History of the World According to the Movies: Part 12- China

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Perhaps no western movie encapsulates Chinese history more than the Award-Winning film, The Last Emperor, which accounts the life of the boy emperor Puyi whose life was profoundly affected by the governmental changes that embarked China in the early 20th century. Interestingly, he ended his days as a gardener under the Communist regime.

In many ways, Chinese history is about as old a civilization itself since it has existed with much of its culture intact for thousands of years though developed separate from Mesopotamia. However, this has not been the same in recent years with imperialism, the collapse of the last dynasty, the time of the republic, Communism, and whatever China has now. However, China is nevertheless consists of a rich history with dynasties, invasions, intellectuals, scandals, wars, and court intrigue. Two of China’s dynasties have been under foreign rulers such as the Yuan of Kublai Khan and the Ching under the Manchurians. China has also been credited with inventing things like paper, gunpowder, and fireworks. Still, movies about Chinese history tend to reflect that of a very large country that resides a billion people on earth. And yet, China is home to so many other cultures, traditions, and languages than what the Chinese government would like to admit. Nevertheless, many movies based in China aren’t a stickler for accuracy since they tend to be based on historic legends chronicling real life incidents (like Romance of the Three Kingdoms.) Still, even movies about a country with a glorious past still has inaccuracies which I’m willing to list.

First here’s a guide to the Dynasties to determine the time periods (and that everyone understands what I’m talking about):

Xia (c. 2100 B.C.E. – c. 1600 B. C. E.) -may be mythical but it’s inscribed in Chinese historical records.

Shang (c. 1700 B. C. E. – 1046 B. C. E.) -earliest Chinese Dynasty as far as archaeologists are concerned.

Zhou (1046 B. C. E. – 256 B. C. E.) – longest dynasty in Chinese history as well as the one where a lot of Chinese culture aspects are based. Also, Confucius, Sun Tzu, Laozi, and many of the early Chinese thinkers lived in this period. Many of their ideas would soon influence later Chinese thought in years to come.

Spring and Autumn Period (722 B. C. E. – 221 B. C. E.)- Zhou power is decentralized and wanes as feudal lords vie for local power in their own region sometimes with the king being ruler in name only.

Warring States Period (476 B. C. E. – 221 B. C. E.) – China is divided and local entities are fighting against each other. Zhou Dynasty falls, while the state of Qin eventually takes over.

Qin Dynasty (221 B. C. E. – 206 B. C. E.) – mostly encompasses the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi, first Emperor of China and builder of the first Great Wall. Fell a few years after his death.

Han Dynasty (206 B. C. E. – 220 A. D.) – one of the defining Chinese dynasties which established the Han Chinese culture. Confucianism becomes China’s official philosophy as well as saw the invention of paper and advances in metallurgy. Had a brief overthrow for 14 years but was later restored. May have had contact wit the Roman Empire. China was divided for decades after collapse.

Three Kingdoms Era (220 A. D. – 280 A. D.) – China is divided into three kingdoms and a period of feuding warlords. Romance of the Three Kingdoms covers this and is seen as a very famous time period in China.

Jin Dynasty (265 A. D. – 420 A. D.) – ruled Northern China and is famous for its decadent court, defeats by nomads, and line of incompetent emperors. Area was soon divided into sixteen kingdoms after it fell.

Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 A. D. – 589 A. D.) – a period of civil war and division but saw the development of Chinese Buddhism and pagoda. Han Chinese heavily colonized and developed the south while the north was constantly at war.

Sui Dynasty (589 A. D. – 618 A. D.) -united the country after centuries of fragmentation, set up a long lasting government system and coinage, and extended the Great Wall. Fell after two generations.

Tang Dynasty (618 A. D. – 907 A. D.) – encompasses China’s Golden Age of civilization as well as when gunpowder is discovered. Becomes a cultural influence in Korea, Vietnam, and Japan with embassies as far away as the Byzantine Empire.

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (907 A. D. – 960 A. D.) – another period of unrest and civil war. Former based in the north, latter in south.

Song, Liao, Jin and Western Xia Dynasties (960 A. D. – 1279 overlapping) – though one of contending dynasties, war, and eventual Mongol Conquest, was a period of great technological innovation as well as economic and cultural prosperity.

Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368) – basically this is Genghis Khan’s family and founded by his grandson Kublai Khan. Of course, they wanted to run China their own way so brought their own bureaucrats from the West who were mostly Muslim (though western Mongols brought Chinese administrators). Great period  for Chinese literature and drama.

Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) – last ethnically Chinese dynasty which built the most current Great Wall standing today. Famous for novels, porcelain, isolationism, and flourishing economy and urban life. Yet, marred by political troubles, national disasters, civil unrest and corruption by eunuchs.

Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) – China’s last dynasty founded by the ruling family of Manchuria. China takes it’s largest form. Early years mark great conquest and prosperity. Later years marred by European Imperialism, opium, civil unrest, delusions of nationalistic grandeur, failed policies, and other things. Still, this is the dynastic period most covered in movies since documentation was more readily available.

Dynastic Periods:

The Forbidden City stood in Beijing around the time when China was under assault by the Huns. (The Forbidden City was built during the Ming Dynasty and by that time the Huns were integrated in Chinese society. Also, Mulan existed during the Han Dynasty.)

Fireworks were used in China during the Han Dynasty. (It was during the Sui.)

China was fighting the Huns during the later Han Dynasty. (The Huns were invading Europe at the time and hailed from Russia. The “Huns” depicted in Mulan were probably Mongols who were habitual invaders anyway and they were called the Xiongnu. However, they wouldn’t take over China until the 1200s.)

Chinese Imperial horsemen rode using stirrups on their horses. (They would’ve done no such thing. The Mongols, on the other hand….)

The Chinese Imperial Army rode on Arabian horses. (Maybe but no common peasant would own one. Mulan could never have such a majestic horse like Khan.)

Gunpowder existed during the Han Dynasty. (It was invented during the Tang.)

Chinese people were free to hug the Emperor. (No one would really be permitted to hug the Emperor, since his subjects had to keep respectful distance.)

Mulan was discovered as a woman after she was wounded and was kicked out accordingly. (She’s actually said to expose her breasts willingly to her fellow soldiers who were totally cool with it. Oh, and she had been a general for a while, served in the army for 12 years gaining great respect, and had literally saved the Empire before that, too. Of course, while China has had a reputation for treating women harshly, this only comes later since the Chinese had no law to execute any woman impersonating a man to join the military, at least during the Han Dynasty.)

Marco Polo actually went to China. (There’s some debate about this. The Yuan Dynasty kept pretty meticulous records even of those of foreign visitors far less important and illustrious than the Polos, and he’s not in them. However, there were other non-Chinese explorers who went to China during the Middle Ages. Still, Polo never mentioned things like foot binding, chopsticks, tea, gunpowder, or the Great Wall {though it might’ve disintegrated by that point}. Not to mention, they said that he didn’t understand much of Mongolian or Chinese at all such as the units. Thus, he may just have been a “conman” who might’ve tried to pass the stories of other foreign travelers as his own.)

The Eight Nation Alliance put down the Boxer Rebellion which wasn’t really about imperialism. (It was so about Imperialism and though the Boxers were violent and attacked civilians, they really had something to rebel against. I mean it was imperialism that basically got much of their country hooked on opium as well as make China a ruined mess, basically.)

Those who took part in the Siege of Legations were actively chose to stay in order to make a principled stand during the Boxer Rebellion. (They were more than willing to get the hell out of there but couldn’t because the countryside was swarming with Boxers.)

Chinese men had to shave their hair in a pigtail during the Mongol invasions. (This isn’t until the Qing Dynasty. Before then, they wore their hair long and bound it together on the top of their head or under a hat.)

Marco Polo was the first European in China. (He was the first to write a detailed account of it, assuming he did visit it. Also, he’s said to have traveled with his father and uncle {who weren’t there first}. There’s said to be Roman embassies in China during the 3rd and 4th centuries, but its fuzzy. )

Marco Polo only traveled from Venice with a servant. (He traveled with is father and uncle assuming he did go to China.)

Kublai Khan was a single dad with a daughter. (He’s said to have 4 wives and 22 sons. He’s also said to have at least 2 daughters, one who became a Buddhist nun and another who married a king of Korea. Neither ran off with Marco Polo, however.)

Everyone in Song China spoke Mandarin Chinese in what is now Central and Western China even by non-Chinese. (Only in Manchuria. Mandarin Chinese wouldn’t be spoken in mainland China until the Qing Dynasty. And those living in present day Central and Western China who aren’t Chinese would speak a Turkic dialect.)

Cao Cao was a scheming chancellor who ran China with an iron fist through the young Han Emperor. (Though he’s represented in Chinese media as a cunning and deceitful man, he was said to be a brilliant ruler who did a lot of good in the realms of education and agriculture. He also wrote poetry.)

Liu Bei was a compassionate and righteous leader endowed with charismatic potency who built a state on the basis of Confucian values though he was kind of a weeping wreck. (He was actually a competent commander while some of the strategies in popular media attributed to Zhuge Liang were actually his own. Not to mention, he was warlord and more Legalist than Confucian though he came from modest means rising through the ranks. And though he’s depicted as a loyal servant to the Han Empire, he probably would never have ascended to becoming emperor of his own state without the Han collapse. Also, he’s said to make a lot of mistakes like irrationally leading a disastrous attack on Yi Ling, slamming his infant son to the ground which doomed his future empire. Nevertheless, he’s a popular folk hero in China as well as has a cult following as a deity.)

Zhuge Liang was a wise and competent administrator who can perform fantastical achievements like summoning advantageous winds and devising magical stone mazes. (Sure he was a brilliant guy but he wasn’t the supreme tactical and strategic genius he’s depicted in Chinese media. He was actually more of a top political and domestic administrator.)

Zhang Fei was a blundering drunkard with a short temper who can be of hindrance on the battlefield though still smart enough to utilize great strategies. (He was the most strategically accomplished of Liu Bei’s main generals.)

Guan Yu was a righteous and loyal warrior. (His image is perhaps one of the most altered and aggrandized in Chinese pop culture, especially in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is like the Chinese equivalent to the works of Homer.)

Xiao Qiao was a badass who walked right into enemy territory and had tea with Cao Cao. (We don’t know much about her and it’s very unlikely this ever happened.)

Qin Shi Huangdi was a ruthless despot who ruled China with an iron fist making the country a cyrpto-totalitarian legalistic dystopia. (Of course, this is China’s first Emperor and mostly responsible for what makes China the country it was during the later Dynastic years. However, he’s depicted as such villain in Chinese media that his would-be assassin and a concubine who conspired against him are shown in much more favorable light than he is. Still, his reputation may have to do with the fact that his dynasty was overthrown three years after his death despite the fact that archaeological findings relating to his dynasty may reveal that the Qin Emperor may not have been as brutal as previously thought. Nevertheless, his fear of assassination may be perhaps justified.)

Kung Fu broadswords and jians were often used in a lot of Chinese battles. (These swords were first made in fairly modern times. Neither were used in ancient Chinese combat.)

Guan Yu used a Gundao during the Three Kingdoms Era. (He more likely used a dagger axe since these weapons came out in the Ming era.)

Dowager Empress Cixi was a dominating and power hungry evil matriarch. (She’s certainly no saint and certainly did a lot of morally reprehensible things, there’s still debate on whether certain things about her are true or just stemmed from Chinese politics using her as as scapegoat.)

The Tang Emperors lived in the Forbidden City. (It wasn’t built until the Ming Dynasty.)

Emperors were all noble, wise, and grandfatherly. (Sometimes they were anything but.)

Big hulky brocade wearing brutes used to mow down peasants by the thousands with flashy musou attacks. (I’m not sure this is possible.)

Fair maidens were either skilled enough to kick butt in martial arts or supernatural creatures in disguise. (Hey, didn’t they have something called footbinding? I’m sure the latter is certainly not true. Still, how did some of these women managed to learn kung-fu after having their feet crushed? I mean some of these films take place after the Song Dynasty at least. Seriously, footbinding could really get in the way with a young girl’s martial arts training. And it doesn’t help that many of these martial arts wielding waif fus are from prominent families where footbinding would definitely be practiced. Of course, most Chinese families were peasants, but if a family could afford a well off lifestyle without doing manual labor, you can bet the girls would have had their feet bound.)

Tang Empress Wu Zetian imprisoned Di Renjie for eight years for opposing her rule. (She had him demoted to a province for three over another official accusing him of contempt. He later helped run the government under her, which makes him more of court favorite than anything. Of course, this guy is best known for getting his own western detective series.)

Empress Wu Zetian was a ruthless tyrannical ruler willing to off family members. (Maybe but she was probably no worse than her male counterparts. Chinese historic record tends to be biased against strong female rulers.)

Modern:

Chinese villages were ruled by wise and benevolent landlords who were loyal to their country during World War II. (Actually, they weren’t nice guys to China’s vast peasant population and exploited them whenever they could. Also, many of them did cooperate with the Japanese during World War II.)

The Ip Man was a bourgeois martial arts teacher who escaped from the mainland to flee the Japanese during the invasion as well as worked as a laborer. (He was actually a police officer who supported the Kuomintang and fled to Hong Kong to escape the Communists. Also, he never worked as a laborer before becoming Bruce Lee’s teacher. However, this doesn’t stop the Chinese from portraying him this way in the movies.)

Simplified Chinese characters came in around the 1930s. (They were introduced after the Communists came into power in order to improve literacy.)

British journalist George Hogg led 60 orphan boys through China fleeing from the Japanese secret police and nationalists who wanted to conscript some of them with an Australian nurse. (He was actually assisted by friends from New Zealand, particularly a known Communist named Renwie Alley who’s absent from a film relating to this incident.)

Puyi was a playboy and had a lot of sexual interest in women. (Evidence in his romantic interest in women is scant {to the point he was rumored to be gay} though he had five consorts which he referred to as his wives “in name only.”)

Puyi was a tragic hero, especially in his private life. (He flogged eunuchs as part of his daily routine by age eleven. During his reign in Munchukuo, he went nuts, became obsessed with consulting oracles, injected himself, and beat servants for trivial offenses.)

Traditional Chinese music was endorsed by the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. (Traditional Chinese music was illegal in China during the Cultural Revolution considered as one of the four “Great Olds.” Western music was considered “bourgeois.”  Actually the only music allowed in Maoist China were Socialist slogan songs. How horrible.)

Mao Zedong was depressed about his legacy as well as bored with his political life by the 1970s. Yet, he was more interested in why Henry Kissinger was such a ladies’ man. (Contrary to Nixon, he may have been more optimistic about his legacy than how it turned out, yet he had a good reason to be depressed about his legacy since so many people in China got killed under him and the fact that he left China in terrible shape. Not only that but his wife would be jailed after his death. But at least China was unified and the Chinese people had better lives so he remains a controversial figure. As for Kissinger, yeah, I’d probably wonder the same thing. Yet, we need to understand that Mao was married four times and had terrible hygiene habits like not brushing his teeth and going 25 years without taking a bath according to one account. He was also a chain smoker. Yet, he’s said to have a lot of sexual partners.)

Bruce Lee started taking martial arts lessons after having a childhood nightmare. (Contrary to Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, he started training at 13 after being beaten up by a street gang. He would also get into a lot of fights as a teenager that his mother decided to ship him off to America. Also, he had been taking occasional acting jobs since he was a child since his dad was an actor and singer in the Cantonese Opera Company. Yes, one of the biggest martial arts stars ever had a dad who was an opera singer.)

Miscellaneous:

China has always consisted of homogenous Han Chinese. (Han Chinese usually live in the southeast of China and even they were a mixed lot before the Sinicizing Han Dynasty. China is also home to Manchurians, Muslim Uighurs, and Buddhist Tibetans. Actually China has been quite a bit multicultural than it usually makes itself out to be.)

Older and/or wealthy or noble Chinese women could walk in a normal fashion unassisted by a cane. (Since their feet were bound as children, they couldn’t without wobbling unassisted. Also, some of those women who could walk unassisted were Manchurian, not Chinese.)

Chinese traditionally wore a qipao that opened at that side. (The Manchurians did. Chinese robes open at the front. The modern qipao doesn’t look like something pre-20th century Chinese would wear at all.)

The Great Wall has always looked the same. (It was renovated several times from the Qin to Ming Dynasty.)

China has always been a unified entity. (There have been times when it hasn’t, particularly between dynasties.)

Chinese people had good hygiene and dental care. (It depended on status naturally. Since most of China has comprised of poor peasants for most of its history, this wouldn’t be the case. Also, Mao Zedong was notorious for having poor personal hygiene {he had green teeth} as well as certainly didn’t practice safe sex {most of the women he slept with got infected with STDs because of him}. Oh, and every day he used to take a swim in one of China’s major rivers {take it what you will}.)

Chinese people were very polite and courteous prudes. (Just because their Confucian ethic encourages them to be nice to others doesn’t mean the country has exercised in polite behavior in society at least by Western standards. I mean there’s a No Spitting campaign there and some of their literature can get quite spicy. Also, some of the things Chairman Mao once said can put Howard Stern to shame.)

Chinese aristocrats had Fu-Manchu mustaches. (Well, maybe some did.)

Chinese people didn’t eat any weird things. (Uh, much of what you see in a Chinese restaurant doesn’t really consist of what someone in China would eat.)

Kung-Fu fights were a common occurrence. (Of course, most of the movies set in historical China are kung-fu movies despite it being a culture of intellectuals. You were more likely to hear government officials staging Chinese philosophy debates than kick punching each other. Seriously, how often would kung-fu fights occur during that time?)

China was an isolated entity for much of its existence until Europeans arrived there. (It’s said that the West knew of China’s existence for centuries even before Marco Polo {even if he didn’t actually go there}. Sure China was isolationist at times but it also engaged in foreign policy with other entities, just not European. Then you have the Zheng He voyages during the early Ming Dynasty.)

Family and filial piety was the most important thing in Chinese society. (Yes, but apparently there were emperors who didn’t see it that way. And then there’s Dowager Cixi poisoning her nephew.)

Funerals were modest affairs in China. (Actually Chinese people spend much more on funerals for family members than most Americans spend on weddings, especially in Taiwan. Oh, and it’s not uncommon to hire strippers for those occasions either.)

China had samurai in the 19th century. (Samurai were exclusively from Japan. However, China did have ninjas though.)

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History of the World According to the Movies: Part 11- Middle Eastern and Islamic History

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Though I don’t get into Lawrence of Arabia until World War I, I think this is probably the best movie about Middle Eastern history to post since it’s basically the only movie about the region that many people have seen which doesn’t have genies or magic carpets in them. Also, it’s a film that takes place at a very transitional time like WWI between the waning days of the Ottoman Empire and the modern Middle East of today.

Of course, Hollywood history has usually been biased toward Western Civilization with the later years strongly focused on Europe and later the Americas. Prehistory is geared to pretty much the world, ancient history usually toward the Middle East and Mediterranean, and medieval history mostly focuses on Europe. However, there were so much other things happening elsewhere in the world but Hollywood just doesn’t seem to pay much attention to them. For the next several posts, I’ll devote to discussing the historical inaccuracies set in the Middle East post-biblical times, Asia, Africa, and the Pre-Columbian America. Of course, I’ll get into things based in modern times but I’ll also cover earlier aspects as well (except with Pre-Columbian America). Nevertheless, many of these places still contain important history worth mentioning which has changed the world. Also, I am talking about “world history” which should include other areas not under the Western radar. Still, anything relating to Oceania or Australia will be under colonial history since people there don’t have much of a history to begin with. History of the Caribbean will be under Latin American history, Pre-Columbian America, or Colonialism depending on era.

Of course, the best place to start with non-Western history will be in the Middle East. When we left off from there in Ancient History, it was the cradle of civilization as well as a place of biblical events. Sure much of it was part of the Roman Empire but by the time the Western Empire fell in the 400s, the Eastern Empire would continue to exist for another thousand years until Turks sack Constantinople in 1453. Yet, during the Middle Ages, what we call the Byzantine Empire was very much in decline by the Crusades. However, the Middle East would continue to be dominated by empires until recent times mostly by outsiders like the Turks, Mongols, and the British and French. Yet,  during the Middle Ages, the Middle East also saw the birth of a new religion called Islam founded in 622 A. D. by Muhammad which would later become a dominant faith in much of the world alongside Christianity. Of course, movies about Muhammad will never show him in accordance with Islamic custom. Still, this area was a great place of civilization while the Europe was being beseiged by German invaders but it has become a shithole in modern times (well, by our standards). Still, here is a list of errors I shall list from movies set in the Middle East post-biblical times.

Islam:

The crescent moon and star was a Muslim symbol from the Crusades. (It wasn’t adopted until the 14th century. During that time, Muslims armies would usually carry black, green, and white flags.)

Mullahs wore Quran inscriptions on their clothes. (Islam forbids writing Quran verses or “Allah” on clothing but permits it on flags.)

Muslim women wore transparent headscarves. (See through headscarves are forbidden in Islam.)

Muslim women were treated as objects, confined to their homes, and serve their men. Not to mention, there weren’t many notable Muslim women. (Actually though Muslim women didn’t have as many rights as men but not all Muslim women were harem girls, princesses, or housewives and they weren’t really considered as property. They also had more property rights than other women during the Middle Ages and could inherit and earn money. They had rights to be educated and even teach. They also had a right not to be punished if she had been raped and was permitted to kill her rapist should the creep go after her again. Female infanticide was banned as well. As for notable Muslim women, there were a lot of women in Islam who made considerable contributions. There’s a women who started the nursing profession in the Middle East, a woman who founded a university, one of Muhammad’s wives was a businesswoman, two others were scholars, one a poet, and another a nurse, a couple women were war leaders, and some were regents and queens. Also, before Islam, many women in the region had no legal status at all and were considered proper and many of Muslim women had their rights constrained more by tribal custom than Sharia Law.)

Muslims address their god as “Father.” (They use “Allah.”)

Byzantine Empire:

The last Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI was a hedonist. (He was celibate.)

In 1453, Constantinople was a magnificent city. (It had been far from it, especially since it was sacked by the Crusaders in 1204.)

In 1453, the Byzantine Empire was one of wealth and power whose rulers lived in decadence and luxury. (This wasn’t really the case since it had been on a long and drastic decline since the Middle Ages.)

The Byzantine Emperor resided in the Great Palace in 1453. (The Great Palace wasn’t in use at this time.)

Giovanni Giustiniani was killed in a single combat while defending the walls of Constantinople from the Ottoman Turks. (He was wounded by cannon or crossbow bolt. He died of the effects later in June 1453.)

Pre-Islamic:

The Pre-Islamic Sassinid Persians wrote in Arab script. (The Sasssinid Empire predates Muhammad.)

The Hashashins were a sect of crazed and chaotic assassins that resided in the city of Alamut and a vizier named Nizam was the very first man they killed, which was during the Sassinid Empire. (Yes, but their presence in history begins as an esoteric Islamic cult -an offshoot of the Isma’ili sect of Shia’ Islam and they were seen as protectors of the Nizari in other communities as well. Oh, yeah, and their existence began during the Crusades and were even allies of the Crusaders {since they had common enemies}. Also, they were said to be quite friendly towards the common folk since their killings were carefully targeted and planned. However, there’s no evidence whether they drugged their recruits with marijuana {well, other than for medicinal purposes}. Not to mention, they met their downfall during the Mongol conquest of Persia.)

Golden Age:

Saladin’s was the Islamic leader’s original name. (It was actually his nickname by the Christians. His actual name was Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub.)

Saladin snuck into a Christian camp to cure Richard the Lionheart. (He would’ve done no such thing.)

Saladin was an honorable man. (By the standards of the day, sure. Yet, he only behaved this way when it suited him. Once he had 200 Knight Templars and Hospitallers executed by Sufis and Islamic scholars {who were unfamiliar with weapons}, which led to a clumsy and agonizing death to many prisoners. Not to mention, he intended to sack Jerusalem but didn’t when Balian threatened to destroy Islamic holy sites and execute thousands of Muslim prisoners. Also, before beginning his conquest in Jerusalem, he put down a Sudanese revolt in Egypt by burning down their Cairo quarter with their women and children still inside their homes. After the Sudanese troops surrendered, he promised them safe passage up the Nile only to have them massacred when leaving Cairo in smaller disorganized groups.)

Saladin was a well-known figure in Middle Eastern history who was willing to negotiate with the Christians and was respected by both sides. (Until the late 19th century he was mostly forgotten figure in the Muslim World because the empire he created barely outlived him and the fact that he was a Kurd. Also, modern lionization of him flows from the Europeans.)

Saladin knew nothing about the existence of ice prior to the Crusades. (The people in the Middle East knew well of the existence of ice and used it in drinks. Also, Saladin is known to give King Guy Lusignan ice water at the battle of Hattin, which led to the killing of Chatillon.)

Sultans were usually idiots who were only preoccupied with their toys and harem girls while the evil Grand Vizier basically ran everything. (History tells us that this wasn’t true part of the time and Grand Viziers weren’t always evil either.)

Grand Vizier Ja’far ibn Yahya of the Barmakids was a powerful and evil Grand Vizier. (He could possibly be the greatest Grand Vizier Persia had ever had. He was also a polymath who sponsored building libraries and introduced the use of paper in Baghdad {which helped start the Golden Age of Islam}. Unfortunately, because many film Grand Viziers tend to be named Jafar in movies {who are evil}; his name will live in infamy. He’s seen as a bad guy in Sunni tradition as well as an inspiration for villains. The fact he was depicted as evil in some of the Arabian Night Tales is that his boss Caliph Harun al-Rashid killed him and his family because Jafar allegedly had an affair with the Caliph’s sister Abbasa {though it had more to do with Harun fearing that the Barmakids had become too influential for their own good. I mean why execute a right-hand man and his entire family for shagging a Caliph’s sister?})

Arabs in the early Islamic era used curved swords. (Curved swords are Turkish {and wouldn’t be used until the Turks arrived from Central Asia} not Arab. They’d more likely use straight swords at the time.)

Arabian princesses were only children. (Jasmine probably wouldn’t be the only female member of the sultan’s family living in the palace and most definitely had other brothers and half-brothers vying for the throne so Aladdin probably wouldn’t become sultan anyway.)

Arabs sold tomatoes in their marketplaces during the 13th century. (Tomatoes are a New World plant and wouldn’t be known to anyone in the Old World until at least the 15th century.)

The Arabs knew of the existence of gunpowder in the 1100s. (It wasn’t known to the Arabs until at least 1240.)

Caliph Harun al-Rashid was a loveable adventurer who traveled in and out cities in disguise as well as led a great empire. (Sure he’d go in and out of cities in disguises nor was he an extraordinarily bad ruler {dates are from 786-809, which means he ruled a good twenty-three years}.  He killed Grand Vizier Jafar and his entire family, which led to a political crisis taking years to resolve.  He wasn’t an extraordinarily good ruler either and is usually depicted in the Arabian Night Tales as good guy because of the greatness of his empire {which was due to the efforts of many} not the man himself. Still, he was good to his workers except maybe his right hand man as well as attracted poets. Yet, in Hollywood, he’s played by Rock Hudson.)

Omar Khayyam romanced a sultan’s bride and saved a sultan’s son from an assassin sect. (Sure he was a poet and invented a calendar, but it’s highly unlikely that he’d thwart assassins or romance a sultan’s bride. Also, I’m not sure if Persia even has sultans.)

Ottoman Empire:

All Ottoman Army soldiers were Turkish Muslims. (The Ottoman Army was very diverse which included Balkan converts to Islam, Christian levies, and armies of the sultan’s Christian vassals.)

Sultan Mehmet entered Constantinople right after it was sacked by his army. (He entered three days after the looting of his army.)

Modern:

Shah Reza Pahlavi was a corrupt, uncaring fool who tried to escape his country to avoid Iranian civilians. (Sure he was a dictator but he also tried to grant equal rights for women and modernize Iran’s economy.)

Shah Reza Pahlavi was installed as Shah of Iran in the 1953 coup by the UK and the CIA. (He was already Shah at the time of the coup. The coup began when the Shah dismissed Prime Minister Mohammmad Mossadegh and replaced him with Fazlollah Zahedi.)

During the Iranian hostage crisis, both British and New Zealand embassies refused to help American embassy staff. (Contrary to Argo, they sheltered Americans before passing them to the Canadians. The British ambassador in Iran at the time was commended for his actions.)

It was through the help of Congressman Charlie Wilson that the Afghans were able to drive the Russians out of their country. (It was also through the help of Charlie Wilson that some of these Afghan freedom fighter who received American weapons helped launched al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which also led to 9/11.)

Getting the US Embassy hostages out of Iran was mostly an American effort. (Actually the Canadians {90% of the time} and the British helped, too, a lot. As for the airport scene in Argo, well, the Canadians actually bought the tickets well ahead of time and the escape went off without a hitch.)

The Israeli government used “an eye for an eye” retaliation with a hit list of eleven suspects after the 1972 Olympics Massacre in Munich. (The events in Munich relating to anything other than the killing of Israeli athletes in Munich has been subject to much controversy. Also, there’s no way of knowing whether the Eric Bana character was a reliable source of information.)

Giving weapons it Middle Eastern nations always worked out in the end. (Yeah right.)

The US has always been able to solve Mideast problems. (Sometimes it has made the whole situation worse.)

It wasn’t unusual for Mossad agents to have any doubts hunting down the Munich assassins. (It may be difficult to establish but according to author Aaron J. Klein, “”In interviewing more than 50 veterans of the Mossad and military intelligence, I found not a single trace of remorse. On the contrary, the Mossad combatants thought they were doing holy work.” Then again, they could be trying to come to terms with what they did. But of course, there’s the blunder of mistakenly shooting a Moroccan waiter in Norway thinking he was a Black September mastermind named Ali Hassan Salameh. Six Israelis were arrested while five were convicted. Spielberg doesn’t include this in Munich.)

There were 53 American hostages during the Iranian hostage crisis. (There were 53 hostages that were held until the end in 1981. Also, they were released in January of 1980, not March.)

Saddam Hussein’s name struck fear into the Iraqi people. (To tell you the truth, there are plenty of people in the Middle East {including Iraq} that carry the name of Saddam Hussein. It’s very common in the region. It’s just that the Saddam Hussein who ruled Iraq for over 2 decades managed to attract notoriety to be in the Western news media. Not to mention, Arabic names are very long as Saddam Hussein’s real name is Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti.)

Middle Eastern and Islamic Life:

All Muslim terrorists were violent Islamic extremists. (Sure there is religious terrorism in every religion and Islam is no exception but there are also Muslim terrorists whose motivations are purely political and not all violence is religiously motivated either even to Westerners.)

Muslim countries were usually ruled under theocrats or strongmen dictators. (There are plenty of Muslim nations that have fully functioning democracies or at least most of the time. Nevertheless, there was very little separation of church and state in the early Islamic era because much of the state structures derived from it.)

Most Muslims were Arabs. (Actually Muslims are a very diverse group consisting of Asians, Eastern Europeans, Central Asians, Indians, and Africans. Not to mention, the biggest Muslim nation in the world is Indonesia, and many people from the Middle East and North Africa don’t consider themselves Arabs even though they’re Muslims and speak Arabic.)

The Harem consisted of the sultan’s love nest where he was feted on by his beautiful concubines. (Sultans did have concubines but that was more for ensuring the birth of competent sons than fulfilling sexual pleasure. And for the sultan, monogamy wasn’t optional for the notion of having multiple sex partners was part of the job. The harem wasn’t just home to his concubines either but also his family along with female servants who weren’t very attractive and eunuchs. Most of the women consisted of the sultan’s older female relatives. Also, the women there weren’t just lounging around all day either. Sure the sultan did have a lot of women to sleep with but the Harem wasn’t the Islamic version of the Playboy Mansion as depicted by Hollywood. As for odalisques, they were servants to the older inhabitants, not concubines and most of them were left to wither on the branch due to the sultan being too old, too drunk, or too disinterested to make use of them.)

Muslims were cruel to their slaves. (Actually they treated their slaves better than the Europeans and Americans treated theirs {in some ways though sometimes they could be cruel to them}. For one, they didn’t use slavery to subjugate a whole race of people. Second, slaves actually had certain rights that slaves in the West didn’t have. Third, slavery in the Muslim world was more or less like indentured servitude than the kind of slavery we’re familiar with since there were more ways for a slave to gain his or her freedom.)

Sultans usually had dark hair. (Because of the Ottoman sultans’ preference for Eastern European women in their harems, there’s a good chance that a sultan would have blond or red hair as well as European features.)

It wasn’t unusual for an Islamic ruler to offer his daughters to marry a man of a different religion. (While Islam allows men to marry up to four wives and concubinage, it doesn’t allow men to marry two closely related women at the same time. Also, Muslim women can’t marry guys of a different faith than their own, if the guy doesn’t agree to convert. Muslim men, on the other hand, can marry women outside their faith though.)

Muslims have been hostile to those outside their religion. (Well, occasionally but during much of Islamic history they’ve been pretty tolerant of other religions {for they sometimes had to be and to a certain extent}. For instance, Muslim Spain was a haven for Jews during much of the Middle Ages. Not to mention, many of the non-Islamic invaders actually ended up adopting and expanding the religion throughout Asia {which actually brought the end of Christianity in Central Asia}. Still, they wouldn’t kill Christians unless they absolutely had to. Also, many Muslim nations have a significant population of Christians today like Lebanon and Egypt.)

People in the Islamic Middle East actually wore turbans, harem pants, sheikh outfits, and Jasmine set up. (We’re not sure what people in the Middle East wore during that time period. though we’re kind of sure about the turbans and veils. Also, Aladdin caused a lot of controversy among Muslims. Then again, movies set in the era of genies and flying carpets tend to consist of people dressed in a mishmash of Islamic clothing anyway.)

Every old time Mideast ruler was a sultan. (Some were caliphs. Also, in Persia, the old rulers didn’t go by sultan.)

The Muslims were a radical and fanatical sect. (There have been plenty of Islamic notables who contributed a lot to science, medicine, architecture, and mathematics. They also helped translate Greek Classics as well as had institutions of learning.)