Denghis Khan © Musee du Nantes

China Tries to Corrupt History of Mongol Culture

Du to Chinese attempt at censorship, the Museum of Nantes in Bretagne has been forced to postpone an exhibition of Genghis Khan and the Mongols

Map of Mongol Empire. Source: Wikipedia
Map of Mongol Empire. Source: Wikipedia

Scheduled to open in February 2021, a planned exhibition in the museum at the Castle of the Dukes of Bretagne, titled The Sons of the Sky, and the Steppe has had to be postponed. Long in the planning, the government in Beijing recently declared that several words such as “Empire”, “Genghis Khan” or “Mongol” were to be banned from the publications and accompanying texts. Also, the Chinese government sought to control maps and brochures. The price would be withholding promised objects to the exhibition.

“We decided to stop this production in the name of the human, scientific, and ethical values that we defend,” said Bertrand Guillet, director of Nantes’s history museum, the Château des ducs de Bretagne, in a statement.

The “censorship of the initial project,” he claimed, was characterised by “biased rewriting of Mongol culture in favour of a new national narrative,” such as the attempt to change the exhibition’s title from “Sun of the Sky and the Steppes: Genghis Khan and the Birth of the Mongolian Empire“ to “Chinese Steppe Culture of the World.” Part of the attempt at rewiring history took the form of a new exhibition synopsis written by authorities in Beijing.

It is believed, the attempt at censorship is the direct result of a hardening of the Chinese stance against the six million Mongolians, who live inside the borders of China. The minority speak one of three dialects and use a writing system adopted some 800 years ago under Genghis Khan. Most Mongols are Tibetan or Vajrayana Buddhists, though some also maintain shamanic and nomadic practices. The Mongol province inside China is rich in natural resources. For decades, this has prompted the Beijing Government to boost the Chinese population through migration, expropriation of farmland, and urbanisation. A particular challenge is the official policy of forcing the Mongol herders off their traditional pastures and grassland. Historians estimate the Mongolians were about 20% of the population in the region. In 2010, this had fallen to 15-18%. Also, the use of their minority language has for long time been forbidden in high-schools and official work-places. Further school reforms passed in August replaced ethnic Mongolian with Mandarin as the official language in three subjects. This move was met with widespread protests in the province.

The show, which was being organised in partnership with the Inner Mongolia Museum in Hohhot, China, had already been postponed from its October opening. Now, instead of debuting in February 2021, it is on hold until at least 2024 as curators scramble to replace Chinese loans of artefacts with works from European and American collections.

The Mongolian Empire

Mongols in Battle © Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Orientabteilung, Diez A
Mongols in Battle © Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Orientabteilung, Diez A. Source: Wikipedia

During the 13th century, Genghis Khan (1162-1227) united the nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia and created the Mongol Empire. In this process, they conquered not only China but also much of Eurasia through deadly invasions, founding what became – after the death of Genghis Khan – the largest adjoined empire in history. Perhaps more than a quarter of the population on the earth lived under khaganate rule. Later, the empire was dissolved into smaller polities, one of which was called “The Golden Horde”. They instigated numerous incursions into central Europe. In 1241, the Mongols reached as far as Poland, where they won a decisive battle at Legnica in 1241. Later that year, the Mongols invaded Hungary crowning the effort by taking Esztergom in 1241.

Present-day Mongolia is sandwiched between Russia to the north and China to the South. The land is covered with grassland steppe. It is estimated more than 30% still live as horse nomads, and horses are still an integrated part of the economy. The rule is democratic, but with a powerful presidential counterbalance. As landlocked, its economy is based on “friendly” relations with its two neighbours: Russia and China.


Le report de l’exposition Genghis Khan: le choix déontologique d’un Musée. Press Release


In 2019, the National Museum in Copenhagen mounted a special exhibition on the “Steppes of Denghis Khan”. The exhibition was based on the life-long ethnographic expeditions of Niels Haslund-Christensen to Inner Mongolia, and told the story of the nomads of steppes through the unique collection of 3500 Mongolian objects in the National Museum of Copenhagen. One of the best permanent collections outside Mongolia.



Get our Medieval News with links to our premium content

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.