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The worship of Chinggis Khan: ethnicity, nation-state and situational relativity.

A human belief system is an interlocking psychological network that provides spiritual support for a community. Among modern beliefs, nationalism stands out and, according to authors such as Benedict Anderson, (1) it has replaced religion in creating "imagined communities". However, even when people are imagining their communities, they still rely on a kind of religion or belief. This is borne out by the manipulative semiotics of Chinggis Khan, both politically and ritualistically, and ethnic communities and superpowers, whereby a new dimension has been analysed in detail by authors of Inner Mongolian background. Almaz Khan traces the process through which the cult and symbolism of Chinggis Khan has evolved and become popularised as a universal discourse of sociopolitical significance, and that currently functions "as one of the basic identity symbols for both Inner and Outer Mongols. (2) Nasan Bayar describes the multipurpose visits to the Chinggis Khan Mausoleum by Mongolians and non-Mongolians and believes that the cult of Chinggis Khan is the worship of the modern Chinese state and economic power under its sponsorship; (3) and Uradyn E. Bulag examines the various contesting roles of Chinggis Khan as imagined, constructed, appropriated and manipulated by Japan, China, Russia and Mongolia to serve different ethnopolitical or geopolitical purposes. (4) To add more weight to the semiotics discourse, I join Almaz Khan, Nasan Bayar and Uradyn E. Bulag in further exploring the political meanings of ritualism, past and present, dedicated to Chinggis Khan. My argument is that ritualisation of Chinggis Khan worship, as a form of "intuitive and reflective belief", (5) is indexical to the vicissitudes of the nationality (minzu) relationship in China and beyond in the process of nation-building. The analysis also helps unveil China's nationalistic dilemma for which different semiotic ideologies (6) and their relevant practices are responsible. Modern China remains polyphonic due to its history, having been ruled by the Mongols and Manchu, and also due to its plural society made up of 55 national minorities identified by the central government.

While the Chinggis Khan Mausoleum, located in Ordos of Inner Mongolia, is a memorial to the great conqueror, his burial site is difficult to locate. Different exploration projects from different countries with different backgrounds came up with various possible locations. ABC Online reported (18 August 2001), "an expedition of American and Mongolian archaeologists believes that it has discovered the burial place of the 13th century conqueror, Genghis Khan", the site is 320 kilometres northeast of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. (7) However, the tomb was later verified to belong to a Hun nobility. (8) Then on 6 October 2004, a joint expedition of Japan and Mongolia claimed to have found a "soul temple" built for Chinggis Khan, and that his burial site was within the 12-kilometre radius of the temple, about 150 miles from Ulaanbaatar. (9) There are four conjectures regarding the burial site of Chinggis Khan: (10) a) in an area south of the Khentii Mountains and north of the Kerulen River; b) in Ordos of Inner Mongolia, the People's Republic of China; c) in the Altaic Mountains of Xinjiang, PRC; and d) the Liupan Mountains of Ningxia, PRC.

In the same vein, the interpretation of Chinggis Khan as an icon is also situational and is negotiated along the dimension of ethnicity and nation-state. To the Mongols, Chinggis Khan is a symbol that syncretises, quite selectively, beliefs and elements of shamanism, Buddhism, ethnicity, ancestral connection and dignity. The Chinese state attaches value to the image of Chinggis Khan, regarding it as symbolic capital that can be "invested" for various strategic purposes, and as to when and where to resurrect the image of Chinggis Khan is a matter of calculation. There are thus two types of situational relativity, each serving a different purpose: one involves the Mongolian ethnicity while the other concerns the strategic interests of geopolitical powers such as Soviet Russia, Japan and China.

Cognitive anthropologist Dan Sperber raised two important views: (i) there are two fundamental kinds of beliefs defined in the architecture of mind, that is, intuitive beliefs which are "the product of spontaneous and unconscious perceptual and inferential processes", and reflective beliefs which "are believed by virtue of second-order beliefs about them"; and that (ii) "[the] process of communication is basically one of transformation". (11) He hypothesised "that the basic principles of the symbolic mechanism are not induced from experience but are ... part of the innate mental equipment that makes experience possible". (12) Sperber tried to combine a cognitive approach with that of communication, or rather, to combine public representation with mental representation. (13) His formulation of the two views offers a better interpretation of the widespread representation of Chinggis Khan provided that one important dimension be added: materiality (Sperber being a materialist) or the feeling thereof. The act of thinking and communicating has to happen in the triadic relationship of semiosis defined by Charles Peirce, (14) and the "biology of knowing" (15) restrains the way people think and communicate. The Mongols not only cognise Chinggis Khan and communicate among themselves about it, but they also have bodily experience involving the auditory, olfactory, tactile and visual senses in quotidian activities, which build the material foundation for processes of communication.

At the Chinggisiin Tahilga, the Chinggis Khan Sacrificial Ceremony, for instance, a sheep is taken into the ceremonial site, killed and boiled, while a ritual master stands chanting prayers, amid wafts of smoke-filled air with incense aroma. The Chinggis Khan Mausoleum, where such ceremonies take place, is located in Ordos which is over 220 kilometres away from Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The mausoleum structure consists of three conjoint halls, each with a yurt-style dome on top; the oboo (cairn) is decorated with "silk ribbons and streamers bearing images of the Heavenly Horse (Hii Mori) (16) and Buddhist prayers written in Tibetan" (17) and a five-metre white marble statue of the Khan sits in the main hall, "his face appearing serene and amiable". People from Ordos and beyond come to pray for their well-being or simply visit for sightseeing. The vaulted tops of the halls are indexical to tegri (heavens, or Heaven), which is held in high respect by the Mongols; the sacrificial mutton--honinu mah (mutton) being the staple food of the Mongols--is an iconic element of nomadism; and the Tibetan scripture symbolises Mongolia's conversion to Buddhism in recent history. One informant from the Horchin area of Inner Mongolia said that the straight and upright Mongolian script is iconic of Mongolian uprightness and righteousness. Those multi-sensory experiences, though trivial, build into the shaping of common beliefs such as the representation of Chinggis Khan, and instil cognitive and behavioural intuition into the younger generations. The Mongolian style of singing, urtu-in duu (long tune), is characterised by a lingering tone analogous to the rolling topography and nomadic lifestyle on pastoral steppes.

Cognition and communication, as explained by Sperber, are the more relevant factors to influence "reflective beliefs", while the emphasis of "materiality" or the feeling thereof is added in this article to provide the material basis for "intuitive beliefs". A Wittgensteinian family resemblance (18) notion exists between "intuitive beliefs" and "reflective beliefs", which embed in each other in a long chain, whereby intuitive beliefs show increasing materiality at one end of the spectrum and reflective beliefs show decreased materiality at the other end. Charles Peirce's theory of thirdness is understood in a similar way: the semiosis of iconicity-indexicality-symbolism (19) can be analysed as a chain along which the iconic end is more materially based while the symbolic end is not. This materially mediated "long chain" is kept alive by the Sperberian "process of communication/transformation". The worship of Chinggis Khan is categorised as reflective belief based on Sperber's second-order belief that is supported by materiality via intuitive belief, and the communication/transformation process. Chinggis Khan has been interpreted, reinterpreted, symbolised and resymbolised in different historical moments and at different locations by different interest parties. Through a simultaneous process of reinterpretation and resymbolisation, Chinggis Khan is being rematerialised. During the process of communicative transformation, a plethora of pragmatic manipulation of Chinggis' material images and abstract symbols by politicians, nationalists, novelists, entrepreneurs and others have merged into a family resemblance of widespread representation in China and beyond.

As early as the Yuan dynasty, drawing from the theories of reincarnation, Tibetan Buddhist scholars and historians tried to link the Mongolian imperial lineage to Buddhism: one of Chinggis Khan's ancestors, Khorichar-Mergen, they claimed, "was the reincarnation of Padmasambhava, a great master of Tantrayana and founder of the Buddhist faith in Tibet". (20) Later, the Manchu emperor was claimed to be the bodhisattva Manjushri and "Chinggis Khan was the reincarnation of the bodhisattva Vajrabani. (21) The highest-ranking Buddhist leader in Mongolia, Zebtsendamba Khutuktu and his first two reincarnations, were both born in the imperial line of Chinggis Khan. (22) In 1635, after the death of Ligden Khan--who was the last emperor of the Northern Yuan dynasty (born in 1588, and reigned from 1604 to 1634), self-proclaimed as Chinggis Khan and who held the Chinggisid seal in his possession--his son surrendered to the Manchus, and "Ligden's imperial seal went into the possession of Hong Taiji", the second ruler of the Manchu alliance. (23) The possession of the Chinggisid seal may have helped to legitimise Hong Taiji's succession to the inheritance of Chinggis Khan. (24) Of course, the "materiality" of the imperial seal reinforced Hong Taiji's succession and legitimacy by evoking the symbolism of Chinggis Khan on the reflective, if not intuitive, level since he was a Manchu after all. According to Rawski, the Manchu success in empire-building "lay in its ability to use its cultural links with the non-Han peoples of inner Asia and to differentiate the administration of the non-Han regions from the administration of the former Ming provinces". (25) For Manchu rulers, Tibetan Buddhism was important in extending Qing control over the Mongols. (26) Ruling over the five groups of peoples, namely the Manchu, Mongols, Tibetans, Muslims and Chinese, the Qianlong Emperor (who reigned from 1736 to 1795) tried to maintain the cultural boundaries that separate them and the officially enshrined languages of the "five peoples" of the empire. (27) While the Qing emperors became "Sons of Heaven" (Chinese emperors) in Chinese areas, they were known as bogdo kaghan (28) (the supreme khan) among the Mongols (29) in the same way Chinggis Khan is being described as bogda khan by Mongols living in the Ejen-horoo Banner and other banners in Ordos. (30) In an important effort to manipulate the symbolism of Chinggis Khan, the Manchu authorities "created a special zasaq administrative unit for the care of the shrine of Chinggis Khan in Ordos", (31) and designated 500 local households to become professional guardians, known as darqads, of the Chinggis shrine in Ordos and they were free from taxation and draft. (32) What was logically planned at the beginning became a regime of causality, (33) where the presence of darqads and the shrine they guard materialise their relationship into that of cause and effect, adding intuitive weight to the iconicity of Chinggis Khan.

In modern history, we encounter more instances of the symbolic manipulation of Chinggis Khan. In the same way, Owen Lattimore (34) was challenged by Thomas Barfield, (35) who argued that the relationship between the nomads and China was not confrontational but symbiotic, and that the widespread symbolism of Chinggis Khan as well as Mongolian ethnicity has been the result of a symbiotic relationship between Mongols and others. Developing Fedrik Barth's idea of social organisation of difference, (36) I call this symbiotic relationship, which centres on the cult of Chinggis Khan, a "geopolitical organisation of difference" that involves ways that Russians, Japanese, Chinese and Mongols interact and negotiate over their strategic interests. What is happening without influences will happen within, that is, the changing relationship between superpowers and that between superpowers and Mongols directly influence the configuration of ethnic relationships in China. In contemporary history, major players in the geopolitical game who are competing for their interests in Mongolian areas have transformed reflective beliefs in Chinggis Khan by rebuilding or subscribing to intuitive beliefs.

19th-century Asia saw the rise of nationalism in the West, driving it to open up. By forcing the Treaty of Kanagawa on the Japanese Shogunate, Commodore Matthew Perry compelled the opening of Japan to world trade in 1854; China was defeated in the two Opium Wars (1840-1842; 1856-1860) and had to open its ports to foreign powers. The "all-under-heaven" model of the Middle Kingdom had to be replaced by that of the nation-state which demands the national and political boundaries to coincide. (37) Dr Sun Yat-sen and his comrades toppled the Qing dynasty in the 1911 Revolution, and Outer Mongolia declared independence in the same year. Inner Mongolia's status was uncertain. Both Mongolia and China tried to win over the Inner Mongolians; the symbolism of Chinggis Khan was open for new communicative transformations. Mongolia and China contended for the shrine of Chinggis Khan. In 1913, Chagdarsureng, "the officiating prince in charge of the Chinggis Khan ritual", wrote to the Bogd Khan government petitioning for the Chinggis Khan shrine to be removed to Khuree (the present-day Ulaanbaatar) for protection, and Khuree was ready to take action in response. (38) This had raised an alarm to the Chinese. The Mongolian-Tibetan Affairs Ministry issued an order to the governor of the Yekeju League (Ordos) and urged him to take precaution stating that "Chinggis has also been a holy shrine for about a thousand years in our China". (39)

In parallel with the Ural-Altaic hypothesis, which was first developed in Europe and was used to connect the Turks, the Mongols and the Tungus together in the respect of race, ethnicity, languages and religion, (40) Suematsu Kencho, a Japanese student at Cambridge University, wrote in his Bachelor of Arts thesis, entitled "The Identity of the Great Conqueror Genghis Khan with the Japanese Hero Yoshitsune: An Historical Thesis" (1879), that the 13th-century Japanese warrior Minamoto Yoshitsune sailed to Mongolia and became known as Chinggis Khan. (41) Again, in 1924, another book entitled Chinggis Khan was Minamoto no Yoshitsune, by Oyabe Jenichiro was published in Japan. The symbol of Chinggis Khan served to prepare "the ground to justify Japanese colonisation of the Inner Mongols while reinforcing the latter's desire for independence from China". (42) During the Second World War, after occupying Manchuria and the eastern Inner Mongolia, the Japanese invaders constructed a temple in honour of Chinggis Khan in today's Ulaanhot, (43) and even plotted to abduct the shrine and relics of Chinggis from Ordos. (44) In 1929, Prince Demchugdongrub (Prince De), a descendant of Chinggis Khan, launched an Inner Mongolian nationalist movement for autonomy, holding Chinggis Khan as a rallying point. In 1936, Prince De established a military government and started a new calendar adopting the birthday of Chinggis Khan. At the inauguration of the government, the Prince and all the Mongol officials prostrated themselves before a portrait of Chinggis Khan. Prince De negotiated with the Japanese authorities and the pro-Japanese Wang Jingwei government over the founding of an autonomous state (the Mongolian Autonomous State, August 1941-August 1945), where the word "country" (guo in Chinese) was avoided and "state" (bang in Chinese) was used instead. However, in this case, there is only one word in Mongolian that means both guo and bang, which is ulus. The formal title of this new regime became Monggol-un Obesuben Jasakhu Ulus, a title that galvanises a Mongolian national feeling. (45) There were two camps competing for the symbolism of Chinggis Khan: Prince De with his Japanese military support, and the Communist Party of China-controlled Suiyuan Mongolian Political Council (established in 1936). (46) Expecting the Japanese-Mongolian forces would come for the Chinggis shrine in Ordos, the Chinese government removed it to a Taoist temple in Xinglong Mountain of the Gansu province. (47) The Communist leader Mao Zedong referred to the Mongols as "sons and grandsons of Chinggis Khan". (48) In 1935, at a time when the power struggle between the Nationalists, Communists and the Japanese invaders was at its peak, Mao Zedong issued the Declaration to the People of Inner Mongolia, "in which he warned against the Japanese intention to dominate Inner Mongolia by invoking 'Mongol chauvinism' ", and appealed to the Mongols that they should "cooperate with the Chinese Soviet regime and the Red Army" so that no one would dare to humiliate the sons and grandsons of Chinggis Khan. (49) When the motorised caravan that carried Chinggis shrine arrived in Yan'an en route to its evacuation destination in Gansu, the CPC organised about 10,000 people to attend a grand sacrificial ceremony in honour of Chinggis Khan, and sacrificial wreaths were offered by the CPC central committee, the headquarters of the Eighth Route Army, and the local Chinese Soviet government. (50) Mao Zedong personally wrote an inscription of the newly built Chinggis Khan Memorial Hall, and pamphlets entitled Chinggis Khan, the Hero of the Chinese Nation were distributed in Xi'an. (51) Chinggis Khan was described in the pamphlet as one of the emperors in Chinese history, "whose great talent and bold vision can add colour to our Chinese nation and whose remark 'the wide territory and large populace must unite as one heart to defeat the enemy ... lays bare the truth that our Chinese nation is now in the midst of resisting brutal Japanese invaders' ..." (52)

The images of Chinggis Khan have been created polyphonically in Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese, English and so on, in the same way that Bakhtin described the new genre of "polyphonic novel" as having "many points of view, many voices, each of which is given its full due", (53) which Keane's model of semiotic ideologies echoes. The polyphonic portrayal of Chinggis Khan keeps the reflective beliefs open for further communicative transformations. The switchover from "your Chinggis Khan" to "our Chinggis Khan" depends on context and design. Confronting the Japanese invasion, intellectuals such as Gu Jiegang called for a unified Chinese nation, claiming that it is baseless to divide the Chinese nation into different ethnic and racial groups since they have intermingled and amalgamated into one Chinese nation. (54) Along this line, Chinggis Khan was spontaneously transformed into Chinese Chinggis Khan. Lu Xun, the cultural critic of modern China, sarcastically commented in 1934 that contrary to "the new Chinese self-definition" that claimed "our" Chinggis Khan conquered Europe, the Russians should say that "our Chinggis Khan conquered China" since the Mongol conquest of "Russia" preceded their conquest of China. (55)

Soviet Russians, by denouncing Chinggis Khan, helped bolster the prestige of the conqueror. A Chinggis commemoration scheduled on 31 May 1962 was abruptly halted, and Tomor-Ochir, the No. 2 politburo member in charge of ideology and propaganda, was given the marching orders and exiled because the Soviet Union "identified worshipping Chinggis Khan as not just anti-Soviet Mongolian nationalism, but more importantly as support for Chinese imperialism manifested as Maoism". (56) There is some truth in this: against the background of the Sino-Soviet rift, the Chinese Communists transformed Chinggis Khan into "the symbol of the oppressed yellow race" and "the Soviet denunciation of Chinggis Khan was nothing but the denunciation of the yellow race and the Chinese". (57) However, Chinggis Khan was not always favoured by the Chinese Communists and his symbolism experienced at least three ups and downs: the ups in the early 1950s happened at the time of the construction of the Chinggis Khan Mausoleum in Ordos, and the downs during the Great Leap Forward (the campaign against local nationalism); the 800th anniversary of the birth of Chinggis in the early 1960s marked the ups, and the period during the Cultural Revolution represented the downs when Ulanhu, the top leader of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, was denounced as Chinggis Khan "the Second" and was removed from his post; also, Chinggis Khan was condemned for committing brutality and his mausoleum in Ordos was ransacked. (58) When suspicion of "national separatism" was high, the picture of Chinggis Khan would be taken off the wall and Mongols were discouraged from attending ceremonies held in honour of Chinggis Khan in Ordos. The symbolism of Chinggis Khan rose up again after the Cultural Revolution, which was "signaled by an official statement in [the] People's Daily early in the summer of 1980 that the Khan was a 'leader of Chinese and foreign peoples, an outstanding military strategist and statesman'". (59)

In December 1999, Time magazine voted Chinggis Khan as "one of the most important people of the millennium". In 2003, some geneticists claimed that eight per cent of men in Asia or one in 200 men in the world carry the Y chromosome of Chinggis Khan. (60)

The widespread belief of Chinggis Khan among the Mongols is a result of reorganisation of difference. (61) While Mongolia "regained" the symbolism of Chinggis Khan after the end of the Cold War, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Inner Mongolians have far more complex stories to narrate. There exists a continuum of Mongolian identities which are largely negotiated over the "instant boundaries" that randomly appear when people interact with each other for a variety of purposes, be it shopping, academic meetings, blogging, protests, dating and so on. On one end, the Inner Mongolians are further divided according to their homeland, Mongolian accents, common experiences, etc. On the other end of the spectrum, they are confronted with "Han" and others and are treated as a whole, though multiple identities are at play: husband/wife, teachers/students, friends/colleagues, officials/commoners and so on. However, ethnicity and nationalism are overriding identities at the moment. This manifestation can be attributed to two factors: economic prosperity has called for the emergence of a compatible ideology which is nationalism; and the Chinese version of nationalism, which centres on language and culture, also encourages ethnic nationalism of other non-Han groups. Both factors need materialised support mediated by stronger nationalistic semiotic ideology. On 11 January 2011, a statue of Confucius, standing 9.5 metres tall, appeared on the eastern side of the Tiananmen Square, marking once again the state recognition of Confucianism as the symbol of Chinese traditional culture. Long before this, on 28 September 2004, the Qufu city government (in Shandong province) held for the first time an official ceremony commemorating Confucius on his 2555th birthday. Mayor Jiang Cheng read out a sacrificial oration in front of an audience that hailed from other places in China and beyond. A professor from Taiwan, however, criticised the ceremony for improper sartorial style and anachronic hybridity. For example, the ceremonial master was dressed in a court eunuch costume while the musicians wore Manchu-style attire. (62) Zhang Dandan, a junior at Renmin University, started her coming-of-age rite of passage on 8 April 2007 dressed up in a Han-style costume according to the Confucian ritual. Her parents came to join her from Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. The ritual involves greeting of guests, wine offering, hairpin ritual and so on, 16 observances in all. (63) The Renmin University formally established an institute called the College of Sinology (guoxueyuan), which literally means the College of National Learning, devoted to the Confucianism-based knowledge system, on 28 May 2005; Tsinghua University followed suit with another guoxue yuan which came into being in 2009. From the Communist destruction of Confucian temples to the reconstruction of Confucian memorial halls, it has come full circle. The Han culture-centric movement of restoration has naturally nourished non-Han culturalism and ethnicity. The Miao ethnic minority became unified around the symbolism of Chi You, a legendary hero who was defeated by Huang Di, the alleged ancestor of the Han. The Yao and some others are even more devoted to Pan Hu, their mythological ancestor and the Uyghur, the Khazak and others developed a stronger sense of identity around their Islamic faith. The Mongols in their turn have been drawn together by the symbolism of Chinggis Khan. There is a surge of rituals and activities held in memory of Chinggis Khan, from whom the Mongols derive spiritual support in strengthening their identity in response to mainstream nationalism. Touching the Chinggis Khan statue, hearing the prayers, and the feeling of physical presence among worshippers only make materiality overwhelmingly convincing. Visual, auditory, olfactory and tactile synesthesia are central to the experience and have been effectively built into intuitive beliefs.

The Chinggis Khan Square in Hailar district of Hulunbuir city is one of the earliest structures in Inner Mongolia. Construction of the 60,000-square metre square, which serves as an important venue for assemblies, celebrations and display of folk cultures, began in 2002 and was completed in 2008. A 22-metre-high statue of a falcon designed by specialists from the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts stands in the square. The bronze statues of Chinggis Khan and his warriors are by default the highlights of the square. (64) In 2006, the largest groupings of bronze statues of Chinggis Khan were unveiled in the newly built Chinggis Khan Square in the city of Ordos of Inner Mongolia. Artisans and workers from Gansu, Henan and Shanxi were involved in the design, production and installation. The five statue groupings featuring Chinggis Khan are themed as: the Ambassador of Civilisation (wenming shijie, measuring 32 metres long, 10 metres wide and 15 metres high); the Millenarian Hero (yidai tianjiao, wenming shijie, measuring 32 metres long, 10 metres wide and 16 metres high); the Mother of Grassland (caoyuan muqin, measuring 15 metres long, 5.6 metres wide and 8 metres high); Hundreds of Streams Converging into the Sea (haina baichuan, measuring 15 metres long, 5.6 metres wide and 15 metres high; and the Flying Heavenly Horse (tianju xingkong, measuring 16 metres long, 10 metres wide and 15 metres high). Some details are interesting. The statues were designed by He E, a female sculptor from Gansu province, and the building materials were produced according to the American standard C90300. The installation was carried out by the Yuda Corporation from Shanxi province, and 500 tons of bronze were used in the sculpture casting. (65) The Chinggis Khan Square and the statues became a nationwide sensation when the vice mayor of Ordos City, Yang Hongyan, carried the Olympic torch into the square, the final destination of the Olympic Torch Relay in Ordos, before the torch would continue its journey to Baotou, another city of Inner Mongolia. The most symbolic moment came when Haslo, a native Mongolian and Paralympics javelin champion, jogged past lines of supporters in front of the entrance of the Chinggis Khan Mausoleum with the torch in hand and accompanied by 104 torchbearers at 8.27am on 9 July 2008. At the concluding ceremony held at the Chinggis Khan Square, Mongolian dances and the Han tai chi were performed in addition to a drum dance and a female military band performance. (66) To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (established on 1 May 1947), the capital of Inner Mongolia, Hohhot, also built a Chinggis Khan Square, with a 36-metre-high bronze statue of Chinggis Khan on horseback facing the east, to complement the Chinggis Khan Boulevard, another newly constructed sensation in the city. The casting of the bronze statue was funded by a Mongolian art collector called Sechen-tana and the sculpture was created by a Han sculptor named Zeng Chenggang. Four seals representing dragon, tiger, lion and eagle, which are metaphoric images of Chinggis Khan as a thinker, strategist, military expert and statesman, respectively, are found at the corners of the statue. Six oxhorn-shaped golden pagodas stand in front of the statue, symbolising the 60th anniversary of the founding of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. (67) Viveiros de Castro has described "a type of communicative disjuncture where the interlocutors are not talking about the same thing, and do not know this", which he calls "uncontrolled equivocation". (68) Actually, such uncontrolled equivocation also exists between Mongols and Hans. The symbolism of Chinggis Khan is more of an intuitive than reflective belief for Mongols, while to the Hans, it is more of reflective belief, though both are elements of their own "representational economies". (69) The Mongols would habitually connect the symbolism of Chinggis Khan with their ancestors and cherish the primordiality. The Hans, on the other hand, would have to rationalise its meaning, getting clues from textbooks, official propaganda, etc., and sometimes they simply take it for granted as part of their everyday life. In the same way, the significance of the Boxer Rebellion is perceived differently by different people--there were officials who tended to regard it as historical myth, participants who only know by the course of events, and historians who have the knowledge and professional training and broader perspectives. (70) The Chinese government, both the central and local, make use of the Chinggis symbolism to construct an allegorical unity of the Hans with Mongols--the Olympic Torch Relay was planned to begin at the entrance of the Chinggis Khan Mausoleum where a Mongolian local, also a Paralympics champion, carried the torch, and the relay ended at the Chinggis Khan Square where a Han official (the vice mayor) received the torch. The concluding ceremony featuring a Mongolian dance and Han tai chi performances at the Chinggis Khan Square underlined the deliberate effort to inculcate the importance of national unity and to create a universal symbolism of harmony. Many commoners, however, simply came to enjoy the occasion and have fun. They were not necessarily lending their presence to support the official advocacy of national unity (minzu tuanjie). Similarly, though commissioned by the Ordos government, the artwork of the bronze statues of Chinggis Khan and his Mongolian warriors was undertaken by Han specialists, artisans and labourers from Gansu, Shanxi and Henan, making it a rallying point of national unity. That said, the Han people who were involved in the sculpture project did not come to Ordos for the reason of partaking in national unity-building. They probably came to make money, to savour the journey of artistic creation, or to simply do their job.

Since 1911, the fate of Inner Mongolians has been tied to that of the Chinese state, and the situational and chosen worship of Chinggis Khan by geopolitical powers have reflected the changeable attitude of the Chinese state towards the Mongols. Despite the vicissitude of the symbolic power in superpower rivalry at different historical moments, the Mongols and Inner Mongolians, at present, regard Chinggis Khan as the common tie that binds them; the iconography of Chinggis Khan as well as the rituals held in his name are more pertinent to their culture and history.

The materiality of Chinggis Khan as embodied in bronze statues, felt pictures, bottled liquor, songs, films and ceremonial exaltation, etc., links intuitive and reflective beliefs together. Such links will not happen without transnational communication, which transforms input mode, input quantity, scale, material source linkage and power linkage during interaction. (71) Webb Keane employs the term "semiotic ideology" to highlight the role that materiality plays in semiosis. He criticises Saussurean abstraction of signs from social and material worlds and invokes Bruno Latour's analysis of "the work of purification" that informs the linguistic ideology of Saussure, "an overarching project of making separations--of humans from nonhumans, nature from society, objects as sources of determination from objects that we make use of, and the Kantian things-in-themselves from the transcendental subject". (72) Sperber's intuitive and reflective beliefs run parallel to the old topic of things and words, which should be connected through semiotic ideology. Keane's "semiotic ideology" provides important mediation that can not only connect words with things but also reflective beliefs with those of intuitive. It is Sperber's transformative communication with the support of Keane's semiotic ideology (73) that invigorates the selective spectrum of decontextualisation, encontextualisation and recontextualisation, resulting in different combinational meanings between intuitive and reflective beliefs.

Elitist ideology in China is Saussurean in nature: it dichotomises the cultural world into "civilised" and "uncivilised", literate and illiterate, and so on. Much in the same way, homogenisation, an equivalent of "purification", is greatly emphasised in the treatment of ethnic minorities: nomads are unacceptable in the sedentary, "civilised" world due to their constant movement like "beasts and birds". (74) The Soviet formula of "national in form, socialist in content", which has been closely followed by China dealing with "national questions", is a transitional stratagem for realising the communist ideal and it aims "to speed up the evolution of the population through the stages on the evolutionary timeline of historical development". (75) However, this "form-content" vision turned out to be "nationalist in form, nationalist in content" in both the former Soviet Union (76) and China. (77) Nationalism in the Chinese context, along with the German-Italian variety, is based on linguistic-cultural homogeneity, which tends to exclude "foreign elements" or embrace assimilation. Homogenisation leads to abstraction; abstraction leads to wishful thinking. Though the symbolism of Chinggis Khan is intuitively Mongolian, it can also reflectively be made Chinese, Japanese and so on. Since reflective beliefs in Chinggis Khan are designed and practised out of pragmatic considerations, the symbolism can easily be turned from positive to negative representation when the need demands it. When discussing materiality of symbolic forms, Keane directs our attention to the fact that "their very materiality means they are always open to other unrealized possibilities". (78) A nationalistic competition on semiotic forms is presently in full swing in China. Among the nationalist cries in China, one blogger Tianxuan Dihan stands out; he calls for "seven steps, to detach ourselves from the Mongolian Yuan dynasty" (the title of his comments) to be taken, expresses his sympathy towards the Chinese victims and other victims all over the world who died under the heinous acts of Chinggis Khan, whom he refers to as a slaughterer. This blogger claims that "I am always proud of my yellow skin; but at this moment, because of that most horrible man-made disaster, I feel ashamed of my skin that is similar to that of those bloodthirsty monsters". (79) The same blogger expresses his anger at the attempt to connect Chinggis Khan with Huang Di (the legendary ancestor of the Han Chinese) when defining what China is; he accuses his opponent, who tries to include Chinggis Khan as one of the common ancestors of Chinese people, for being shameless and immoral. (80) This blogger is not an extremist loner; his idea represents a wave of nationalism in China. Old and new nationalists try to rescue China from its demoralised downspin brought about by economic boom and widespread moral decline. The Yellow Emperor, Confucianism and the Han language and culture are regarded as the tangible basis of such ethnic nationalism. According to these national extremists, it is high time that the national boundary should coincide with that of the state: one language, one culture and one people (race) will make China stable and safe from separatism. Such idealism, however, is confronted with insurmountable obstacles. For one thing, the physical territory of contemporary China covers regions that were largely inhabited by non-Han peoples whose descendants are now politically recognised as Chinese citizenry. For another, it is out of the question to redraw national boundaries and resettle ethnic population. Empire has irreversibly been replaced by nation-state, and history has been redesigned and reconstructed through the lens and in discourses of modernity. China has become what it is today through geopolitical reconfiguration. A China without Chinggis Khan, Buddha, Allah and other important non-Han figures will be enmeshed in difficulties of redefining its linguistic, cultural and territorial homogeneity to the exclusion of non-Han elements, which is antithetical to the internationalisation of linguistic plurality and cultural diversity that has become the new norm for the nation-state. To put in another way, it is not uncommon that nation-states allow multiple ethnic groups to share the same citizenship and embrace multiple mythological ancestors of different linguistic and cultural traditions. While national minorities tend to be blamed for being nationalistic and for creating instability, we may easily overlook the fact that it takes more than one national group to become nationalistic and pose "national questions". People do not become nationalistic and the situation gets problematic until a plethora of diversified languages, cultures, histories, politics, economies, etc., are thrown together in the same space. Differences have to be reorganised and connotations redefined. A multiplicity of materialities is at work: the materiality of Chinggis Khan symbolism coexists with that of Confucian symbolism. There are also Islamic symbolism, Buddhist symbolism, shamanistic symbolism and so forth. In this continual polyphonic negotiation emerges a multiplicity of intuitive beliefs that are connected to a multiplicity of lifestyles embedded in materiality. In ceremonies held in honour of Confucius, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Chi You, Chinggis Khan and many others, the visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile and gustatory synesthesia translates into perception of materiality that becomes the intuitive basis of ethnic consciousness leading oftentimes to nationalism. What is more, reflective beliefs, such as the political manipulation of the symbolism of Chinggis Khan by different interested parties, can also preserve ethnic consciousness in addition to creating a "united front". Intuitive and reflective beliefs are articulated not only in one single domain unilaterally but also at various levels across multiple domains in the process of communicative transformation. The debate over the Internet on the symbolism of Chinggis Khan is driven by differing linguistic ideologies, between Han and non-Han, within the Han community and also beyond. The discourse in cyberspace also evokes emotional as well as multi-sensory experiences, which are synesthetically materialised by scrutinizing written content on the digital screen, striking the keys on the keyboard, clicking the mouse and keeping late nights over cups of aromatic coffee. This virtual world created over the Internet propagates not only virtual ethnicity; it also constructs and consolidates actual ethnicity in the real world.

The chronological fluctuations of Chinggis Khan unfold the interplay between ethnicity and nation-state, between practices and their relevant ideologies (representational economy), (81) and between intuitive beliefs and reflective beliefs, highlighting the complex, situational relativity that interacts with historic events and organised memories centring on nation-building in China. From the semiotic materiality of Chinggis Khan worship, different people draw different meanings along a spectrum that covers intuitive beliefs at one end, and reflective beliefs at the other. This version of representational economies is interpreted by semiotic ideologies--in this case, the image of Chinggis Khan that reinforces the identity and clout of participating individuals and groups. Modern China remains a polyphonic society characterised by pluralism, where ritualisation of Chinggis Khan worship embodies the vicissitudes of nationality (minzu) relationship in China and beyond in nation-building.

(1) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1993).

(2) Almaz Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", in Cultural Encounters on China's Ethnic Frontiers, ed. Stevan Harrell (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1994), pp. 248-77.

(3) Nasan Bayar, "On Chinggis Khan and Being Like a Buddha: A Perspective on Cultural Conflation in Contemporary Inner Mongolia", in The Mongolia-Tibet Interface: Opening New Research Terrains in Inner Asia, ed. U.E. Bulag and H. Diemberger (Leiden: Brill, 2007), pp. 197-221.

(4) Uradyn E. Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism: The Politics of Friendship on China's Mongolian Frontier (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010).

(5) Dan Sperber, "The Epidemiology of Beliefs", in The Social Psychological Study of Widespread Beliefs, ed. Colin Fraser and George Gaskell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 25-44.

(6) Webb Keane, Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007). Though Keane regards Milton's idea about "political power and the spiritual disciplines of the self" as semiotic ideology (Keane, Christian Moderns, p. 2), the concept has much wider ramifications. The semiotic ideology can be a cultural system of beliefs about signs and their use in social and political life, which is close to the idea of linguistic/language ideology. See M. Silverstein, "Language Structure and Linguistic Ideology", in The Elements: A Parasession of Language Units and Levels, ed. Paul R. Clyne, William F. Hanks and Carol L. Hofbauer (Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society, 1979), pp. 193-247; Bambi B. Schieffelin, Kathryn A. Woolard and Paul V. Kroskrity, eds., Language Ideologies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). According to Keane (and perhaps Charles Peirce, much earlier), "[s]emiotic form can include such things as the sounds of words, the constraints of speech genres, the perishability of books, the replicable shapes of money, the replicable shapes of money, the meatiness of animals, the feel of cloth, the shape of houses, musical tones, the fleshiness of human bodies and the habits of physical gestures" (Keane, Christian Moderns, pp. 5-6).

(7) See <> [23 Mar. 2011]. The team was led by John Woods, a history professor at the University of Chicago.

(8) See <> [23 Mar. 2011].

(9) Ibid.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Sperber, "The Epidemiology of Beliefs", pp. 30, 35.

(12) Dan Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, trans. Alice L. Morton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), Preface, p. xii.

(13) Ibid.

(14) According to Charles Peirce, the sign stands for the object to the interpretant in a triadic relationship. The sign is always immediate to itself (known as a first). A sign is either an icon, an index or a symbol. An icon is a sign that possesses the character which renders it significant, even though its object has no existence; for example, a lead-pencil streak could be seen to represent a geometrical line. An index is a sign which would, at once, lose the character which makes it a sign if its object is removed, but would not lose that character if there is no interpretant. Take, for instance, a piece of mould with a bullet hole in it as sign of a gunshot; without the gunshot there would not be a hole in the mould; but it is essentially anybody's discretion to attribute the presence of a hole to a gunshot. A symbol is a sign which would lose the character which renders it a sign if there is no interpretant. An example of this is any utterance of speech that signifies what it does is only by virtue of it being understood to have that signification. See Charles Peirce, "Signs", in Peirce on Signs, ed. James Hoopes (Hapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991), pp. 239-40.

(15) Antonio Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness (London: Vintage Press, 2000).

(16) Though the Mongolian-Chinese Dictionary (Meng-Han cidian) (Hohhot: Inner Mongolia, 1999) translates Hii Mor as tianma (Heavenly Horse, p. 598), the accurate translation should be Wind Horse or Prayers Horse.

(17) Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", p. 270.

(18) Criticising the philosopher's "craving for generality" and boundedness, Wittgenstein "points to 'family resemblance' as the more suitable analogy for the means of connecting particular uses of the same word"; there is no "essential core" in the meaning that is "common to all uses of that word". The uses of words traverse through "a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing". Ludwig Wittgenstein, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at <> [3 Mar. 2012].

(19) According to Peircean semiotics, a sign-object can be further classified as an "icon" (as depicted in the relationship of resemblance between a photo and the person being photographed), an "index" (as depicted in the relationship of contiguity between smoke and fire), and a "symbol" (as depicted in the relationship of convention between a word and its meaning).

(20) Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", p. 253.

(21) Jagchid Sechen, Essays in Mongolian Studies (Provo: David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, Brigham Young University, 1988), pp. 306-7; Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", pp. 253-4.

(22) Charles Bawden, The Modern History of Mongolia (New York: F.A. Praeger Publishers, 1968), p. 58; Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", p. 245.

(23) Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", p. 253.

(24) Bawden, The Modern History of Mongolia, p. 47; Pamela Crossley, Orphan Warriors: Three Manchu Generations and the End of the Qing World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 16; Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", p. 253.

(25) Evelyn S. Rawski, "Presidential Address: Reenvisioning the Qing: The Significance of the Qing Period in Chinese History", The Journal of Asian Studies 55, no. 4 (1996): 829-50. Ping-Ti Ho argued that sinicisation and Manchu empire-building are complementary, rather than opposed, to each other. See Ping-Ti Ho, "In Defense of Sinicization: A Rebuttal of Evelyn Rawski's 'Reenvisioning the Qing' ", The Journal of Asian Studies 57, no. 1 (1998): 123-55.

(26) Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", 1994; Evelyn S. Rawski, "Presidential Address: Reenvisioning the Qing".

(27) Rawski, "Presidential Address: Reenvisioning the Qing".

(28) The term bogda is similar in meaning to the term lama or religious teacher in Tibetan and it refers to high-ranking lama such as the Panchen Lama and the Jebtsundamba, known respectively as bancen bogda and bogda gegen; see Bayar, "On Chinggis Khan and Being Like a Buddha".

(29) Rawski, "Presidential Address: Reenvisioning the Qing".

(30) Bayar, "On Chinggis Khan and Being Like a Buddha".

(31) Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", p. 264.

(32) Bayar, "On Chinggis Khan and Being Like a Buddha".

(33) To draw on Keane, ideas and their relevant practices have both logical and causal effects on each other; and are parts of a representational economy, which is mediated by semiotic ideology (see Keane, Christian Moderns, pp. 18-9). Keane invokes Charles S. Peirce's model of signs, especially his concept of indexicality, which "refers to those modes of signification that function by means of real connections between whatever is taken to be a sign and some actually existing objects of signification" (Keane, Christian Moderns, p. 22). The connections can either be a juxtaposition such as the relationship between one object and another that is being targeted, or causality such as the relationship between smoke and fire (Keane, Christian Moderns, p. 22).

(34) Owen Lattimore, Inner Asian Frontiers of China (New York: Capitol Publishing Co., Inc. and American Geographical Society, 1951).

(35) Thomas Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989).

(36) Katherine Verdery summarised the core of Fredrik Barth's theory as "the organization of difference". Rather than regarding culture as the sine qua non of ethnicity, "Barth emphasized instead that ethnicity is a fundamental means of ordering social life, a means that relies on manipulating 'cultural traits' and ideas about origin so as to communicate difference". See Katherine Verdery, "Ethnicity, Nationalism, and State-Making", in The Anthropology of Ethnicity: Beyond 'Ethnic Groups and Boundaries', ed. Hans Vermeulen and Cora Govers (Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis, 1994), pp. 33-58.

(37) Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983).

(38) Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, p. 37.

(39) Ibid., p. 38.

(40) Prasenjit Duara, Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), p. 182; and Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, pp. 39-40.

(41) Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, p. 40.

(42) Ibid., pp. 40-1.

(43) Sechen, Essays in Mongolian Studies, p. 300; Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", p. 264.

(44) Bawden, The Modern History of Mongolia, p. 417; Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", p. 264.

(45) Jagchid Sechen, The Last Mongol Prince: The Life and Times of Demchugdongrob, 1902-1966 (Bellingham, WA: Center for East Asian Studies, Western Washington University, 1999), p. 259.

(46) Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, pp. 43-4.

(47) Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", p. 263; Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, p. 45.

(48) Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", p. 266.

(49) Ibid., p. 265.

(50) Ibid., p. 265; and Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, p. 44.

(51) Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, p. 44.

(52) Chen Yuning, "Chengjisi Han lingqin qianyi shimo" (The Whole Story of Moving the Shrine of Chinggis Khan), in Chengjisihan yanjiu wenji: 1949-1990, ed. Shariledai, Wu Zhanhai and Liu Yizheng (Huhehaote: Nei Menggu renmin chubanshe, 1991), pp. 861-6; Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, p. 44.

(53) Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist, Mikhail Bakhtin (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 1984), p. 240.

(54) Gu Jiegang, "Zhonghua minzu shi yige" (The Chinese Nation is One), in Zhongguo xiandai xueshu jingdian--Gu Jiegang juan (Gu Jiegang, Modern Scholarly Classics of China), ed. Liu Mengxi (Shijiazhuang: Hebei Education Press, 1996), pp. 773-85.

(55) Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, p. 42.

(56) L. Shinkarev, Tsendenbal Filatova Hoyar: Hair Durlal, Erh Medel Emgenel (Tsedenbal and Filatova: Love, Power, and Tragedy), trans. H. Mergen (Ulaanbaatar: Monkhiin Useg Hevieh Uidver, 2004), as cited in Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, p. 54.

(57) Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, p. 54.

(58) Ibid., p. 55.

(59) Khan, "Chinggis Khan: From Imperial Ancestor to Ethnic Hero", p. 267.

(60) Bulag, Collaborative Nationalism, pp. 33, 62.

(61) Fredrik Barth, ed., Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1969); and Hans Vermeulen and Cora Govers, eds., The Anthropology of Ethnicity: Beyond 'Ethnic Groups and Boundaries' (Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis, 1994).

(62) See <> [27 Mar. 2011].

(63) See <> [27 Mar. 2011].

(64) See <> [19 Apr. 2011].

(65) See <> [19 Apr. 2011].

(66) See <> [19 Apr. 2011].

(67) See <> [19 Apr. 2011].

(68) Mario Blaser, "The Threat of the Yrmo: The Political Ontology of a Sustainable Hunting Program", American Anthropologist 111, no. 1 (2009): 10-20.

(69) Keane, Christian Moderns.

(70) Paul Cohen, History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).

(71) Ulf Hannerz, Cultural Complexity: Studies in the Social Organization of Meaning (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992).

(72) Keane, Christian Moderns, p. 23.

(73) Semiotic ideology accords subjectivity and materiality to transformative communication which is otherwise lacking or ambiguous.

(74) Nicola Di Cosmo, Ancient China and Its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

(75) Francine Hirsch, Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2005).

(76) Walker Connor, The National Question in Marxist-Leninist Theory and Strategy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).

(77) Naran Bilik, "Repositioning Ethnicity in the Process of State Building: The Power of Culture and the Poverty of Interpretation", Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2, no. 3 (2009): 94-118.

(78) Keane, Christian Moderns, p. 21.

(79) See <> [5 Apr. 2011].

(80) See <> [6 Apr. 2011].

(81) Keane, Christian Moderns.

Naran Bilik ( is a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Social Sciences, Fudan University, Shanghai. He obtained his PhD in Literature at the Central University of Nationalities (now known as the Minzu University of China) in Beijing. His research interests include sociocultural anthropology, semiotic anthropology, ethnicity and nationalism.
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Title Annotation:PART ONE: Special Issue on the Religious Revival of Ethnic China
Author:Bilik, Naran
Publication:China: An International Journal
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Aug 1, 2013
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