Friday, July 10, 2009

Mongolian History, Part 2

Once Mongolia was united and most of China conquered, Chenggis continued the expansion of his new empire. When new areas were conquered, any new warfare techniques, technologies and methods found were quickly incorporated as part of their own. Explosives, navies, tactical maneuvers all became part of the already impressive Mongolian forces.

Even Japan was not safe. It seems that the Khan's had also formed the greatest naval fleet the world had ever known (at least as measured in sheer numbers of vessels and men) which set sail for that tiny country with conquest in mind. Only an unexpected and massive storm saved them. The entire Mongol fleet was lost, ships and souls alike.

To make a long story short, the Mongolian Empire would not only become the largest the world has ever know, but also the longest lasting! The map shown here gives some idea of the extent of that empire which was continued under his well known grandson, Kubla (Khubilia) Khan.

History may well credit Chenggis Khan with creating religious tolerance as well as forcing unity within a previously divided Russia and China - something that would come to haunt Mongolia many years later. If one were to conjecture, this may have been one reason such an empire were allowed to rise to power. Unity and religious tolerance would be necessary for a people to advance and grow. None-the-less, the Mongols were referred to as the Golden Horde for a reason. As another writer has described them, "They were extremely ruthless but still in many ways they had one of the most advanced cultures of that era. The Mongolians were some of the most intelligent warriors of the time and yet they were the most barbaric as well."

But as one might expect, the very size of that empire would become it's downfall. It required years to traverse the length of it on horse back, and it would first divide into four major fragments before finally disintegrating entirely.

Though their legacy is a mixed one, is it any wonder that the nation as it now stands, still prizes their unique Mongolian history very highly. The name Chenggis Khan remains a significant part of their culture, with one the largest statues ever built, that of Chenggis Khan, having only been recently completed (follow this link to see additional pictures of that rather impressive complex Chenggis Statue).

More recent Mongolian history, however, is not quite as notable. Over the past couple of hundred years, Mongolia has, in turn, been alternately conquered by Russia and China. Much has been lost as a result. And yet, the hand of the Lord can be seen even in the difficulties left behind by those two great powers.

Chinese rule brought the adoption of the Buddhist religion. Then, when Russia conquered Mongolia in 1921, they brought with them their atheistic beliefs, destroying all monasteries and killing any monks they could find. Few of the old historic structures or the monks themselves survived. We've included this picture of one which we recently visited which did survive. It is found at the far end of a box canyon and would be easy to miss. Indeed, we would likely have not seen it ourselves had we not been with someone who could point it out to us. We will post more on our little trip next time.

Though the loss of the old historic structures and, of course, the loss of lives is lamentable, here again a purpose can be seen. It would likely have been much more difficult to introduce the Gospel to a people who remained steeped in a Buddhist faith and tradition. That faith still is predominant in Mongolia, though not as deeply entrenched as it once was. The people of Mongolia are accepting the Gospel in greater numbers than just about any other Asian country.

When Elder Maxwell dedicated this land for the teaching of the Gospel, he included a promise that Mongolia would become a beacon to those countries around them. That promise is in the process of fulfillment today.

Mongolia may well become a nation with much influence once again. But this time, that influence will be a bit different.

Next post: Our recent visit with some of that history.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Time for a History Lesson

We have recently had some experiences with the history of Mongolia (places we have visited, etc.). We want to share those but felt that a brief account of that history would be helpful, first. So, we hope that the next couple of blogs might prove interesting and be useful in understanding this little known country we find ourselves in. This will be a Readers Digest version but hopefully will prove interesting to you. We also believe that the hand of the Lord can be seen in some of that history.

Mongolia is a very old country with a rich and rather amazing history. For many years it was referred to as Outer Mongolia (to differentiate it from the area called Inner Mongolia still found in northern China). Not much spoken of in the United States, Mongolia is probably most well known for one of their ancient leader/conquerors, though even he is not very well understood by most.

Even the name of the referred to ruler, is not generally known in it's proper form. The man we refer to as Genghis Khan was born Temujin (his given name) in 1162 AD. The name Genghis Khan is actually a title more than a name, a 'khan' being a great ruler and king. And a more correct pronunciation of that bestowed name/title would be Chenggis Haun, the 'k' being silent in 'kh' combinations.

Chenggis Khan (the more proper and Romanized Mongolian spelling - remember, the Cyrillic alphabet is now used here) was the first to unite Mongolia. Until his appearance, the country was divided into approximately five or six tribes, the actual number being something of a matter of debate, depending on how one defines and identifies a tribe.

Once united, Chenggis set his sights on a somewhat larger picture and began conquering neighboring countries. At this point, the story becomes a bit less defined.

The Mongols did not keep much of a written account of what occurred over the next couple of hundred years, a written Mongolian language not having been developed, yet, during the first part of the Chenggis reign. The accounts we do have came mostly from the peoples he conquered. And, as one might expect, that view tends to be a bit one sided. Not many conquered people will often write kindly of their conquerors. Thus, for many years we have had a picture painted of Chenggis Khan as a rather bloodthirsty and ruthless tyrant. And most likely, he was -- at least to a point. Word of his sternness initially spread after he killed his own brother for stealing food from their rather scant family supply.

However, more recent efforts have been made to search out and gather any available information and to complete a more accurate rendition of these historic events. And the evidence gathered seems to suggest another dimension to this famous (or perhaps infamous) and historic figure.

Temujin's (or Chenggis) father was poisoned by a group of Tatar's (the reigning power in that area at the time) when he was nine years old. This act of treachery, was likely a pivotal point in the life of young Temujin and would be one the Tatars would come to regret.

At 17 years of age, Temujin convinced the tribe to which his new wife, Bortei, belonged, to join him in seeking revenge against their Tatar enemies.

A call to other Mongols to unite brought many more under his command and his army grew to the thousands. He was the first to organize his forces in what is now a familiar command structure -- cohorts of a thousand, a hundred, fifty and ten. A very effective structure, indeed. Other Mongols who would not voluntarily unite under his leadership, were eventually defeated and forced to do so.

Once united under one rule, the Mongol's turned their attention to northern China. Accounts indicate that Chenggis Khan would approach a city, declare his intention to conquer it and give the residents an opportunity to surrender. They were promised that they could continue to manage their own government with a contingent of Mongol forces remaining to oversee things. A tax would be levied, but it was not unusual for that tax to be smaller than the one already being assessed by the current governing body.

But should they refuse, they were destroyed.

It seemed that no one was able to withstand his invading army. They would often defeat forces as much as four times their size. One of the secrets to there success, was their skill at archery. Mongolian soldiers could accurately hit a target at up to 536 meters! That's an astounding 1700 feet - or more!

That accuracy allowed them to decimate an apposing army before that army was within range of their own archers! Their accuracy was apparently no less amazing from the back of a galloping horse.

Chenggis Khan proved to be a cunning and very intelligent ruler, perhaps ahead of his time. Not only were his military tactics nearly unheard of in Asia (or even Europe) as he (among other things) employed maneuvers to entice his enemies out of their strong holds, for example, but he also initiated the first known international trade routes. He allowed freedom of religion in those areas he conquered (himself adhering to Shamanistic beliefs) and is also credited with initiating the first written Mongolian language.

It seems likely that the Lord had purpose in what Chenggis Khan did, much as he had purpose in what Cyrus, the ancient despotic ruler of Babylon did. Cyrus was prophesied of by name in the old testament long before he was born.

Other things have occurred in more recent Mongolian history which seem to more clearly suggest that the Lord was preparing a people to accept the Gospel, as we will attempt to relate in the next couple of posts.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hi Franco!

Glad to see you following along on our blog! Hope you are keeping everything in tip top shape in Magna for us! And I hope you are taking care of Sister Cambra!