How Genghis Khan evolved

in the “official” history books of Russia and China

Russia and China - two major powers of the world have their own “official” histories, “approved by the state”, which they carefully evaluate, censor and cherry pick, then cram unceremoniously in textbooks and their citizens' heads. As it always has been. However, when regimes change, revolutions arise, dynasties rise up and their “official histories” also get a makeover. Each time a Chinese dynasty fell, the next dynasty rewrote the history books to align to their interests. Descendants of the Romanovs wrote the history of Russia. At Stalin's behest, Russia's history was again rewritten, but with the fall of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a "new historical past" appeared with it. Historical processes, events and personalities have always had different assessments and values depending on who is in power.

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The Ming Dynasty, which emerged after the Yuan Dynasty, denied everything connected with Mongolia and Genghis Khan and considered it a shameful period in the history of China. They refused to call the Mongols "Mongol", and instead began to call them "Tatars", as they used to call the “wild people” from the north. The rule of the Yuan Dynasty was considered illegal, and Khubilai was mentioned as the founder of the Yuan, not Genghis Khan.

After coming to power, the Qing dynasty of Manchu began to praise Genghis Khan as a god of harmony. Various kings and queens declared themselves, within the customs of Tibetan Buddhism, and Nurhachi and Abahai, reincarnations of Genghis Khan. During the Qing dynasty, Genghis Khan and other Mongol leaders of the Middle Ages were treated with special respect, and the Mongols were under their special care.

For the Republicans who overthrew the Manchu Qing dynasty, the Yuan dynasty epoch became the most disgraceful period in Chinese history. The Japanese aggression was compared to the rule of the Yuan dynasty and the Republicans began to praise the struggle of the Chinese against the Manchu Qing Dynasty by all means. But for the Kuomintang, who came to power, the Communist Party of China posed a greater threat than Japan. In the ensuing struggle over Inner Mongolia between the Kuomintang, the Communists and the Japanese, it was a fight not only for influence over Inner Mongolia, but also a larger ideological struggle.

The first to declare Genghis Khan a national hero of China was ultimately Chiang Kai-shek. Genghis Khan, in his interpretation, was a Chinese emperor, regardless of his ethnicity and was the first Chinese leader to conquer Russia. The long rule of Genghis’s heirs over Moscow was pointed to as a historical precedent for Chiang Kai-shek's final victory over the Chinese Communist Party, who considered themselves an organization representing Moscow's interests. At the same time, however, the new leader of the CCP, Mao Zedong, told the Mongols of Inner Mongolia that only fighting the communists would help them preserve the glorious legacy of Genghis Khan. In this sense, Mao was radically different from Soviet ideology, where it was customary to portray Genghis Khan only in a negative light.[1]

The communists eventually gained widespread support from the Mongolian population. After the final victory of the Communists in 1949, their attitude towards Genghis Khan changed several times, depending on the current ideological agenda. In 1950, when the authorities restored the mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ordos, the objects of worship previously located there were removed so that they would not fall into the hands of the Japanese. The cult of Genghis Khan continued, although it lost the main religious zeal, and ceremonial rituals there became more and more like an ethno-cultural ritual. Against the backdrop of the Mongolian People's Republic, where Genghis Khan was perceived negatively by the Soviets and his cult was banned altogether, the Chinese government, even with their measures of restriction, looked much better in the eyes of the Mongols.

In the late 1950s, Genghis Khan also briefly became a tyrant in China, but the Soviet-Chinese feud of the mid-1960s quickly brought him back from that, to use as a political tool. Articles in leading Chinese scientific journals began to appreciate his progressive role as a unifier of the Mongol tribes, the founder of Mongolian statehood, a promoter of East-West relations, and as a figure who began the process of China's reunification and the conquest of Russian lands. In 1962, in China and even in Taiwan, the public marked the 800th anniversary of the birth of Temujin. This sharply contrasted with the suppression of such celebrations in the Mongolian People's Republic. In the USSR it was written that "Beijing washes the blood from the hand of Genghis Khan and gives it a new progressive role in the history of China", preferring the "national-bourgeois position" to proletarian internationalism.

During the years of the Cultural Revolution (1967-1976), Genghis Khan was once again a tyrant in China. Mongolian national heritage, as well as the heritage of other nationalities, was at gunpoint. The Mongols from Inner Mongolia were pressured to integrate into the common Han culture, and their resistance to the integration led to the death of many Mongols. The Chinggis mausoleum was plundered, some religious objects were destroyed, and its premises and territory began to be used for the needs of a salt processing plant.

Under Deng Xiaoping, Genghis Khan in China was rehabilitated again. This new policy allowed the restoration of the mausoleum of Genghis Khan where each year they began to hold events under the slogan "Mongols and the Han - One family." The new Chinese policy concerning nationality, representing China as the homeland of 56 nationalities, redefined the role of Genghis Khan and his successors. Now the history of each minority is considered an integral part of the history of China and the historical heritage of the Mongolian nationality takes its rightful place within the framework of the great Chinese heritage. The Mongol conquest no longer threatens China’s vulnerability in history, nor is it even seen as foreign rule, but rather as the time during which the Mongol “minority” ruled the entire country.

This new interpretation of history paved the way for a sharp rise in Genghis Khan's popularity in China starting in the 1990s, paralleling a similar rise in his popularity in Outer Mongolia and the West, leading to competition between China and Mongolia for Genghis Khan's legacy. In 2000, Chinese archaeologists announced the discovery of the burial of Genghis Khan in the Xinjiang Uygur region of Altai. The Mongolian side refused to believe it, and the Chinese did not provide any evidence of the discovery. The Mongolian government also banned the search for Genghis Khan's grave in Mongolia and desecrating the remains of his ancestors.

At the same time, the Chinese tried to make the most of Genghis Khan's mausoleum in Inner Mongolia, arguing that it was more important than the secret location of the real burial. In 2003, the Chinese authorities announced their intention to expand the existing mausoleum and turn it into a major tourist attraction with a huge amusement park (Genghisland).

In 2004, when the project ran into financial difficulties, the Chinese government even considered turning it into a private Chinese enterprise. This attempt to “sell Genghis Khan to Chinese capitalists” sparked protests in Inner and Outer Mongolia and the government was forced to abandon the idea, showing that even manipulation of Genghis Khan has its limits. The Israeli historian Michal Biran[2] has written many works about this.

Today, Genghis Khan enjoys the support of the government and plays an important role as one of the most distinguished national heroes of China. The wax figure of Genghis Khan stands in the National Historical Museum in Beijing next to the most outstanding emperors in the history of China; He is praised as the first Chinese who conquered Europe and many books, films and series illuminate his achievements and achievements, his positive role in the unification of the Mongols and the expansion of Chinese territory. As Michal Biran summarizes, the Chinese's successful manipulation of the image of Genghis Khan is an impressive testament to the remarkable ability of Chinese nationalism to turn a national tragedy into a national triumph.

In almost every city and village of Inner Mongolia, various expensive monuments to Genghis Khan appear every year.

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The question of what influenced the conquest of Genghis Khan and his descendants on the history of Russia is a very interesting, decidedly different tale.

As a result of the invasion of Batu Khan's troops, Kievan Rus disintegrated into at least 5-6 principalities. Batu Khan supported the Novgorodians and, conquering others, contributed to their unification. The Golden Horde, with its capital in Sarai, has since maintained a vassal relationship with Russia. Moscow Russia and the Golden Horde at times fought among themselves, sometimes supported each other, but Moscow Russia was a vassal of the Golden Horde, paying tribute to it.

After the accession to the throne of the Romanov dynasty, the attitude of Russians towards Mongols and Turks began to change dramatically. The Romanovs sought to Europeanize Russia as their power strengthened; they began to collect the fragments of the fragmented Golden Horde. They wanted to get closer to Europe, hindered by the fact that they were a semi-feudal Asian state that united many Turkic nationalities.

It was during this period that a remarkable layer of the Russian intelligentsia was born. The Russian aristocracy and intelligentsia, concentrated mainly in Moscow and St. Petersburg, were intimately mixed with people of Mongol-Turkic nationalities. One of their representatives was the enlightened absolutist Mikhail Karamzin, who is the author of the history of Russia in 12 volumes. It was he who put into circulation the term “Mongol-Tatar yoke”. He wrote that scattered Russia was under the yoke of Genghis Khan and his descendants for 150 years and it was overthrown as a result of the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380, and finally liberated in 1480. The concept of "Mongol-Tatar yoke", a period during which Russians were killed, oppressed, struck a chord in the minds of Russians and greatly influenced their view of their history.

The term “jugum tartaricum” was first used by historian Jan Dlugosz[3]. He tried to prove that due to the fact that the Russians were under the yoke of the Mongols for a long time and that they were a nation remote from Europe, and in terms of origin and culture, that had nothing to do with Europeans. Later on, Russian historians would repeat his words, while changing their meaning. They argued that the Russians were indeed under the yoke of the Mongols for a long time, but they are Europeans who have overcome this oppression.

The leader of the October Revolution of 1917 was Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin), who was born in the Tatar city of Simbirsk and received the highest education in the capital of Kazan. He did not have Russian blood at all: his mother was Jewish on their father’s side, and German-Swedish on her mother’s side. His father came from the Caucasus, whose mother had Mongolian blood. Lenin's grandmother was of Kalmyk-Mongolian descent.[4] In general, among the organizers of the October Revolution there were few who were “purely” Russians. For example, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Trotsky were Jewish and Sverdlov, the successor of Lenin Stalin was Georgian. They created the image of a completely new "Soviet man" - an ideological cosmopolitan.

With the entry of the Soviet Union into the Second World War, the question of the Russian people’s identity was raised. Stalin perfectly understood that the war could be won only by relying on the suppressed and oppressed Russian majority. It was for this reason that he praised the national identity with the Russian people, that for many years later dominated the Communist theory. He first addressed the people as "brothers" and began to talk about the history of Russia and the pride of the Russian people. In the aftermath of the war, the famous film director Eisenstein made such films as his masterpieces "Alexander the Great" and "Ivan the Terrible".

Stalin talked up the Great Patriotic War as comparable to the conquests of Genghis Khan and the invasion of Napoleon and called the people to a heroic struggle to defend their homeland. He restored the military uniform of Tsarist Russia, approved the Order of Alexander Nevsky, Kutuzov, Suvorov and other great Russian generals. Stalin also compared Hitler to Genghis Khan and Napoleon, who invaded Russia. It was in the framework of this propaganda during the war that a trilogy of novels by Vladimir Yan[5] (V.G. Yanchevetsky) "Genghis Khan", "Bat" and "Invasion of the Mongols" was published and the author was awarded the Stalin Prize. In his work, Yanchevetsky remembers that he tried to show the heroic struggle of the Russians against foreign invaders, he describes the Mongols as wild, cruel and animal-like invaders. K. Marx wrote in his "Secret Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century" that the suppression of the Tatars [in Russia] lasted for two hundred years .... This oppression not only oppressed [the Russian] people, but also undermined their moral spirit. The Tatars established a systematic intimidation, using the methods of robbery and carving."[6] This conclusion has repeated in almost all works on the "Mongol-Tatar yoke" since then.[7]

Founded by Lenin and Stalin, the USSR was located on the territory of the Golden Horde and its subordinate states. All Turkic peoples, not counting Turks in Turkey, came under Stalin's rule. Even the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region was kept under their control.

Since Genghis Khan oppressed Russia and the Russian people, then the oppressors were the Mongols and the Tatars, i.e. Turkics. Stalin hung the centuries old “sins” on their descendants. The Nazis, like the Mongol-Tatars of the Golden Horde, were foreign invaders. Foreigners who oppressed the Russian people must be guilty of this sin even after many generations. Stalin forcibly “resettled” the Balkars, Ingush, Karachais, Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Kalmyks and other Turkics and Mongols to Central Asia. It was pure genocide.

He also tried to punish the Kazan Tatars similarly, but doing so to 5 million people was a difficult matter. Stalin found a simple solution on August 9, 1944, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party adopted a decree "On improving the political and ideological work of the Tatar party organizations."[8] It describes the history of the Tatars as “parasitic”. They were not resettled, but they were cursed as direct descendants of the "wild" Mongols, and their identity was tarnished. After the adoption of this resolution, the eternal enemy of the Russian people was to be the “wild Mongols” appearing in scientific research, as well as in school textbooks, simplified scientific literature and cinema. Thus, the image of Genghis Khan was formed for the Soviet people by the definition of Yanchevsky and the decree of the Central Committee of the CPSU of 1944. This general line continued and was and has been "scientifically" based on such historians as Bobodzhan Gafurov[9]. Although L. Gumilev, who studied the history of Mongolia well and wrote many books on this topic, he was constantly persecuted. He believed that Russian, as well as Persian and Arab sources, i.e. the sources of the parties defeated by Genghis Khan cannot be objective sources. Another reason for his persecution and social isolation was the fact that he was the son of famous Russian dissidents poets Gumilov and Akhmatova.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the communist ideology, the “Mongol-Tatar yoke” began to be treated differently. Many started to voice their opinions, that “the Golden Horde was an ally of Russia,” “Russia is a continuation of the Golden Horde,” etc. and many public debates ensued. Since 2013, all Russian textbooks have begun to write not about the "Mongol-Tatar yoke", but about the "period of the Golden Horde's rule." In any case, now in the “official history” of modern Russia and school textbooks there is no mention of the shameful “Mongol-Tatar yoke”.

[1] Biran, Michal Chinggis khan in China and in the Muslim World: Between Hero and anty-hero (Acta Mongolica Centre for Mongol studies 2010) p-143-15

[2] Biran Michal (1978-) Israil historian 

[3] Dlugosz, Jan (1415-1480) Polish historian 

[4] Шаганян, М. Билет по истории (Красная новь Кн1 1938) стр-46-47

[5] Yan, Vasily Grigorievich (1874-1954) Real name is Yanchevetsky, Soviet writer.

[6] Marx. K. Secret Diplomatic History of The Eighteenth Century (ASIN 2011)

[7] Бүгд найрамдах Монгол ард улсын түүх (Улаанбаатар 1955) х-136 [History of the Mongolian People`s Republic, 1955]

[8] The Treasures of the Golden Horde (St.Peterburg 2000) рр-31

[9] Bobodzhan Gafurov (1908-1977)Tajik historian