Genghis Khan goes global
For Baljinnyam, a man from the Mongolian ethnic group, rummaging through the world’s bookshelves for the legends of his “emperor lord” is a pilgrimage.
The 78-year-old, who lives in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region’s capital, Hohhot, has collected about 12,000 copies of books in 58 languages, from home and abroad, related to Genghis Khan (1162-1227), the Mongol ruler who established a mighty Eurasian empire.
“Everyone in the Mongolian ethnic group admires Genghis Khan and treats him like a god,” Baljinnyam says.
“But many of us don’t know much about him as an individual. My impression of him was limited until I began to collect the written material.”
In 1998, Baljinnyam retired from his job at a local newspaper. After that when he went to visit his younger daughter i n Shanghai, he read a Washington Post story that quoted a public poll as saying Genghis Khan was “the most important man of the last millennium”.
Many people in the West call the Mongol emperor a conqueror and an invader, so Baljinnyam says he was surprised to read such a “positive comment” in the Post.
“That inspired me to have a complete view of Genghis Khan.”
He and his wife, Zhang Jixia, an ethnic Han, have traveled to more than 40 countries, starting from Japan, where their eldest daughter used to live.
They often gave popular tourist destinations a miss, instead focusing on local bookstores, libraries and flea markets for references about Genghis Khan.
“You cannot imagine how excited we were when we found a Bengali version of Genghis Khan’s biography at an old book market in Bangladesh after days of looking around in vain,” he recalls of their trip to Dhaka in 2012.
They were also surprised to find four different kinds of books on Genghis Khan in a small bookstore in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2013.
But not everywhere gave Baljinnyam what he was looking for.
He searched for such books in Cuba during one of his trips, but returned to China empty-handed. He later found out that Cuba, too, had books on Genghis Khan.
A son-in-law of Baljinnyam from Pakistan helped him get more than 100 such books from the Arab world.
“Genghis Khan has become a cultural phenomenon across the globe,” he says. “The books I’ve collected show that many overseas scholars have abandoned stereotypes in recent years and have gradually come to consider him an early advocate of globalization, which echoes with modern times.”
In 2003, Baljinnyam published his first book, Genghis Khan in the Eyes of the World’s Famous Figures, to summarize different opinions on the ruler. But he says it is more important to have original viewpoints rather t han j ust echoing other people’s thoughts.
He has published 12 books so far, and several are on his own explanation of The Secret History of the Mongols, which was written for Mongol royal families after Genghis Khan’s death and is generally regarded as the most significant native Mongolian record of the emperor’s life.
In 2013, he opened a private museum in Hohhot to exhibit his collection.
Baljinnyam says both his daughters are busy running their own businesses, and have little time for this.
But he acknowledges his daughters’ focus on their careers helped to sponsor his travels abroad.
He has reached an agreement to move most of his collection to the new Genghis Khan Literature Museum.
The 2,000-square-meter museum in Xilinhot — another city in Inner Mongolia, some 600 kilometers from Hohhot — is open to the public from 8 am to 9 pm daily.
“I have to get more people involved,” Baljinnyam says of his endeavor.
According to Gao Mingrui, director of the museum, more books on the subject have been donated or bought as exhibits other than Baljinnyam’s own collection.
More than 16,000 copies on Genghis Khan are now housed in the museum, which has attracted 37,000 visitors since its opening in June.
“We will begin research on the books, and are considering some of them as applicants for the national list of precious ancient books,” Gao says.
The oldest book i n the museum was published i n 1573 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Gao also says they are planning to hold a special exhibition on Genghis Khan in Taiwan in the future.
Contact the writers through wangkaihao@ chinadaily.com.cn
Baljinnyam and his wife, Zhang Jixia, read one of the books about Genghis Khan they’ve collected during their travels around the world over the past few decades.
Above and left: Publications about Genghis Khan and the history of Mongols written in Mongolian.
Baljinnyam’s collection includes 12,000 copies of books in 58 languages.