Empire on Horseback: Genghis Khan and the Mongols

February 22-23, 2008
Herbst Theatre,  401 Van Ness Avenue,  San Francisco

Listen to audio from this program

In the 13th century, Genghis (Chingis) Khan (Universal Ruler) led a nomadic East Asiatic people in the creation of the largest contiguous empire in the history of the world. In the wake of his military victories, the essence of Asian culture spread throughout the conquered lands, the Silk Road that linked China via Central Asia to Europe was reopened, papermaking and printing technologies were introduced to the West, and a comprehensive communications network was established (one of whose imitators, centuries later, was America’s Pony Express). Although his reputation as a brutal warrior is infamous, in recent years the contributions of his Empire in art, science, religious tolerance, commerce and politics, as well as military strategy, have gained more recognition. An able administrator himself, Genghis Khan, his sons and grandsons ruled the region from China to Europe for 150 years.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mechanics’ Institute, 57 Post Street, San Francisco
Special Event

Open to the public. $10 general admission.
Free to cooperating institutions and supporters of Humanities West.

5:30 pm  reception
6:00 pm 

Portraits of Chingis Khan and Art of Mongol Empire.
Pre-performance Lecture on the Art of Mongolia by Orna Uranchimeg-Tsultem (ABD, Art History, UC Berkeley).
The lecture will discuss portraits of Chingis (Genghis) Khan and some selected works of Mongolian art during the imperial period. Were the Mongols “barbarians” or patrons and creators of fine art? Did the Mongol rulers build cities or always ruined and destroyed? Also some contemporary images of Chingis Khan will be discussed and analyzed.

The Mechanics’ Institute is a Humanities West Cooperating Institution.

Friday, February 22, 2007

Herbst Theatre,  401 Van Ness Avenue,  San Francisco

Moderator, Fred Astren  Director, Jewish Studies Program, San Francisco State University

Keynote Address  The ‘owl of misfortune’ or the ‘phoenix of prosperity”?  Reassessing Chingis Khan and the Mongol Empire
Daniel Waugh,
Emeritus Professor, University of Washington

To some of their contemporaries, the conquest of Eurasia by Chingis (Genghis) Khan and his successors in the thirteenth century was the worst disaster which had ever befallen mankind. How did much of Eurasia come to be ruled from Mongolia? Were the Mongols uniquely destructive? This presentation will attempt to separate myth from reality and provide a balanced picture of the Mongols’ impact on their contemporary world.

Lecture/Demonstration  From Steppe to Stage: An Exploration of 800 Years of Mongolian Music
Presented by Peter K. Marsh, Assistant Professor of Music, CSU East Bay

Mongolian music, song, and dance are closely tied to the traditional pastoral nomadic ways of life of the Mongol peoples. Even the music performed in the refined and cosmopolitan courts of Kubilai Khan was rooted back in the lives of the Mongol nomads. In this lecture, we’ll explore the history of Mongolian music from Imperial times to the present paying particular attention to how traditional music, including the two-stringed fiddle and khöömii or ‘throat singing’ traditions, intersects the human, natural, and spiritual worlds. We’ll end by looking at how Mongolian music has fared in the era of globalization. With a demonstration by Orgilsaikhan Chimeddorj playing on the morin khuur or ‘horse-head fiddle,’ and Ulziisaikhan Lkhagvadorj playing on the ever büree or ‘Mongolian horn’ and singing khöömii or a ‘throat-singing’ style.

Saturday, February 23, 2007

Herbst Theatre,  401 Van Ness Avenue,  San Francisco

Lecture  Culture and Commerce
Morris Rossabi, Professor of History, Columbia University

The image of Chingis (Genghis) Khan and the Mongols as barbarians intent on plunder and destruction is still widely held. The brutality of their military campaigns should not be ignored, but this slide-illustrated lecture reveals that they promoted commerce and fostered some of the arts in the vast empire they subjugated.

Lecture  The Women in Genghis’s Life
James RyanEmeritus Professor, CCNY

“The Women in Chingis Khan’s Life.” In Chingis (Genghis) Khan’s era, Mongol women enjoyed higher position and greater recognition than those in China, the Arab world, or Europe, as commentators from those societies frequently noted. This was especially true of Mongol Katuns, the consorts of the khans, who played major political roles in the Mongol Empire and the various khanates that succeeded it. Surviving records reveal much about them and the society in which they wielded power. This presentation will focus on several of these remarkable women, including Chingis’ mother, his chief wife and mother of the four sons who figured in succession to his empire, and several of his daughters-in-law.

Performance  Mongolian Music

A presentation of Mongolian Music, coordinated by Peter Marsh and Orna Uranchimeg-Tsultem, withOrgilsaikhan Chimeddorj on the morin khuur or ‘horse-head fiddle,’ and Ulziisaikhan Lkhagvadorj on the ever büree or ‘Mongolian horn’ and singing khöömii or a ‘throat-singing’ style.

Lecture  The Mongol Influence on Islamic, especially Persian, Art (an illustrated account)
Stefano Carboni, Curator, Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

During the century-long period of the unified Mongol confederacy, people, objects, and ideas moved with unprecedented freedom over the entire vast Asian territory, including the Islamic areas of Western Asia. The confluence of previously distant cultures yielded a bold new visual aesthetic that would resonate in Islamic art for centuries to come. The lecture will explore the impact of China’s Yüan dynasty on the art and culture of Iran’s Ilkhanid dynasty, a period of great cultural achievement and profound changes as local artists and artisans were introduced to previously unknown artistic traditions from East Asia and attempted to respond to the tastes of their new royal patrons, the Mongol rulers.

Panel Discussion
Moderated by Fred Astren


Presenter Information Unavailable

Resource Materials

No, we don‘t require homework, but this program exposes us to some peoples and places that may be less familiar than many of our usual topics. For those who would like to get some additional context and perspective, but who don‘t have a lot of time to invest, the following short list of recommendations has been compiled with the help of our keynote speaker, Daniel Waugh, who has also provided the much more comprehensive list of resources shown below.

The Mongols in World History,” is a Columbia University web site intended as a very quick survey for educators and students. The material is well-informed and produced under the expert supervision of Prof. Morris Rossabi, another one of our speakers.

“The Pax Mongolica” by Daniel Waugh, is on the website of the Silkroad Foundation.  It provides a quick, balanced assessment of the Mongol impact.

David O. Morgan, The Mongols (Second Edition, Blackwell, 2007, paperback). This is the best overview of the history of the Mongol Empire. Note though, that as a Persia specialist Morgan has good reasons rather to dislike the Mongols, since some areas of the Middle East never recovered from their invasion. (Purchasing this book through the provided link to helps Humanities West: Learn more by clicking here.)

For the art of the Mongols and their successors in the Middle East, do not miss the beautifully designed Internet exhibit, “The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256-1353)” which was created in conjunction with a museum exhibition mounted first at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and then at the Los Angeles Country Museum. Some additional material compiled by another of our speakers, Stefano Carboni, may be found on the Metropolitan Museum’s web site.

The National Geographic published a two-part series: “Lord of the Mongols: Genghis Khan” (Dec. 1996, with a Map Supplement: Mongol Khans and their Legacy) and “The Great Khans: Sons of Genghis” (Feb. 1997). Unfortunately, these articles are not available on-line, so you will have to go to your local library or rummage through your attic to find them.

In a lighter vein, a must-see film (available from Netflix) is The Story of the Weeping Camel (2004), written and directed by Luigi Falorni and Bayambasuren Davaa and distributed by the National Geographic. It is more than just a cute, child-oriented film with a four-legged scene-stealer. One can learn something here about contemporary herders in a world where none can be isolated from modern life.

—Compiled by Daniel Waugh
University of Washington, Seattle

Please contact Humanities West at for a special study guide/reader, compiled by Daniel Waugh, and available only to ticket holders: The Mongol Empire Through the Eyes of Contemporaries. (Delivered as a PDF document.)

A superb online resource:
The Mongols in World History: Professor Morris Rossabi, one of the presenters, is the faculty consultant for this website project.

Additional Reading and Viewing Resources

The list here is far from exhaustive, as there are a great many books, scholarly and popular, on Mongol history and on Genghis (Chingis) Khan, as well as many modern travel narratives about Mongolia. The choices here are primarily accessible works in English which the compiler recommends highly and which are available either in a good library or to purchase. Where possible, information has been provided about materials which may be accessed through the Internet.

Historic (primary) sources:

Paul Kahn and Francis Woodman Cleaves, tr. and ed., Secret History of the Mongols: The Origin of Chingis Khan (Cheng & Tsui, 1999). Kahn has taken the scholarly Cleaves translation and “re-translated” it into more colloquial English. This account is based on oral tradition of the Mongols themselves and is the closest we can get to an “inside” look at traditional Mongol world view in the lifetime of Chingis Khan. The now standard annotated scholarly translation is The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century, tr. with a historical and philological commentary by Igor de Rachewiltz, 2 vols. (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2004).

Monumenta Altaica: Altaic Linguistics has information, bibliography and texts of the Secret History in German, French, Russian and modern Mongolian. The website has other resources if you are interested in the language.

The Secret History is at the core of a ballyhooed and self-indulgent book by anthropologist Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (NY: Crown, 2004), which is, however, a-historical and indulges in fanciful generalizations about Mongol impact on world history even though it has the virtue of casting the Mongols in a very positive light and tries to understand something of the cultural milieu out of which Chingis emerged.

Ata-Malik Juvaini, Genghis Khan: The History of the World Conqueror, tr. J. A. Boyle, repr. ed. (Seattle, 1997; now reissued by UNESCO in Paris). This is a vivid 13th-century account of rise of Mongols and their conquest of Central Asia and the Middle East. Juvaini worked for the Mongols, part of the time in Mongolia. He disliked them for what their invasions did to his Persian homeland, but for all that prejudice, his account is often remarkably balanced and provides our best insights into such topics as the reasons for the Mongol invasion of Central Asia. Boyle has also translated excerpts from another important Persian chronicle of the Mongols, by Rashid al-Din, under the titleThe Successors of Chingis Khan.

Christopher Dawson, ed., The Mongol Mission (various editions, also titled Mission to Asia), includes accounts by Franciscans John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck, who visited Mongols in the 13th century. Rubruck’s is the best systematic contemporary description of Mongol life at the time and contains a unique description of the Mongol capital, Karakorum, in the 1250s. Carpini and Rubruck may be read online: here and here.

The best modern, fully annotated edition of Rubruck is the new edition of the text by the Hakluyt Society, edited and annotated by Peter Jackson and David Morgan. On the various papal missions to the khans, down through the 14th century, see Igor de Rachewiltz, Papal Envoys to the Great Khans(Stanford: Stanford UP, 1971).

Marco Polo, The Travels, tr. R. Latham (Penguin, 1958). This is a perennial favorite, although he can be formulaic and repetitious. Some claims to the contrary, he really did go to China. He has valuable details on Mongol culture, economic and cultural exchange, etc. You can download the text from the old Yule/Cordier edition from Project Gutenberg.

If you wish to follow in Marco’s footsteps viewing the art of Eurasia, visit the very nice Internet exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum.

Also, the National Geographic ran a three-part article re-tracing Marco’s journey: Mike Edwards, photos by Michael Yamashita,”The Adventures of Marco Polo, Part I,”Marco Polo, Part II, In China,” and “Marco Polo, Part III, Journey Home“. There is also a 9-minute “Sights and Sounds” narrative of this series on the NGS website.

For comparison/contrast with the modern take on Marco’s journey, look at J. R. Hildebrand, “The World’s Greatest Overland Explorer,” National Geographic, LIV/5, Nov. 1928: 505-568. The old “documentary” photos often are much better than the stylish new ones for capturing cultural information. The same issue has a very interesting article on Tibetan Buddhism in an area of China just south of Mongolia: Joseph Rock, “Life Among the Lamas of Choni,” NG, LIV/5, Nov. 1928: 569-619.

Francis Balducci Pegolotti, “Notices of the Land Route to Cathay and of Asiatic Trade in the First Half of the Fourteenth Century,” in Henry Yule and Henri Cordier, eds., Cathay and the Way Thither: Being a Collection of Medieval Notices of China, vol. III (London, 1916), pp. 137-173. A Florentine merchant’s trade handbook attesting to the scope of the Asian trade ca. 1340. This text (a selection from a larger work) may be read online here.

Abu Abdallah Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Ibn Battuta A.D. 1325-1354, tr. H.A.R.Gibb, 5 vols. (London: Hakluyt Society, 1958-). If anything, a more remarkable traveller than Marco Polo; visited Mongol Empire’s Western, Central Asian and S. China territories. Provides a Muslim perspective and often remarkably precise descriptions of customs. There is a good book about Ibn Battuta’s travels: Ross E. Dunn, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century (Berkeley/LA: Univ. of Calif. Pr., 1986; pb ed. 1989). Also there are popular articles about him in Saudi Aramco World and National Geographic. A generous selection from the translation of his narrative is in theInternet Medieval Sourcebook.

Rabban Sauma, The Monks of Kûblâi Khân, Emperor of China; or, The history of the life and travels of Rabban Sâwmâ, envoy and plenipotentiary of the Mongol khâns to the kings of Europe, and Markôs who as Mâr Yahbh-Allâhâ III became Patriarch of the Nestorian Church in Asia. Translated from the Syriac by E. A. Wallis Budge (London: Religious Tract Society, 1928) available here. Morris Rossabi has written a good book about Rabban Sauma: Voyager from Xanadu: Rabban Sauma and the First Journey from China to the West (Tokyo; NY: Kodansha, 1992). Nestorian Christianity was quite popular amongst the Mongols in the 13th century.

Several other accounts concerning the Mongols in the 13th century are also available on the Silk Road Seattle website, where note in particular the account of the journey by the Daoist monk Ch’ang Ch’un to Chingis Khan when the latter was campaigning in Afghanistan in the early 1220s:

Secondary accounts:

One-stop shopping in a well-informed survey is Larry Moses and Stephen A. Halkovic, Jr.,Introduction to Mongolian History and Culture (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1985) (Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series, Vol. 149). There are brief chapters on geography and pre-Mongol Empire history, then about half the volume on history down to modern times and the remaining third to half on culture.

A substantial and well-informed introduction to culture and society is: Sechin Jagchid and Paul Hyer,Mongolia’s Culture and Society. With a foreword by Joseph Fletcher (Boulder: Westview; Folkestone: Dawson, 1979).

E.D. Phillips, The Mongols (NY: Praeger, 1969) (Ancient Peoples and Places series). Includes overview of archaeological evidence.

Well-informed, produced under the expert supervision of Prof. Morris Rossabi, but intended as a very quick survey for educators and students are the web pages mounted at Columbia University’s “The Mongols in World History.”

For a good, but thinner introductory overview of Mongolia’s history, visit the web pages at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, “Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan.”

Adam T. Kessler, Empires Beyond the Great Wall: The Heritage of Genghis Khan (LA: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1993). A beautiful book documenting the early art and cultural contacts of nomads prior to and into the period of the creation of the Mongol Empire.

Jean-Paul Roux, Ghenghis Khan and the Mongol Empire (NY: Abrams, 2003). Although the prose is unexciting, this pocket-sized book has lovely color illustrations and a very nice appendix of thematically grouped selections from the early historic writings about the Mongols and their culture. Roux is quite appreciative of the positive aspects of the Mongol Empire even though he also lapses into clichés about their being “barbarian” at the time of the rise of Chingis Khan. Roux’s use of so much Persian art to illustrate the book reflects his expertise in Islamic art.

Thomas J. Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China 221 BC to AD 1757(Cambridge, Ma., and Oxford, 1992), esp. Ch. 5 (on pre-Mongol states) and Ch. 6 (on Mongols). Barfield writes from the perspective of an anthropologist. His book also provides interesting information on earlier and later steppe empires and their relations with China. Barfield’s more recent thoughts on the Mongols may be found in his paper “Something New Under the Sun: The Mongol Empire’s Innovations in Steppe Political Organization and Military Strategy.”

Peter Jackson, The Mongols and the West 1221-1410 (Harlow, Eng. etc.: Pearson/Longman, 2005) is a superb reassessment of the western part of the Mongol Empire and a variety of topics including the image of the Mongols and their impact.

David O. Morgan, The Mongols (Cambridge, Ma., and Oxford: Blackwell, 1986; pb. ed. 1990). This is the best overview of the history of the Mongol Empire. Note though, that as a Persia specialist Morgan has good reasons rather to dislike the Mongols, since some areas of the Middle East never recovered from their invasion.

Paul Ratchnevsky, Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy (Oxford and Cambridge, Ma.: Blackwell, 1991; pb. ed. 1993). The best short book on the founder of the Mongol Empire, although not easy reading.

Morris Rossabi, Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times (Berkeley and LA, 1988). A very readable account of Chingis Khan’s famous grandson, under whom the empire reached its peak. Rossabi’s many other publications on Mongol and Chinese history are of great interest to any student of Inner Asia.

There are three good books by Thomas T. Allsen dealing with administration and, more interestingly, cultural exchange in the time of the Mongol Empire: Mongol Imperialism: The Policies of the Grand Qan Möngke in China, Russia, and the Islamic Lands, 1251-1259 (Berkeley: UCalif. Pr., 1987);Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: A Cultural History of Islamic Textiles (Cambr. and NY: Cambr. UP, 1997); Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia (Cambridge; NY: Cambr. UP, 2001). Some libraries make available the last of these in electronic form.

An up to date and nicely illustrated collection of essays (being published in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s 2008 exhibition on the Mongols) is William Fitzhugh, Morris Rossabi and William Honeychurch, eds., Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire (forthcoming).

Mike Edwards, photos James L. Stanfield, “Lord of the Mongols, Genghis Khan,” National Geographic, Dec. 1996: 2-37, an article which also featured a wonderful map supplement, “The Mongol Khans and Their Legacy”); “The Great Khans: Sons of Genghis,” NG, Feb. 1997: 2-35. A pleasant introduction to Mongol history and culture.

Daniel Waugh, “The Pax Mongolica,” on the website of the Silkroad Foundation. A quick, balanced assessment of the Mongol impact. See also his short article on the capital of the empire, Karakorum, illustrated with artifacts on display in the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulaanbaatar.

John Masson Smith, Jr., “The Mongols and The Silk Road,” The Silk Road, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2003), pp. 9-15.

For more bibliography, see Paul D. Buell, “Age of Mongolian Empire: A Bibliographical Essay,” The Silk Road, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2003), pp. 16-25.

Material culture/arts:

A great many lovely objects are illustrated in Kessler, Empires Beyond the Great Wall: The Heritage of Genghis Khan (cited above). Objects in this exhibit are drawn from the collections of the Inner Mongolia Museum (in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China). A number of them were used in the on-line “Art of the Silk Road” exhibit on the Silk Road Seattle website.

For the art of the Mongols and their successors in the Middle East, do not miss the beautifully designed Internet exhibit, “The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256-1353),” which was created in conjunction with a museum exhibition mounted first at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and then and the Los Angeles Country Museum. The lovely exhibit catalogue is The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256-1353,Linda Komaroff and Stefano Carboni, eds. (NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2002).

A collection of images (with brief captions) from Mongolian museums may be found on Silk Road Seattle under Featured Museums. Included are the National Museum of Mongolian History, The Museum of Fine Arts and the Choijin Lama Museum in Ulaanbaatar.

A good “Introduction to the Art of Mongolia” is that by Terese Tse Bartholomew (1995).


An introductory overview of religion amongst peoples of Southern Siberia, including the Mongols, is in the nicely illustrated Vladimir N. Basilov, ed., Nomads of Eurasia (LA: Natural History Museum of LA County; Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1989).

There is a lot of nonsense published about Mongol and Siberian popular religion or “shamanism.” For an antidote, start with the religion essay in the Traditional Culture section of the Silk Road Seattle website (see above) and then consider reading the excellent book by Caroline Humphrey (written with her native informant Urgunge Onon), Shamans and Elders: Experience, Knowledge, and Power among the Daur Mongols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). Humphrey is probably the most prominent anthropologist specializing today on Mongol culture.

Another very valuable book by an anthropologist (but one that is not an easy read) is Carole Pegg,Mongolian Music, Dance, & Oral Narrative: Performing Diverse Identities (Seattle; London: University of Washington Press, 2001). It delves deeply into the religious and broadly cultural significance of music and performance and includes a CD with musical examples. Listen to the horse-head fiddle.

For an older overview of Mongolian religion, there is a short survey by a distinguished German specialist on Mongolia, Walther Heissig, The Religions of Mongolia, tr. Geoffrey Samuel (London; Berkeley and LA, 1980).

The Tibetan form of Buddhism became the dominant one amongst the Mongols. Buddhist religious imagery (which we will be seeing in Mongolia) is challenging to understand. An elegantly illustrated and clear introduction may be found in Marylin M. Rhie and Robert A. F. Thurman, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, expanded ed. (NY: Tibet House; Abrams, 1996, 2000). Among the examples are ones from Mongolia.

Modern History

A well informed older survey is C.R. Bawden, The Modern History of Mongolia (NY; Washington: Praeger, 1968). See also the collection of essays edited by Stephen Kotkin and Bruce A. Elleman,Mongolia in the Twentieth Century: Landlocked Cosmopolitan (Armonk, NY; London: M.E. Sharpe, 1999). There is a lot here on foreign policy, on Russian and Chinese involvement in Mongolia, and on issues of modern nationalism.

For the post-communist era, see Morris Rossabi, Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Comissars to Capitalists (Berkeley and LA: Univ. of Calif. Pr., 2005). Some of his conclusions about the disastrous economic situation may be found in: Morris Rossabi, “Mongolia: A Different View,” The Silk Road(newsletter of the Silkroad Foundation), Vol. 2, No. 1 (June 2004), pp. 36-38.

The New York Times features an article from Mongolia every so often. For more regular coverage, go to Eurasianet, or the weekly English language UB Post.

Mongolia lite:

There are a great many illustrated travel/adventure books on Mongolia. A well-informed and accessible introduction to Mongolia’s natural environment and select aspects of its history is Timothy Severin, In Search of Genghis Khan (Various eds; most recent, Cooper Square Press, 2003; ISBN 0815412878), illustrated by fine photos by Paul Harris which, unfortunately, are poorly reproduced in the recent, inexpensive paperback. The book is a little heavy on the author’s troubles with his bureaucratic “minder.” Severin also produced a video under the same title.

After Severin’s book, you might want to view on-line the splendid work of Gary Tepfer, another professional photographer who has worked in Mongolia.

The account by award-winning travel writer Thomas Stewart, In the Empire of Genghis Khan (Lyons Press, 2002) reputedly contains some good descriptive writing of his experiences riding across the country, although he displays more than a bit of cultural bias toward the Mongols.

Various articles in National Geographic, including:

Glenn Hodges, photos Gordon Wiltsie, “Mongolian Crossing: Is Time Running Out on Timeless Migration?,” NG, 204/4, Oct. 2003: 102-121:

Cynthea Beall and Melvyn Goldstein, “Past Becomes Future for Mongolian Nomads,” NG, May 1993: 126-138.

Now somewhat dated, but still worth reading is Thomas Allen, photos by Dean Conger, “Time Catches up with Mongolia,” NG, 167/2, Feb. 1985: 242-269.

For comparison, with apologies for the obvious cultural bias of the title (and, presumably, content) go back to Adam Warwick, “The People of the Wilderness: The Mongols, Once the Terror of All Christendom, Now a Primitive, Harmless Nomad Race,” NG, May 1921: 507-551.

To escape the Western gaze and see what Mongols write about their own culture, look throughVirtual Mongolia Online Magazine.


Close to Eden, by the well-known Russian director Nikita Mikhailkov, is set in Mongolia and evoking nomadic life in part through the device of juxtaposing the Mongols’ values with those of a Russian truck driver. It is an elegantly photographed and entertaining film.

You can thoroughly enjoy and learn from A Mongolian Tale (1997), directed by Fei Xie, set in the stunning landscapes of modern Mongolia. It is a sometimes sad, often uplifting, poetic tale of love and loss, which reveals a great deal about traditional culture and the changes introduced by the modern world. I have not viewed the following, a documentary taking up some of those same themes: Disappearing World: Herders of Mongun-Taiga, the Tuvans of Mongolia (1994).

A must-see is The Story of the Weeping Camel (2004), written and directed by Luigi Falorni and Bayambasuren Davaa and distributed by the National Geographic. It is more than just a cute, child-oriented film with a four-legged scene-stealer (whose image, incidentally, graces my desk-top screen). One can learn something here about contemporary herders in a world where none can be isolated from modern life. Davaa’s second film, The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2006), also set in Mongolia, has been equally well received.

—Compiled by Daniel Waugh
University of Washington, Seattle

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