Friday, May 27, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Jurchens | Jin Dynasty | Part I

Earlier I wrote about the Uighurs and the Xi Xia. Now I must finally turn my attention to the Jin Dynasty, also known as the Jurchen Dynasty (1115–1234).

The people known as Jurchens who went on to found the Jurchen, or Jin Dynasty, originated around the timbered basins of the Amur, Ussuri, and Sungari rivers in Manchuria, in what is now northeast China. Their language was Tungusic, an eastern extension of the Altaic language family and closely related to Manchu, the language of the people what would later create the Qing Dynasty. 

Almost nothing is known of their history prior to the tenth century a.d. Apparently they began to use iron only in the early eleventh century. One tribe of the Jurchen, the Wanyan, began making farming tools and weapons from iron and on the basis of this new technology soon dominated their neighbors. Under the leadership of a chieftain known as Wugunai (1021–1074) the Wanyan soon assumed leadership of a loose confederation of the various Jurchen tribes. Wugunai, according to contemporary histories, “was addicted to wine and women and could outdrink anyone,” but he was also a warrior of legendary statue. 

His sons and grandsons emulated his military exploits, and by 1114 his grandson Ayuda and a horse-mounted army of some 10,000 men had defeated a 100,000-man army sent north to the borderlands to confront the up-start Jurchens by the emperor of the Liao Dynasty (907–1125), then in control of much of northern China. Based on his military exploits, Aguda audaciously claimed the Mandate of Heaven and at the beginning of the first lunar month in the year 1115 proclaimed the commencement of the Jin (Gold) Dynasty with himself as emperor. He then launched a full-scale assault on the territories of the Liao Dynasty. The various Liao capitals fell one-by-one, culminating with the Southern Capital (current-day Beijing) in 1122. 

In 1125 the last of the Liao rulers, the Tianzou Emperor, was captured while trying to escape westward through the Ordos Desert. This signaled the end of the Liao Dynasty. The same year the Jurchens attacked the Song Dynasty which controlled much of middle and southern China. The Song capital of Kaifeng quickly fell, following by Taiyuan and other other strategic Song cities. On January 16, 1127, the Song Emperor Qinzong personally surrendered to the Jurchens. Intermittent fighting between the Jurchens and hold-out Song forces would continue for years, but by the 1140s the southern boundary of the Jin Dynasty would be fixed roughly along the course of the Huai River, about two hundred miles south of Yellow River, where the wheat and millet growing lands of northern China graded into the rice paddies of southern China. South of here the reconstituted Song, known as the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) would continue to rule.
Boundaries of the Jin and Southern Song Dynasties
With the defeat of the Liao Dynasty in 1125 the Jin had turned their attention north to the Mongolian Plateau. While still engaged with the Song Dynasty they had no desire to confront their potentially dangerous neighbors to the north and sought instead to court their friendship or at least neutrality. Thus it was that they invited to their court Khabul Khan, the great-grandfather of Chingis Khan. Khabul Khan was the leader of the Khamag Mongols, a loose confederation of the various Mongol tribes, and thus one of the most powerful men on the Mongolian Plateau. The details are hazy, but some sources suggest this meeting took place during the coronation of the Jin emperor Xizong in 1125 at the Jin capital of Zhongdu, current-day Beijing. 

At the meeting between himself and the Jin Emperor Khabul Khan reportedly got roaringly drunk and in his intoxicated state even dared to tug on the emperor’s beard. Not wanting to antagonize the capricious Mongol ruler, Xizong apparently shrugged this off as the playful antics of an uncouth barbarian. He even loaded down Khabul Khan with generous gifts of gold, precious stones, and rich fabrics when he left the capital. The emperor’s courtiers took a dimmer view; infuriated by what what they perceived as insults to the emperor, they dispatched troops to capture Khabul Khan and bring him back for punishment. Khabul Khan managed to escape, but the seeds of ill will were planted between the Jin Court and the Mongols. 

Although various treaties sought to maintain trade and tribute relations between the Jurchen and the Mongols their alliance continued to deteriorate. War broke out between the two parties in 1139, 1143, and in 1147 and the Jurchen suffered some humiliating defeats. After the latter conflict the Jurchen agreed to sent the Mongols yearly gifts—essentially bribes—of livestock, grain, and silk in an effort to secure peace along the borderlands. One source suggest that the gifts of fabrics alone amounted to 300,000 bales of fine silk and 300,000 bales of coarse silk a year. When his cousin Ambakhai became khan of the Khamag Mongols after Khabul Khan’s death the Jurchen decided that it was finally time to rein in the unruly nomads. They contrived with the Tatars, their erstwhile allies and hereditary enemies of the Mongols, to capture both Ambakhai and Khabul Khan’s own son Ökin Barkhakh and take them as prisoners to the Jin capital, where they were executed by nailing them onto a wooden donkey, a traditional punishment for rebellious tribesmen. Before he died, Ambakhai managed to a courier, a man named Balaqachi, back to Mongolia with message for Khutula, one of Khabul Khan’s sons, and his own son Qadaan-taishi: 
I became the Khan of all, Lord of the Nation . . . I have been captured by the Tartar people. Do not follow my example. Strive until the nails of your five fingers splinter and your ten fingers drop from you hands to avenge me.
For the meantime Ambakhai’s supplication would go unanswered. The Jurchen and Tatars renewed their attacks on the Mongols and by the time of Chingis Khan’s birth in 1162 the confederation of tribes ruled over by Khabul Khan and later by his son Khutula had collapsed. Anarchy reigned among the Mongols. According to the Persian historian Juvaini: 
They had no chief or ruler. Each tribe lived separately; they were not united with one another, and there was constant fighting and hostility between them. Some of them regarded robbery and violence, immorality and debauchery as deeds of manliness and excellence. The Khan of Kitai [the Jurchen emperor of the Jin Dynasty] used to demand and seize goods from them. Their clothing was of the skins of dogs and mice, and their food was the flesh of those animals and other dead things . . . 
Temüchin, the future Chingis Khan, although the great-grandson of Khabul Khan, ruler of the Khamag Mongols, was born into straightening circumstances, and after the murder of his father at the hands of Tatars his family was reduced to outright property. At one point, according to the Secret History of the Mongols, the entire family had only nine horses and was reduced to eating marmots and mice. 

Temüchin’s rise to power has been well-related elsewhere and will not be recounted here. Suffice it to say that by 1189 he had been recognized as khan of the Mongol tribes at a convocation held at Khökh Nuur (Blue Lake) in what is now Khentii Aimag, and according to some accounts it was at this time that he was given the title of Chingis Khan.
Khökh Nuur
New Chingis Monument at Khökh Nuur
Relief of Chingis on new monument
By 1206 he had defeated most of the other tribes who had opposed him and at convocation on the Onon RIver his title of Chingis Khan was confirmed. From this point on he was the undisputed ruler of the Mongolian Plateau. Juvaini describes the sudden changes in the fortunes of Chingis Khan and his followers: 
And they continued in this indigence, privation, and misfortune until the banner of Chingiz-Khan’s fortune was raised and they issued forth from the straits of hardship into the amplitude of of well-being, from a prison into a garden, from the desert of poverty into a palace of delight and from abiding torment into reposeful pleasances, their raiment being of silk and brocade . . . 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Baga Nuur | Zevgee’s Family

Wandered on out to Baga Nuur to visit the family of my friend Zevgee, who recently transmigrated. My last visit to Baga Nuur, to celebrate Women’s Day, was a happier occasion.
Saraa, Zevgee’s wife Tümen-Ölzii, Zevgee and Enkha  celebrating Women’s Day
This time Zevgee was no longer with us, but I did have the opportunity of meeting up once again with his family members, many of them from Bayankhongor Aimag, where Zevgee was born. 
 Five of Zevgee’s brothers, to the right, in Baga Nuur
A few years ago I did a camel trip from Amarbuyant Khiid in Bayankhongor to Shar Khuls Oasis with Zevgee, his wife, and two of his brothers, Davakhüü and Khaidav, following the Route Of The 13th Dalai Lama and The Roerich Expedition.  
 Davakhüü
 Khaidav
Khaidav, Zevgee’s son Bira, his brother-in-law Shoovoi, and Davakhüü loading a camel at Amarbuyant Khiid
 Davakhüü and Khaidav with four of their magnificent camels at Amarbuyant Khiid
 Zevgee, Khaidav, and Davakhüü taking a rest break in the Gobi
Davakhüü, Zevgee, Khaidav, and Tümen-Ölzii (standing) at the ovoo of The Ja Lama at Ekhiin Gol Oasis. Assistant Camel Wrangler, Historical Consultant, and Fox Zolzaya is sitting front right. 
Khaidav with his grandchildren at his ger in Bayankhongor
 Zevgee’s sister in Baga Nuur. We stayed at her ger in Bayankhongor Aimag and she and her husband Shoovoi cooked a goat with hot rocks—a dish known as Khorkhog—for us in honor of our visit. 
Khorkhog. The entire goat (not including head and innards) is cut up and cooked with heated rocks in a big milk can. This is the serving dish. You should always juggle one of the hot rocks in your left hand while eating with the right hand. 
Zevgee’s sister with her husband Shoovoi in Bayankhongor
 Another one of Zevgee’s brothers
  Another one of Zevgee’s brothers
  Another one of Zevgee’s brothers. This man was once the mayor of Shinejinst, a village in Bayankhongor Aimag. We stayed at his ger at the beginning of our camel trip.  
Ger in Shinejinst where we stayed

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Uzbekistan | Khorezm | Khiva | al-Khwārizmī

After viewing the Summer Mosque in Khiva I wandered outside the city walls and soon found myself in front of the statue of Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (c. 780–c. 859). Sources vary on the birthplace of al-Khwārizmī, but at least one historian, Ibn al-Nadim, asserts that he was born in Khorezm (also known as Khwarizm), and local boosters insist that despite all the various nay-sayers he was born right here in Khiva, hence his statute here on the main drag in front of the city walls. Al-Khwārizmī was a celebrated geographer, astronomer and mathematician and is acknowledged as the inventor of Algebra, a dubious accomplishment which has earned him the well-deserved opprobrium of generations of high school students the world over.
Statue of Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (c. 780–c. 859)
Al-Khwarizmi's most famous (or perhaps most notorious) book, in which he formulated the basis principles of algebra, was entitled Hisab Al-Jabr W'al Mugabalah, translating roughly as "the science of reunion and reduction”.
A page from al-Khwārizmī's Hisab Al-Jabr W'al Mugabalah
Our current word algebra is indeed a corruption of the word “Al-Jabr in the title. This book is still in print for the benefit of those few interested in such folderol: The Book of Algebra.
The Book of Algebra (Great Books of Islamic Civilization, 80)
I myself have no interest whatsoever in wasting any more of my time discussing anything so jejune as algebra; if you are really interesting in this subject and have nothing better to do see A History of Algebra: From Al-Khwarizmi to Emmy Noether and/or Al-Khwarizmi: The Inventor of Algebra.
Al-Khwarizmi: The Inventor of Algebra (Great Muslim Philosophers and Scientists of the Middle Ages)
On a more salubrious note, later translations into Latin of al-Khwārizmī's other books, notably On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals (c. 825), led to the introduction of the so-called Hindu-Arabic Numeral System (complete with a decimal point and the all-important value of zero), and “Arabic Numerals” (i.e., the numbers we now use), into the Occidental world. Otherwise we would probably still be hammering Roman numerals into granite with a chisel. So al-Khwārizmī did have his redeeming qualities. 

In any case, al-Khwārizmī eventually washed up in Baghdad, where he became an integral part of the so-called Bayt al-Hikmah, or House of Wisdom, an institute of advanced studies in various sciences which had sprung up during the time of Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, he of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights fame, and eventually flowered under the patronage of his son al-Mamun (r 813–833 AD).  
The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance
Indeed, I have just recently added The House of Wisdom to my Scriptorium and even more fortuitously a Review has just appeared in the New Year Times:
Abdullah ­al-­Mamun, caliph of Baghdad in the early 9th century, was indispensable to this intellectual flowering. The city was only four decades old but had already become the largest in the world. In this vibrant setting, al-Mamun established an institute, the House of Wisdom, the likes of which had not been seen since the great library at Alexandria. The author compares Baghdad in those days to Renaissance Florence or Athens in the age of Pericles. At first, the caliph followed his great-grandfather’s practice of pushing his savants for Arabic translations of Greek books in the country’s possession, a legacy of Hellenistic rule for several centuries after the conquests of Alexander the Great. Over the next two centuries, more works of Aristotle, Pythagoras, Archimedes and Hippocrates, as well as Persian and Indian thinkers, were rendered into Arabic. It became a lucrative business, abetted by advances in papermaking learned from captive Chinese soldiers. Other wealthy patrons, not only the caliph, supported the translation movement, al-Khalili points out, “in part for the practical benefits it brought them in finance, agriculture, engineering projects and medicine, and in part because this patronage quickly turned into a de rigueur cultural activity that defined their standing in society.” A modern budget proposal from a science-funding agency could not have put it better.
 The Bayt al-Hikmah has now been recreated in cyperspace. See The House of Wisdom, a blog about the latest developments in Arabic science.
Stamp commemorating al-Khwārizmī's 1200th birthday. Al-Khwārizmī also has An Area On The Moon named after him.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Zevgee — 1938–2011

Zevgee (1938–2011)
My good friend Zevgee transmigrated on the Full Moon Day of May 17, which by coincidence (or maybe not) was the day of Vesak, the Buddhist holiday observing the Buddha's Birth, Enlightenment, and Death, and also, according to Some Interpretations, the anniversary of the day the Buddha first taught the Kalachakra Tantra.

I first met Zevgee in 1997, as described in Part Three of my book Travels in Northern Mongolia. I eventually did twelve Horse or Camel Tripwith him, including a horse trip last summer to Onon Hot Springs. He will be missed. 
 Zevgee last summer at Onon Hot Springs
Zevgee, with his wife and two brothers at Shar Khuls Oasis

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mongolia | Gov-Altai Aimag | Camel Trip | Approaching Atas Bogd Uul

After Solongo’s Fall From Her Camel we rode until the sun went down and then camped for the night. The next morning we were up before dawn, since we still had two long days of riding to reach our destination south of Atas Bogd Uul.
 Camp Boss Sister Dulya supervising the loading of a camel
  Camp Boss Sister Dulya signs off on a perfectly loaded camel 
Sister Dulya ready to ride
Riding into black shale hills
 Typical black shale hills of the Gobi
 After passing through the black shale hills we emerged on a huge gravel flat. This is the view looking west. 
 Crossing the gravel flat. You can’t tell it from this photo, but the wind was blowing a relentless  sixty miles an hour. 
 Looking south across the grave flats toward Atas Bogd Uul, just visible in the distance.  
Atas Bogd Uul from the southern edge of the gravel flats. In the foreground is a range of hills topped by 4,705-foot Arslan Khairkhan Uul, so named because the peak is said to resemble a crouching lion (arslan). 
 Approaching the Arslan Khairkhan Hills 
  Although still smarting from the fall from her camel, Solongo was able to build a fire and brew up fresh tea during our tea break, in this case A Superb 2003 Vintage Puerh
Pass through the Arslan Khairkhan Hills
Near the pass through the Arslan Khairkhan Hills
Beyond the Arslan Khairkhan Hills is a wide strip and sand and gravel desert.
  Continuing on  across the sand and gravel desert . . . Solongo is riding on top of a load on one of the pack camels. Her camel had ran off the day before. 
Taking a break 
We camped for the night just east of 8,842-foot Atas Bogd Uul, a sentinel visible for hundreds of miles around.