Genghis Khan goes global

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE | CULTURE -

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@ chi­


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.

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