GENGHIS KHAN’S FOUR LEGACIES
According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Tolerance: One of Genghis Khan's greatest legacies was the principle of religious tolerance. In general, Genghis provided tax relief to Buddhist monasteries and to a variety of other religious institutions. And though Genghis himself never converted to any of the religions of the sedentary peoples he conquered (he remained loyal to Mongolian shamanism), he was quite interested in Daoism, particularly because of the Daoists' pledge that they could prolong life. In fact, on his expedition to Central Asia Genghis was accompanied by Changchun, a Daoist sage from China, who kept an account of his travels with his Mongol patron. Changchun's first-hand account has become one of the major primary sources on Genghis Khan and the Mongols. [Also see The Mongols in China: Religious Life under Mongol Rule]
“Written Language: “The creation of the first Mongol written language was another legacy of Genghis Khan. In 1204, even before he gained the title of "Genghis Khan," Genghis assigned one of his Uyghur retainers to develop a written language for the Mongols based upon the Uyghur script. [Also see The Mongols in China: Cultural Life under Mongol Rule, to compare Genghis's legacy to Kublai Khan's commissioning of a Mongol script.]
“Trade and Crafts: “A third legacy was Genghis's support for both trade and crafts, which meant support for the merchants and artisans in the business of trade and craft. Genghis recognized early on the importance of trade and crafts for the economic survival of the Mongols and actively supported both.
“Legal Code: Genghis also left behind a legal code, the so-called Jasagh, which consisted of a series of general moral injunctions and laws. The Jasagh also prescribed punishments for transgressions of laws relating particularly to pastoral-nomadic society.”
Websites and Resources: Mongols and Horsemen of the Steppe:
Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; The Mongol Empire web.archive.org/web ; The Mongols in World History afe.easia.columbia.edu/mongols ; William of Rubruck's Account of the Mongols washington.edu/silkroad/texts ; Mongol invasion of Rus (pictures) web.archive.org/web ; Encyclopædia Britannica article britannica.com ; Mongol Archives historyonthenet.com ; “The Horse, the Wheel and Language, How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World", David W Anthony, 2007 archive.org/details/horsewheelandlanguage ; The Scythians - Silk Road Foundation silkroadfoundation.org ; Scythians iranicaonline.org ; Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the Huns britannica.com ; Wikipedia article on Eurasian nomads Wikipedia
Views of Genghis Khan in the West
Edward Cody wrote in the Washington Post, “In most of the world, mention of Genghis Khan evokes images of the bloodshed and violence committed by his cavalrymen as they pushed west. When Americans moved against Afghanistan's Taliban in 2001, for instance, Afghan officials compared the invasion to Mongolian attacks in the 13th century and in revenge killed a number of ethnic Hazaras, who descend from those early Mongolian invaders, according to "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World," a 2004 book by Jack Weatherford. Similarly, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, facing U.S. attack in 2003, drew a comparison between the Americans and the Mongolians who sacked Baghdad in 1258 and executed the caliph.[Source: Edward Cody, Washington Post, February 9, 2006 |~|]
The Soviets condemned Genghis Khan as an imperialist. In a 1956 Howard Hughes production called the "Conqueror", John Wayne played Genghis Khan. Perhaps the films most memorable line is when a lusty Wayne leans over to Princess Bortao, played by Susan Hayward, and pants "I feel this Tartar woman is for me, and my blood says, take her!" In another film Genghis Khan was played by Omar Sharif.
Genghis Khan had so many offspring and they and their descendants scattered over such a large area that it is now believed that DNA form Ghengis Khan is possessed by 0.5 percent of the world’s population (See Mongol Legacy). One London restaurant offered diners a DNA test and told them they could get a free meal if they were related to Genghis Khan. In 2005, the BBC broadcast a drama-documentary with Mongolian actors speaking Mongolia that shed a more sympathetic light on Genghis Khan and the Mongols than Western historians had done in the past.
“Foreigners have no idea who Chinggis Khaan really was,” Khaliun Ganbold, a 21-year-old Mongolian a tour guide told the New York Times. biding her time near the gift shop. “All they know is the bit of information they read on Wikipedia.” “He was a cruel man but he led our country to greatness,” said Toguldur Munkochir, 25, a bank teller unwinding at the Chinggis Khaan bar later that night. “If you look at Lincoln, Hitler and Julius Caesar, it’s kind of the same thing.” [Source: Dan Levin, New York Times, August 2, 2009 /^]
Views of Genghis Khan in Mongolia
Mongolians and Mongol-related peoples love Genghis Khan and see him not as a conqueror and ruthless killer as he is characterized in the West, but as a combination of George Washington and Jesus Christ: the first ruler of united Mongolia, spiritual leader of the Mongol people and a symbol of strength and law and order. According to Mongol legend the spirit of Genghis Khan will reappear in a boy who will lead Mongolia to period of new greatness.
After the end of Soviet domination in Mongolia, Genghis Khan has been elevated to the position of a god, a superstar and symbol of Mongolian pride. There are streets, hotels, tires, a brand of vodka and beer and even rock bands named after him. His likeness in on Mongolian money. Before a parliamentary election the Democratic Union Party (DUM) ran commercials with a Genghis Khan look-alike who claimed that if the Great Khan were alive today he would support the DUM. Four times a year at the Genghis Mausoleum butter lamps are lit, "khadas" (ritual scarves) are tied, prayers are chanted by monks from the Daur tribe and whole sheep are cooked in his honor.
The memory of Genghis Khan, his descendants, and their military domination of Asia remains. Although little attention has been paid to Mongol military exploits after that period, popular legends are filled with accounts of violent opposition to foreign oppressors, such as the usurious Chinese trader and his armed guards, or the local Qing tax collector. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989]
Chinese View of Genghis Khan
According to the Chinese government: Genghis Khan was "self-possessed, skillful in using ruses, and talented in tactics", and he was a great politician and militarist. He went with the tide of social development and satisfied people's desire for peace. He unified the whole Mongol grassland, and set up a powerful Mongol nation. He also constituted some effective systems of politics, economy, culture and military affairs. The Mongol grassland was no longer in chaos and the people there no longer live in dire poverty, which accelerated the formation and development of The Mongols, and laid a foundation for Kublai Khan's final unification of the whole country. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
“His life was spent on horsebacks and in wars. The scale of his foreign war, the distance of his expedition journey and the vastness of the area he seized are all unprecedented in history, which has also shocked the whole world. He was once called "Emperor of the World", and "Khan Who Conquered the World". His expedition towards the west also brought great disasters to the people of those countries, and obstructed the development of local society and thus the war was not righteous. However, it also has some positive influence on the opening of the traffic way between east and west, and facilitated the communications between eastern and western culture and economy. ~
“After his expedition towards the west, the ancient China's four great inventions (the compass, gunpowder, paper-making and printing) were brought to Europe, which became an impulse to the development of the European economy. The Arabian calendar system was also introduced to China, which speeded up the prosperity of our culture and economy. In terms of history, there are merits and demerits in Genghis Khan's life, but generally speaking, he did have made great contributions to The Mongols, to China and to the world. Therefore, he is still yearned, extolled and praised today. Not only the Mongols offer sacrifices to him and hold memorial ceremonies for him, but also the U.S. Washington Post awarded him the "Man of the millennium" Laurel in its "best of the millennium" selection, on Dec. 31, 1995, with such a comment: he has combined humanistic civilization and barbarism in one body perfectly.” ~
Rebranding Genghis Khan in Mongolia
Edward Cody wrote in the Washington Post, “Mongolians have remembered Genghis Khan as the founder of a vast empire who delivered such advances as free-trade zones, census-taking, international postal systems and equality before the law to backward medieval Europeans. The far-reaching Mongol rule of the 13th and 14th centuries was, Bira said, a form of globalization practiced long before the term was invented. [Source: Edward Cody, Washington Post, February 9, 2006 |~|]
“Genghis Khan's descendants have enthusiastically embraced this conception of their heritage. Recent governments have sought closer relations with foreign countries after nearly a century as an isolated Soviet satellite. In that vein, the Mongolian Embassy in Washington has raised the idea of erecting a Genghis Khan statue. And here in Ulan Bator, a trendy crowd gathers nightly at the Great Khaan Irish Pub to drink pints of lager imported from Singapore while English soccer plays on big-screen Japanese televisions in a setting patterned on American sports bars.” |~|
According to Associated Press: “His name is on streets, schools, a brand of vodka and many a newborn baby. Now, 800 years after Genghis Khan inspired terror on two continents, Mongolians are taking their reverence for the great conqueror to new heights. The Mongolian capital's airport is being renamed after him. Construction crews are working 24 hours a day to build a $5 million statue of the Great Khan and his sons in the city's central square. There are even suggestions that Ulan Bator, which means Red Hero in an echo of the communist era, should be renamed Genghis City. [Source: Associated Press, July 10, 2006]
Genghis Khan is also big business. According to the BBC: “His image used to sell everything from clothes to cars. And he is even doing his bit for the country's nightlife as well. At the Genghis Khan nightclub, the main drink is, of course, Genghis Khan beer, and the man himself has no shortage of admirers. "During the years of communism we had Lenin and Marx," one man said. "Now Genghis Khan has become our hero."
Celebrating the 800th Anniversary of Genghis Khan
In 2006, Naadam — an annual festival of traditional martial arts, such as horse racing, wrestling and archery, as well as heavy drinking — coincided with the 800th anniversary of a seminal event: In 1206, warring tribes united under a warrior who took the title Genghis Khan and conquered an empire. The government expects some 500,000 tourists this year in the country of 2.8 million, thanks to a state-backed international promotion campaign. [Source: Associated Press, July 10, 2006 \=]
Associated Press reported: “ Hotel rooms are so scarce that the U.S. Embassy is advising Americans to think about other destinations for summer travel. Getting in the spirit, the legislature granted amnesty to 1,590 prisoners, Ulan Bator authorities ordered 285 chronic alcoholics into drying-out clinics and the president urged Mongolians to party, though not too hard. "Let's keep our streets clean and orderly," President N. Enkhbayar said on TV. "Let's sing our national anthem together. Let's drink vodka moderately."
“The celebration of Genghis Khan shows how much has changed since 70 years of Soviet-backed communist rule ended in 1990. The communist authorities suppressed Genghis' name and signs of his legacy, viewing him as a feudal oppressor and a nationalist rallying symbol, and killed many Mongolian aristocrats who claimed to be his descendants. Democracy is evident in the half dozen groups that pitched traditional tents opposite the new Genghis Khan monument last month, protesting that the $16 million being spent on festivities should be used to ease poverty. \=\
“To the rest of the world, Genghis Khan may be a synonym for barbarism, but to Mongolians he represents order, civilization and an empire that stretched across Asia to Central Europe. He is a touchstone of national identity to a nation sandwiched between Russia and China and wary of being swallowed up by either. The World Academy of Chinggis Khan, a private group which uses an alternative spelling of the Great Khan's name, has called for a return to the shamanistic, pre-Buddhist rituals popular in Genghis' day. "If Mongolians again perform these rites, Mongolia will be blessed and will prosper," said P. Davaanyam, the academy's president, who claims to be a 30th-generation descendant of Genghis Khan.” \=\
Planned Genghis Khan Theme Park
Dan Levin wrote in the New York Times, “The massive steel-clad statue, part of a planned theme park called the Chinggis Khaan Statue Complex, is perhaps the most ambitious and costly manifestation of Genghis pride. The Genco Tour Bureau, a Mongolian company, has so far spent about $4.1 million on the statue. Still unfinished are plans for a complex of 200 gers, or round felt tents, which will house sleeping quarters for visitors, restaurants and gift shops, all arranged in the pattern of the horse seal used by 13th-century Mongol tribes.” [Source: Dan Levin, New York Times, August 2, 2009 /^]
“Inside the two-story base of the statue, which opened last September, visitors can see a replica of Genghis Khan’s legendary golden whip, sample traditional cuisine — heavy on the horse meat and potatoes — and experience some decidedly un-nomadic customs, like billiards. Although there is no evidence to back up its claim, the company contends that the site is where Genghis Khan found the whip, traditionally considered an auspicious omen, that inspired his future conquests. Like Genghis Khan, the company is intent on expanding its empire. Several miles away at a “13th-century national park,” the more adventuresome can milk horses, spin wool and watch a shaman ceremony. A spa, hotel and golf course are also in the works. /^\
"“This is about national pride,” said Damdindorj Delgerma, chief executive of the Genco Tour Bureau. “Mongolians are happy when they see this statue, and now people from all over the world will come to learn about the importance of Mongolia in history.” Ms. Delgerma said 40,000 people had already visited the complex, although on a recent weekday it was practically empty. Still, local residents say they are hopeful that the site will bring much-needed income to the steppe, which has been hit especially hard by the global economic crisis, as well as educate those who come to gawk at the statue./^\
“With its unalloyed glorification of Genghis Khan, the theme park avoids any such nuance, although tourists may come away thinking Genghis is more Mickey Mouse than Mongol, based on the mugs, hats and T-shirts emblazoned with his image that are for sale. Ms. Ganbold, however, does not see any conflict between history and marketing. “Mongolian tradition respects our grand ancestors’ names,” she said. “To really honor him, it’s much better to use his name on only premium merchandise.” /^\
Commercialization and Slander of Genghis Khan
In 2006, Associated Press reported: “Mongolia’s legislature began debating a bill to regulate the use of the name Genghis Khan to prevent it from being commercially misused. Since Mongolia emerged from the shadow of the Soviet Union in 1991, the name of its legendary conqueror and revered national symbol has been used for a half-dozen commercial brands, including vodka and beer. Under the proposed law, commercial use of the name would be granted only by the government, which would set fees for its licensing. “We are not showing enough respect to Genghis Khan,” said one lawmaker, E. Bat-Uul. “If today somebody produces toilet paper with Genghis Khan’s name, we do not know what to do about it, as currently there is no law to regulate this issue.” [Source: Associated Press, October 6, 2006]
Dan Levin wrote in the New York Times, “The rush to venerate — and profit from — the founder of a great transcontinental empire comes at a time when Mongolians are seeking a national identity after centuries of dominance by foreign powers. Already touchy over Genghis Khan’s global reputation as a bloodthirsty villain responsible for the deaths of countless people, Mongolians are reveling in new opportunities to rebrand him and, by proxy, their country, which has long been overshadowed by its neighbors, Russia and China. [Source: Dan Levin, New York Times, August 2, 2009 /^]
“The public relations war over Genghis Khan and his reputation has been raging for centuries. First revered by nomadic Mongolians as a brilliant military leader who unified warring tribes to found the world’s largest empire, the man who was born Temujin but later became known as Genghis Khan, or universal ruler, was mythologized as a shaman before Buddhist monks appropriated him as an incarnation of a deity descended from a line of Indian and Tibetan kings. /^\
“According to Christopher P. Atwood, a professor of Central Eurasian studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, Mongolians rediscovered Genghis Khan’s role as fighter during their quest for independence in the early 20th century and swiftly reclaimed him as a national icon. In 1949, however, the Soviet Union and its minions in Mongolia began a revisionist campaign to tarnish him as a “reactionary” figure who damaged the “productive forces” during his wars of expansion. Rituals honoring his legacy were banned, and stamps adorned with his face were destroyed. “It was impossible to treat him as an uncomplicated national hero, which is what Mongolians wanted,” said Mr. Atwood, author of the “Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire.” /^\
Giant Genghis Khan Statue
In 2009, a giant 38-meter-high Genghis Khan statue was unveiled in Mongolia. Reporting from Tsonjin Boldog, Dan Levin wrote in the New York Times, “Jesus Christ looms over Rio de Janeiro, a quartet of American presidents gazes from the face of Mount Rushmore and Lenin keeps watch over St. Petersburg. But if there were a global contest to honor larger-than-life men on a colossal scale, Mongolia might just vanquish them all — again. [Source: Dan Levin, New York Times, August 2, 2009 /^]
“A monument is the latest effort to show off an old khan...and this time he charges admission. About an hour’s drive from Ulan Bator...the khan first appears on the horizon as a twinkling speck, rising on the plains like a shimmering mirage. As one approaches, he takes the breath away: a 131-foot-tall giant on horseback, wrapped in 250 tons of gleaming stainless steel. Visitors can even take an elevator and emerge from between his legs to gaze at the lush Mongolian steppe from a deck atop his steed’s head. “All Mongolian people are proud of this statue,” said Sanchir Erkhem, 26, a Mongolian sumo wrestler living in Japan who was posing for photographs on the platform during a trip home. “Genghis Khan is our hero, our father, our god.” /^\
“The giant statue of Mongolia’s most famous personage... is the latest in a horde of monuments and products that have appeared here since the country threw off Communism nearly 20 years ago. Planes now land at Chinggis Khaan International Airport, students attend Chinggis Khaan University and tourists can stay at the Chinggis Khaan Hotel. The khan’s bearded visage graces cans of energy drinks, vodka bottles and cigarette packs, as well as the money to pay for those goods...Politicians have been eager to join the khan’s bandwagon. In 2006, the government unveiled yet another statue of the conqueror, this time sitting Abraham Lincoln-like on the capital’s main square.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2019