Genghis Khan in 'Modern Mongolia'; Show Reveals Complex, Even Democratic Legacy of conqueror.(ARTS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 6, 2002 | Go to article overview

Genghis Khan in 'Modern Mongolia'; Show Reveals Complex, Even Democratic Legacy of conqueror.(ARTS)


Byline: Stephanie Casler, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A new exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History paints Genghis Khan as both a fearsome warrior and an early proponent of democratic principles.

"Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan" originated at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology with the support of the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. It invites visitors to experience 20th-century Mongolian life through artifacts and life-size displays that reveal the 13th-century Mongol conqueror's complex legacy.

The exhibit is "rather unusual, because it's a show of political anthropology. It's not what we normally show here," says William Fitzhugh, director of the Arctic Studies Center at the natural history museum. "It depends very much on reading the text and looking closely at the exhibits."

Paula Sabloff, senior research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania's museum and the exhibition's curator, says she wanted to share insights into the lives of Mongolians. The exhibit presents her 1998-99 research.

"We have a lot in common with them," Miss Sabloff says. Both cultures' histories feature the struggle of the "little guy freeing himself from the big guy and getting help from others."

"Their ideal man is the same as our ideal man - they worship the rugged individual as do we," she says. "They also have a sense of humor, just like Americans ... they bond through laughing."

Most Americans view Genghis Khan as a fierce warlord and emperor, an understandable assessment. At its height, his empire was the largest the world has ever seen, stretching from China to the Caspian Sea and encompassing East Asia, the Central Asia plateau, most of the Middle East and Russian principalities all the way to Moscow.

Mongolians, however, remember and appreciate the democratic ideals he introduced to his empire, Miss Sabloff says.

"In 1206, nine years before the signing of the Magna Carta in England, Genghis Khan brought Mongolians the gifts of independence, nationhood and the basic principles from which they would one day build a modern democratic state," she says.

"Today, Mongolians identify Genghis Khan with their contemporary democratic principles," says Miss Sabloff, "even though he didn't have a democratic regime."

Finally, the exhibit reflects the government's influence on the life of its citizens. …

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