinese by me, in this regard Chinggis khan was never a chinese emperor as he didnt had the chance during his lifetime, the reason why its "grey" is because of historical records as emperor khubilai have "made" his dead ancestor chinese emperor after death as its common in east asia, rulers always give their titels to their fathers and grandfathers once they come to power, those who take the position directly from their fathers have no problem in this regard, but if the power is taken from a brother or a different royal linage then for example the father and grandfather of the new ruler will by most likely get the titel of emperor or king as their son (or grandson) and will be written down in historical record, even if they have never ruled the country during their lifetime. Like anybody else a ruler must pay respect to their ancestors, and give them the titel of emperor or kings is one of the ways.
Nov 29 2009, 12:10 PM
Yes, it would only be logical that blood, an the culture you're raised with are more important than any political maneuvering. Wouldn't you agree, as thats the feeling of 99% of posters on this forum. But this situation is slightly different. As it has to do with china, and as such most of the nationalists want to take credit for things even if it wasn't of their own origin. What you're spelling it is something to this nature. Say a chinese or a mongolian american should be considered american if they move here and have some sort of political view. And that they shouldn't even call themselves either of those ethnicities because somehow it would be "detrimental" of say americas outlook somehow.
Nov 29 2009, 12:35 PM
Hm, many things seems to be more complicated than they should be, although sometimes its not always clear but race and nation are two different concept (especially in the modern age), you can be a mongolian and american national just as mongolian and mongolian national, i dont understand how they cant call themself mongolians or why it can be "detrimental", in the older days of history most of the time races are connected with nations, but even then any country by size of china will have to move above races or blood relation, otherwise it wont be possible hold itself together. Today almost all big countries have citizens of various ethnic groups, for the society discrimination is just as harmful as unnessecary distinction.
Btw internet is a place where nationalsm and racism run wild for the sake of entertainment...
Nov 29 2009, 12:38 PM
Yes, but the only point of china wanting to claim Kubilai so badly is to save face, political maneuvering. Most chinese don't like his rule anyway. But I agree, many things are way too complicated to even try to sort out. Especially when it was long before our time.
Nov 29 2009, 02:07 PM
It appears that some people have difficulties in definition of race and nation, for example in regard of han and mongolians as chinese and mongolians, nobody in china will say that what genghis khan and kubilai khans accomplishments are not from the mongolians or that they were not mongolians but many would say they are part of chinese history, as they are also the heritage of the majority of mongolians in the world who are living in china as chinese citizens, while nobody would ever say that those were han accomplishment, its understandable the the mongolians in outer mongolia would have to share their past glory with their chinese brothers and sisters across the border. Things wouldnt become so complicated if outer mongolia didnt become independent, but even as it has happened the view of most chinese will be that those accomplishments are both mongolian and chinese heritage as other accomplishments are both han and chinese heritage or hui and chinese heritage. Mongolians from outer mongolia itself would have difficulties to see the things this way as mongolia was (and is) never a multiethnic country and things were always clear, that and the matter about genghis khan is one of the core issue of national identity, but this wont convince several millions chinese to give up their heritage either.
Nov 29 2009, 02:29 PM
You make it sound like there are nobody trying to steal chinese culture and accomplishment, dont be stupid, not everything has to come from conspiracy, saving face, political maneuvering or whatever. There are contradiction in peoples view and they may have various reasons come from natural development which could all be regarded as justified if seen from an objective Perspective, it doesnt mean one country is more evil than another and some of them may never be solved. If you have lived one century ago in your homeland you would have different view than now, as its still mongolian accomplishment and culture but as citizens of qing empire could you deny that the heritage is also part of the your nation? How would you feel if you are born and raised up in china, would you let your ancestors suddenly become foreign to you? I have seen that so much effort were put into preserving mongolian culture(language, cloths, customs..) in china never seen in mongolia itself.
Nov 30 2009, 09:41 AM
and counting me, there's only 3 mongolians that come here. lol
Well, when I checked the old posts, I see many Mongolians. Now, it has decrease tremendously. That's why I tried to revive this thread in order to have some meaningful discussion.
well......khazakh prefer surfing porn than AF...maybe that why they dun come AF
That could not be true. They want to differentiate themselves as Central Asians( which include the Mongols too) and concentrate in their own forum instead.
Actually, I just hope the "AKSL" guy see this thread and come. He is the one that really believe in Russian twisted historical blunder. Most Kazakhs generally accept Chinggis Khaan as Mongol though.
Humanity is but one family.