Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford is another curious suggestion for preparation for a trip to China. Wasn’t Genghis Khan from Mongolia?
Indeed he was. The character described in Weatherford’s book is substantially different than the one that we think we know. While the Mongolian’s could be brutal almost beyond comprehension, they were quick to assimilate as well as be assimilated. They seemed to be more interested in finding and using the best way of doing things than they were in imposing their way of life on others. In doing so, they were able to bring new, better ways of doing things across vast distances and open up the world in ways that have few rivals. The empire that they created was probably the world’s biggest, ever.
Why is this relevant? Genghis Khan did not conquer China. Most of his conquests were to the west, reaching as far a Europe. Kublia Khan, his grandson, did become the ruler of China and was founder of the Yuan dynasty. He was Khan from 1260 to 1294.
The influence of the Mongols in China is and was significant. A significant portion of the Chinese people have Mongol heritage.
Kublai Khan appears to have consolidated his rule over China not so much by imposing Mongol traditions and systems on the Chinese, but by adopting many aspects of Chinese culture within the ruling elite. In some ways, the Mongols endeavored to become Chinese-like to legitimize their authority. The Chinese have infinite patience and a belief in the ultimate superiority of their civilization. Ultimately, the best defense was to assimilate the new ruling dynasty.
Jack Weatherford wrote a great book. Years of research combined with extensive travel in the regions gives him an insight into the characters and times that makes for a great read. Given the length of time, the distances, and the circumstances, it is amazing that so much detail remains of the era.