Disputed ‘Barbarians’: Genghis Khan and Qin Shi Huang

Disputed ‘Barbarians’: Genghis Khan and Qin Shi Huang

Some years ago somebody is reported to have said: "The victors write the histories”. Though this chestnut has no attribution, it nevertheless appears in many works including school textbooks. Whether a real quote or not, it needs to be challenged as it is taken as received wisdom. One could argue that histories are written by the first person to get to a clay tablet, scroll, scratch pad or printing press. That is to say, histories have tended to come from the more literate or more technical players. Often those players were skilled propagandists. They may or may not have been ‘winners’, but they knew a threat when they saw one. Author David Jones takes a fresh look at history’s supposed two greatest ‘barbarians’ Genghis Khan and Qin Shi Huang.

Taizu, better known as Genghis Khan, now located in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. (Public Domain)

Taizu, better known as Genghis Khan, now located in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. (Public Domain)

Historical Propaganda

It is well known that tribes and nations - as they verge towards conquest or conflict - tend to mount a campaign of disinformation and debasement against their opponents. The object is to make their populations believe they are taking appropriate and honorable action against an inferior entity (who is usually cast as the aggressor, and dangerous if not confronted). This is why World War I was cast as ‘The Great War’ and hyped as the ‘war to end all wars’. It was all nonsense of course, but hundreds of thousands signed up, and fortunes were spent in what was a terrible calamity that caused over 40-million casualties.


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