Sunday, July 03, 2005

Using Chinggis as Cover

The Boston Globe reports today on the memory of Chinggis Khan. One of the observations:
Differing assessments of conquerors can roil emotions in Asia, where passions over history run high. But since Genghis Khan's legacy is free of living memory, it is proving easier to revise.

In fact, nations wanting to curry favor with resource-rich Mongolia are supporting its attempts to resurrect its past.

Since Mongolians worship their dead and the location of Genghis Khan's grave remains unknown, both Beijing and Tokyo are trying to outdo each other in sanctifying his memory.

China is spending about $20 million to renovate a mausoleum it built for Genghis Khan in 1954 at Ejin Horo Banner on the Ordos Highlands in its province of Inner Mongolia. In October, a Japanese-financed research team searching for the ruler's tomb said it had found it at Avraga, about 155 miles east of this capital.

There's nothing that some countries, China among them, would like to do more than simply walk into Mongolia and walk out with its precious resources. I hope, I hope, I hope that the folks running Mongolia don't let these outside powers woo their way into robbing Mongolia's natural resources, whether the foreigners "sanctify Chinggis's memory" or not. Mongolia appears to be getting savvy as to the potentially all-consuming appetite of its neighbors for raw resources (witness the tighter logging laws that have been passed in the past few years), so it's not likely that anyone's going to pull the cashmere over Mongolia's eyes. I can't help but be a bit worried, though.


Anonymous yan said...

German archeologists are doing excavations near Harhorin, I wonder what the author'd make out of that.

My take on China's reevaluation of Genghis Khan is that it is primarily a means to better integrate Inner Mongolians. If you define China as a multi-ethnic state of 56 nationalities (which current chinese leaders seem to like a lot, since it avoids questions about the legitimacy of China's rule over the "border regions"), it is more or less impossible not to integrate the cultural legacy of the minorities.

Outer Mongolians are probably rather put off by attempts to claim Genghis Khan as a Chinese hero.

7/04/2005 4:54 AM  
Blogger nabetz said...

I make nothing of the fact that Germany is taking part in archeological excavations in Mongolia. If, however, Germany bordered Mongolia, started claiming to be the true protector of Mongolian heritage, were constantly seeking ways to gain access to Mongolia's raw materials (and had a dismal record when it comes to environmental protection and resource preservation), had a sense of racial and cultural superiority, and were presently occupying some of its neighbors and threatening to absorb others, then I might be concerned.

7/04/2005 9:34 AM  
Anonymous yan said...

Well, Germany does claim figures like Charlemagne and Kopernikus. I don't think France or Poland need to be worried yet, though.

That Genghis Khan mausoleum seems to be more of a tourist attraction than anything else. The Eight white palaces used to play an important role in claiming legitamacy as an heir to Genghis Khan (e.g. Ligden Khan visited them on his way to Tibet, IIRC), but it is all replica and fake nowadays, at least according to what can be read on the web.

IMO the yellow church of lamaism seems to play a much greater role as a tool for wielding influence in Mongolia (a case of history repeating?) India has sent high buddhist reincarnations as ambassadors, and China has been allowing pilgrimages to important monasteries like wutai(?) and kumbum.

7/04/2005 11:22 AM  
Blogger nabetz said...

Yan, surely you're not saying that China is so little of a threat to Mongolia as Germany is to France. Even though Germany has an ancient and a rather recent history of, um, "foreign adventures," no one--not even Germany's neighbors--views Germany as a present threat. China is a bit different. You at least recognize that there's a difference, no?

Of course, I'm not expecting China to sweep into Mongolia any time soon. And I don't think China even has any intention of that. But there is a certain cultural and "historical" superiority that China has with respect to its neighbors (especially those that until recently were part of the Middle Kingdom). Couple that with an the understandably voracious appetite that any country on a red-hot growth and industrialization track like China (just ask US steel and concrete producers) and it's absolute dominance in that part of the world, and it's hard not to think that China wouldn't have the attitude that it can do dashed well what it wants with regard to resource-rich neighbors (or neighbor) to the north.

What I'm saying is that Chinese attitudes toward Mongolia dictate Chinese actions toward Mongolia, even if those actions are restricted and tempered by China's sense of what it can get away with.

7/04/2005 11:49 AM  
Anonymous yan said...

Sure, Mongolia has lots of reasons to be careful towards China, but I certainly don't belong to those who think that anything China does is directed by a will to swallow up Mongolia.

IMO it's rather hard to tell whether Chinese claims on mongolian territory are an issue at all within the PRC (i.e. not in Taiwan, Hongkong or among overseas Chinese).

Today, there are other ways to get ressources out of neighbouring countries (trade, direct investment, etc), and China probably knows quite well that on one hand, Mongolia is quite dependent on mineral export anyway, and on the other hand a serious violation of international law might be rather damaging for China's relations to the rest of the world.
This assumes that China does care about her relations to the rest of the world at all, of course.

Re. the evaluation of Genghis Khan, I seriously don't think any (Outer) Mongolian would be impressed to hear that Genghis Khan was a Chinese hero.

7/05/2005 4:18 AM  
Anonymous oldmongol said...

Responding to the yan's last post about not being impressed with Chinggis as Chinese hero....

It really depends on what you think "Chinese" defines as. Americans see Columbus as a national hero, but Columbus was neither American nor WASP (dominant cultural group of Americans). The Chinese identity is pretty much analogous to the American identity.

3/12/2006 10:17 PM  
Blogger samraat said...

4/04/2010 10:47 PM  

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