A museum in France recently decided not to go ahead with an exhibition of Mongol leader Genghis Khan. The Château des ducs de Bretagne history museum in the western city of Nantes said it was putting the exhibit about the 13th-century leader on hold for over three years. The Chinese government apparently interfered and asked the museum to censor some of the contents.
The exhibition was planned in collaboration with China’s Inner Mongolia Museum in Hohhot. But before the exhibition could open, the Chinese Bureau of Cultural Heritage pressured the museum authorities to make changes in line with their interests. The Chinese side wanted words like Genghis Khan, Mongol, and Empire to be removed from the exhibition.
It also asked to be given control over brochures, maps, exhibition texts, etc. Beijing basically wanted to rewrite the exhibition’s depiction of Mongol history and culture in favor of a new Chinese nationalistic narrative.
Museum authorities pointed out that they had decided to halt the exhibition due to the Chinese government’s censorship and rising antagonistic position toward the Mongol minority. In China, the Mongols make up only 6.5 million among 1.4 billion people. They are largely restricted to the northern province of Inner Mongolia.
Recently, the Chinese government announced a new policy requiring that only Mandarin be used in classrooms by 2022. Mongolians are fearful that this would eliminate the importance of their ethnic language. Beijing is pushing forward the policy under the guise of assimilating minorities into mainstream Chinese culture. But in reality, the minority cultures are being eliminated systematically and replaced with a Han-dominated, communist-approved culture.
“We made the decision to stop this production in the name of the human, scientific and ethical values that we defend,” Bertrand Guillet, director of the museum, said to The Guardian. The museum had initially decided to postpone the exhibition to the first half of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, they will be delaying it until October 2024. In the meantime, the museum will exhibit works from America and Europe.
Genghis Khan and Mongols in China
Genghis Khan was born in 1162 and was initially named Temujin, meaning “blacksmith.” His father was the head of the tribe to which he belonged. But when Khan grew up, he was initially rejected as a possible leader of the clan. At the age of 10, he killed his half-brother. Khan was captured at the age of 20 and escaped. It was at the age of 46 that he became the leader of the Mongols and was conferred with the title of Genghis Khan.
Over a 19-year period as the Khan, he led numerous attacks against Chinese kingdoms. The Mongols completely eradicated the Western Xia culture and started the Yuan Dynasty that ruled China for several generations. By 1227, Genghis Khan’s empire controlled 1/3rd of Asia. During his lifetime, Khan is said to have killed 20 to 40 million people. He had a large harem of women. As a result, almost 0.5 percent of the world’s population can trace their ancestry to Genghis Khan.
The Mongols mostly saw China as a part of their empire and never gave much thought to native Chinese people or traditions. They divided China into four hierarchical groups. The Mongols were the top group, followed by non-Han people. Northern Chinese people made the third group while the Southern Chinese people were relegated to the bottom of the society. Chinese scholars who were experts in Confucianism were seen with suspicion and banned from occupying top government positions.