Despite Chinese pressure, Nantes will have its exhibition on Genghis Khan

For several years, Bertrand Guillet, at the head of the Nantes History Museum, had dreamed of presenting the first exhibition in France devoted to Genghis Khan (v. 1160-1227), this great Mongol conqueror whose empire, at its height , stretched from the Mediterranean to the Pacific Ocean, including Siberia, northern India and all of China. Despite attempts at censorship by the Beijing government in 2020, this project will finally take place, from October 14, 2023, without Chinese loans, but thanks to large loans from Mongolia, announced the director of the Château des ducs. of Brittany.

Originally, the exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Inner Mongolia Museum of Hohhot, in northern China, which was to lend more than 200 objects, including imperial seals or gold jewelry. Everything came to a standstill when it was necessary to obtain authorizations to leave the territory for these parts,” recalls Bertrand Guillet. The Chinese authorities first asked him to remove the words “Genghis Khan”, “empire”, “mongol” and “yuan”. Then they demanded to reread all the texts of the exhibition, before sending a synopsis aimed at erasing Mongolian history and culture in favor of a new national narrative, dominated by the Han.

An attitude perfectly consistent with the policy of assimilation led by the Beijing authorities in Inner Mongolia, with the Mongolian minority. “In the name of the human, scientific and ethical values ​​defended by our museum, these Chinese pressures were not acceptable”, continues Bertrand Guillet, who chose at the time to postpone the exhibition, in agreement with the two other scientific commissioners, the curator Jean-Paul Desroches and the historian Marie Favereau.

“Objects never seen in the West”

Relayed by the media, this decision aroused a certain emotion. “The President of Mongolia chose to help us and asked his ministers to contact us,” says Bertrand Guillet, who was able to obtain very large loans from the new Genghis-Khan Museum, which opened in October 2022 in Ulaanbaatar. These objects, which include national treasures and pieces recently discovered during archaeological excavations, “have mostly never been seen in the West”, rejoices the director of the Nantes museum, who specifies that he has not sufferedthis time no political pressure on the content of the exhibition”.

Other loans from Taiwan had been considered for a time before this country gave up on them, given the growing tensions with its big Chinese neighbor. A silk copy, made for the occasion, of a large painted portrait of Genghis Khan will however be sent by Taiwan to Nantes.

The exhibition will cover a vast period, up to the collapse in 1368 of the Yuan Empire in China, founded by Kublai Khan, the grandson of the great Mongol conqueror. Current opinion associates Genghis Khan with the image of barbarian hordes.. We are going to show that, beyond the phase of violent conquests, his empire in fact favored, during the Pax Mongolica, many exchanges and religious tolerance. We will also discuss attempts at alliance with the Franks. promises Bertrand Guillet.

His only regret now? Having had to give up, because of the war in Ukraine, the Russian loans which would have allowed him to evoke the ultimate history of the Golden Horde, this Tatar-Mongolian dynasty descended from the eldest son of Genghis Khan and which dominated a part of Russia until the 15th century.


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