Cultures Beyond The Great Wall: The Empire of Genghis Khan
It is a conventional assumption when thinking about foreign states and empires that they are culturally homogeneous. A key aspect to understanding China, both its historical legacy and in contemporary times, is to understand the diversity of its people. One way to do this is to learn about cultures beyond the great wall.
The Mongol empire was one of the largest and most aggressive empires in history. Founded in 1206 when Genghis Khan united the tribes of Mongols into a powerful empire capable of ruling the land, it did not fall until 1368, over 100 years later. It’s considered the largest continuous empire in the history of the entire world, and at its height, it spanned 9,266,000 square miles, roughly equivalent to 22% of the world’s total area. The Mongol Empire saw the most dramatic series of conquests in the history the entire world.
The Mongol Empire has complicated political history. Founded by Genghis Khan, the Empire was ruled by an Emperor. At its height, around 1290, it covered most of Asia and a sizable portion of Europe. The Empire reached this height because Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai, had taken the throne and began the Yuan Dynasty in 1271. This dynasty is often seen as the bridge between the Mongols and the more modern China, as it lasted all the way until 1368. Kublai was able to obtain success because, unlike his predecessors, he placed less focus on pillaging but worked to win over his populace. He was the one who made the move to give China a centralized government.
The Yuan dynasty could not retain control of China. After Kublai Khan’s death, it was plagued with constant internal struggles over succession, causing much strife and corruption. The dynasty also fell into financial difficulties when Kulug took the throne. After his death, China was deeply in debt and the people were discontented with the Emperor. There was a brief bright spot in the Yuan dynasty when Buyantu took the throne, as he made many reforms and advancements, but soon enough, old problems arose again. The dynasty began rapidly losing influence and China became plagued by unrest. They were even powerless to keep the outlaws who ravished the country at bay. In 1368, the Yuan dynasty was overthrown, and replaced by the Ming dynasty, symbolizing the end of the era.
China’s final ruling dynasty was the Manchu Qing dynasty. Founded in 1644 after the fall of the Ming dynasty, it was established by the Manchus, an ethnic minority in modern day China. It was during the Qing dynasty that China reached the highest point in its 2000-year history. Although this dynasty was also plagued by wars and enemies, it was generally a peaceful time. Under this dynasty, trade with the West was established. In turn, this led to a depletion of Chinese silver reserves and after the 1908 death of the Emperor, there was nobody to lead adequately. An uprising occurred in 1911 and the Republic of China was established.
Genghis Khan was the one who established the Mongol Empire. Born sometime around 1162, he was a tribe leader until he was able to unite the many different Mongolian tribes under a single central government. He was the one to establish the term “Khagan” the imperial rank of Emperor, in China. Genghis was also an extremely cunning military leader who conquered a huge amount of land, controlling his vast empire until his death. His grandson, Kublai Khan, was the one who founded the impressive and influential Yuan dynasty. Kublai made significant improvement to his grandfather’s empire before his death. Its influence helped shape modern day China.
Modern day Mongolia did not have its own established culture until around the 20th century, when it became its own nation. In ancient Mongolia, jokes and stories were very popular. They had batarrs, ancient folk legends that krurchins passed down through songs and poems. Love songs were very popular. Mongols were originally nomadic peoples who lived in tribes and traveled to survive. Animals – especially pack animals – were integral to their way of life as they traveled and built their lives on the cycles of animals.
The central religion in the Mongol Empire was Tibetan Buddhism. The native Mongol religion is Shamanism. This is the name applied to all of many local beliefs that belong to the tribes. This religion was polytheistic, meaning they worshipped many gods. By the 13th century, the Khans had firmly established Buddhism as the central religion of the empire. It should be noted that Genghis Khan was tolerant of other religions during his time as Emperor, a rarity.
The Silk Road
The Silk Road refers to a network of interconnected trade routes that went all the way from China to Europe. The routes united all parts of China and connected it the Persian, Indian, and European nations. It got its name because the most lucrative thing to be traded on the route was Chinese Silk. It was the most advanced trade road system to be established in the area and it had an incredible influence on every culture it touched.