Education About Asia

(culture, history, art, marriage, etc...)

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Feature Article

Performing Arts of Mongolia: Treasure of a Nomadic Culture

The vast steppe of northern China has nurtured a brilliant and unsophisticated grassland culture, including the arts of the nomadic “horseback people” who reside on the steppe. A new form of arts came into being in order to adapt itself to the region’s natural environment and ecological system. Mongolian herdsmen have lived on the grasslands of northern China for many generations (Figure 3). They left a cultural legacy of romantic simplicity that is still revered today. However, real nomad...

Feature Article

Which Buddha is This Anyway? Notes on Identifying the Enlightened Ones

For most American educators, the imagery of Christian, Jewish, and, to a lesser extent, Muslim religious art is relatively familiar. Not only are angels and devils instantly recognized, even when they appear in the context of Saturday Night Live, but many of us heard Bible stories growing up, and some could recite a whole litany of saints and other holy beings. However, in our globalizing times, images from other religions also appear more frequently than ever—particularly in museums and galle...

Feature Article

The Mongolian World Empire: Does It Matter?

I teach a variety of Asian civilization courses, and when we come to the Mongol world empire, students invariably question my credibility. “Pax Mongolica?” they say. “Mongolian Peace? Are you nuts?” “Well, yes,” I am forced to admit, “but not right now and not about this.” When I poll the students about their knowledge of Chinggis Khan (a.k.a Genghis Khan), without exception they report that he was the most irredeemably destructive conqueror of all time. “That’s because all t...

Resources, Web Gleanings

Website Resources: Central Asia

CENTRAL ASIA AND THE SILK ROADS Silk Road Foundation URL: http://tiny.cc/u5go5w For anyone who wants information and historical facts about the Silk Roads, this is a good resource. There are historical chronologies and short biographies of those who traveled the Silk Roads, dating back to 959 BC, timelines, the history of silk, and maps. Silk Road URL: http://tiny.cc/jxj46w Produced by Jeffrey Hays, this site is rich in resources. There are details about the routes, the products,...

Resources, Teaching Resources Essay

The Secret History of the Mongols

Four English translations are now available of The Secret History of the Mongols, a thirteenth-century Mongolian epic that recounts the biography of Genghis Khan.(note 1) Beginning with his mythological ancestors, it narrates his miraculous birth, the assassination of his father, his humble childhood and adolescent adventures, the gradual unification of the Mongolian tribes, his recognition as their supreme leader, and his death. A short section, more than likely added later to the end of the ...

Resources, Teaching Resources Essay

The Oratory of Khans and Queens: Reading The Secret History of the Mongols Rhetorically

Four English translations are now available of The Secret History of the Mongols, a thirteenth-century Mongolian epic that recounts the biography of Genghis Khan. (note 1) Beginning with his mythological ancestors, it narrates his miraculous birth, the assassination of his father, his humble childhood and adolescent adventures, the gradual unification of the Mongolian tribes, his recognition as their supreme leader, and his death. A short section, more than likely added later to the end of the ...

Feature Article

The New Mongolia: From Gold Rush to Climate Change

For decades, it was common for courses on East Asia to focus almost exclusively on China and Japan, with only an occasional nod to the existence of either Korea or Mongolia. And if Korea was little spoken of, Mongolia hardly seemed to exist at all. Today, of course, coverage of Korea has expanded somewhat, but Mongolia still remains the largely forgotten orphan of Asian Studies, something I hope to change through this essay. In fact, today’s Mongolia has emerged as a nation particularly linked...

Feature Article

Symphony of Nature and Life: Mongolian Horse Culture

EDITOR’S NOTE: Special thanks go to JUEFEI WANG of the Freeman Foundation for his role in procuring this article and his invaluable help in assisting with its development. Roaming on the Mongolian Plateau and traveling through Mongolian herdsmen’s meadows, you will always hear heartfelt words of praise for horses—the spirit of the grassland. The brief essay that follows accentuates the inseparable role of the horse in Mongolia’s contemporary, historical, economic, and religious/spiritua...

Amir Timur: Paragon of Medieval Statecraft or Central Asian Psychopath?

He was spirited and brave and inspired awe and obedience. He loved bold and brave soldiers by whose aid he opened the locks of terror . . . —Muhammad ibn Arabshah (note 1) Amir Timur (1336-1405) challenges teachers in several ways. How do you present him and medieval Central Asia to students with little previous knowledge? How can world history teachers accomplish this without expending too much of their most limited resource: time? These are tall orders, but one should still consider t...

A Global Crossroads Reemerges in the Twenty-First Century: An Introduction to Central Asia

The Where and Why of Central Asia As a scholar of Central Asia, I have frequently been asked two questions by students and colleagues over the course of my career: Where is Central Asia, and why is it important? Strangely, the first question is often more difficult to answer precisely than the second. The terms “Central Asia,” “Inner Asia,” and more recently “Central Eurasia” all refer to a region that is marked by a frustrating imprecision of location. Here I will consider Central ...

Feature Article

Admiral Zheng He’s Voyages to the “West Oceans”

Eighty years before Vasco da Gama’s arrival in West India, a formidable Chinese navy ruled the China Sea and Indian Ocean, from Southeast Asia to the Persian Gulf and East Africa. Between the period from 1405 to 1433, China’s Ming dynasty launched seven voyages led by Admiral Zheng He to explore these vast regions, known then to the Chinese as the “West Oceans.” One such voyage typically featured over 300 vessels, including a number of “treasure ships” over 400 feet long, accompanied...

Web Gleanings

Website Resources: Asia: Biographies and Personal Stories, Part 1

JAPAN Emperor Hirohito Biography (video) URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LDU33-SzQQ Produced by the BBC, the almost-50-minute video focuses on the lifeof Hirohito during the years of World War II. The cinematic footage is interspersed with comments by scholars and others, including Professor Carol Gluck and the granddaughter of Tōjō. Andō Hiroshige Biography URL: http://www.hiroshige.org.uk/hiroshige/main/biography.htm In this brief biography of Hiroshige, the essential fact...

Resources, Teaching Resources Essay

The Nomads of the Steppe: Resources for Teachers

The nomadic pastoralists of the inner Asian steppe had an impact on history out of all proportion to their small population. The cultures and politics of societies across Asia experienced profound change at their hands. China presents a good example of this phenomenon. The nomads on the steppe posed a perennial challenge to the Chinese political structure, making management of the nomads always one of the chief concerns of every Chinese dynasty. The Great Wall of China is the most famous dem...

Feature Article

Asia, Power, and Robes of Honor

  More than three decades ago, my wife and I ventured overland from Istanbul to Delhi. At Herat, on the western border of Afghanistan, my wife met a group of women—a matriarch, her daughters, and daughters-in-law. Although they shared no common language, my wife accompanied them over several days while they bought and sold in the markets. The matriarch liked my wife and on the day we left insisted that she accept her old, black, beautiful, fully embroidered cloak. The women showed her ...

Columns, Web Gleanings

Asia: Biographies and Personal Stories, Part II

JAPAN Portal Japan/Selected Biographies URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Japan/Selected_biography This page presents fourteen biographies of a variety of people associated with Japan, including some Japanese citizens. Many of them are from the arts and most of them were born in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. Each short biography is linked to a longer and more detailed one in the Wikipedia archives on the site. Japan: Peeps at History URL: http://tinyurl.com/ngrnmuk This...

Feature Article

Mongolian Dzud: Threats to and Protection of Mongolia’s Herding Communities

In far western Mongolia, it hadn’t rained since July 2015. The cattle, goats, sheep, and camels that families rely on were growing thin, and as winter began to set in, herders were fearful that they might face a dzud, a severe kind of winter storm in which many animals would die. By November, the dzud’s heavy snowfall had begun, making it hard for the livestock to reach and eat the grass. Temperatures soon dropped below -50 degrees Celsius/-58 Fahrenheit, putting humans and livestock at risk...

Feature Article

The “Mundane Violence” of International Water Conflicts

Statistics about water resources abound. Some, like the combined length of rivers in the United States (3.5 million miles), make for interesting but forgettable trivia. Others, like the number of people who experience severe water scarcity each year (four billion), declare an issue of urgent and global concern. The staggering magnitude and profound implications of this water crisis alone are difficult to comprehend, and yet the calamity is even further compounded by climate change and internatio...