Granddaughters of Resistance

AT THE HEIGHT OF THE MONGOL EMPIRE, AROUND 1271, young Marco Polo set out from Venice to the Mongol capital at Beijing with his father and uncle, who had just completed the same round-trip. The era of conquests begun by Genghis Khan had concluded, and although its shape differed radically from what he had intended, the Silk Route still bustled with caravans, merchants, and exotic wares. Marco Polo easily made his way overland from the Mediterranean to the Mongol court of Khubilai Khan, making almost the entire trip within the Mongol Empire and under the protection of Mongol soldiers.

Yet, by the time he left Beijing to return home around 1291, the middle part of the empire had collapsed; and because he could not cross the continent, he had to sail from China around South Asia to the Persian port of Hormuz. Within the time of his trip, the empire had broken into three large pieces, and the center had shattered.

Instead of a string of khanates around the central one in Mongolia, three miniature empires emerged. In 1271 Khubilai Khan ruled most of Mongol East Asia and had declared a new Chinese dynasty that he called the Yuan. His brother Hulegu had created a soon-to-be Muslim dynasty known as the Il-Khanate over the Middle East. The only one of the three that survived in something approaching the manner created by Genghis Khan was the Russian territory given to the family of Jochi and known eventually as the Golden Horde.

The Il-Khanate of Persia, the Golden Horde of Russia, and the Yuan Dynasty of China formed three points of a large triangle, and although they tried, none of them could control the middle of the continent. This central zone of mountains and adjacent deserts extending roughly from Afghanistan to Siberia became the gathering point for all the disaffected lineages, the deposed Borijin members, dreamers bent on becoming the new Genghis Khan, and those who simply wanted a refuge from the rapidly changing world. Some of the granddaughters of Genghis Khan took up the struggle against the aggression of Sorkhokhtani’s lineage, and they found new allies in the other defeated lineages of Ogodei and Chaghatai. Together they formed a vortex of resistance in the center of the Asian steppe in what is now Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and the western parts of Mongolia and China. These factions directed most of their anger against the newly formed China under Khubilai Khan, since he claimed to be the new Great Khan of the whole empire, but they pitted one part of the empire against the other when possible and rapidly changed sides when advantageous.

Between 1250 and 1270, Orghina, one of Checheyigen’s Oirat daughters who had escaped the mass rape, became the center of resistance. After serving as regent in Central Asia from 1251 to 1260, but unable to form a powerful independent force, she switched sides back and forth among the contenders for the office of khan over the following decade. Orghina Khatun, described as “a beautiful, wise, and discerning princess,” maneuvered through a succession of power struggles, changing allegiances and religions as needed, sometimes coming out on top and sometimes temporarily losing everything and starting again.

Inner Asia provided a constant refuge for the enemies of the large Mongol states around it. After Khubilai defeated his youngest brother, Arik Boke, who as otchigen had ruled the family homeland of Mongolia, he seized the courts from the widowed queens and dispersed their gers and other possessions to his male allies. In this way, Arik Boke’s wives and their courts were treated more as booty from a defeated foe than as defeated members of the royal family. Such actions produced a constant flow of rebels and refugees into the free zone of the interior of the continent.

The hostile tribes of the interior would have constituted little more than a nuisance for the three Mongol factions ruling except for one important factor. All trade goods had to pass through their territory. Under the Mongols, the trade of the Silk Route had grown from transporting mere luxuries into an important international commerce at the core of the world economy. The importation of silks, bronze mirrors, and medicines from China made the Muslims more willing to tolerate the Mongol Il-Khanate as their overlords. The Golden Horde used Chinese silks and Persian carpets to maintain the loyalty of the Russian nobles, who in turn kept the peasants from revolting. The Mongol emperors of China needed Damascus glass and steel, Indian jewels, and Siberian furs as well as Muslim and European technology to sustain their power. Gold brocade became the Mongol fashion throughout the empire, and huge quantities passed back and forth, as did more prosaic items such as asbestos and dried insects used to manufacture exotic dyes.

Just as important as the trade commodities, the Silk Route carried the information that the empire needed to function: diplomatic correspondence, intelligence, tax receipts, census summaries, and conscription reports, all of which required paper to keep the bureaucracy functioning. Accompanying the merchants and camel drivers along the route was a constant flow of priests, mullahs, doctors, astronomers, engineers, brewers, printers, metalsmiths, scribes, weavers, soothsayers, translators, munitions specialists, architects, miners, and tile makers. Never before in history had so many goods and so much learning and cultural influence traveled so quickly from city to city and civilization to civilization.

The Mongols outside of Mongolia had become more of a ruling aristocracy spread out over Eurasia than a tribe of warriors. They maintained a vaguely Mongol theme to their lifestyle, but the underlying substance had shifted. The simple Mongol gers of felt and fur turned into mobile palaces of linen and silk with rich embroidery, plush carpets with intricate designs, and flowing curtains and door covers offering a more dramatic framing for the pageantry and staged events in the daily life of the royal elite. As Juvaini described one used for a Central Asian tiger hunt: “It was a large tent of fine linen embroidered with delicate embroideries, with gold and silver plate.”

As the Mongol men married local women who preferred life in palaces, the ger quickly changed from the focal structure of domestic life owned and controlled by women into accoutrements of manly activities such as hunting and drinking. Although they still controlled the most powerful fighting army in the world, the Borijin men sometimes seemed more interested in designing and decorating novel tents than in obtaining necessary military equipment. According to the Persian record for making one such specialger, “The master craftsmen had been called together and consulted, and in the end it had been decided that the tent should be made of a single sheet of cloth with two surfaces,” with both sides boasting identical designs and capped by a golden cupola. “They feasted and reveled here, and the access of mirth and joy to their breasts was unrestricted.” The tent was judged so beautiful that it made the sun envious and made the moon sulk.

Marco Polo’s path home across Central Asia was barred by two of Genghis Khan’s most unusual descendants, a father-and-daughter fighting team. Marco Polo called the daughter Aijaruc, derived from Aiyurug—meaning “Moon Light” in Turkish. She is better known from other sources as the warrior Khutulun, which came from Mongolian Hotol Tsagaan, meaning “All White.” Born around 1260, she was the great-granddaughter of Ogodei, and her father, Qaidu Khan, was the regional ruler in Central Asia.

Qaidu Khan and Khutulun lived in the interior of the continent and allied with a large number of Mongols and tribes opposed to the central rule of Khubilai Khan. After Khubilai Khan proclaimed the existence of a Chinese-style dynasty, the Yuan, in 1271, the disaffected family members in the interior increasingly portrayed themselves as the true Mongols. Their land around the Tianshan Mountains and adjacent steppes became known as Moghulistan, meaning “land of the Mongols,” although it was not in the original homeland on the Mongolian Plateau.

Qaidu Khan was described as a man of average height who held himself quite erectly. According to the Persian chronicle, he had only nine scattered hairs on his face. He was as strict in his habits as in his posture. Almost unheard of in the Mongol royal family, Qaidu Khan drank no alcohol, not even the beloved airag, fermented mare’s milk, and he ate no salt. He seemed equally as strict in his relations. When another of his daughters found her husband having an affair with her maid, Qaidu Khan executed him.

Charitably described as beautiful and much sought after by men, Khutulun had a large and powerful figure. She excelled in all the Mongol arts: riding horses, shooting arrows, and even wrestling. She became known as a champion wrestler whom no man could throw. Since Mongols frequently bet on wrestling matches and other competitions, she often won horses as a result of her wrestling victories. In time, she came to have a herd of more than ten thousand horses won in such a manner.

Her father gave her a gergee as a sign of her power and independence. Called a paiza by Marco Polo, the gergee was a large and heavy medallion of office, consisting of an engraved disk or rectangular plate worn on a chain around the neck. Made of silver or gold, it stated the power of the holder and that it was granted by the khan under the will of the Eternal Blue Sky. Since the earlier queens had used seals, or tamghas, to signify their status, Khutulun is the only woman mentioned as owning her own gergee, an authority usually reserved for men.

Although Khutulun had fourteen brothers, she outperformed them all. While his other children assisted him as best they could, Qaidu Khan relied highly on his daughter Khutulun for advice as well as for support. She was her father’s favorite child and helped him to administer the government and affairs of his kingdom. Rashid al-Din, definitely not a sympathetic chronicler, wrote that “she went around like a boy,” though he also said that she “often went on military campaigns, where she performed valiant deeds.” Despite the apparent unusualness of the relationship between Qaidu Khan and Khutulun, in some ways their cooperative work probably reflected that of Genghis Khan and his daughters.

Khutulun followed an unorthodox method of confronting the enemy. She rode to the battlefield at her father’s side, but when she perceived the right moment, in the words of Marco Polo, she would “make a dash at the host of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father; and this she did many a time.”

Qaidu Khan commanded an army of around forty thousand warriors. They fought all along the frontier with Khubilai Khan’s China and controlled much of the interior of the country along the oases of the Silk Route and the western mountains. In addition to numerous local spats with other members of the family, Qaidu Khan’s army reached toward the northeast as far as the traditional Mongol capital of Karakorum and had at least one campaign in the Khentii Mountains farther east.

Because of Genghis Khan’s law that every branch of the family had to approve the granting of the title, the opposition of Qaidu Khan and Khutulun together with other disgruntled members of the Borijin clan served as a constant reminder that Khubilai Khan lacked universal Mongol approval. On both sides, the campaigns often showed more propagandistic bravado than genuine military achievement. One of Khubilai’s allied cousins, a renowned archer named Toq-Temur, rode off to war on a gray horse. “People choose bays and horses of other colors so that blood may not show on them, and the enemy may not be encouraged,” he is quoted as saying. “As for me, I choose a gray horse, because just as red is the adornment of women, so the blood of a wound on a rider and his horse, which drips on to the man’s clothes and the horse’s limbs and can be seen from afar, is the adornment and decoration of men.”

Despite all the big words, the boundaries changed little. No army secured a decisive victory. The low-grade but persistent hostility continued with periodic violent flare-ups. Caravans sought out routes around the violence, but as the years passed, fewer managed to get through.

Marco Polo also became caught up in the propaganda. Having never seen the Mongols under Genghis Khan and being a young merchant rather than a seasoned soldier, he accepted and repeated many of the grandiose stories of military triumphalism heard around the Mongol court in Beijing. When Qaidu Khan fought Khubilai Khan’s army at the largely abandoned capital of Karakorum in Mongolia, Marco Polo mistakenly described it as one of the hardest fought in Mongol history. “Many a man fell there,” wrote Marco Polo. “Many a child was made an orphan there; many a lady widowed; many another woman plunged in grief and tears for the rest of her days.” Qaidu Khan eventually withdrew, and the battle settled nothing.

Khubilai Khan faced great difficulty in combating Qaidu Khan and the tribes of the interior because his largely infantry Chinese army could not travel far and was not trained in the appropriate kind of warfare needed against mounted tribesmen in the desert and mountains. Even worse, his Mongol and other tribal warriors could not be trusted to fight people who were their own relatives or with whom they had much more in common than they had with the distant and increasingly alien Mongol court in Beijing.

Unable to depend on the Chinese and unwilling to rely on the Mongols for his protection, Khubilai Khan made one of those temporarily convenient decisions that over time produces totally unexpected results with tremendous implications. Khubilai requested and received soldiers from the west via his relatives in the Golden Horde. Fifty years earlier, the Mongols had moved an army of Saxon miners to work in northern Asia, and now Khubilai brought in soldiers who would have no kinship or cultural ties to either the Mongols or the Chinese, presuming that they would therefore be totally dependent and loyal only to him.

Although from various western origins, the recruits came from two main groups: the European Ossetians of the Caucasus Mountains and the Turkic Kipchak tribes of the adjacent plains of southeastern Russia. The Ossetians came as guards to the Forbidden City in Beijing, and the Kipchak to fight Qaidu Khan, becoming an army of frontier occupation in western Mongolia and parts of Siberia. From these sites they repeatedly raided the forces of Qaidu Khan but never eliminated the threat from the independent tribes.

Although never commonplace, through the centuries, stories about women warriors appeared regularly enough in Asian and European steppe history not to be considered as novelty. Their deeds were usually explained as arising from unusually dire circumstances or in some cases from exceptional aptitude. The ability of women to fight successfully in steppe society when they failed to do so in most civilizations derived, however, from the unique confluence of the horse with the bow and arrow. In armies that relied on infantry and heavy weapons such as swords, lances, pikes, or clubs, men enjoyed major physical advantages over women.

Mounted on a horse and armed with a bow and arrows, a trained and experienced woman warrior could hold her own against men. Women fared better in combat based on firepower than in hand-to-hand combat. Although archery requires strength, muscular training and discipline prove to be more important than brute force. An archer, no matter how strong, can never substitute mere might for skill in shooting. By contrast, good swordsmanship requires training and practice, but a sufficiently strong person wielding a sword can inflict lethal damage without prior experience.

Because archery depended so much on training, the ability of women to use arrows effectively in war depended upon their developing their skills as young girls. In the pastoral tribes, all children learned to use the bow and arrow, primarily for hunting and for protecting their herds from predators. Both boys and girls needed this expertise. In a family with an adequate number of both sexes, the boys would take the larger animals, such as camels and cows, farther away to graze, while girls stayed closer to home with the sheep and goats. Since wolves would more likely attack a sheep or goat than a camel or cow, the girls had to be able to defend their animals.

Muslim and Christian sources repeatedly described women warriors among the Mongols. The first such mention came in letters from a Dominican friar and an archbishop between 1234 and 1238, reporting on the Mongol threat to Christendom. Like flashing news bulletins from the war front, the letters described, in a mixture of minute detail and fantasy, reports brought into the Russian cities by refugees fleeing the Mongol onslaught. They reported that a Mongol princess led the army and that she not only fought but acted like a man.

The supposed Mongol princess attacked a neighboring prince and looted his province. In a quest for revenge, he captured, raped, and killed her and, in a final act of retribution, mutilated her corpse and chopped off her head. A similar account of the killing of a khan’s sister appears in the manuscript of Thomas of Spalato, which describes the Mongol invasion of Dalmatia and the siege of Split in 1242. He adds that many women fought in the Mongol army and were braver and wilder than the men, but the account seems based solely on hearsay, with no reliable specifics.

Although both Muslim and Christian chroniclers described fighting Mongol princesses, their reports do not overlap in place or time, and therefore make it difficult to judge their accuracy. By contrast, both wrote about Khutulun, and she survived in oral folk traditions as well.

As accustomed as the Mongols were to seeing women on horses and shooting arrows from bows, no one had seen a woman who could wrestle as well as Khutulun could. According to Marco Polo, the independent princess refused to marry unless a man could first defeat her in wrestling. Many men came forward to try, but none succeeded. In order to wrestle her, each opponent had to wager ten horses on a bout, and thus she substantially increased the size of her herds. Her parents became anxious for her to marry, and so, around 1280, when a particularly desirable bachelor prince presented himself, her parents tried to persuade her to let him win. He was “young and handsome, fearless and strong in every way, insomuch that not a man anywhere in his father’s realm could vie with him.” He brought with him a thousand horses to bet on his victory.

A crowd gathered for the match that was held in front of Khutulun’s parents’ court. It seems that with the hope of pleasing the parents whom she loved so much, Khutulun wanted to let the prince win. That resolve melted, however, in the rush of excitement when the match began. “When both had taken post in the middle of the hall they grappled each other by the arms and wrestled this way and that, but for a long time neither could get the better of the other. At last, however, the damsel threw him right valiantly on the palace pavement. And when he found himself thus thrown, and her standing over him, great indeed was his shame and discomfiture.” She not only defeated but humiliated him, and he disappeared, leaving behind the additional thousand horses for her herd.

Gossip and rumors swirled around Khutulun. Leading such a colorful and unusual life without a husband, she became the object of constant interest in her actions and speculation about her motives. Numerous reports maintain that she considered marrying Il-khan Ghazan, one of her cousins, who ruled Persia and Mesopotamia, and that they had an exchange of correspondence and envoys. But she showed no inclination to leave the steppe and live the life of a proper Muslim lady. Because of her reluctance to marry, her detractors alleged that she had entered into an incestuous relationship with her father and thus would take no other man while he lived. In the wake of the salacious accusations against her and her father, she married Abtakul of the Choros clan. He was described as “a lively, tall, good-looking man,” and the chronicles state clearly: “She chose him herself for her husband.”

The marriage only increased the gossip about Khutulun and her lifestyle. According to one contorted story, she married Abtakul after he supposedly came to court on a mission to murder her father, Qaidu Khan. When he was captured, his mother offered herself for punishment instead of him, but Abtakul refused his mother’s aid. Supposedly, Qaidu Khan so respected the mother for trying to save the son and respected the son for trying to save the mother, that he took him into his service and commissioned him as an army officer. Later, when Abtakul was wounded in a battle with Khubilai Khan’s army, he returned to the royal camp to recuperate. At that point, Khutulun met him for the first time and fell in love with him.

Despite her marriage, Khutulun continued to campaign with her father. In 1301, Qaidu Khan moved deeper into Mongolia from the southwest, headed for the capital at Karakorum. According to the chronicler Ghiyasuddin Khwandamir of Afghanistan and India, Khubilai’s Chinese forces outnumbered Qaidu Khan’s army by a hundred to one. They met in battle at Qaraqata near the Zavkhan River. The battle raged for three days and nights, and, on the fourth, Qaidu Khan was wounded and nearly captured.

Qaidu Khan decided to try a ruse that had once worked for Genghis Khan in a battle against the Naiman not far from this area. On the fourth night, “he ordered all his warriors to light fires in several places.” When the Mongol generals leading the Chinese army “saw the flames of so many fires, they thought that assistance had reached Qaidu Khan from some source.” Instead of staying to fight, however, Qaidu Khan left the fires burning while his men “decamped and withdrew.” The enemy suspected a deception, but they were not sure what kind. “Imagining that Qaidu Khan was trying to trick them into drawing closer” and would then ambush them, Khubilai Khan’s forces fled despite having been on the threshold of victory over Qaidu Khan’s army. As they fled, they set fire to the grass on the steppe behind them to prevent Qaidu Khan’s army from pursuing them and to deny their animals pasture if they did.

Following his complete but unexpected victory, Qaidu Khan’s wounds worsened. “After this victory Qaidu Khan fell ill with dyspepsia,” according to Khwandamir. “Some of the ignorant” attendants “who called themselves physicians gave him twenty-five pills, and the pills turned the illness into dysentery.” After a month of treatment, Qaidu Khan died in February 1301. He was buried between the Ili River and the Chu River in a place called Shongkorlog, and Khutulun looked after his tomb for the rest of her life.

According to some accounts, her father respected her so much that before his death he attempted to name her to be the next khan, despite the lack of support within the family for this succession. However, she apparently preferred to continue as head of the military more than to become khan. She made clear that she was “desirous of leading the military and running affairs.” Toward this end, “she wanted her brother Orus to take her father’s place” as khan and leave her in charge of the army.

The Persian chronicler, who condescendingly disapproved of her involvement in politics, reported with approval that the other contenders for the office objected strenuously and insultingly. “You should mind your scissors and needles!” one of them yelled in angry derision. “What have you to do with kingship and chieftainship?” demanded the other.

Her words were not recorded, but her actions showed what she thought of their objections. She continued in her struggle, “stirring up sedition and strife,” in the words of her critics. Yet she maintained the support of her brother Orus. The record is sketchy about her precise actions after her father’s death, but in 1306 she followed him into death. Some reports claim that she died fighting in battle, others that she was assassinated. These speculations only heighten the mystery of this unusual woman.

Khutulun, the All White Princess, returned into the fog of history. If today only Marco Polo’s account of her had survived, we might well imagine that she was merely a mythical figure, a product of travelers’ tales and the fervid imagination. In addition to the works of Marco Polo and the Persian chroniclers, however, part of the story of Khutulun appears in the account of the fourteenth-century Arab traveler Ibn Battuta. Similarly some elements of Khutulun’s life appeared in a Ming Dynasty novel published in the fifteenth century. Yet both the European traveler and the Persian chroniclers recorded stories about her with different details, in different languages, and from different perspectives without contradiction.

With the death of Khutulun in 1306, the Borijin men had won. The queens had been defeated, their lands had been appropriated and distributed among their brothers’ sons, and the last defiant rebel princess had passed from the scene. The men of the family had managed to deny the women control over the Silk Route, but they failed to assert their own control. Trade and communication began to unravel as rival warlords quarreled over oases and trading centers like dogs snarling over goat entrails. The Silk Route had been the core of the Mongol Empire, and without it there was no empire.

As the role of women in public life in the Mongol Empire continued to recede over the next century, the elite Mongol men fell into a life of debauched pleasure in their Chinese parks, Persian gardens, and Russian palaces. No heroes came to recharge the energy of the sapped nation. No new allies came to join them. No armies set out to expand the decaying Mongol rule over China. Throughout the fourteenth century, the Mongol leadership, especially the Borijin clan, deteriorated. Each generation proved less competent and knowledgeable, as well as more isolated and corrupt, than the last.

A noxious fog of ignorance and greed engulfed the family, and the khans stumbled blindly in search of physical pleasure and mindless amusements until they were killed by some corrupt official and replaced by another. In the Mongol chronicles as well as in the oral history and folk memory of the people, this debauchery, more than any other factor, brought about the fall of the empire and the fratricidal turmoil that followed.

Khutulun was the last of the wild Mongol women. In Russia, Persia, and China, they began to disappear into the ranks of civilized women, who lived according to the standards of the local culture. They never became quite as domesticated as other women in those countries, but they played roles more similar to those normally allocated to women in powerful dynasties. They operated behind the scenes, making alliances, promoting heirs, fighting with co-wives and mothers-in-law, and pursuing the life of court ladies, who seemed so important to the political life of the moment but had minimal lasting significance on the rise and fall of empires.

One of the few places where Mongol women continued to exercise an important role was in Korea, known to the Mongols as the Rainbow Land of the Son-in-Law Nation. The invasion of Korea began during the reign of Ogodei, but the country was not completely under Mongol control until the reign of Khubilai Khan. The Mongols arranged numerous marriage exchanges with the Korean royal family, and sometimes Korean princes came to the Mongol court to learn the language and customs of the Mongols. Five Korean kings received Borijin daughters as wives for approximately seventy years. Like the other son-in-law states, Korea maintained its traditional laws, administrative structure, and tax system. Unlike the guregen of Genghis Khan’s time, the Korean sons-in-law were not sent off to distant wars; thus, the Mongol queens of Korea lacked the power to rule that their aunts such as Alaqai Beki had held. It had been the last of the foreign countries taken as a son-in-law ally, but it retained this position until the end of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368.

According to the Korean Veritable Records for the year 1442, one Mongol khan looking back on the relations between the two allies wrote: “When our great ancestor Genghis Khan governed all the eight directions … there was none under heaven who would not obey. Korea among others was friendlier with us than any other nation, being as close as true brothers might be.”

With their mastery of the Mongolian language, their numerous Mongolian relatives, their long time spent at the Mongol court, and even their Mongolian names, the Korean kings appeared largely Mongolian to their overlords. Yet, speaking Korean, with numerous Korean relatives and Korean names, they still seemed Korean to their subjects. This ability to play both sides benefited Korea greatly, but in the end the schizophrenic life of the kings came at great personal cost to them and their families.

With her own Mongol detachment of guards close at hand and the mighty Mongol army never too far from Korea, the Mongol queen had an independent source of power that curtailed the options of her husband. Yet, as a foreign queen in a sometimes hostile environment, her powers had very definite limits and rarely reached far beyond the range of her own eyesight.

Mongol-Korean relations in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries centered on these queens, and the era is filled with colorful stories of arguments over seating and rituals, angry domestic fights, murders and mysterious deaths, unfaithful kings who preferred Korean women over their Mongol spouses, mothers-in-law placing curses on their daughters-in-law, and wanton Mongol queens who brazenly promoted with impunity a succession of handsome guards, ministers, and attendants as lovers. Secret letters and coded messages dashed back and forth between the Korean Mongol capitals. Envoys of the royals came and went, checking on rival accusations or to plead for mercy, and occasionally Mongol military units moved menacingly in an effort to quell another flare-up. Despite the drama, romance, and intrigue, Mongols and Koreans continued to live their awkward but mutually beneficial alliance; that relationship, however, had ended by the time the Mongol queen Noguk died during childbirth in 1365, during the reign of her anti-Yuan husband, King Gongmin. Soon both the Goreyo Dynasty of Korea and the Yuan Dynasty of China had run their historical course and were replaced by more vibrant ones.

Harmony between the male sky and the female earth continued to fall out of balance as the descendants of Genghis Khan violated virtually every important rule, law, and custom that he had given them. As the Yuan Dynasty deteriorated through the fourteenth century, the court recognized that its officials had abandoned much of their former way of life, including the equilibrium of male and female principles rooted in Mongolian culture and central to the spirituality taught by Genghis Khan.

The Mongol court sought to restore the needed balance through public rituals from a variety of religions. But with the removal of women from the government structure established by Genghis Khan, it was hard for the Mongols to synchronize the necessary male and female components. The last emperor became convinced of a novel way to redress the imbalance. He could imbibe female vitality into his body, making himself the right blend of masculine and feminine essences. If the emperor was perfectly balanced, then his government would be in harmony and the world would be set right.

The way to absorb the needed womanly qualities was through sexual relations performed in a variety of ritually specific ways. With help from loyal retainers, the emperor arranged to recruit a variety of young girls, mostly from the families of commoners, who were specially trained for his service in this urgent spiritual quest to rescue the empire. In 1354, as a way to improve the ritual quality of these diverse girls, sixteen were selected for a special troupe named the Divine Demon Dancing Girls.

The emperor selected ten of his male relatives to assist in these pressing matters of state. Just as Genghis Khan had used ten as the main unit of military organization, with ten squads of ten men each forming a company of one hundred, each of the emperor’s specially chosen men was instructed to perform ten times a night in the ritually prescribed sequence of acts. To assist in their work, the emperor had special rooms constructed to perform the rituals, each with appropriate instructive artwork to teach the occupants more precisely their duties and to encourage them in the performance.

The monks, either on their own or with the permission of the emperor, convinced some women of the royal household that they, too, needed an infusion of male essence by being initiated as nuns into the secret practices. A Ming Dynasty investigation later asserted: “The wives and concubines and other women in the palace committed adultery with outside ministers, or allowed monks to stay in the palace to be initiated into nunhood.” Their actions turned the Forbidden City into a “place full of obscenity.”

All the efforts were in vain; the Yuan Dynasty of the Mongols collapsed in 1368, the Year of the Monkey.

The Mongol royal family, however, did not assume any responsibility for the collapse of Khubilai Khan’s dynasty. Instead the Borijin survivors blamed the fall completely on a deceitful trick by the Chinese. According to the mythical account recorded in theErdeni-yin Tobci, the expulsion of the Mongols from China began when a caravan of Kazakh carts appeared at the walls of the Forbidden City. The caravan leader handed a note to the guard stating that he was bringing tribute for the khan, but the sentry would not allow the carts to enter until the caravan leader made him “happy with jewels.”

Once through the massive gates and inside the Forbidden City, the merchants quickly set to unloading their immense tribute under the watchful eye of the Mongol guards. The first three sets of carts carried jewels and other valuable gifts. The next vehicles contained armor and weapons that they laid out as though intended for presentation as tribute. From the final carts, the visitors hauled out three large and mysterious objects coated in wax. The merchants explained to the watching guards that these objects were giant candles, and to prove their claim, they lit the wick on each of them. As the wax burned down, it melted the wax off the large metal objects. Once they were free of the wax, it became obvious that the wicks were actually fuses, and each of the large fake candles concealed a cannon. About the time the merchants finished unloading the carts, the fire reached the powder and fired the cannons with resounding noise.

The cannon burst served as a signal to a regiment of rebels concealed in the carts; they sprang out of hiding and rushed to put on the neatly arranged armor and take up the weapons. The boom of the cannon and the mêlée of the rebels woke the emperor, who just managed to escape with the royal jade seal hidden in the flowing sleeves of his imperial robe.

He did not have time to gather his Divine Demon Dancers, and thus the harmony of male and female in the Mongol Empire was abandoned.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!