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Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan, UPMAA Exhibit Information
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OCTOBER 20, 2001

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Cooperative Exhibition features Materials and Archival Photographs on Loan
from the National Museum of Mongolian History, Ulaanbaatar

PHILADELPHIA, PA—For most Americans, mention Genghis Khan and you elicit images of a fearful marauder who swept through Eurasia in the 13th century, burning, pillaging and destroying all in his path. Ask his descendants, the people of modern Mongolia, about him, and you get a very different picture.
On October 20, 2001, an all-new exhibition that challenges our view of Genghis Khan opens at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan, created by the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the National Museum of Mongolian History, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, invites the visitor to experience Mongolian life from the beginning of the 20th century to today-and discover Genghis Khan's lasting legacy to his people. The exhibition runs through June 1, 2002.
Three life-size dioramas of gers (the Mongolian word for yurt, the nomads' traditional home), feature many of the exhibition's 192 Mongolian costumes and artifacts shown in America for the first time. These gers and 35 rare archival photographs reconstruct 20th-century nomadic life. Four films made especially for the exhibition provide historic background and help to illuminate Genghis Khan's relationship to contemporary Mongolians' democratic ideals.
"Nine years before the signing of the Magna Carta in England, Genghis Khan brought Mongolians the gifts of independence, nationhood, and the basic principles from which they would one day build a modern democratic state," asserts Dr. Paula L.W. Sabloff, Senior Research Scientist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and Curator of the new exhibition. In Dr. Sabloff's recent anthropological research, Mongolians identified the democratic principles they believe are their heritage from Genghis Khan, their beloved ancestor. National independence, rule by law, equality under the law, and religious freedom were high on their list.
Mongolians formed a democratic, capitalist society in 1992 when they voted for a new constitution, following a century of extraordinary political struggles, social transformations, and cultural continuity.
About one-sixth the size of the United States, Mongolia sits on a wind-swept plateau surrounded by two powerful neighbors, Russia and China. The steppe temperature swings from 96° Fahrenheit in the summers to below -6° in the winters. In this harsh environment, Mongolians developed a nomadic culture more than a thousand years before Genghis Khan was born (1162 AD).
Today, 47% of the 2.4 million Mongolians live as nomads in the countryside. City dwellers return to the countryside for summer vacation. Many City dwellers and nomads alike know how to milk animals, ride horses, and assemble a ger.
Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan illustrates the impact of different kinds of government on nomads' and city dwellers' everyday life. Mongolians experienced three types of government -feudal, Communist, and democratic-over the last century. The exhibition brings visitors right on home in each time period-and in Mongolia, the traditional nomadic home is the ger, as widely used today as in the time of Genghis Khan. A form of dwelling at least 2,000 years old, the ger has a circular, aerodynamic design that allows it to be broken down or reassembled in less than an hour and transported easily by cart or camel back.
Inside the exhibition hall, a complete and authentic ger offers visitors a look inside a wealthy Mongolian home in the beginning of the 20th century when Mongolia was under the rule of the Manchu Dynasty of China. This ger is a national treasure of the Mongolian people. A mother, father, grandmother and child are represented wearing the traditional dress of the time from Mongolia's dominant ethnic group, the Halh. The distinctive and ornate deels (pronounced dells), or long robes worn by men, women and children as well as vests, hats, sashes and ornamental boots, are on view. The ger is richly furnished with hand-made felt carpet throughout, a wooden bed, Chinese hearth, horse-head fiddle, extensive kitchen and serving utensils, and paraphernalia associated with a herding livelihood. A three-tiered wooden altar holds religious objects, indications of the family's Tibetan Buddhist faith.

Outside the ger, visitors encounter full costuming of a Mongolian shaman and lama (a Tibetan Buddhist monk of high standing), leaders of the two leading religions practiced in Mongolia before the era of Soviet communism and religious pogroms.
Between 1911 and 1921, Mongolians struggled to free themselves from Chinese domination, appealing to Western nations, Japan and Russia for aid. Chief among Mongolia's revolutionary heroes was Suhbaatar. His military costume is located in a section that explains the Mongolian leaders' decision to accept communism, an offshoot of Mongolian acceptance of Russia's help to gain independence from China.  
From 1921, when the new government leaders formed the Soviet-supported Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (the MPRP), to 1989, Mongolia was a Communist country and Soviet satellite.  
A half-ger illustrates both the changes and continuity of life in Mongolia around the 1960s, during the height of communism. From the subtle change of fabrics to the blatant absence of religious objects, the new government's influence on life is apparent everywhere. Clothing, once made of Tibetan or Chinese silk, is now made of Russian cotton, and the style of women's clothing is greatly modified. In place of the Buddhist altar, a chest of drawers displays family photos. Schoolbooks and newspapers are also new additions, attesting to increased educational opportunities for all people.  
A final ger diorama set in 2000, a decade after the Mongolian government formally embraced democratic government, brings visitors face-to-face with the Mongolians of today. With freedom of religion restored, a framed photo of the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, now sits on the chest alongside photographs of family and friends. A wider exchange of ideas and a developing capitalistic economy are also in evidence. Schoolbooks include English language study, and a stack of newspapers brings in national and international news. The family's clothing, a mixture of Communist- and democratic-era items, shows the blend of old Soviet and new international dress.  
The exhibition offers visitors a comparison of the 1992 Mongolian and 1787 American constitutions, as well as a distinctly Mongolian perspective on what democracy means and how it is inspired by Genghis Khan's democratic principles. Dr. Sabloff's 1998-1999 research among Mongolians in the city and the countryside-and among young Americans-is presented.  
In the end, it is the voice of the Mongolian people themselves-through video interviews conducted in the summer of 2000-that speak to the visitor of the heritage and the future of Mongolia.  
To tell the story of Modern Mongolia, Dr. Paula L.W. Sabloff worked closely with Associate Curator Dr. Dashdendev Bumaa, Curator of Twentieth-Century History, and Assistant Curator Ms. Eliot, Grady Bikales, Assistant Curator of Twentieth Century History, both of the National Museum of Mongolian History.  
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