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Research Paper on Yelu Chucai

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The history of the development of Mongolian state is one of the most interesting and noteworthy parts of the development of Oriental civilizations. Mongols, who conquered the major part of Asia, occupied a part of Europe and dominated in Eurasia for a considerable period of time, remained quite a few historical documents or, to put it more precisely, historical works, originals, which could help better understand the history and the development of Mongolian state, as well as its traditions, norms, and principles of its functioning. Those scarce original resources, which are currently at the disposition of modern scientists, are particularly important because they provide an insight into the history of this people and this civilization.

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Such works as the Secret History of the Mongols and the Biography of Yelu Chucai are particularly important because they provide very significant information on the epoch of Genghis Khan, the person that actually gave birth to the great empire of Mongols and started their expansion policy at an unparalleled scale, which had never been seen before. This person was probably the most well-known Mongolian leader whose talent and skills could be compared to those of the most outstanding leaders known to the entire world, such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or Napoleon Bonaparte. The two sources mentioned above are basically focused on the depiction of the life and deeds of Genghis Khan, the history of his family and the changes he brought to Mongols. Taking into consideration the role of Genghis Khan in the Mongolian history, it is quite natural that the Secret History of the Mongols and the Biography of Yelu Chucai are valuable sources revealing the development of the Mongolian state, its policy and strategic trends.

However, in spite of the fact that both sources were created practically at the same time and epoch they still represented different views on the development of the Mongolian state under Genghis Khan’s rule. Both the Secret History of Mongols and the Biography of Yelu Chicai viewed the government as founded by a heavenly destined conqueror. On the other hand, for the Chinese Biography, the conquest is only the means to an end, the unification of China, but for the Mongols, the continuing conquest is the very purpose of the State.

The Secret History’s view on the development of Mongolian state
Basically, the Secret History of the Mongols is the original Mongolian source, which may be viewed as quite reliable, though, being of the Mongolian origin, the book is not deprived of certain biases and subjective attitudes to the development of Mongolian state, its past and perspectives in the future. It is quite a natural trend since the unknown author of this book tends to glorify the deeds and policy of Genghis Khan and focuses on his achievements and positive changes that occurred to Mongolian states because the author witnessed the rise of the new Mongolian Empire created by Genghis Khan, whose talent was really impressing, while his achievements were practically incomparable to the achievements of any other Mongolian leader.

The Secret History of Mongolians view Genghis Khan as a ruler destined by divine powers and whose military successes were supposed to be supported by divine powers. Even the origin of Genghis Khan, according to the author, is mysterious and legendary and, in a way, it resembles the origin of the founders of Rome, since:

“At the beginning there was a blue-grey wolf, born with his destiny obtained by Heaven Above. His wife was a Fallow Doe. They came across the Tenggis. After they had settled at the source of the Onan River on Mount Burqan Qaldun, Bata iqan was born to them” (The Secret History, 3)1.

The author traces the development of the family of Genghis Khan which apparently originated from the supernatural ancestors and, in all probability, the reference to a wolf was defined by the fact that this animal was probably the totem of the Genghis Khan clan. The emphasis on the intrusion of divine power and its strong influence on the family of Genghis Khan and on the future leader of Mongols in person is obvious. Genghis Khan is represented as a leader, whose power is sanctioned from heavens, and, therefore, his authority on the earth is beyond a doubt and again the role of wolves, which proved to be important for the clan of Genghis Khan may be easily traced when the author depicts Bodon ar who almost starved but survived since:

“He shot and killed the game, and fed on it together with the hawk; they also gathered up and ate the food left over by the wolves. And so, feeding his on gullet and his hawk, he got through that year” (The Secret History, 17)2.

This episode may be viewed as a metaphor to the traditions and lifestyle of Mongols for whom killings and hunting was a part of their life. The conflicts between Mongolian clans and families were quite often. Mongols heavily relied on hunting and cattle. This is why they have to move from one place to another and such a mobility of Mongols clans or families often resulted in conflicts for new hunting grounds. For instance, the author repeatedly depicts such conflicts:

“As in their land Qori Tumat had imposed bans on one another’s sable, squirrel and wild game hunting grounds, and mutual relations were bad as a result, Qorilartai Mergen separated from the Qori Tumat and took the clan name Qorilar. Saying that the land of Burqan Qaldun was good, and that it was suitable for game hunting, he was now moving into the territory of Uriangqai Burqan Bosqaqsan and Sin i Bayan, lords of Burqan Qaldun” (The Secret History, 12)3.

Genghis Khan, the future leader of Mongols, who had managed to unite and expand Mongolian state significantly, grew in the environment where conflicts and wars between Mongols were regular. The author of the Secret History of the Mongols, as well as many other of his contemporaries, perceives him as a leader sent to Mongols by Heaven to strengthen Mongolian state. Genghis Khan had practically unlimited power and was a strong, charismatic and authoritarian leader but it was due to these qualities he managed to achieve the supremacy over the Mongols and neighboring territories.

However, the aggressive policy and expansion of Mongolian state under Genghis Khan is viewed by the author of the Secret History as a natural process since war and invasion of new territories is a natural state for Mongols. This is why the continuous wars targeting at the invasion of new lands were perceived as the greatest virtue of Genghis Khan, but the author of the book does not reveal what the ultimate goal of Mongols’ invasions actually was, instead, he insists that it was just a permanent process of the development of Mongolian state, which was actually not limited to any historical or geographic boundaries.

The Biography of Yelu Chucai’s view on the development of Mongolian state
Quite a different view on the development and the ultimate goals of Mongols has Yelu Chucai. Being an advisor of Genghis Khan, he remained a representative of Chinese culture that influenced his perception of the policy of the Mongolian leader as well as the development of Mongolian state consistently. Nevertheless, Yelu Chucai agrees with the “divine origin and miraculous birth of Genghis Khan” (32)4. He basically agrees with the author of the Secret History believing that Genghis Khan was really a kind of superhuman possessing the divine power and whom Heaven assisted in his invasions and unification of Mongols.

The reference to the divine nature of the power of Genghis Khan as the supreme ruler of Mongols is not occasional and is significantly influenced by Chinese tradition and cultural views. Chinese culture traditionally viewed the Emperor or the ruler as a semi-divine being. Chinese sincerely believed that the power is given only to the few persons selected by Gods. Chinese viewed the major task of a ruler to take care of his people and, therefore, he was supposed to protect the interests of his people. This is why the author, under the influence of the existing stereotypes and biases is limited in his understanding of Genghis Khan policy by national boundaries. The author argues that the development of the new state created by Genghis Khan primarily targeted at the unification of Mongols and the author hopes that the new empire created by the new Mongolian leader could help realize the historical efforts of Chinese people to unite the nation. Yelu Chucai’s vision of Mongolian state is limited by national boundaries but, at the same time, he agrees that the aggressive, militarist of Genghis Khan is justified by the noble goal of the national unification. At any rate, Genghis Khan’s invasion are viewed as a part of a national strategy, which is more clear in the work of Yelu Chucai compared to the Secret History. Yelu Chucai views the ultimate goal of the development of Mongolian state as the creation of the national empire, while the author of the Secret History does not have such a clear strategic goal, instead he insists on the continuing invasions as a natural state or lifestyle of Mongols.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that the Secret History and Biography of Yelu Chucai provides a lot of important information about the rule and history of Genghis Khan family and the life of Mongols and Mongolian state at that epoch. In spite of the fact that they focus on the same period and personality they view the development of Mongolian state in different ways. They underline the divine origin of Genghis Khan and his clan. The authors of both books basically have similar views on the ruler and government and view them as representatives of gods.

Even though they agree that Genghis Khan used right methods and his conquest had a noble goal but they differ in the definition of this goal. For the author of the Secret History, this goal is rather a realization of Mongolian philosophy, a part of its culture focused on constant invasions and expansion, than on the national unification as seen by Yelu Chucai. Nevertheless, for both authors invasion and conquest were the major means to achieve the ultimate goal, which was unique for each author.

Nevertheless, regardless the existing differences, both books provide contemporary historians with valuable information about the history of the Mongols and Genghis Khan life and deeds. In this respect, the differences in their views are even useful since they help perceive Genghis Khan, his empire and his epoch more objectively.

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