Chinggis Khan

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
Trip End Dec 13, 2006

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Flag of Mongolia  ,
Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sain uu,

I have thought for a while now that Chinggis deserves a bigger slice of my blog. As I have mentioned before, he utterly dominates the Mongolian sense of nationhood and it even goes beyond that. Most Mongols believe they are descended from Chinggis and reverence of him, in a country that for so long was deprived of its religion, is almost spiritual or religious.

Also, excuse me if I'm wrong in assuming this applies also to some of you, but my understanding of world history had pretty much a total gap when it came to asian history, particularly that of central asia. My school girl history, and even the gaps I have subsequently tried to fill with my own reading, were completely Euro-centric and also neglected many centuries of history - ie those subsequent to the collapse of the Roman Empire, but before the European Renaissance were pretty much (with one or two exceptions) a big black gaping hole of ignorance covered by the term "the dark ages". Of course, this term definitely doesn't do those periods of history any justice - and quite the contrary for Mongolians of course, because this period was the definitive golden era of their people.

So here goes, a brief outline of Chinggis' achievements and the empire to which he gave birth.

So we are in the late twelveth century. The Roman Empire collapsed a while ago, and Christiandom struggles on, using admirable strategies such as the Crusades to get back from the Islamic empire some of what has been lost to it in recent centuries. Islam has been the dominant world civilisation until very recently, after it's rapid spread through the middle east, north africa and up through the south of Europe into Spain and France, though at the moment its on its way down.

Meanwhile, far away east, the mongol "barbarian" nomads who had previously existed for hundreds of generations as warring tribal groups who periodically and brutally fought with the Chinese (the mongols were the cause of the building of the great wall, something all mongolians today are very proud of) are united by Temuljin, a Halkh mongol from Khenti. He is crowned "Universal king"/"Chinggis Khan" and establishes the Mongolian state in 1206, which is why of course, this year is being celebrated as 800 years since the birth of the nation of Mongolia.

On uniting his people, Chinggis then gallops across the steppes in all directions with his legendary army on horseback, ambuses and brutally conquers the Tangut Empire to the west, then the Khitan Dynasty and then the Khavarazmin Empire to the east which covered most of current central asia, soviet central asia, afgansistan and iran. Chinggis then moves his efforts south, to conquer the Jin Dynesty of northern China before dying in 1226. Look on a map. It's a big area.

He leaves four sons, who continue his legacy. By 1240, the mongols have conquered Persia, Amermia, Georgia, Causcasus, the city of Baghdad (until it's destruction the largest and richest capital of the day), pretty much all of the current Soviet Union, Hungary, Poland and Bohemia. The mongols get hold of Korea and also have their sights set on Japan, but don't ever quite succeed on that front (mongols usually tell me that it was because mongols can't swim so they were never going to be able to conquer by the sea). They are basically knocking on Europes door, but end up turning round and heading home because a khan dies and they all need to reconvene and have a vote on the next one.

Quite a feat! Hard to believe that it all happened on horseback, ie including all communication etc. Finally, the empire extends south to the whole of China and below when Hublilai Khan (Chinggis' grandson) declares himself Khan of China and moves the captial of the mongol empire to Beijing. He "unifies" China and extends his rule all the way down through Indochina to Juva and Sumatra. Hublilai's descendents rule China (the Yuan Dynasty) until 1368 when the Chinese finally overthrow the mongols and establish the Ming Dynasty.

Chinggis, to people other than monogolians, is known pretty much as a brutual and ruthless killer. That may be fair. Apparently he still holds the guiness world record for history's bloodiest genocide when he was conquering north of China. The mongololians don't see him like that though. For them, he is a hero, for uniting their people and for conquering such vast lands. They also see the mongol empire he created as being the "pre-curser" globilisation since he opened up the trade route, the silk road, between east and west through which unprecedented levels of trade could take place. A nice example: spagetti was introduced from China to Italy via this route when Marco Polo returned from China to Italy.

So there you go, that's a crude summary of the snippets of monogolian history I've been taught by various people since I've been here. By the way, one or two of you have asked why I write Chinggis when usually he's known as Genghis. Here's the answer: Chinggis is the mongolian name but the turkic or persian language (I can't remember which) didn't have the "ch" sound so they made their own versions, including Genghis which eventually made its way into English.


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