PERHAPS more than any other name in history, Genghis Khan holds the popular imagination. The Mongolian leader calls up pictures of "barbarians" on horseback conquering chunks of Eastern Europe and Asia around the 13th century.
An extraordinary exhibition, "Genghis Khan: Treasures From Inner Mongolia," surveys not just Genghis's art and times, but also the entire heritage of Khan spanning 3,500 years of Mongolian culture, beginning in 3000 BC and continuing to the era of the celebrated ruler.
This informative endeavor, which brings to light the mythical and historical Khan, opened its national tour early in March at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and is due to travel to New York and British Columbia.
The show represents a cultural-exchange coup for the United States: A partnership was developed between the Los Angeles museum and the People's Republic of China - where a large number of Mongolian artifacts are preserved.
The Mongols, like most migratory tribes, are thought to have originated near Turkey. They began a mass migration to find food in 1000 BC. As a mobile culture, artifacts were small, war-related, and so tended to become lost. When the Mongols ruled and settled in China from 1200 to 1300, their art and artifacts came to be concentrated around that area. While China was closed to the West, so too was much information on this fascinating civilization.
The exhibition reveals a remarkable cache of objects ranging from early Chinese-influenced pottery, to gold earrings that belonged to Mongol nobility, to solid gold saddle ornaments, and beautifully tooled daggers. History comes alive as visitors walk through the galleries that paint a picture of the mythologized Khan.
By the time of Genghis, the Mongols controlled large parts of Russia, Poland, Palestine, and Japan. The Khan's armies spread from Hungary through most of Asia and conquered an empire wider than that of Alexander the Great.
Many of the finest pieces on display were discovered only in the last few years and have remained unexhibited outside Asia. The opening of channels between China and Western scholars led to the five years of East-West planning and communication and historical research behind this major art event.
Genghis Khan came to power through his father, leader of the Mongol tribes. …