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Khan You Live Like a Mongol?

Khan You Live Like a Mongol?

The early Mongols did not understand the culture and lifestyle of settled living. Their nomadic lifestyle meant that land could not be owned, much like air, or the ocean. Viewed by settled societies as barbarians, the Mongols were first united and conquered by Temüjin in 1206, where he eventually went on to form the largest neighbouring empire in history known as the Mongol empire.

Mongols: The Gatekeepers of the Silk Road

Mongols: The Gatekeepers of the Silk Road

Did You Know?

Mongols rarely washed their clothes or themselves, because they believed the act of washing would pollute the rivers and anger the dragons that controlled the waters. 

Smelly much? Well, that wasn't the only thing the Mongols believed in - they were staunch believers of trade as well. Due to their nomadic nature, trade was important to sustain their way of life. Trade boosted their economy, and so it was of  great value to the Mongols in the 13th and 14th century.

The Genghis Khan-troversy

Genghis Khan…A name synonymous with tyranny and bloodshed. A ruthless warrior, who was said, to have killed nearly a tenth of the global population (at that time). In fact, he killed so many people that nature reclaimed back human inhabited lands, allowing for the increased absorption of carbon in the atmosphere, hence cooling the earth. However, the great Khan became the man he was due to his rough childhood and his growing up years in a rather volatile Mongolian political setting. So, was he really a cruel and heartless human being as perceived by many?

Why was he feared?

People perceived Genghis Khan as a ruthless and brutal leader based on his ways of warfare. This could have been the result of the various techniques employed by Genghis Khan which involved both a psychological as well as a physical, blood-shed warfare.

Psychological Warfare

The specific goal of psychological warfare is to gain an advantage by influencing an opponent’s thoughts and emotions. Genghis Khan used this strategy to instill fear in the people living in the land he intended to conquer.

One such example was how he would have massive objects attached to the back of his military horses so that they created dust storms when running. This created the illusion of Khan’s army being much bigger than it actually was, striking fear in the hearts of his enemies. A simple yet ingenious technique don’t you think?


Genghis Khan wanted to remove threats to his leadership and gain access to land with minimum hindrances. During his expansion of territories, he used brutal tactics such as starving his enemies and taking down cities quickly through a siege. During the onslaught, even children were not spared. They were slaughtered viciously, most of whom had their throats slit, and others drowned in human blood.  The great carnage, left behind by Khan's swift-moving army, was enough to create fear in people to be passed down for generations.

On the Khan-trary

However, was there another side to Genghis Khan? What if it was not his true nature to be like that?  Within this brutal and violent barbarian, there was a young boy who went through much hardship growing up. He could only resort to violence because he had no choice but to protect himself and the people he loved. Furthermore, he did not do anything different from other historically-popular conquerors. It was just that at his time, the Mongolian army’s prowess and efficiency were much greater than their opponents, leading to a far greater kill count. This brings us to the question if Genghis Khan was really evil and cruel as he was depicted and perceived to be by the people.

Upbringing shaped his brutal personality

He was said to be destined to be a great leader right from birth as he was born clutching on to a blood clot in his hand. However, the eldest son of Yesugei, the chief of the Borjigin clan and his wife, Hoelun, did not have the best childhood.

Genghis Khan faced numerous hardships and troubles while growing up in the Mongolian steppes and had a very rough childhood. He saw his father die due to poisoning, got kicked out together with his family by his own tribe, had to kill his step-brother to be the family head and even had to rescue his kidnapped wife from rival tribes. After all these, through marriage and alliances, Genghis Khan managed to have his own followers, tribe and eventually, army.  

All these events in his life and whatever lessons he learned from them could have shaped him to become the brutal, violent and aggressive leader as portrayed by history today.  

Never killed without a reason

It was not within Khan’s interest to kill everybody in his path. If people surrendered to him willingly, there was no reason to kill them. He always gave his opponents a choice. If the opponent was not willing to bow to Genghis’s rule, then the Mongol would not hesitate to destroy him and all his subjects. Don’t you think it was rather fair of him to negotiate before acting? Genghis Khan did not tolerate disloyalty and resentment to his rule. That could probably be attributed to his own experiences of the volatile and cutthroat nature of Mongolian politics. Furthermore, killing millions of people and wiping out entire cities was not just something specific to only Genghis Khan. Other conquerors were also known to have caused devastating damages to cities they tried to conquer. Some were even known to kill people for fun!

He did not believe in torture

Ancient rulers were known to resort to torture techniques to mutilate their enemies in order to extract information or for sadistic entertainment. Roman emperors were known to use animals to ravage their prisoners as well as employ various methods to dismember them. The king who embraced non-violence, King Ashoka, had a torture chamber built for his enemies and prisoners prior to his change. However, Genghis Khan did not believe in torturing his enemies. They were usually given a swift death, which would have been a much better end as compared to being tortured to death.

Tolerant and Flexible

Genghis Khan was very tolerating of other religions and cultures. That was one of the key factors for the success and longevity of his empire. Genghis Khan was a believer of ‘Tengrism’, which was a rather shamanistic form of religion. His religion was flexible and did not discriminate against other religions. He allowed the people of his conquered regions to continue practicing their religion (like Islam or Christianity), as long they did not interfere or oppose his rule. His army itself consisted of soldiers from different religions who were willing to fight for the charismatic Mongolian leader.  This lack of discrimination and acceptance did portray Genghis Khan as a man with a heart rather than the cruel leader he was largely perceived to be.

Since most of the historical records were usually by Western historians, it is not surprising for Genghis Khan to be only portrayed as a ruthless tyrant who oppressed people. However, if that is the case, then why do the Mongolian people revere him so much and elevate him to a god-like status? Could the words of these people have fallen on deaf ears or missed a chance in being recorded as part of historical evidence? Perception differs based on what people choose to believe, so dear reader, what do you choose to believe?

Who run the world? G I R L S!

Many of you might remember The Mongols for being a group of fierce and notorious warriors (thanks to the promotion of them by John Green in his crash course videos). Remember this scene?

However, what do you know about the women behind these men?

Women in the ancient Mongolian society

Mongolian women are generally in charge of household chores since the men are all out for battles most of the time. Polygamy is being practiced in Mongolia, where it is common for men to take more than one wife. In fact, the number of wives a man have is directly proportional to how affluent and powerful he is as wives are usually bought over. Among all the wives that a Mongolia man has taken, there will be a chief wife. She will have the greatest power in the family (after her husband) as her sons would be the one to take over their father's power and inherit a greater portion of his inheritance as compared to children of other wives. However, as much as Mongolian men are glorified for their achievements from war victories, Mongolian women are less known for their contributions towards the society, in which some are rather untypical.


Being pastoral nomads, Mongolia women were expected to be the ones pitching their tents (or gers as the Mongols call it) once they have settled down into their new camp site. This was pretty surprising to us as it is unusual for ancient women to be the one in charge of building homes as they are often made out to be weak. Well, clearly not so for Mongolian women #girlpower. The gers will be pitched such that there will be "a space of one stone's throw” between them so that every wife of the Mongolian men will have their own homes pitched.


Mongolian women were also known to take on the role of moving their house around. They were tasked to load up their dismantled gers and all of their furnitures onto their horse/camel wagons. After each wife is done loading up their stuffs, the wagons would then be connected to each other and each wife would sit on their wagon before everyone travels together as a group.

Fun Fact: According to "William of Ruburch, the cleric who traveled among the Mongols between 1253 and 1255, claimed that one woman would drive as many as 30 connected wagons."


Lastly, Mongolian women were actually capable of influencing men back then! One example is Sorghaghtani Beki.

Sorghaghtani was originally from the Kereit tribe before marrying Genghis Khan’s youngest son, Tolui. In her lifetime, she bore Tolui four sons who would later inherit the legacy left by their grandfather, Genghis Khan. Her second son in particular, Khublai Khan ended up becoming the first emperor of the Yuan dynasty in 1271 CE.

She is considered to be one of the most remarkable women from the Mongol Empire not just because of her status as Genghis Khan’s daughter-in-law, but also due to her influence on her 4 sons.

While she was a Christian herself, she chose to keep herself open to other religions and even contributed significantly in the form of monetary and tangible support to Buddhism, Taoism and Islam practitioners on her land. This was because she believed that the patronage of different religions would help to facilitate the governance of people living in the Mongol Empire. As a result, she made sure that this belief was instilled into her sons while she raised them up.

Sorghaghtani also saw literacy as a crucial skill that would aid her sons in administering rule over the Mongol Empire. Hence, she employed teachers to teach them how to read and write, and exposed them to the languages of the territories under the Mongol Empire. Moreover, she sought the help of Chinese advisers to educate her sons regarding Chinese culture, so that they could relate  to the Chinese people and gain their support.

To her, it was vital that her children (and also the rest of the community such as the wives and leftover troops) understood the importance of good manners and avoidance of conflict. As a result, this became a quality the community practised and they all developed great respect towards Sorghaghtani and pledged loyalty towards her.

In conclusion, we think that without the influence of Sorghaghtani on her sons, they would not all become khans eventually. Being religious tolerant is especially essential as commoners  can easily use this as a reason to defy their rulers and cause internal conflicts to occur. By providing her sons with education and good manners, Sorghaghtani was able to lay the foundations that are essential for her sons to become rulers of the Mongol Empire left behind by their grandfather, Genghis Khan.

White and Red: The Mongol Diet

In our class a week from now we will be covering the Mongol Empire, and I am definitely looking forward to it.  A certain name will likely come to mind with the mention of the Mongols; and that name is Genghis Khan - the man that founded the largest empire to date. The Mongols are known far and wide for their military conquests, but what fueled these individuals?  What did they ingest on a daily basis to give them their boundless energy?

The cuisine of the Mongol Empire can be divided into two main groups: White foods and Red foods.  And while they were separated into two categories, everything the Mongols consumed predominantly came from their herds of livestock; these animals traveled with them as they moved from place to place (as they were a nomadic group of peoples after all).  Now, returning to what the two categories encompassed; the White foods were all dairy in nature, and included products such as cheese, yogurt, and a favorite of theirs, airag, "or fermented mare's milk which is [still] widely drunk today". I tried some of this airag myself, while on a school excursion to Mongolia several years back; however, I found it a tinge too pungent, but I guess it is an acquired taste.  It should be noted that these White foods were largely consumed during the summer.

Red foods, on the other hand, were consumed during the winter and consisted of meat from "five types of animals": sheep, goats, cattle (mainly yak), horses, and camels.  The protein and fat from all this meat provided the Mongols with a great source of energy and warmth.  However, as the Mongol nomads did not plant crops or possess an abundance of spices, their meaty meals were rather bland.  The only non-animal products they used were the occasional wild onion or garlic.  Mongol warriors who were constantly on the move were known to sometimes "knick a vein in their pony’s neck and drink a few gulps of the horse’s blood".

As can be seen by the types of food the Mongols consumed, they did not have the most balanced or exciting diet.  If I had to eat solely meat and milk products every single day I would definitely find myself getting bored of the food before long.  A diet such as this, lacking in vegetables and fruit, would be detrimental to the human body. The Mongols were also known be lovers of alcoholic drink, which was not very beneficial to their health as well.  Although their diet provided them with abundant energy, the excessive consumption of meat led to certain side effects; ailments such as gout were prevalent among those of the Mongol empire. Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, suffered from gout, and he was known for being "grotesquely fat" during the later stages of his life. And he was not the only one.  Mainly during the period when the Mongol Empire was at its peak, obesity was a common problem; as a result, cardio-vascular issues were also suspected to be fairly widespread.

The benefits of the Mongol diet, though aiding in their mobility and giving their warriors inexhaustible energy, turned out to be rather short-lived.

Genghis Khan, The Military Genius


Figure 1: Genghis Khan


Genghis Khan was born as Temujin in 1162 in Mongolia and died in 1227. He was responsible for uniting the nomadic tribes of the Mongolian plateau, and later expanded his territory by conquering huge chunks of China (consisting of three separate states Xi Xia, Jin and Sung), Khwarizm (include parts of modern day Iran, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) and Russia. His descendants expanded the empire even further by venturing into Poland, Vietnam, Syria and Korea. In just 25 years, Genghis Khan and his army had conquered more land and people than the Romans did in their 400 years of ruling. How did Genghis Khan achieve such a great feat?


Figure 2: Mongol Empire's Territory before 1259 CE


Genghis Khan had a strategical and developed system of warfare, relying heavily on soldiers, skilled horsemen, battle tactics and weapons.


Recruitment and Training of Soldiers

War was a full-time job and people were either a soldier or somehow supported a soldier. Potential army recruits trained from young to ride, be rough, be mobile and be accustomed to killing. Leaders and ranks in army were selected through merit not by blood relation: due to his disobedience by ransacking villages, Toguchar (Genghis Khan’s son-in-law), was demoted to a normal soldier from a general position until his death.


In addition, Genghis khan also recruited male nomads into the army from cities that he conquered, provided that they had surrendered earlier on. These nomads were particularly from Turks, Armenians, Georgians and others. Hence as the army attack further to more cities, their army expanded in numbers.1


Figure3:The Mongol Army as depicted in a 2007 movie, Mongols: The Rise of Genghis Khan


Discipline in army was enforced through merciless means: any man who abandoned the battlefield would be killed. The soldiers were vigorously trained and in order to sharpen fighting skills, gorugen, an annual great hunt was held. Thousands of horsemen would gather in a large area and closed in. Each man was allotted only one arrow; failure to kill an animal was met with ridicule.


Though ruthless, Genghis Khan treasured his soldiers dearly and was careful not to drive them to their limits of their endurance, as the human population was small. If a Mongol soldier was killed due to carelessness, his commander would be punished; if a wounded Mongol soldier was left on the battlefield, his troop leader would be executed on the spot. This concept of mutual loyalty allowed him to maintain constant number of troops under him.


Horses and Adaptation to Conquests Living

Mongol army were highly dependent on horses. They offered a fast mode of transportation, and provided a source of food as well. Due to great need for mobility, Mongolian soldiers would rest on the horses during travel and wars. Horses had incredible stamina, hence Mongols could spend days on a horseback while going as far as 145 km daily if need be. In addition, horses’ milk was made into fermented drinks, yoghurt, and cheese. Soldiers could also feed on their blood or meat when food supplies were short during travel.


Battle Tactics

Genghis adopted psychological warfare tactics towards his enemies. His objective was to instill fear in his enemies and offer an opportunity for them to surrender and pay tributes to the Mongols. This tactic was so famous that Historian Morris Rossabi said, "There's no question that there was a great deal of destruction. Not all the cities were butchered, but some became examples to sow terror in others. It was psychological warfare. Cities that offered resistance were often spared, escaping violence by offering tributes and letting Mongol soldiers loot unimpeded." When the Mongols captured Baghdad, the last caliph (a religious leader) and his sons were trampled to death.2 This is used as a tactic to demoralise enemies.


Unique withdrawal tactic (mangudai) was also deployed, whereby the army will retreat and then surprise their opponent by engaging a swift and full combat with usually greater number of soldiers on conquests. After this tactic became widespread among their opponents, the Mongols retreated longer. On the Battle of Kalka River, Mongol army retreated for 9 days before re-attacking the spread army of the Russians and killing many of them.


Figure 4: Mongol Soldiers battling on his horse while attacking with the infamous short bow



The Mongols were equipped with various weapons that caused nightmare to their enemies: flaming arrows, gunpowder projectiles, bronze cannons and short bows. Mongol army especially depressed the enemies by firing short bows with great accuracy from their moving horse and hitting an object 366 meters away. When attacking walled cities like Beijing and Aleppo, trebuchet, a type of siege machine, was used to hurl missiles over the walls. These granted the Mongolian army to be named as War Machine.


Genghis Khan’s descendants continued expanding the Mongol Empire until the Great Khanate fell into the hands of Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. Our world today is greatly influenced by the Mongol Empire, as they improved the world trade and exchange of ideas during their golden era. It is of no qualms that Genghis Khan have contributed to the great achievements of the Mongols, even though his methods may be harsh and cruel!



1Lane, G. (2006). Propaganda. In Daily Life in the Mongol Empire. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.

2Fernandez-Armesto, F. (2010). The World: A History Volume 1.

Final Task: Living with the Mongolians

Many young cats gathered excitedly to receive their final assignment in the Grand Hall within the Sacred Chapel. Silence fell upon them as MaMa, the High Priestess, began to address the crowd.

MaMa: “Please read the instructions on the scroll carefully. The High Council will be watching out for your safety. Dismissed!”

Scroll Done


Marshmallow: “Clear skies, green pasture, abundant forests. This is totally different from the expected hot, blaring sun!”


Milkshake: “Haha! And, we are finally not lost or tumbling down one another!”


Oreo: “Well, 3 years have passed ever since our first mission. It certainly is strange to be one of these skinny two-legged beings…”


Soon after, the Three Nekos received an order to gather at a glowing red paw that appeared on an ancient tree nearby. Moments later, a Mongolian cat (disguised as a human) briefed the group about the Mongolians on mannerism and some background information before bringing them to their destination.



Decked in a form-fitting robe and exquisite accessories, a tanned, muscular man greeted them at the village entrance. The rest of the tribesmen appeared and greeted the guests warmly.

Carlisle: “Welcome, honourable guests! I am, Carlisle, the Chieftain of this tribe. Please make yourself at home here and let my fellow tribesmen show you how hospitable we Mongolians are! Enjoy yourselves!


Thereafter, the group was split into 3 teams guided by one of the tribesman. As for the protagonists, the Chieftain was their guide.


Marshmallow: (timidly) “Sir, will we be shown around?”


Carlisle: “Yes! Before that, let’s all come to my house for a feast. Come along now!”


Along the way…


Carlisle: “We, Mongolians are very different from the people of Great China. Instead of staying at a spot, we, pastoral nomads, will move several times a year in search of water and grass for our precious companions. Now, I believe, is a good season for my people and animals to stay for long!”

Oreo: (surprised) “You consider animals as your precious companions?”


Carlisle: “Well, definitely!  We rely on them for survival in terms of transportation, food and even clothing. We respect nature and reap its goodness. Dogs are our best friend. They help protect the herd against potential predators.”



Carlisle: “Welcome to my home, also known as gers!”

The three Nekos marveled at the spacious area, filled with lavish furniture.

They were treated like royalty, served with a special hospitality bowl that contains various delicacies: homemade cheese, flour pastries (bordzig), sugar cubes and candy. 

They also tasted many different types of meat from sheep and goat. According to the host, they were the fattest animals. Meat-filled dumplings were said to be served to guests as a form of tradition. It was customary for guests to drink alcoholic drinks as a form of respect to the host family. With that, the Nekos were content. They drifted off to sleep.



Wide awake, the three Nekos requested to observe the animals. Carlisle brought them to the field.

Marshmallow: “It’s strange how we can’t understand them…Maybe because we are in human form.”

Oreo: “Carlisle, do share why these animals play an important part in your lives.”

Carlisle: “Yes, sure! Sheep are vital for our survival. Their wool is useful for clothing-making, blankets and even the outer covering of the gers. Boiled mutton is a good part of our diet. laughs Sheep dung provide a good source of fuel even though we have coal and firewood!”

“Other animals like: goats, camels, horses, yaks and oxens are play an important role in our lives. In fact, we adore them!”

“In summer, the tribeswomen will milk the mares. Some of the milk will be fermented into an alcoholic drink: airag (or, koumiss).”

Milkshake: “Wow, these animals play a crucial role to aid the survival of the Mongolians!”


Just then, they heard a commotion in the village. A funeral was taking place.

Carlisle: “Come on, you’re here on a happy visit.  The burial will not happen until tomorrow, early dawn.”



Oreo: “Hush! Don’t be a scaredy cat! Let’s hurry!”


The Nekos climbed through the hills into the forest. In the center lay a naked, frail body wearing only loincloth. Several grey wolves were busy consuming the body. Just then, a wolf appeared behind the Nekos.

Wolf: (growling) “How dare you intrude on our sacred consumption! We assume the precious role of helping humans send their dead to the heavenly sky!”

Milkshake: “How come we can’t communicate with other animals?”

Wolf: “Because they are just not interested!”


The wolf signaled for the others to come over. They bared their teeth, surrounding the Nekos. When they were about to pounce, out of the blue…


MaMa: “Welcome back! Congratulations on passing your final test!”


The three Nekos opened their eyes and were greeted by a familiar sight – the chapel’s interior made them feel safe. Another timely rescue!

Thank you for reading the Adventure of the Three Nekos! Hope you have enjoyed this journey~ :)




  Welcome! For people dropping by for the first time, we will just run

short summary of our first two posts. Our first post on Egypt attempted to introduce alternate theories behind the creation of the pyramids. Whereas our second post introduced the perspective of viewing the Song Dynasty’s culture by being in their shoes (pun intended). Our efforts then culminate to our third and final blog to bring yet another post on perspectives.

            In this post, we seek to reiterate on the idea of history as 1)a matter of perspective and interpretation of the observer and 2)how it is twisted by authors to demonize some individuals.

             History is commonly critiqued to be "his story", the account of male historians. “Ourstory” is then a double barreled word that hopes to include people whom we have always thought of as “others” and to cast aside any gender connotations into our understanding of our own pasts with the help of two examples--- Chinggis Khan and Wu Zetian respectively.


Chinggis Khan (c.1162-1227CE)

         So just before we jump into the topic of the Mongols, we would like to ask: What do you think of when we mention the Mongols?

Wait for it…

Dragging monggol

          If that is the picture that came to mind, it is only understandable. Much of the sources were written by cultures invaded by the Mongols(Author's Note). It would be similar to having only one voice against the many. The Mongols were portrayed as the barbarians, the uncivilized, violent, and the incarnation of evil, who plundered, maimed and butchered millions. Having been viewed as the "other" by many cultures, we speculate that the Mongols might have also internalized those views to see the other cultures as the "other" as well. They then forge it into their own identity and pride as evidenced by their own writing and reverence for Chinggis Khan that is seen in various locations of Mongolia up till today.

Image2. Timeline of Chinggis Khan compiled from various sources.

         Little is known about the life of Tenmujin when he was young. His father, a leader of a small clan, had been poisoned by a rival clan and the other members of his clan left the broken family to fend for themselves in the harsh condition of the Mongolian plains. Living in the environment which seems to scream “Kill or be killed”, this young boy would later grow to unite the other tribes and be known by the title of Chinggis Khan. Although he is better known in popular sources as Genghis Khan, we have opted for the original pronunciation for his title--- Chinggis Khan.

         As the saying goes, “all’s fair in love or war”. Uniting the tribes on the Mongolian steppes, he grouped his army into divisions of ten, hundred and thousand for a good chain of command. In a time when wars were based on bravery, the feints of the Mongols to hit and retreat would surely be seen as cowardly, but a coordination that is still used in our modern world war and sports. We can see this as an intelligent move on his part to conserve his forces against a larger number in future battles to come. Chinggis Khan utilized an effective psychological warfare which struck fear into cities that he had yet to come into contact with. Public displays of massacres for towns and cities that resisted his invasion were warnings to the others. His agents were planted in advance to spread the word of the Mongols’ invasion and the examples made of the earlier resistances were encouraging enough to make subsequent invasions(surrenders) swifter for the Mongols.

Image 3. Weaving fear into his identity for efficiency in the psychological warfare.Image 3. Weaving fear into his identity for efficiency in the psychological warfare.


             Speeches such as Image 3, were used to demoralize people, but do note that he was against resistance and not religions. His allowed the practice of free religion. Moreover, is it really sensible for us to expect war and expansions to be similar to Disney productions with happily-ever afters? Another perspective proposed by Julia Pongratz in her research for the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology says that the massive depopulation allowed forests to regrow and reduce carbon levels in the air. In short, these people were unintentionally eco-friendly!

           Chinggis Khan was not all violence and without peaceful approaches. He had attempted talks with the Islamic Khwarazmian Empire but the death of his envoys were a clear declaration of war. In addition, he respected knowledge and trade, going on to create a writing system for the Mongols and sparing skilled people of the raided cities. Moreover, the so called civilized cultures have had wars in the past and it would not justify the view of excluding the culture of the Mongols by making them seem only capable of violence and destruction.


Wu Zetian (624-705CE)

In the context of the Tang Dynasty, women were granted more freedom and were less submissive. Born to a wealthy and noble family, Wu Zetian was well versed in music and Chinese Classics which allowed her to be assigned to work in the imperial study when she became concubine to Emperor Taizong at the age of 13. Access to the imperial study also provided the opportunity to be accustomed to state affairs. What came next would be a whole list of affairs between her and her step son which allowed her to escape the fate of continuing her life as a nun after her husband’s death and movements within the positions of power (p.365) that is similarly seen from Image 4.  Image 6(p.367) would then be a good example of how Wu Zetian is shown in a very bad light by historians.

Image 6. Translation of Wu Zetian’s actions with the use of strong emotive words in the description.(p.367)


                The deaths and exiles that were coincidental with each rise in power led to the many insults that Wu Zetian was a demon, a witch, a seductress(p.364) and a ruthless woman who would even kill her own children for power. In fact, Song (2010) in a review of various literature pointed out that the general view of Wu Zetian continues to be cast in a negative light and that it continues to be an attempt to dampen the achievements of powerful women(p.364). Popular sources of history have also chosen to comment on her relationships. Her establishment of the secret police instilled fear and removed political opponents. But is that any different from any of the other rulers?

           The focus on her sexual relations with her husband, step son, harem, and her moves to remove political threats by executions and exiles overshadowed the other accomplishments in her political term. Her support for Buddhism instead of misogynist Confucianism paved the way for more improvements to the lives of females. Scholars were encouraged to write literature on famous women. Tax reduction and irrigation schemes for agriculture helped the peasants to prosper. She also made positions of officials a meritocratic process by the use of imperial exams, personally interviewed candidates and opened it for women to become officials---an unprecedented move of her time. In response to the criticisms, Dash(2012) posits the fact that emperors had their harems and that  few rulers maintained or came to power without a violent removal of opponents--- it was only a problem because of her gender. Cai Zhuozhi, author of "100 Celebrated Chinese Women" have also clarified that many of Wu Zetian's past were written 300 years after her reign by Confucian historians which would lead to biased recounts.

             Although we would have loved to know more about what female leaders such as Wu Zetian may have done and how it would fit in their timeline, we would also like to point out that perhaps the relationships with powerful men are necessary  for female rulers to rise to power in patriarchal societies. The maintaining of power and the process in gaining power should also be viewed as a success in its own right.


            Our understanding of our past is very much dependent on 1. the cultural lenses that we view it from (from blog 2), 2. the view of the historian who writes the story(this post). This calls for a need to develop a critical eye in reading between the lines and to be in their shoes to understand the context. It would then facilitate a better interpretation of the way people lived in the past and the possible lessons for our current time. Ending off on this note, we hope that you have enjoyed “Ourstory of their stories”, which hopes to encourage the view of a collective and inclusive story of Humans rather than that of Mankind which excludes others.

Genghis Khan's Art of War

It is indisputable that the phrase, "Art of War" has been irrevocably linked to the universally lauded Chinese military general, Sun Tzu. But truly, the famed Genghis Khan of the Mongolian empire is equally deserving of this accolade.

Genghis Khan (born Temüjin, Chinggis Khaan or the Great Khan) was born into nobility in 1162, eventually expanding his status to become emperor of the Mongol Empire after successfully uniting the multitude of tribes in Northeast Asia. While it is easy to laud and applaud his brilliance as a military leader, the question of "How exactly did he do it?" is often overlooked. Today, we will explore the military philosophies and strategies of Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan's military revolved around 5 core elements. These five elements were:

  1. SPEED

Before delving any further into the strategies Genghis Khan employed, let us first review the philosophies he advocated within his military. (Well, you got to learn the reasoning behind his tactics in the first place right?) Perhaps, both his philosophies of iron discipline and ferocity is best embodied in this quote:

"The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters." - Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan's ironclad strictness with his military translated into military ruthlessness but he was always careful with how he treated his army as well. Another of his quotes reflect his softer side, and his apparent concern for his soldiers.

"My soldiers are as numerous as forests, and their women could form a large unit within the army. I want to feed them with juicy meat, let them live in beautiful yurts, and let them pasture their livestock on rich soil." - Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan treated his army well (albeit with iron discipline), and in return they excelled in battle for him, carrying out his tactics with great success (evident from his triumphant conquests). This is reflective of his "golden rule" of 'mutual loyalty'. Having identified his military philosophy, we move on to discuss the strategies of his army.


Genghis Khan's army was highly mobile, with each soldier requiring to care for 3 to 4 horses, enabling them to travel at high speeds for days. This ability allowed the Mongolian army to scout effectively, mapping out enemy territories and carrying out spy missions. This emphasis on mobility also translated into battle, whereby the cavalry wore lightweight armor and used bows to devastating effect in a variety of situations.


While a majority of the sites I visited for research tended to focus their tactics of feigned retreat and flanking, Genghis Khan's army actually utilized 16 different tactics under his command. A handful of these tactics include:

  1. Crow Soldiers and Scattered Stars Tactics (also known as Ocean Waves Tactics)
  2. The Cavalrymen Charge Tactics (also known as Chisel Attack Tactics)
  3. Archers’ Tactics
  4. Throw-Into-Disorder Tactics
  5. Wearing-Down Tactics
  6. Confusing and Intimidating
  7. Luring into Ambushes
  8. Arc Formation Tactics

*Click here for the full list and explanation of each tactic.

Psychological Warfare

"In the countries that have not yet been overrun by them, everyone spends the night afraid that they may appear there too." - Ibn Al-Athir (Arab Chronicler)

These quote perhaps sums up the extent of psychological impact the Mongol Army had on their terrified neighbors. The Mongolian army under Genghis Khan's rule was not large by any amount and was in fact outnumbered in a number of battles. In an effort to overcome this handicap, Genghis Khan instilled terror in his enemies through the brutal plundering of cities he conquered. It was through these multiple shows of mercilessness that his army was simply able to walk into self-surrendering cities.

The terrors of 13th century Mongol conquests.

Genghis Khan's legacy lives on today. Up till this day, he inspires love and hate, with one of the end of the spectrum naming an airport (Chinggis Khaan International Airport) after him, and the other bemoaning his butchering of millions, labeling him "Accursed of God". Regardless one which camp you belong to, one cannot help but acknowledge his prowess on the battlefield and his might as a military man.