Sunday, July 13, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Genghis Kahn: War lord's image is everywhere

Although he has been dead for almost eight hundred years, Genghis Kahn is more popular in Mongolia today than he was when he controlled an empire that extended from Korea to the edge of Western Europe.

Genghis Kahn: War lord's image is everywhere

Although he has been dead for almost eight hundred years, Genghis Kahn [sometimes spelled Chinggis Khaan] is more popular in Mongolia today than he was when he controlled an empire that extended from Korea to the edge of Western Europe - though, on reflection, I suppose that isn’t surprising, as popularity was probably never one of his strongest suits.

This is a relatively recent phenomenon, for any invocation of his name or image was strongly discouraged during Mongolia’s Communist era (1923-1990), lest too much national pride give the Mongolians any thoughts of moving their allegiance away from their Soviet overlords.

Over the last several decades, however, he has come back into his own, and then some. He is now as close as a person can come to being a national icon (without the power of the state to enforce such a position).

From the moment one arrives at Genghis Kahn International Airport, to one’s last night of revelry at the Genghis Kahn Dance Hall and Karaoke Bar, paid for with bank notes bearing his fierce face withdrawn from a bank named in his honor, Genghis Kahn’s name and image are everywhere.

In honor of the nation’s 800th birthday in 2006, the tomb of one of the country’s previously revered (and, by many, reviled) communist leaders was quietly removed from the central square and replaced with a twenty times larger than life bronze sculpture of the former war lord. At the same time, on one of the hills that cradles the capital his image appeared in white stones on a scale that made it visible from just about anywhere in the city.

Even Genghis might be surprised to see his formerly ruthless reputation being simultaneously burnished and rehabilitated to fit a contemporary need for a national hero of international stature. A spate of recent publications have portrayed the former warrior as a champion of equal rights, legal prudence, and religious tolerance.

DNA studies have suggested that his blood line can now be traced through countless millions of people around the world. The “man of the millennium,” as Mongolians are fond of calling him, seems to have had something to offer to just about everyone, except, of course, those who got in his way.

Because there is no authoritative, contemporary portrait of Genghis, he is an advertiser’s dream, for he can be depicted in what ever way best suites the product he is being used to promote.

From fearless warrior to wise ruler, he has become the ubiquitous pitchman for everything from noodles to vodka.

I think I can guess which he would prefer.

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About this blog
The age of exploration is not dead. Over the next six weeks, Robert Peck and colleagues from the Academy of Natural Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania will be traveling in Mongolia, reconnecting with herdsmen Peck met 17 years ago and checking for evidence of climate change. Peck will chronicle his travels in the land once ruled by Genghis Khan on a blog at

Robert McCracken Peck, senior fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Peck is a writer, naturalist, and historian who has traveled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. He has been honored by the Academy, the Explorers Club, and other organizations for his contributions to exploration and the interpretation of natural history. In 2007, the U.S. Department of State and the White House chose him to represent the United States at Mongolia’s 800th birthday celebration. Peck is the author of Land of the Eagle: A Natural History of North America (1990), Headhunters and Hummingbirds: An Expedition into Ecuador (1987), and other books and papers.

Clyde Goulden, Director of the Asia Center of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Goulden’s research in Asia began in 1994 when he and Academy colleagues were invited to initiate studies on a large lake in northern Mongolia, Lake Hovsgol. His work at the lake has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Global Environment Facility through the World Bank. He is associated with a research program to study the impacts of climate change on the lake’s watershed and the nomadic herders of Mongolia.

Tuya Goulden, researcher and international travel liaison
Tuya Goulden moved to the United States in 2006 from Mongolia and is a citizen of the U.S. In addition to college degrees from Mongolian universities, she has a master’s degree in tourism management from George Washington University. Goulden has been active in organizing expeditions in Mongolia for scientists in from the Academy and other universities. She is a research assistant for the Mongolian NSF-PIRE project on climate change impacts and serves as the translator for interviews with Mongolian nomadic herders.

Dakin Henderson, videographer
Henderson, a Boston filmmaker, has produced fiction and non-fiction short films, music videos and science-education documentaries. His films have won awards at Colorado College, the Shoot Out Boulder competition and the Ecological Society of America EcoFilm Festival. He currently works with the award-winning production team, Vital Pictures. Visit his website at

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