Genghis Khan: A Little PR Problem? (Part III)
By Dr. Rizwana Rahim
Chicago, IL

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’ at night.
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 countries.
8. Built bridges, more than any other ruler in the history.
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 metal-casting technology.
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 strong.
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)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.