History of International Relations Textbook

The Mongol khanates

Genghis Khan in today’s Mongolia

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Mongolian nationalists rediscovered Genghis Khan in the early twentieth-century and turned him into a “national hero” and the “father of the nation.” Yet during the communist period, 1924-1992, when the Soviet Union exercised a strong influence in the country, the Mongolian government, and textbooks used in Mongolian schools, often described Genghis Khan as a “reactionary” and an “enemy of the people.” However, in commemoration of the 800th anniversary of his birth in 1962, a monument was erected in his honor and an academic conference was held to discuss his life and legacy. The conference ended with applause, cheers and chants for Genghis Khan, and agents for the KGB, the Soviet secret service, who were present on the occasion reported the event to Moscow. The result was purges within the leadership of the Mongolian Communist Party. Those who had sided with Genghis Khan were regarded as potential enemies of the Soviet Union.

Since the end of communism, there has been a strong revival of interest in Genghis Khan in Mongolia and he is now once again a national hero. Mongolians are quick to insist that his reputation as a bloodthirsty barbarian is vastly exaggerated. In 2006 a statue of him was unveiled in the center of Ulaanbaatar, the capital, and in 2008, Genco Tour Bureau, a private company, erected a 40 meter tall equestrian statue of him in stainless steel at the cost of 4.1 million US dollars. Entering the statue, visitors can take an elevator to the head of the horse on which Genghis is riding and enjoy a panoramic view of the Mongolian steppe.(See external links to the right)

In today’s Mongolia, Genghis’ name and likeness can be found on products ranging from liquor bottles and energy drinks to cigarette packages and candy, as well as on the bills people use to pay for these items. There have been discussions in the Mongolian parliament about the risk of trivializing Genghis Khan’s memory but the discussions have so far resulted in no legislation. From 2012, the first day of the first winter month of the year is designated as Genghis Khan’s birthday and as a national holiday. The actual birthday of the the Great Khan is unknown.

The Great Khan’s burial site is also unknown. As legend would have it, he was buried in a grave without markings, according to the customs of his tribe. It is said that 10,000 horses trampled the ground where he was buried, that a forest was planted over the site, or that a river was diverted to cover it. Not surprisingly perhaps the grave has never been located.

Instead the portable tents, or ger, in which Genghis Khan lived during his lifetime were turned into mausoleums of sorts and the members of his clan, the Borjigin, were made custodians of the sites where they were kept. Originally the Borjigin lived in northern Mongolia but they later moved to the city of Ordos, in today’s Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, taking the ger with them. Abolishing the portable mausoleum, the Chinese government built a permanent temple here in 1956. The aim was clearly to associate the memory of Genghis Khan with the Chinese government and the Communist Party at a time when the leaders of Mongolia, supported by the Soviet Union, rejected his legacy.

During the Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976, all the historical relics which the temple contained were destroyed and the “historical artifacts” which now are on display here were instead made in the 1970s. Genghis Khan’s mausoleum in Ordos is still a place where many Mongolians living in China come to pray and pay their respects. (See links to the right)