Considering the scope of anthropology is broader and more inclusive than other sciences, it rarely focuses on the impact of one person on the course of humanity throughout all time and place. In doing so, certain key figures throughout the course of human evolution and development and the process of people, are neglected. One such figure is Genghis Khan.
He is one of the most prolific persons known. Genetically, his genes have been traced in people from Poland to Korea. The way he has spread his seed is stereotypically known to be through rape and pillage of his conquered nations and cultures. This understanding of Genghis Khan has demonized him and his people, the Mongols. Being Persian, and born in Iran, I have not heard positive things about the Great Khan. From my grandfather, I was taught that Genghis irrationally invaded the Persian empire in the 1200’s and burned the entire nation to the ground, killing all women, children, men, dogs, and cats in some cities. My understanding of Genghis was supplemented in throughout my education of world history, where I was taught he ransacked all the way up to Europe, and the Great Wall was created to fend off his predecessors attacks.
The ultimate impact of my education of the Mongols was clearly not positive. However what lingered in my mind is how could an empire span all of known Eurasia for almost two centuries and have one positive thing remain throughout the historical record? I have subsequently been very curious to understand the other side of the Mongolian story, but very little text on the subject matter has been accessible to me.
This is where the book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford comes in. Weatherford is an anthropologist who specializes in the process of modernization. His past works have focused on the issues of monetization on culture and the impacts of other lesser known or popular cultures on the modern human life. The book is takes a revisionist tone, and tries to justify and clarify the bad rap on Genghis and his Mongolian nation.
Of course, I won’t give away all of it but you can most likely derive that everything I, and most likely everyone else, was taught about the Mongols is wrong. The Mongols invented a lot of unprecedented and civilized institutions such as the first postal service. Never before, in known history, was there such an organized system for communication across such a vast nation. Genghis devised a system that offered stationary postal offices where people could send and receive messages from.
Furthermore, Genghis Khan fully modified and integrated a paper money system that was not entirely successful in the originating culture, China. Suddenly, with the course of a hundred years ago money became more abstract and symbolic as it was represented in paper bills over gold and metal coins.
The book goes into a lot of other outstanding achievements of the Mongols, and I really respect the book for that. It keeps the violent nature of the Mongols relative and justifies that nearly all the invasions of Mongols were provoked and rational. It further clarifies that Mongols were not blood thirsty; in fact the opposite was true. Bloodshed was looked upon with a lot of disgust in Mongolian culture and subsequently,
“the Mongols did not torture, mutilate, or maim,”
and where the Europeans and Muslims operated on a form of punishment that included
“a variety of bloody forms of torture, such as stretching on the rack, being crushed by a great wheel, being impaled on spikes, or various forms of burning, in other countries, Mongols limited it to beating with a cane.”
However, not all the book says is entirely true. While Genghis and the Mongols are misunderstood, under appreciated, they were responsible for millions of deaths and the selling and/or subjugation of people into a life of slavery. And the ultimate goal, for the Mongols, was to use the conquered lands for profit.
All in the entire book is excellent, despite having a fan-boy pro-Mongolian tone. It is written very well, and is a quick read. I finished it within a week of reading about an hour a night. It is very carries a vary enjoyable prose. I recommend it because it is educational and helps understand the plasticity of culture. With this book, not only do I have a better understanding of the biggest empire known to man… which hasn’t been respectively taught throughout my education; but a more thorough knowledge about how institutions such as money and postal services have originated from.