email a friend iconprinter friendly iconGenghis Khan
Page [ 5 ] of 18

Makhmud recovered. “Let it be the United States,” he said. “Or Japan—I’d like to learn to make samurai swords.”

Smiths, weavers, falconers, scribes, physicians: Juvaini says the Mongols marched 30,000 skilled men from Samarkand to toil in less developed Mongolia. With them, no doubt, went thousands of their women and children.

In Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia, I saw Genghis Khan every night at dinner. Peel off a few thousand-tugrik bills to pay the check, and there is cat-eyed Genghis, right on the money. He’s on a vodka label too.

As a Soviet vassal from 1924 until 1990, Mongolia saw its history swept away, for Moscow feared any vestige of national pride. Ulaanbaatar’s Buddhist shrines and lamaseries were cleared to make a Soviet-style city of wide, numbingly empty boulevards.

Professors had to portray Genghis as a “bloody feudal tyrant.” When Mongolia regained its freedom, he was speedily rehabilitated as the father of his country.

Not that he had been forgotten. A shepherd whom I met one day—traditionally dressed in knee boots and sash-tied coat—knew that as a boy Genghis was named Temujin, which means “blacksmith,” and that he and one of his brothers had killed their half brother, who had taken their fish. “The old people tell these stories,” the shepherd explained.

“I know that story,” I said, for I had read The Secret History of the Mongols, which is to Genghis what the Odyssey is to Odysseus. I mentioned, too, that the Secret History says Temujin feared dogs.

“I never heard that; I don’t believe that!” the shepherd retorted hotly.

With its sometimes unflattering portrait of Genghis, the Secret History—so named by Chinese archivists—seems to be more than a panegyric written to enhance his reputation. “It is full of myths and legends,” says Larry Moses of Indiana University, who has taught Mongol history for 25 years. “But some of it can be corroborated in Chinese sources.”

Page [ 5 ] of 18