“In Xanadu did Kublai Kahn a stately pleasure dome decree…” Coleridge
Our western view of oriental history really sucks, pardon the phrase. Western teachings are so self-centred. Canadian kids are forced to memorize a whole bunch of names and dates, as though that mattered, or would elucidate anything.
Last night there was a show on EquatorHD on the Kahns, Genghis and his grandson Kublai. It turns out Kublai had a map drawn that ran from what is now Spain all the way round to, perhaps Kamchatka, if my Risk-memory serves (2 links to land, 2 armies per turn). Not bad, given that we were struggling with global navigation 200 years later in the west. It seems highly likely these guys were all over the Pacific.
What particularly impressed me was the understanding the Mongols had of the importance of trade, and the tolerance and acceptance of other cultures, the Chinese (once conquered) and Muslims (with whom they traded extensively) in particular.
I’m not saying these were “nice guys”, but the impression one gets from a naive western upbringing is of a Ghenghis who is a mad, blood-thirsty Mongol warrier, and little else. It turns out he was a very strategic thinker, and a brilliant administrator. He was born as little impoverished “Temujin”, he had to work his way to the top, and was quite clever in how he did it, and how he built loyalty from his people.
And we would have done well to have heeded Kublai’s last will and testament. Kublai seemed to understand the importance of trade, and of the difficulty in using force to maintain power. He appointed many senior administrators and military personnel from other cultures, and traded far and wide. His final will was written twice, on the same piece of paper, in Chinese and Arabic, with the same meaning in both. He admonished his heirs not to fight amongst themselves, and warned of attempting to use power to control the dominion he had created.
But they didn’t listen. Kublai was the last Khan who presided over an expanding empire.
I want to get a copy of Kublai Khan’s will to see what he said. Google and the ‘net have not coughed one up for me yet. Anyone?