Friday, April 28, 2006

China | Inner Mongolia | Ulaan Butong

In 1688 Zungarian chieftain and warlord Galdan Boshigt invaded Khalkh Mongolian and proceed to trash Erdene Zuu, Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid, and Saridgiin Khiid. Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia and head of the Khalkh Mongols, was forced to flee southward to China. In 1690 news reached Beijing that Galdan Bolshigt had reached Khulun Nuur (Dalai Nuur) area in what is now Inner Mongolia and was proceeding southward along the Khalkh River. On July 26, 1690, Galdan’s army overran Qing outposts south of the Seyelki Mountains in what is now Inner Mongolia. To the emperor’s advisors in Beijing it now appeared as if the Zungarian upstart intended to actually march on Beijing. It was decided to sent two armies north to confront Galdan. First, however word was sent out to Galdan that Kangxi wished to met with him and negotiate a peace treaty. Hopefully this would slow down Galdan long enough to allow the armies to get in place and then administer the coup de grace.

General Fu-ch’uan (1653-1703) was chosen to lead one part of the Qing army. He was the second son of Emperor Shih-su; his mother a third-rank concubine from the Donggo clan. The half-brother of Kangxi, Fu-ch’uan had earlier been given him the title of Prince Yü by the emperor, and on August 6, 1690 Kangxi named him “Generalissimo for the Pacification of Distant Lands.” On August 10 Fu-ch’uan and his army left Beijing and proceeded north through Gubeikou Pass, seventy miles from Beijing, the first pass through the Lesser and Greater Jin Shan (Golden Mountains) near the Jinshanling Great Wall. Kangxi’s younger brother Ch’ang-ning was given command of another army and sent through another nearby pass. Kangxi himself accompanied one of these armies, it is not sure which, to the Great Wall, but soon became ill and had to return to Beijijng.
Commemorative ovoo on the edge on the Ulaan Butong battlefield
Just south of the current-day town of Saihanba, on the edge of the Mulan Hunting Grounds, the forested ridges of northern Hebei end and with dramatically abrupt suddenness the terrain changes to the rolling, treeless steppes. Not coincidentally, here is also the current-day border between Hebei Province and Inner Mongolia. About ten miles north of the current border, on a broad flat expanse of steppe broken only by a conspicuous hill of reddist rock known as Ulaan Butong in Mongolian or Hong Shan in Chinese (Red Mountain, or in a more poetic rendering Red Urn), the two armies collided on September 3.
Ulaan Butong, or the Red Urn, in the distance
The Qing had cannons, a relatively new innovation, and one which would have seemed to have given them unquestioned superiority. At two o’oclock in the afternoon the Qing army commenced firing their artillery. Across a broad swamp or lake the Mongols lined up their camels as barricades again the artillery and stood their ground, returning a heavy barrage of musket fire. Curiously, a French Jesuit in the Qing court by the name of Jean F. Gerbillon had accompanied the Qing army from Beijing and later gave an eye-witness account of the battle. Toward evening Qing Duke Tong Gougang was killed by Mongol musket fire in what must have been a devastating blow to the morale of the Qing army.

At night-fall the fighting ended and each army returned to their camp. There had been no clear victor, but nevertheless “Generalissimo” Fu-ch’uan sent a dispatch to Beijing claiming the Mongols had been decisively defeated. In fact, further engagements over the next day or two again ended with no clear victor. The tenacious Mongols simply refused to give up. In order to break the stalemate Fu-ch’uan called in a high-ranking lama to begin negotiations with Galdan. An agreement was reached whereby Galdan could return to Mongolia after swearing an oath to his “war-god” (perhaps a Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhist diety), that he would never again invade Qing territory. Thus ended the Battle of Ulaan Butang.
Smaller ovoo on the battlefield itself
Another view of Ulaan Butong
Fu-ch’uan, however, was left with the unenviable task of informing Emperor Kangxi that Galdan had not been defeated and captured but had instead been allowed to return to Mongolia. Elated by the earlier dispatch in which Fu-ch’uan had claimed a victory, Kangxi and his advisors were infuriated when they found out what actually happened. The oath of a renegade like Galdan, they said, was worthless; he would simply regroup and attack again. Fu-ch’uan was ordered to stay put until scouts who had been sent out reported back that Galdan had actually returned to Mongolia, and then he was ordered back to Beijing. He reached the capital on December 22 and was made to wait outside the city walls while his fate was decided. Finally he was court-martialed, dismissed from his military command, removed from the council of princes and advisors, and docked three years’ salary. Many of his officers were also fined and demoted. Stung by the rough handling by Kangxi, Fu-ch’uan was down but not out. He retired to his luxurious home in Beijing and became a literary patron, famous for entertaining writers and poets in his well-appointed garden.

As for Duke Tong Guogang, who had been killed at Ulaan Butong, according to legend a lake sprang up at the site of his death. This lake is now known as Jiangjun Paozi (General’s Lake). There is ger camp nearby and the lake, as well as the battlefield itself, are now minor tourist attractions.
Jiangjun Paozi (General’s Lake)

China | Hebei Province | Mulan Hunting Grounds

From the Jinshanling Ling Great Wall we continued north, passing through Chengde, the old Summer Resort of Emperor Kangxi and other Qing emperors. The Summer Resort and Associated Temple Complexes are now big tourist attractions, and young women even come up to your car at stop lights, knock on your window, and ask if you need a guide to show you the sights. We shooed them off for the moment and continued on north 125 miles to the Mulan Hunting Grounds.

The Mulan Hunting Grounds were established in 1681 by Emperor Kangxi. Chinese sources claim it was the largest private hunting preserve in the world, covering 4015 square miles. According to the same sources the word mulan is Mongolian and means “the blowing of a wood whistle to seduce and round up the deer and hunt them afterwards.” I have not yet checked this out with competent Mongolian linguists; Mönkhnyat, are you there? (Update: another source claims mulan is in fact a Manchu word, not a Mongolian word, and means "hunting whistle.”)

Emperors Kangxi, Qianlong, and Jiaqing, and perhaps others came here on hunting trips 105 times. Oddly, Kangxi’s own son Yongzheng was probably the only early Qing emperor who never came here to hunt. The hunting parties were immense affairs, with up to 30,000 people in attendance; the court surrounding the emperor, government officials, guests, servants, cooks, huntsmen, horse wranglers, and so on. Several different types of hunting were practiced, including hunting down a single animal, usually deer, from a racing horse; rounding up large herds of animals and killing them en masse, and blowing whistles to lure the animals in and then dispatching them. If bears or panthers were encountered the emperor had to be notified immediately and no one but him could kill them.

The hunting grounds remain a forest preserve to this day. At the southern entrance to the preserve we had to pay fifty yuan just to drive seven miles north to the small village of Saihanba. Much of the preserve consists of heavily forested ridges quite unlike the scattered, spiky, often barren peaks just to the south.
Forested ridges of the Mulan Hunting Grounds
On one of the highest ridges is the site of the old Temple of Buddha Saihan. The temple itself is gone, but a pagoda, newly renovated and sure to be soon an official tourist site, remains. Next to it a new temple-like building is being constructed, but it is not clear if this is actually going to be a temple or just a gift shop attached to the pagoda. Oddly, the pagoda has an newly-installed elevator to take the slothful to the top. The pagoda is not yet officially open, however, and we were not able to ascend to the top either by the elevator or the steps.
Newly renovated pagoda at the Temple of Buddha Saihan
We arrived at the small village of Saihanba just at dark. Although this a fairly popular tourist destination in summer and fall for people trying to escape the heat of Beiing at this time of the year no visitors usually come here. Several hotels were still boarded up for the winter, and one was open but had no heat or hot water. Finally we tracked down a small hotel on the edge of town. The staff was quite happy to see us and quickly agreed to cook up a dinner and serve it to us in a private dining room, as we were the only guests. We asked one of the women hovering around if she knew anyone familiar with the local history who could guide us to places of historical interest. She furrowed her brow and said, “We really should have such a person, but we don’t.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

China | Hebei Province | Jinshanling Great Wall

From Beijing we headed north to Inner Mongolia. After about seventy miles we left the the flat North China Plains and passed through the famous Gubeikou Pass into the Jinshan (Golden Mountains). Gubeikou is also the boundary between Beijing District and Hebei Province. A few miles further on we came to the Jinshanling Great Wall.
Gubeikou Pass, now cut through with a tunnel
Although the Great Wall of China is often touted as over 2000 years old, many sections, especially those near Beijing, date from much later. This fourteen-mile-long secton at Jinshanling was built in the 1570s, during the Ming Dynasty, by Generals Tan Lun and Qi Jiguang.
Jinshanling Great Wall
Jinshanling Great Wall
Jinshanling Great Wall
Jinshanling Great Wall
Jinshanling Great Wall
An incredible amount of mis-information has been written about the Great Wall, including the oft-made claim that is it the only man-made object visible from Outer Space. For a debunking of this myth and the historical low-down on the Great Wall read:
Still more on the Great Wall: this book by Julie Lovell includes the interesting thesis that the Great Wall of China has now been replaced with the Great Firewall of China: i.e., internet censorship, a subject which, blogging as I am now in a hotel room in Beijing, I am all too aware of. Even BBC's site is blocked here, to say nothing of The internet, as an review points out, “has replaced nomadic raiders as the most threatening of China's attackers.” She also debunks the claim that the Great Wall can be seen from the moon.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mongolia | Bulgan Aimag | Khitan Fort

The Khitan, a prot0-Mongolian people originally from what is now Manchuria, ruled much of northern China and Mongolia as the Liao Dynasty from 907 to 1125. The ruins of one of their outposts, at the very western edge of their empire, can be seen in Bulgan Aimag at N47º53.262 - E103º53.685.
Ruins of the fortress
Well-preserved walls of the Khitan fortress
Gate of the fortress
Fortress wall
Detail of construction - the walls stood up well for over 1000 years
The Khitan were staunch Buddhists. This relatively well-preserved stupa near the fortress is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, remaining Buddhist monument in Mongolia.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mongolia | Khentii Mountains | Asralt Khairkhan

The highest peak of the Khentii Range, in north-central Mongolia, is 9,173-foot Asralt Khairkhan, also known as the Burkhan Khaldun of the Kerait people. The mountain can be reached in three or four days by horse from the sum center of Möngönmort in Töv Aimag. Interesting stops on the way there are the Continental Divide, Zanabazar's monastery of Saridgiin Khiid, and Yestiin Hot Springs.
Asralt Khairkhan from the distanceFlat-topped Asralt Khairkhan
The 9,173-foot summit of Asralt Khairkhan is at N48º27.939 - E107º24.769
Horse wrangler Irina relaxing on the way to Asralt Khairkhan

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Mongolia | Arkhangai Aimag | Kultegin Monument

Kultegin Monument
The monument to the Turk khan Kultegin is located in Arkhangai Aimag at N47º33.841 - E102º 49.914. Kultegin was born in 684 and died in 731 at the age of 47. The monument, constructed in 732, a year after Kultegin’s death, is 10.9 feet high, 4.3 feet wide, and 1.5 feet thick. There are a total of 68 lines of Turkish inscriptions on three sides of the monument and on the front there are some Chinese (or perhaps Khitan) inscriptions which were carved into the monument later. The Turkish inscriptions are among the oldest known examples of Turkish writing (also see the Monument to Tonyukuk). They were finally translated in the twentieth century by Russian linguist V. V. Radlov.

Part of the inscription says, “he [Kultegin] did not sleep nights and did not rest days for the strengthening [of] the state, supporting the khagan’s power, making the poor rich and the orphans not lonely.”

The inscription continues with a warning about the Chinese to the south, with whom the Turks were constantly struggling:
“The enticements of the Chinese people, who without exertion give us so much gold, so much silver, so much silk, are sweet indeed, and their riches enervating. By these sweet enticements and their wealth, the Chinese drew the Turkic people to them. Through yielding to the lure, many of your folk died, O Turkic people!”
“If you go into that country [China], O Turkic people, you will perish! But if you remain in the forest of Ötükän [probably the Khangai Mountains], where there are neither riches nor cares, you will preserve an everlasting empire, O Turkic people! . . . All that I have to tell you I have written on enduring rock.”
Turk Statue near the Kultegin Monument
More Turk Statues near the Kultegin Monument
Another Turk StatueAnother view of Kultegin's Monument

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Mongolia | Guidebook | Calligraphy

The decorative calligraphy in Old Mongolian Script for the Zanabazar Guides was done by Sarantuya.
Frontpiece of the Guides. This reads "First Bogd Gegen - Zanabazar"
Calligraphy Artist Sarantuya

Mongolia | Illustrated Zanabazar Guidebook

The Illustrated Guidebook to Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar : First Bogd Gegeen Of Mongolia is now available in paperback. This version has 108 color photographs. Sample photos from the book:
Stupa at Shireet Tsagaan Nuur marking the spot where Zanabazar was enthroned as the first Bogd Gegeen.
Tövkhön, Zanabazar's retreat and workshop where many of his most famous artworks were created.
Elegtseg Lake, near the temple founded by Zanabazar at the base of Burkhan Khaldun, the mountain worshipped by Chingis Khan.
Onon Hot Springs, one of several hot springs frequented by Zanabazar.

Download a Sample Chapter

There is also a eBook Version of the Illustrated Guidebook available. And of course, the text-only version, for those who do not like their reading experience diluted with photographs, is still available as a Paperback and eBook.