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Lauren Rabaino HIST 310 July 29, 2009

Mongol Leadership as Shown Through a Distorted Chinese Lens


The sourcebook reading A Mongol Governor from Chinese Civilization Patricia Ebrey is an original document written as an short memoir of the life of Menggu, a general of Huayan and military administrator of the thirteenth century. According to the epitaph, Menggu was a leader whom all the prefects and magistrates had to obey (192). He was a wise man who was later put in charge of Henei during which time he helped his people through famine and put down a bandit revolt led by Zhu Ge. Among the many anecdotes of Menggus life, the biography of the leader reveals the insight into the power the Mongols had over Chinese during the time period. It also shows the dynamic of the class and superiority structure in the way the leader was portrayed after his death by the writer. The epitaph written for Menggus gravestone was meant to portray the Mongol governor in a positive light. This can be assumed because nowhere in the epitaph is there a negative reference to any mistakes or shortcomings of Menggu. The writer refers to the way that Menggu prevents people from famine and supplied troops in a gracious, unruthless way (192). The reason for this positive portrayal was probably because it was written to honor his life, rather than objectively reflect upon his life. Because Menggus was a leader, it would have been disrespectful for the person writing his epitaph to say anything negative. At the time, the Chinese believed in the afterlife and in ones ability to come back and haunt a person; therefore, death was not an

excuse for honesty. The author of the piece was also Chinese literati and not a Mongol himself, so there is an extra added layer of obedience that must be assumed because China was being ruled by the Mongols in the mid 1200s when this was written. Even though the Mongols took over China, the Yuan period kept many of the distinctive components of Chinese society at the time, and Confucianism was one of them, which is why the Chinese respected the superiority complex held over them by the Mongols. The description of Menggu probably was not entirely accurate because other historical documents of the time prove that the the Mongols were an aggressive society. Although that may be stereotyping to assume that all Mongols acted this way, historical evidence from the time shows that, in general, this is the case, making it less likely that Menggus was truly a gracious, all-well-doing leader. Its very likely that he was brutal and reckless at times. Its also probably inaccurate to assume that his subjects admired him to the extent which is portrayed in the epithet. It says that, The residents, with jugs of wine and burning incense, saw Menggu off tearfully, unable to bear his leaving, in reference to Menggus leaving his people behind in Henei to go to war (193). Its portrayed as though he was seen as divinity with power of that like the Imperial family, when really, he was merely a governor. The epithet is an interesting commentary on the role Mongols played in Chinese government during the Yuan Dynasty. If parts of the epithet were indeed true which can be assumed that many parts were, albeit exaggerations and omissions then it is evidence that individual Mongols were able to attain great power amidst communities that were heavily Chinese. According to the epitaph, Menggu was on all sides of the leadership spectrum, having both put down a rebellion and led a rebellion (193). He was able to retain his post and power for more than 40 years, despite being outnumbered greatly by the Chinese people. Its not so much a testament to him as an individual, but to the ruling power that the Mongols were able to impose

upon the Chinese during the time period. Because a Mongol governor could come into a community and lead it for so long without opposition or rebellion against him, it can be assumed that either the Chinese were afraid of the Mongols or their rule was adequate enough that there was no reason for discontent among the Chinese. Based on this epitaph, it would be assumed that the case is the latterthe Mongols were such great, unifying and well-bringing leaders that there is no need to oppose them. However, based on what was happening during the thirteenth century and stepping away from a highly biased piece of writing, it is more likely that the reason the Mongols were able to attain power over the Chinese for so long is because of their great military strength. They were conquering left and right and continually adding to their empire to make it larger and stronger. For the Chinese to oppose this would be foolish and likely result in death or domination by brutal rule. Also, the Mongols came from a societal structure by which multiple clans and tribes that were dispersed across the Gobi desert. The ability of these tribes to unify and conquer together is a testament to their ability to life mutually with the Chinese people. This epitaph should not be taken to represent the entire rule of the Mongol people over China. It was written about a man who led as a Mongol governor during the height of the Mongol Empire during the thirteenth century. This took place after Ogodei Khan became the emperor and started a period of great expansion, which was decades after the Mongol Empire was created. This means that many of the original tensions and brutality among the people of the China and Mongolia had already been overcome, but it doesnt mean that the Mongol leader abandoned a ruling style of military power as a whole. The way that many events are portrayed can be interpreted as positive, community-building events, when really, its likely that they were powered by abuse, assault and military force. For example, the literati writes that Menggu was able to gather together more than ten thousand household and settle them down as commoners

in reference to settling areas that arose in revolt (193). Although this sentence is conveyed as a strong leadership moment, details on how that revolt was settled are purposefully excluded. Usually when ten thousand households are involved in settling down a revolting community, that does not refer to a peaceful intervention. In another example, it is said that Menggu ordered officials to travel around announcing that those who returned to their property would be exempt from taxes as a means of getting the population back onto vacant properties (193). This is just another seemingly powerful leadership decision that was very likely powered by force and threat. From context of the time period, it is known that the Mongols ruled by a rule of our way or no way, meaning that people were either expected to get along with the Mongols or pay the price. Given this history, it is difficult to believe that Menggu convinced people to listen to him by through mere economic negations. It is hard to be sure whether its a truly accurate depiction. If it were the case that the depictions of Menggu were accurate, then it shows that historical stereotypes are not applicable to everyone of the time period. There will always be the select few that go against the stereotype, and Menggu could be evidence of one of them. But rather than being a commentary on an individual person, the sourcebook reading reveals important insight into the Mongol-Chinese dynamic. The Chinese people were among many who were dominated by the Mongols during their vast empire. The Mongols were still, somehow, able to keep power over the people and gain their respect, even after filtering into their communities and taking over. Although this specific piece was likely biased and hyperbolized, it shows that the two different cultures were able to exist simultaneously, and perhaps even enjoy each others company if the depictions are true and accurate. And if they are inaccurate, the anecdotes and the way in which those anecdotes

were written to portray Menggu reveal the powerful rule the Mongols had over the Chinese and the respect that Chinese people developed for their new leaders.