Genghis Khan -- A Chinese Hero???

Source:  Financial Times (12/28/06):

China claims Genghis Khan as its own
By Mure Dickie

From outcast nomad to tribal warlord and finally founder of the world's
greatest land empire, Genghis Khan went through a lot of changes in a
tumultuous life spanning the end of the 12th century and the beginning of
the 13th.

But perhaps the strangest transformation ever undergone by the Mongolian
military genius has come in modern times: his reinvention as a Chinese hero.

"Genghis Khan was certainly Chinese," says Guo Wurong, general manager of
the Genghis Khan Mausoleum Tourist District in China's Inner Mongolia

"We currently define him as a hero of the Mongolian nationality, a great man
of the Chinese people and a giant in world history," says Mr Guo, who has
led a multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the site of the great Khan's
"mausoleum" in Inner Mongolia's Ordos prefecture.

The Chinese part of that description would no doubt surprise Genghis
himself, who seems to have seen the Han Chinese people who lived south of
his Mongolian heartlands as merely another ethnic group to be subjugated.

Mr Guo's definition closely matches that pushed by official histories and
government scholars, however. The late chairman Mao Zedong may once have
dismissed Genghis as someone who "only knew how to draw his bow at the
eagles", but Beijing's cultural commissars have good reason to embrace the
great khan as a model Chinese.

Celebrating Genghis aligns Beijing policy with the reverence ethnic
Mongolians feel for the founder of their nation.

Turning Genghis Chinese, meanwhile, pushes the party line that Inner
Mongolia is an integral part of China, despite the quiet yearning for
independence of many of the region's increasingly outnumbered original

State-approved histories paint an idealised picture of an eternal "Chinese"
state grouping the majority Han with ethnic brothers such as the Mongolians.

"Coming from a nomad nationality, Genghis Khan rose to become a
representative of many excellent national cultures, embodying especially the
essence of China's minority nationality culture," wrote Chen Yu-ning,
professor at Ningxia University, in a history published this year.

Such official endorsement of Genghis and traditional culture has brought
real benefits for Mongolians in China, who suffered severe oppression for
decades under Mao's rule.

Traditional Naadam festivals of riding, shooting and wrestling, once banned,
are now subsidised by the state. At one Naadam gathering on the Gegentala
grasslands this summer, local government departments lent tents to
contestants to stay in.

Yet the cost of being subsumed into a greater Chinese identity is also
apparent. Much of the Gegentala festival was arranged for the benefit of
dignitaries and tourists staying at a nearby tent hotel complete with a
bathhouse stocked with Chinese prostitutes.

A flag-bearing police honour guard and playing of the national anthem opened
proceedings, to the disgust of one ethnic Mongolian official.

"Naadam has been diluted, Communised and Sinified," said the official, who
declined to be identified. "To a person who has studied history and national
culture, Naadam should not be this way."

A Chinese tide is also washing over the Ordos "mausoleum" - which is
actually the site of a sacred enclosure where relics of the great khan were
preserved. Now a complex of statues, plazas and museum halls has been built
around the site in a style reminiscent of China's imperial tombs.

Mr Guo says effort is being made to reflect the site's traditions.

Indeed, he plans to install hidden speakers in the grassland to give
visitors a sense of place. "That way you'll be able to hear the sound of
horses galloping on the steppe...or in another place you might hear the
sound of Mongolian singing," he says.

Such ersatz echoes of steppeland tradition irk Baildugqi, an expert on
Mongolian history at the Inner Mongolia University. "You cannot use the
methods of the Han interior to commemorate Genghis Khan and his culture,"
Prof Baildugqi says.

Sinifying Genghis's legacy does not just risk upsetting mild-mannered
academics. Official emphasis on Mongolians' minority status also fuels fears
in Mongolia itself about Beijing's long-term intentions.

Calling Genghis a Chinese hero is even drawing quiet protest within China,
where many people retain the more traditional view that he was a barbarian
invader and some are simply annoyed at what appears a blatant abuse of
historical fact.

The official justification rests essentially on the view that Genghis is
Chinese because his successors ruled China as emperors and many Mongolians
live within Chinese state borders today.

It is an argument waved aside by critics such as one contributor to the
popular Hefei discussion website who goes by the name Dagui.

"Now there are quite a few Mongolians in China, and they have Chinese
citizenship - but that does not make Mongolians [of Genghis's era] Chinese,"
Dagui wrote. "If your grandson moves to the US, gets a green card and
becomes a US citizen, that will not mean that you and your dad were

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007