Ogodei Khan

After Genghis Khan’s death, the Mongol army continued to advance. By the time Kublai Khan came to power the Mongol empire consisted of four nearly autonomous knanates, each the personal fiefdom of one of Genghis's grandsons: 1) the khanate of the house of Chaghatai (Central Asia), 2) the Ilkhanate (Iran, Afghanistan and the Middle East) of Hulagu; 3) Berke's Golden Horde (Russia); and 4) Kublai's eastern kingdom (China, Mongolia and Siberia) which was ruled under the auspices of his Yuan dynasty. [Source: Mike Edwards, National Geographic, February 1997]

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “When Genghis Khan died, he did not leave behind an orderly system of succession to the Khanate, nor any principle, other than a personal loyalty to a specific figure, as a basis for the confederation. The confederacy he had designed was based upon personal loyalty from tribal or other kinds of chieftains — it did not transcend to a Mongol nation or Mongol ethnic identity. Thus, each succeeding khan would have to rebuild these personal relationships. Genghis had four sons, and before his death he had tapped the third, Ögödei, to be his successor.

In compliance with the wishes of Genghis, as expressed presumably in his legal code, the yasaq , his vast empire had been apportioned among his sons (only three survived; the eldest, Jochi, had died in 1227), and his sons' descendants, subject to the overall authority of the khan at Karakorum, which was rebuilt in 1235 by Ogedi. Jochi's son, Batu, ruled the region to the north and the west of Lake Balkash. Chagadai, the second son of Genghis was given the southwestern region that includes modern Afghanistan, Turkestan (now in the Soviet Union), and central Siberia. He and his successors were known as the khans of the Chagadai Mongols. By implication, this realm extended indefinitely to the southwest, as Batu's did to the northwest. Ogedei and his progeny were awarded China and the other lands of East Asia. Tului, the youngest of the four principal heirs, was to have central Mongolia, the homeland, in accordance with Mongol custom. He and his descendants, however, were to share Mongolia's precious fighting manpower with the other three khanates. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Book: “The Successors of Genghis Khan,” translated from the Persian by John Andrew Boyle (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972).

Ogedei Khan

Ogedei Khan was Genghis Khan's son and successor. In compliance with the will of the dead Genghis Khan, a kuriltai at Karakorum in 1228 selected Ogedei as khan. Under Ogodei, the Mongols completed their conquest of Jin, declared war on the Southern Song empire pof China, launched a campaign that expanded the Mongol empire further westward, conquered Russia, invaded Korea and put down fundamentalist rebellions in Muslim territories.

Ogodie Khan, Genghis Khan's third son by his first wife, was selected to be the Great Khan in 1229. Sometimes referred as the great consolidator of the Mongol Empire, he was chosen by Genghis Khan among his four principal sons to be his successor. Although he was less brave than his younger brother Tolui, he was a good administrator and a level-headed leader who marshaled his generals to expand the Mongol Empire and used to authority to keep his jealous brothers under control. The Arab historian Juvaini described him as wise and valorous and a strong lover of strong drink and good times. Ogodei in died in 1241 from an alcohol-related illness.

Persian historian Rashid al-Din portrays Ögödei as an easy-going, fun-loving, and bibulous ruler whose policies were supportive of trade, merchants, and crafts. Among the accomplishments, Ögödei is credited with: 1) building the first Mongol capital city at Khara Khorum; 2) devising the first regular and orderly system of taxation in the newly subjugated territories; 3) recruiting Muslims to assist in the financial administration of the empire. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>]

Ogedei not Genghis Khan the Creator of the Mongol Empire?

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: Ögödei "presided over the greatest expansion of the Mongol empire.During Ögödei's twelve year reign (1229-1241), the Mongols dramatically increased the territories under their control, moving from Central Asia into Russia in the 1230s and absorbing much of Russian territory. They also occupied Georgia and Armenia, and by 1234 they had destroyed the Jin dynasty of North China and occupied all of China north of the Yangtze river. They'd also moved into parts of Western Asia, particularly the eastern sections of Persia. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>]

University of Indiana historian Christopher Atwood told National Geographic; "Genghis never planned to create an empire. But with Ogodei that changed. Genghis's son had been granted territories of their own, and under Ogodei, the Mongols began to enlarge them." After reconquering Central Asia in 1230, Ogodei's Mongol army advanced into what is now Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Turkey, whose rulers became Mongol vassals. In 1230, the Jin capital of Kaifeng was captured, bringing one quarter of China under the Mongol control. Some Mongols had wanted to slaughter the Chinese and turn their agricultural land in pastures for their horses but Ogodei took the advice of a Chinese scholar argued that if the people were allowed to live they could be taxed.

Conquests Under Ogedei Khan

The kuriltai of 1228, which selected Ogedai as leader also decided to launch a campaign against the Bulghars, Turks in the region of Kazan on the middle Volga River, and to complete the conquest of the outlying Western Xia territories. By 1229 Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis, had defeated most of the Bulghar outposts, and in 1231 Ogedei sent an expedition to conquer the Korean Peninsula. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

That same year, Ogedei decided to destroy Jin. He formed an alliance with the Song, then sent Tului southward with a large army into Jin territory. In 1232 in the middle of the campaign, Tului died, and Subetei took command. He continued on to besiege Kaifeng, the Jin capital. Despite the defenders' skillful use of explosives, the city fell to the Mongols after a year's siege. Subetei then completed the conquest of the Jin empire, driving many of the Jurchen back into their original homeland, but absorbing others into the Mongol army for the further conquest of China. Ogedei refused to divide the conquered region with the Song, which in 1234 attempted to seize part of the former Jin empire. This was the signal for another war, which lasted fortyfive years.*

Ogedei committed the Mongols, whose total population could not have exceeded 1 million, to an offensive war against the most populous nation on earth, while other Mongol armies were invading Iran, Anatolia, Syria, and the steppes of western Siberia and Russia. By this time, ethnic Mongols were a minority of the Mongol armies. The remainder were Turks, Tatars, Tangut, Cumans, Bulghars, and other Inner Asian peoples. Nonetheless, the confidence with which the Mongol armies embarked on these farflung wars was almost as remarkable as the invariable success of their operations.*

The kuriltai of 1235 authorized at least two more major offensive operations: one against Tibet, the other in Eastern Europe. The Tibetan expedition was led by Godan, son of Ogedei, and the conquest was completed in 1239. *

Life at Karakoram

While the Mongol armies were terrorizing and annexing territories in the west, Ogodei retired after the defeat of the Jin in 1234 and built the great Mongol capital at Karakorum. Eschewing the traditional nomadic ways of his people, Ogodei ensconced himself in his palace and indulged himself with alcohol and the "pleasures in the company of beauteous ladies and moonfaced mistresses” and let the world come to him.

Built on the site of Genghis Khan's simple base camp, Karakorum grew into a walled city with a great palace and court financed with tributes and plundered treasures from conquered kingdoms and built with the help of enslaved craftsman. Ambassadors and traders from all over the world came to pay their respects to Ogodei.

The centerpiece of the city was Tumen Amgalan (“Palace of Worldly Peace”) in the southwest corner of the city. Built in 1235, it covered 2500 square meters and embraced a large reception hall, where the khan met visiting dignitaries, and had 64 pillars, a green-and red-tiled, Chinese-style roof, and green-tiled floor built over a heating system. When the khan met important visitors he sat at a great throne with one staircase for ascending and another for descending.

Inside the palace was a fountain, designed by a French jeweler captured in Hungary, that embraced a silver tree that spewed out mare’s milk from a lion’s head and wine, rice wine, mead and airag from from four snake heads. At the top was an angel with trumpets that blew and dispensed more drink.

Guyuk Khan

After Ogodei's death, according to Chinese historical records, "The dynasty did not have a sitting monarch for quite a while. Within and without there was great tumult.” Ogodei's son Guyuk Khan ruled for only three years (1246-1249) after ascended to the throne with the help of his mother Toregene, who tried to keep the throne in his family by ruling as a regent (1241-1246) before Guyuk's reign. Toregene, say historian, was a scheming, manipulative woman who dappled with black magic.

At the enthronement of Guyuk (Kuyuk) Khan outside Karakorum in a tent "resting on pillars covered with gold plates, fasten with gold nails, " the Franciscan friar Carpine wrote that Mongol nobles and vassals "brought to the emperor an infinite quantity of gold, silver, precious stones and other valuables...On a hill some distance from the tent there were more than five hundred carts, all full of gold and silver and silken gowns, all of which were divided up between the Emperor and the chiefs; and the various chiefs divided their shares among their men as they saw fit... Great revelries...went on well into the night.”

Guyuk was challenged by his cousin Batu (the son of Genghis Khan's oldest son), who refused to show up at the kuriltai where Guyuk was hailed as the Great Khan. Guyuk lead an army westward to meet Batu but died en route. There are reports that he was poisoned. Many think his death was alcohol related. He was a hard drinker like his father. In any case, Guyuk's death helped avert a war in an already badly divided empire. His widow Ogul-Gaimish tried to control the throne long enough as a regent so that the sons of Ogodei and his brother Chaghatai could take over.

Reign of Guyuk

It was not until the summer of 1246 that a kuriltai assembled at Karakorum to select a successor to Ogedei. This was mainly because of political maneuvering by Batu and other royal princes who had hopes of being elected. While deliberately stalling in Bulghar in 1241, Batu founded Sarai (near modern Leninsk, Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic) on the lower Volga River, as the capital of his Khanate of Kipchak, best known to history as the Golden Horde. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Between 1242 and 1246, Ogedei's widow, Teregene, held power as regent in preparation for the selection of her son, Guyuk, as the new khan. Present during the kuriltai was the Franciscan friar, John of Plano Carpini, a papal envoy sent to ascertain the intentions of the Mongols. He recognized that the Mongols planned the conquest of Europe, and he belatedly urged Europe's monarchs to adopt Mongol strategy and tactics to oppose the coming onslaught.*

Guyuk apparently was torn between completing the conquest of China and continuing the conquest of Europe. The latter project was complicated, however, by Guyuk's continuing rivalry with Batu. Just as civil war seemed imminent in 1249, Guyuk died.

Yuan dynasty emperors

Mongke Khan

Batu's refusal to support anyone from Ogodei's family opened the succession to the house of Touli (Ogodei's younger brother) and Touli's eldest son, Mongke (Mangu), became the Khan in 1251. When relatives of Guyuk conspired against him, Mongke had most of them, including Toregene, executed. Ogul-Gaimish was wrapped in a carpet and thrown in a river.

Mongke was a great general and a committed reformer who brought an end to the excesses of Ogodei's court. Under his leadership, trade and law and order in the Mongol Empire flourished. It was said that a maiden with a pot of gold on her head could walk the length the of the empire unharmed.

Mongke was also a conqueror whose campaigns were audacious even by Mongol terms. He orchestrated attacks on two of the world's most powerful dynasties: 1) his brother Hulagu claimed present-day Iran and Iraq by defeating the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad; 2) another brother, Kublai completed the conquest of China with the defeat of the Southern Song Empire. While overseeing an attack on the Song capital of Hezhou in 1259, Mongke became ill and died.

Four Khanates After Mongke Khan's Death, See Above

Mongke and the War in China

Except for the descendants of Ogedei and Chagadai, most of the royal princes thought that Batu should be elected khan. By this time, however, Batu had decided that he preferred the steppes of the Volga to the steppes of Mongolia. He declined the offer and nominated Mongke, the eldest son of Tului (who had died in 1233), unquestionably one of the most gifted descendants of Genghis. Mongke's nomination was confirmed by a kuriltai in 1251. He executed several of Ogedei's sons who had opposed his election and quickly restored to Mongol rule the vigor that had been lacking since the death of Genghis. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Taking seriously the legacy of world conquest, Mongke decided to place primary emphasis on completing the conquest of Asia, particularly China; Europe was to be dealt with later. Because the Song had had the benefit of a lull of nearly ten years in which to recover and to reorganize, conquering Asia had become more difficult than it would have been earlier. Mongke himself took command, but he also placed great responsibility on his younger brother, Khublai. Another brother, Hulegu, was sent to Iran to renew the expansion of Mongol control in Southwest Asia. Mongke encouraged Batu to raid Central Europe, but did not send him additional resources. Thus, although Batu's armies raided deep into Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia, and again overran Serbia and Bulgaria, these campaigns were not so important as the ones being undertaken in Southeast Asia and Southwest Asia.*

Mongke also made some major administrative changes in the khanates established by the will of Genghis. He disinherited the surviving sons of Ogedei, arranging that he and Khublai would inherit the lands of East Asia. He also placed a limit on the domains of the successors of Chagadai; these were to end along the Oxus River and the Hindu Kush, instead of extending indefinitely to the southwest. Southwest Asia was to be the inheritance of Mongke's brother, Hulegu, the first of the Ilkhans ("subservient khans") or Mongol rulers of Iran.*

Mongke prosecuted the war in China with intensity and skill. His principal assistant was Khublai, who was appointed viceroy in China. In 1252 and 1253, Khublai conquered Nanchao (modern Yunnan). Tonkin (as northern Vietnam was known) then was invaded and pacified. The conquest ended with the fall of Hanoi in 1257.*

Song resistance in southern China was based upon determined defense of its well-fortified, well-provisioned cities. The Chinese empire began to crumble, however, under the impact of a series of brilliant campaigns, personally directed by Mongke between 1257 and 1259. His sudden death from dysentery in August 1259, however, caused another lull in the war with China and put a stop to advances in West Asia. *

William of Rubruck’s Audience with a Drunk Mongke Khan

William of Rubruck (c. 1220 – c. 1293, or ca. 1210-ca. 1270) was a Flemish Franciscan missionary, monk and explorer. His account is one of the masterpieces of medieval geographical literature comparable to that of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta and is the most detailed and valuable of the early Western accounts of the Mongols. Born in Rubrouck, Flanders, he is known also as William of Rubruk, Willem van Ruysbroeck, Guillaume de Rubrouck or Willielmus de Rubruquis. He travelled to various places of the Mongol Empire in Asia before his return to Europe. [Source: Wikipedia]

William of Rubruck wrote: “On the Octave of the Innocents (January 4th, 1254) we were taken to court; and there came certain Nestorian priests, whom I did not know to be Christians, and they asked me in what direction I prayed. I said "to the east." And they asked that because we had shaved our beards, at the suggestion of our guide, so as to appear before the Khan according to the fashion of our country. 'Twas for this that they took us for Tuins (Buddhists), that is idolaters. They also made us explain the Bible. Then they asked us what kind of reverence we wanted to make the Chan, according to our fashion, or according to theirs. I replied to them: "We are priests given to the service of God. Noblemen in our country do not, for the glory of God, allow priests to bend the knee before them. Nevertheless, we want to humble ourselves to every man for the love of God. We come from afar: so in the first place then, if it please you, we will sing praises to God who has brought us here in safety from so far, and after that we will do as it shall please your lord, this only excepted, that nothing be required of us contrary to the worship and glory of God." Then they went into the house, and repeated what I had said. It pleased the lord, and so they placed us before the door of the dwelling, holding up the felt which hung before it; and, as it was the Nativity, we began to sing: "A solis ortus cardine Et usque terre limitem Christian canamus principem Natum Maria virgine". [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; /~\]

“When we had sung this hymn, they searched our legs and breasts and arms to see if we had knives upon us. They had the interpreter examined, and made him leave his belt and knife in the custody of a door-keeper. Then we entered, and there was a bench in the entry with cosmos (koumiss, mare’s milk), and near by it they made the interpreter stand. They made us, however, sit down on a bench near the ladies. The house was all covered inside with cloth of gold, and there was a fire of briars and wormwood roots--which grow here to great size--and of cattle dung, in a grate in the center of the dwelling. He (Mongke Khan) was seated on a couch, and was dressed in a skin spotted and glossy, like a seal's skin. He is a little man, of medium height, aged forty-five years, and a young wife sat beside him; and a very ugly, full-grown girl called Cirina, with other children sat on a couch after them. This dwelling had belonged to a certain Christian lady, whom he had much loved, and of whom he had had this girl. Afterwards he had taken this young wife, but the girl was the mistress of all this ordu, which had been her mother's. /~\

“He had us asked what we wanted to drink, wine or terracina, which is rice wine (cervisia), or caracosmos, which is clarified mare's milk, or bal, which is honey mead. For in winter they make use of these four kinds of drinks. I replied : "My lord, we are not men who seek to satisfy our fancies about drinks; whatever pleases you will suit us." So he had us given of the rice drink, which was clear and flavored like white wine, and of which I tasted a little out of respect for him, but for our misfortune our interpreter was standing by the butlers, who gave him so much to drink, that he was drunk in a short time. After this the Khan had brought some falcons and other birds, which he took on his hand and looked at, and after a long while he bade us speak. Then we had to bend our knees. He had his interpreter, a certain Nestorian, who I did not know was a Christian, and we had our interpreter, such as he was, and already drunk. Then I said: "In the first place we render thanks and praise to God, who has brought us from so far to see Mongke Khan, to whom God has given so much power on earth. And we pray Christ, by whose will we all live and die, to grant him a happy and long life." For it is their desire, that one shall pray for their lives. /~\

“Then I told him: "My lord, we have heard of Sartach that he was a Christian, and the Christians who heard it rejoiced greatly, and principally my lord the king of the French. So we came to him, and my lord the king sent him a letter by us in which were words of peace, and among other things he bore witness to him as to the kind of men we were, and he begged him to allow us to remain in his country, for it is our office to teach men to live according to the law of God. He sent us, however, to his father Batu, and Batu sent us to you. You it is to whom God has given great power in the world. We pray then your mightiness to give us permission to remain in your dominion, to perform the service of God for you, for your wives and your children. We have neither gold, nor silver nor precious stones to present to you, but only ourselves to offer to you to serve God, and to pray to God for you. At all events give us leave to remain here till this cold has passed away, for my companion is so feeble that he cannot with safety to his life stand any more the fatigue of traveling on horse-back."/~\

“My companion had told me of his infirm condition, and had adjured me to ask for permission to stay, for we supposed that we would have to go back to Batu, unless by special grace he gave us permission to stay. Then he began his reply: "As the sun sends its rays everywhere, likewise my sway and that of Batu reach everywhere, so we do not want your gold or silver." So far I understood my interpreter, but after that I could not understand the whole of any one sentence: 'twas by this that I found out he was drunk, and Mongke himself appeared to me tipsy. His speech, it seemed to me, however, showed that he was not pleased that we had come to Sartach in the first place rather than to him. Then I, seeing that I was without interpreter, said nothing, save to beg him not to be displeased with what I had said of gold and silver, for I had not said that he needed or wanted such things, but only that we would gladly honor him with things temporal as well as spiritual. Then he made us arise and sit down again, and after awhile we saluted him and went out, and with us his secretaries and his interpreter, who was foster-father to one of his daughters. And they began to question us greatly about the kingdom of France, whether, there were many sheep and cattle and horses there, and whether they had not better go there at once and take it all. And I had to use all my strength to conceal my indignation and anger; but I answered: "There are many good things there, which you would see if it befell you to go there."”/~\

Monke Khan’s Divinations and Religious Practices

William of Rubruck wrote: “The monk directed Mongke to fast during the week, and this he did, as I heard say. So on the Sunday of Septuagesima (8th February), which is as it were the Easter of the Hermenians (Armenians), which for the Armenians is on a level with Easter], we went in procession to the dwelling of Mongke, and the monk and we two, after having been searched for knives, entered into his presence with the priests. And as we were entering a servant came out carrying some sheep's shoulder-blades, burnt to coals, and I wondered greatly what he could do with them. When later on I enquired about it, I learnt that he [the Chan] does nothing in the world without first consulting these bones; he does not even allow a person to enter his dwelling without first consulting them. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; /~\]

“This kind of divination is done as follows. When he wishes to do anything, he has brought him three of these bones not previously charred, and holding one, he thinks of the thing about which he wishes to consult it, whether he shall do it or not; and then he hands it to a servant to burn. And there are two little buildings beside the dwelling in which he lives, in which they burn these bones, and these bones are looked for diligently every day through-out the whole camp. When they have been charred black, they are brought back to him, and then he examines whether the bones have been split by the heat throughout their length. In that case the way is open for him to act. If, however, the bones have been cracked crosswise, or round bits have been started out of them, then he may not act. For this bone always splits in the fire, or there appear some cracks spreading over it. And should one out of the three be split cleanly he acts. /~\

“When then we were going into his presence, we were cautioned not to touch the threshold. The Nestorian priests carried incense to him, and he put it in the censer and they incensed him. They then chanted, blessing his drink ; and after them the monk said his benison, and finally we had to say ours. And seeing us carrying Bibles before our breasts, he had them handed him to look at, and he examined them very carefully. When he had drunk, and the highest of the priests had served him his cup, they gave the priests to drink.” /~\

Mongke Khan's Palace at Karakorum

Karakorum was the capital of the Mongol Empire between 1235 and 1260, and of the Northern Yuan in the 14–15th centuries. Its ruins lie in the northwestern corner of present-day Övörkhangai Province of Mongolia, near today's town of Kharkhorin, and adjacent to the Erdene Zuu monastery. [Source: Wikipedia]

William of Rubruck wrote: Mongke Khan “had at Caracarum (Karakorum) a great palace, situated next to the city walls, enclosed within a high wall like those which enclose monks' priories among us...And the palace is like a church, with a middle nave, and two sides beyond two rows of pillars, and with three doors to the south, and beyond the middle door on the inside stands the tree, and the Khan sits in a high place to the north, so that he can be seen by all; and two rows of steps go up to him: by one he who carries his cup goes up, and by the other he comes down. The space which is in the middle between the tree and these steps by which they go up to him is empty; for here stands his cup-bearer, and also envoys bearing presents; and he himself sits up there like a divinity. On (his) right side, that is to the west, are the men, to the left the women. The palace extends from the north (southward). To the south, beside the pillars on the right side, are rows of seats raised like a platform, on which his son and brothers sit. On the left side it is arranged in like fashion, and there sit his wives and daughters. Only one woman sits up there beside him, though not so high as he. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; /~\]

“The next day the Khan entered his palace, and the monk and I and the priests went to him, but they did not allow my companion to go because he had trod upon the threshold. I had pondered much within myself what I should do, whether I should go or not; but I feared the scandal if I withdrew from the other Christians, and it pleased the Chan, and I feared it might interfere with the good I hoped to do; so I decided to go, though I saw that their sect was full of superstition and idolatry. But I did nothing else while there but pray with a loud voice for the whole church, and also for the Chan, that God might guide him in the way of everlasting salvation. /~\

“So we entered the court, which is right well arranged; and in summer little streams are led all through it by which it is watered. After that we entered a palace all full of men and women, and we stood in the Chan's presence, with the tree of which I have spoken behind us, and it and the bowls (at its base) took up a large part of the palace. The priests had brought two little loaves of blessed bread, and fruit in a platter, which they presented to him, after saying grace. And a butler took it to him where he was seated on a right high and raised place; and he forthwith began to eat one of the loaves, and the other he sent to his son and to one of his younger brothers, who was being brought up by a certain Nestorian, and he knows the gospel, and had also sent for my Bible to look at it.” /~\

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Mike Edwards, National Geographic: Genghis Khan: December, 1996; After Genghis Khan: February 1997; National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, Comptom’s Encyclopedia, Lonely Planet Guides, Silk Road Foundation, The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin; History of Arab People by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong (Modern Library, 2000); and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated September 2016

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