Khan: A Little PR Problem? (Part III)
By Dr. Rizwana Rahim
Other than combining different
skills from different areas of their empire to produce
hybrids (and being efficient at that), Mongols had
nothing else to do with technology. They created
no architecture or buildings, wrote no books or
produced any literature, developed no new methods
of agriculture, of pottery, or of cloth-making,
but as Gibbon said, “The artists of China
and Paris vied with each other in the service of
the great Khan.” Now, look at some of what
else he is reported to have done (in random order):
1. Introduced the printing press (from China): Apparently,
Johann Gutenberg wasn’t the first to have
invented it in 1450, as claimed in the West.
Genghis Khan got block-printed and paper money from
China, and printed first notes/bills in 1236. (Both
were in use in China since the 9th century). This
process was developed further by Kublai Khan, as
Marco Polo noted. The Mongols used inner bark from
mulberry trees (their leaves, food for silkworms)
to make a sheet of paper which was cut in different
sizes. From Uighurs, also Mongol subjects, they
adopted around 1204 a script (alphabetical system),
very different from the Chinese charachers. During
Genghi’s lifetime (or within a couple decades
after), the Mongols had what was needed to print
and publish: an alphabetical system, paper and movable
metal type. This was used to send communications
within the empire.
2. Created a system of a code of law, "Yikh
Jasag" (Grand Law) – or, HIS decrees
-- as the empire’s institutional foundation,
with the ultimate supreme law of “Eternal
Blue Sky.” Some of his laws are reported to
still exist in various countries, once part of his
empire. No one was above the law. He demanded total
loyalty from one and all. Nothing from “Yikh
Jasag” survived, but it’s supposed to
have included: death for desertion, theft and (for
merchants) who declare bankruptcy 3-times; outlawed
adultery. Abolished torture but went after ther
raiders and terrorist killers, strange as it may
sound, given his own actions. Edicts against such
minor items as: public-drunkenness (no more than
3/month), urinating in ashes or water (death) Execution
was the modus operandi because he didn’t like
to keep prisoners (cost money) unless they could
help serve his army.
3. Granted religious freedom and respected all religions:
It was in the tradition of the animism of his ancestors.
He was a Shaman (not a Muslim). Many Mongols groups
combined their own religious beliefs (shaman) with
the Islam or Buddhism of the lands they conquered.
Because they were so tolerant of other religions
and absorbed so many different people, they had
Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, and even Christians
among them, including the Khans themselves.
Baraka Khan (of Golden Horde, 1256 to 1267), from
the line of Genghis’ fiorst born, Juchi, was
first to publicly profess Islam after he came to
the Golden Horde throne. He formed close alliance
with Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, because of which many
Golden Horde Mongols came into Egypt where they
adopted Islam. On the other hand, one of Baraka’s
cousins, Huelugu ( of Il-Khanate of Persia and Iraq)
was a Nestorian Christian (as was his mother). Huelgu
was a brother of Kublai Khan (Yuan dynasty, China),
both sons of Tolui, one of Genghis’ four sons.
Huelgu was also the Mongol Khan who destroyed Baghdad
in 1258 and was extremely brutal to the people and
the Caliph. Huelgu’s conduct toward Islam
earned him Baraka’s enmity.
4. Created the first international postal system,
“yam”: His “arrow riders”on
horseback delivered mail/messages to far-flung places
in his empire via a network system (like a relay
race). It was fast and efficient postal service,
the likes of which was not seen before in the world
then. In battles, they used ‘signal flags’
in the daytime and ‘blazing arrows’
5. Distributed the spoils of the conquests. To his
soldiers, this reward amounted to compensation,
because they were unpaid, and were expected to provide
for their own food, horses, weapons and supplies
(compound bow and arrows, axes, ropes, light shields
and chest-protectors), etc. Each soldier carried
two compound bows and three quiver-full of special
arrows, all hand-made -- most lethal combination,
unmatched for range, penetration and rate of fire.
All males (age 15 -70) were concripted. Theme was
travel light, for speed. All this made the Mongols
[unsurprisingly !] “the most obedient people
in the world,” wrote John of Plano Caprini,
a Franciscan monk who visited the empire in 1246.
6. Established a new alphabetic system, based on
the Uighur script (Naiman version) which is still
used in Inner Mongolia today).
7. Refused to hold hostages, granted diplomatic
immunity for all envoys including those from hostile
8. Built bridges, more than any other ruler in the
9. Opened the world commerce in goods, ideas and
knowledge: brought artisans from different places
to work for the empire.
10. Organized his troops on a decimal system with
a vertical chain of command: the ‘arvan’
(squad) of 10, ‘Zuun/Jaghun’ (Company)
of 100, ‘Mingghan’ of (1,000) ‘Tumen’
(Division) of 10,000.
11. Created ‘meritocracy’: Abolished
feudal hierarchies, aritocracy and privilege; Established
a new system based on individual merit, achievement
and loyalty: beginnings of ‘meritocracy’?
12. Established post stations and hostels (with
Mongol cavalry for security) all along the famous
‘Silk Road’, and turned it into history’s
largest free-trade zone from the Mediterranean to
the Far East. With improved transportation and communication
he helped international trade. Marco Polo took it
from Venice to see Kublai Khan.
13. Financed religious insatitutions: building of
Christian churches in China, Buddhist temples and
stupas in Persia, and Koranic schools in Russia.
14. Produced adavanced military products: Canons
and other products for military use, by combining
Chinese gun-powder, Muslim fire devices, European
15. Established regular census.
16. Sponsored extensive map construction and collection.
17. Discouraged ostentatious life style; No leisure-class,
everyone was expected to work. “I hate luxury”
and “I exercise moderation,” he said
in a letter to a Taoist monk in China. He volunteered:
“I have only one coat. I eat the same food
and am dressed in the same tatters as my humble
herdsmen.” One has to also remember that it
was their tradition to wear the same clothes and
not to bathe, perhaps as a bond of solidarity with
the poor, a spirit of brotherhood. He may also have
chosen frugality because he believed that God punished
civilizations for their arrogance and luxuries.
18. Increased cultural communication, expanded trade
and improved the conquered lands: Apparently, the
first to successfully use “shock-and-awe’
techniques in their conquests.
19. Reduced taxes for eveyone, and made doctors/healers,
teachers and educational institutions, and priests/clergy
and other religious officials totally exempt.
Genghis Khan's burial place is still one of the
enduring mysteries. It is believed that Kublai and
a dozen more Khans are also buried in the same place.
What contributes to the continuation of this mystery
is the strong local opposition to disturbing the
dead: Explorers from Japan and an American-financed
team both had to stop work because of it (in 1993
and 2002, respectively). The mystery will continue
as long as the Mongolian objection remains this
Modern Mongolia is still one of the most sparsely
populated countries in the world (population: 2.4
million). Mongolians are highly educated -- literacy
rate, above 83%. After a six-decade communist rule
(1924-1990), the majority believes in Tibetan Buddhism;
Shamanism is become popular again, especially in
the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Turkic Mongols practice
Islam, and a small percentage of the population
believes in Christianity and other religions. A
significant fraction is also atheist, a reflection
of the six decades of communist rule (1924-1990).
In 1990, Mongolia officially adopted parliamentarian
democracy and free market, abandoning socialism/communism.
Genghis Khan has been reclaimed and venerated by
the Mongolian citizens as THE greatest gift to them
by the “The Eternal Blue Sky” they worship
as shamans. His memory is kept alive, and his name
and likeness are totally unavoidable in modern Mongolia
– from the country’s currency to numerous
products (vodka and beer bottles, chocolate bars,
cigarettes, songs and music in his honor). While
under the communist rule, Mongolia tried to honor
his memory in 1962, by publishing stamps with Genghis’
picture, but that was scuttled by the communists.
Ironically, he himself never allowed anyone to make
any likeness of him (paint, sculpt or engrave his
image) and for the next 50 years no one was allowed
to do it either. A modern Mongolian song comments:
“We imagined your appearance but our minds
were blank.” For him, the Mongols changed
even their calendar: the year he united the Mongol
tribes and was elected as ‘ruler or rulers’
as ‘Chinggis’ Khan (CK),i.e., 1206 as
CK Year 1 and anything before 1206 as BCK (Before
Chinggis Khan). This year (2005) would be CK Year
798. (To be continued)