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China censors French Genghis Khan exhibit, object to mentions of Mongolian Empire

They objected the use of the terms "Mongol," "empire," and even "Genghis Khan," and demanded control over brochures, legends, maps, and more.

Noah David Alter Toronto
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The Château des ducs de Bretagne is a beautiful 13th-century Breton castle. Today a quaint history museum and tourist attraction in the city of Nantes, France, it once served as the administrative centre of Duchy Brittany, housing the various Dukes of the small Celtic kingdom for centuries. It later served as the Breton home of the powerful monarchs of France, once housing the Sun King himself, Louis XIV. Having also been the site of the signing of the Edict of Nantes, which extended rights and privileges to the Huguenot minority of Catholic France, the site was not only a centre of great power, but also a symbol cultural coexistence.

Today, the site's commitment to both is being tested as the Communist Party of China seeks to establish itself as a great power around the globe, and with its newfound power, to suppress the culture of their minorities both inside and outside their borders.

The museum, in collaboration with the Inner Mongolia Museum of Hohhot, China, has planned to host an exhibit on the history and traditions of the Mongolian people, including a portion on the great Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan is a revered figure in Mongolian culture. Having united the various tribes of Mongolia under his rule, he set out on a campaign of conquest across the Asian continent, including much of China, leaving in his wake new trade routes, plundered cities, and rivers of blood. After his death, his children continued his campaign of conquest creating an empire which spanned from Korea to Poland in what is still considered by historians to be the largest empire in human history. His grandson Kublai Khan founded the Mongol Yuan Dynasty of China.

The Communist Party of China, however, opposes this telling of history. They objected the use of the terms "Mongol," "empire," and even "Genghis Khan," and demanded control over brochures, legends, maps, and more.

The Chinese government even demanded the the exhibition itself be renamed to "Chinese Steppe Culture of the World," despite the fact that the Mongols of the steppe are not Chinese.

The museum has not cancelled the exhibit, but has instead delayed it for three years. Bertrand Guillet, the museum's director, said that the museum decided "to stop this production in the name of the human, scientific and ethical values that we defend."

The museum slammed the Chinese Bureau of Cultural Heritage, the office which has led the pressure campaign against the museum, for aiming at "completely eradicating Mongolian history and culture for the benefit of a new national story.” China's cultural cleansing of ethnic minorities has intensified in recent years, including in the province of Inner Mongolia, where the government has tried to institute Mandarin-only lessons in schools. While Mongolians have protested the government's suppression of their culture, the Chinese government predictably responded by issuing arrest warrants for the protests' ringleaders.

Ethnic Mongolians also largely follow a different form of Buddhism than the form approved by the state, choosing to follow the Dalai Lama rather than the teachings of the Buddhist Association of China, which is controlled by the CCP. As a result, ethnic minorities have been the victims of not only cultural suppression, but religious suppression as well.

The museum no longer views the Inner Mongolia Museum of Hohhot as a reliable partner for the exhibit, and is looking to Europe and North America for artefacts to feature in their exhibit.

This is far from the only example of China attempting to influence culture abroad. China uses its immense purchasing power to influence foreign media and entertainment, particularly in America. Much of the controversy has surrounded the NBA, which has chosen to adopt a variety of social justice causes in America while providing political cover for the Chinese government. Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks, recently stated in an interview that he is okay with doing business with the government of China, which many have accused of engaging in an ongoing genocide against their Uyghur minority, because they are good "customers." He refused to condemn the Chinese treatment of ethnic minorities in the same interview.

The museum is expected to open the exhibit to the public in 2024.

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