The Great Khan

Posted by sepoy on June 17, 2004 · 2 mins read

Jokingly, I said during a workshop paper that my dissertation is part of the new, emerging genre of General Studies (as opposed to Subaltern Studies. get it?). No one really laughed. Bah Humbug! to them - the armies a-marching, folks.
The General I study, Muhammad b. Qasim, plays a particular role in the psyche and imagined past of Pakistan. A similiar, if even more acute, role is played by Genghis Khan in present-day Mongolia. After decades of Communist suppression, Genghis Khan has emerged since the early 90s to take center stage in Mongolian past, present and future. The search for his tomb is a contentious and crucial matter of national debate. Our very own, Prof. John Woods has been leading a contingent to Mongolia for the past few years with a documentary crew in tow. Public sculptures, social histories, monuments, documents are all being utilized in creating a new history for Mongolia after the Communist regime took great pains to erase all pasts.
One delicious (for a historian) example of this particular imagining of the past in Mongolia comes from this article about Mongolian last names. See, in the early 20s, the Communists destroyed the Mongolian aristocracy and banned last names to erase clan and tribal identities. People were forced to attest that Mongolian traditions only had First names. After independence in 1991, the Mongolian legislature initiated drives for people to register last names. The overwhelming choice so far is Borjigin, the tribal name of Genghis Khan.

I'm kind of proud of Genghis Khan," the 25-year-old tailor said shyly as he lined up to register his new name. "He was a good leader, a strong warrior. I kind of feel that I'm from the same tribe.

An instant name and history available and accessable to people who, until recently, had neither. What would Benedict Anderson do with this?


tsk | June 18, 2004

maybe historians should start wearing WWBAD? bracelets...