Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Embrace the Inner Genghis ; A New Biography Argues That the Maligned Ruler of the Mongols Was a Great Entrepreneur and Social Reformer

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Embrace the Inner Genghis ; A New Biography Argues That the Maligned Ruler of the Mongols Was a Great Entrepreneur and Social Reformer

Article excerpt

He was a sadistic hedonist hiding beneath a fur-rimmed hat. A prairie bandit sporting a Fu Manchu moustache and a nasty disposition who set loose a horde of barbarians to loot the civilized world.

No, no, all wrong. That's what happens when you let your enemies define you, as modern-day political candidates know. The Mongols were always secretive about their revered leader, the man called Genghis Khan. To this day, his burial site has not been found. Over the years, as the Mongols' political influence subsided, anti- Genghis, anti-Mongol propaganda worsened. It became so bad that by the early 20th century the followers of the dubious science of eugenics coined "Mongoloid" as a term to describe retarded children, who, they surmised, must have inherited defective Mongol traits.

Western opinion hasn't been completely lopsided, of course. Geoffrey Chaucer cheered Genghis in the longest of his "Canterbury Tales." But the real turnaround has come in the last three decades as communism waned, opening up Mongolia to Western scholars, and translators finally cracked "The Secret History," an ancient Mongol text once thought indecipherable.

Among those scholars has been Jack Weatherford, who spent years in modern Mongolia learning to love its people and digging into their proud and neglected history. In "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" he aims to set the record straight. Take the Renaissance, for example. You probably think it was Europe rediscovering the lost knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome? Well, yes, a little. But it was really the paper, printing, gunpowder, and compass brought from the east by Mongols that set Europeans' thinking caps atwirl. Mongols even changed fashion, convincing European men to abandon their silly robes and put on practical pants.

Genghis Khan was, in fact, considerably less barbaric than his European counterparts, Weatherford argues. Instead of plunging the world into darkness, he let in the light. He punished only those who took up arms against him. He spent much of the 13th century building an empire that eventually stretched from Moscow and Baghdad in the west to India and China in the east. His successors, who divided his realm into four huge kingdoms, ruled so wisely and well that the 14th century became an unprecedented era of peaceful trade and diplomacy that radiated beyond the borders of the empire.

"On every level and from any perspective, the scale and scope of Genghis Khan's accomplishments challenge the limits of imagination and tax the resources of scholarly explanation," Weatherford enthuses. …

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