Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information CenterSouthern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center
HomeAbout UsCampaignsSouthern Mongolian WatchChineseJapaneseNewsLInksContact Us


  Was Chinggis Khaan Chinese?

September 26, 2007
by Benjamin Ross

On one of my last days in China I wore a shirt that I bought in Mongolia with the image of Chinggis Khaan, Mongolia’s all around patriarch/superstar. As leader of the Mongolian nomads, Chinggis was able to invade and take over most of China, parts of Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, while establishing the largest empire in world history. The Ulaanbaatar Airport is named after him. Mongolia’s most popular beer is named after him, and pictures of him can be seen all over Mongolia. Although he died over 600 years ago, Chinggis is by far and away Mongolia’s most prominent historical figure. During my trip to Mongolia, I had to buy a Chinggis Khaan T-shirt.

My Chinggis shirt often becomes a conversation topic when I wear it in China. When my Chinese friends ask where I bought the shirt, and I tell them Mongolia, they are quick to point out that Mongolia was historically part of China, and that Mongolians are one of the 56 official nationalities living in China, and therefore Chinggis Khan was a Chinese.

During several periods in history, Mongolia was controlled by China, and today half of it (Inner Mongolia) still is. However, from 1271 to 1368, China was invaded and controlled by Chinggis and his Mongolian tribes in what is commonly referred to in China as the “Yuan Dynasty.”

Determining who is and who is not Chinese is not an exact science. What makes somebody a Chinese? If we say that a Chinese is a Han Chinese, then the Manchurians who controlled China during the Qing Dynasty would not be Chinese either, and neither would be Zheng He, the famous explorer (and Hui Muslim), who allegedly discovered America before Christopher Columbus.

Yet, if we insist that “Chinese” includes all of the peoples who are represented by the 56 official Chinese nationalities, then suddenly our definition of “Chinese” swells to include not only Chinggis Khaan, but Stalin, Kim Jong Ill, the Dalai Lama, and Borat, all of whose nationalities are part of the 56. So where is the line between a Chinese and a…for lack of better terminology…laowai? Calling Chinggis Khaan Chinese seems like a historical stretch to me, but by some twist of logic, I can see how the distinction would be made. However, using the same logic, you could argue that Mao Zedong was Mongolian. Somehow I can’t imagine this would sit too well with the Chinese.  


From Yeke-juu League to Ordos Municipality: settler colonialism and alter/native urbanization in Inner Mongolia

Close to Eden (Urga): France, Soviet Union, directed by Nikita Mikhilkov

Beyond Great WallsBeyond Great Walls: Environment, Identity, and Development on the Chinese Grasslands of Inner Mongolia

The Mongols at China's EdgeThe Mongols at China's Edge: History and the Politics of National Unity

China's Pastoral RegionChina's Pastoral Region: Sheep and Wool, Minority Nationalities, Rangeland Degradation and Sustainable Development

Changing Inner MongoliaChanging Inner Mongolia: Pastoral Mongolian Society and the Chinese State (Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology)

Grasslands and Grassland Science in Northern ChinaGrasslands and Grassland Science in Northern China: A Report of the Committee on Scholarly Communication With the People's Republic of China

The Ordos Plateau of ChinaThe Ordos Plateau of China: An Endangered Environment (Unu Studies on Critical Environmental Regions)
 ©2002 SMHRIC. All rights reserved. Home | About Us | Campaigns | Southern Mongolian Watch | News | Links | Contact Us