History of the World According to the Movies: Part 15 – The Rest of Asia

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Of course, no movie can emphasize Asian history more than Mongol, which is about perhaps the most important person in its history as well as one of its most famous conquerors Genghis Khan. Though this movie shows how rough he had it from his childhood to young adulthood, it nevertheless shows a fairly accurate portrait of the man whose family would conquer Asia. Also, if you’re Asian, there’s a good chance you’re related to him.

As far as Asian movie history goes, I’ve covered China, Japan, and India. But though they may be the biggest entities with historical movies or historical movie errors, they are just three countries in a large continent that includes a variety of countries, cultures, and what not. And all these countries each have their own history. Of course, you have Mongolia, home of a man who started out as a son of a Mongolian chief who got poisoned, only to become perhaps the most legendary conqueror who ever lived. Of course, his name is Genghis Khan. In Thailand you have the kings of Siam with the most memorable these days having a musical about him and being played by one of the hottest bald guys in history. Then there’s Tibet home of the 14th Dalai Lama (well, he’s in exile now) and the best known Hollywood movie about his life stars Brad Pitt as a former Nazi. Then there are the aspects in Asian history films that show up in every movie, especially when it pertains to martial arts or Buddhism. Nevertheless, historical errors in movies on Asian history still abound which I shall list.

Mongolia:

Genghis Khan started a war Khwarzim because he thought it would be a great place to conquer the world. (He might’ve had intentions about it but it was really in revenge because the Shah killed his messengers.)

Khwarzim fell in one battle. (The Mongols conquered each city one by one.)

The Khwazim Shah died in battle. (He fled to an island in the Caspian Sea and died there.)

Genghis Khan died at Khwarzim. (He died in a hunting accident seven years after conquering it at 65. This is according to the Mongols who said he fell off his horse and died from the injuries. Some say he was killed by the Western Xia in battle.)

Jochi was Genghis Khan’s son. (Though Genghis would raise him as his own child, he was never sure if he was the boy’s father since his mother Borte was kidnapped after they were married. She was heavily pregnant with Jochi and living with another man when Genghis found her. Jochi and his descendants may have been passed over as his heirs after Genghis died for this reason {though Jochi predeceasing his dad may also have been a factor}. This had unfortunate implications in Genghis Khan’s empire).

The Mongol tribes rode on western horses. (They rode on stocky horses with short legs and large heads. Of course, the filmmakers may thought these horses were too peculiar looking to be seen.)

Genghis Khan got his start as a Mongol chief Temujin who kidnapped his wife Borte a Tartar princess. (Of course, Genghis Khan’s real name actually was Temujin, which most films about him usually get right. However there’s no evidence if Borte was a Tartar princess and I’m not sure if Genghis was a Mongol chief {his dad was before he was poisoned} yet when he married her. I mean he had a very rough childhood in which his family was under rival subjugation the entire time. Also, she was abducted after the two were married and there’s no way Genghis would’ve kidnapped her because they were engaged to each other as children.)

Borte had to rescue Temujin after he was taken in a raid. (It’s the other way around.)

Temujin was enslaved by the Tangut kingdom until Borte traveled and travailed to rescue him. (There’s no record of this. However, he was captured by enemies as a child.)

Genghis Khan had dark hair and eyes. (He’s said to be a redhead with green eyes {according to Islamic accounts} but then again, we’re really not sure what he looked like anyway. Still, dark hair and dark eyes may be a better approximate. However, there have been children with lighter hair and eyes in Mongolia though.)

Temujin was a rather young man when he started to be called Genghis Khan. (He was never called that until he was in his thirties. Oh, and he was still conquering about the time at his death at 65.)

Borte was Genghis Khan’s only wife. (She was his first wife as well as his Empress but he took other women as wives and was certainly not a faithful husband. I mean we have DNA evidence showing he left a shitload of descendants {8% of males in Asia are said to have his Y chromosome}. If you’re Asian and the place your family came from was conquered by Genghis Khan {or his immediate family}, there’s a very good chance you’re related to him.)

Genghis Khan had a Fu Manchu mustache. (That style has never been popular among the Mongols and it’s fairly unlikely he had one. Also, Mongolians mostly depict him as having a full beard.)

The Mongol Hordes were groups of barbarian raiders on horseback. (Genghis Khan actually had a well organized army like the Romans. However, their large supply of replacement horses and habits of marching in divided columns certainly gave such illusion.)

Temujin made an alliance with the Chinese Emperor and stayed at his palace. (This never happened.)

Jamuga was Temujin’s main rival for control of the Mongol tribes and enemy. (Yes, but he was also his childhood friend and helped Temujin rescue Borte from a rival chieftain who kidnapped her {or possibly impregnated her.})

Temujin killed Jamuga in a duel who mortally wounded him. (Temujin had Jamuga executed by having his men wrapped in a rug and beat to death as well as lived to be 72.)

Borte was blonde or redheaded. (It’s very likely she wasn’t either. But she is in the Genghis Khan biopic starring Omar Sharif as well as the one starring John Wayne.)

Genghis Khan was a brutal warlord as well as a conquer. (Yes, Genghis Khan was a very brutal conqueror and history shows this in great detail such as systemic slaughters of civilians. He is widely seen as a genocidal ruler to this day by Iranians, Afghans, Middle Easterners, and Eastern Europeans. However, as far as his empire was concerned, Genghis cared very little of how his subjects led their lives as long as they accepted him as their ruler. In fact, he even encouraged religious tolerance {well, to an extent} as well as created a system of meritocracy as well as adopted the Uighur script for the Mongol Empire’s writing. He also explained his policies clearly to all his soldiers. Furthermore, he brought the Silk Road under a cohesive political environment.)

Genghis Khan conquered China. (Contrary to popular belief, this is only partly true if you’re referring to territory that’s part of China today like where the Uighur live who don’t consider themselves Chinese. But China at the time, no. Nevertheless, when Genghis died, his empire extended from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan. His descendants would conquer China and establish the Yuan Dynasty as well as Persia along with parts of Russia and Eastern Europe.)

Tibet:

Austrian Heinrich Harrer only took the Nazi flag reluctantly. (Well, he’d call it a youthful mistake and never actually fought for the Nazis since he left Europe before the start of the war. But he didn’t join the Nazis reluctantly and was a committed SS NCO office. Hell, he even had a photo with Adolf Hitler himself.)

The two-year-old 14th Dalai Lama met a monk disguised as a servant entering his house as part of an entourage. (The Dalai Lama himself has said that the first meeting did not take place at his house. Rather he came outside and greeted the disguised monk and his companion. His mother said that two monks came and set canes {one belonging to his predecessor} at the side of the house and that he picked the correct one. He also asked the undisguised monk why was it taken from him.)

The 14th Dalai Lama’s choice of his Second Regent was Taktra Rinpoche was spontaneous and to the man’s surprise. (He was the main candidate.)

The 14th Dalai Lama met Mao Zedong in Beijing alone. (The 10th Panchen Lama was with him.)

Austrian Heinrich Harrer was always thinking about his son during his time in Asia. (Though he did have an ex-wife and son, unlike what you see in Seven Years in Tibet, he doesn’t mention them in his book. And his contact with his son was nothing what the movie shows. Also, the kid was raised by his ex-wife’s mother while his ex-wife’s new husband died in WWII. Not only that, but Harrer said there was little to tie him to his Austrian home as one of the reasons why he stayed in Tibet in the first place).

Before the Chinese invasion, Chinese Communists negotiators arrived in Lhasa on a Tibetan constructed airfield where they held a conference with the Dalai Lama that consisted of one of them destroying a sand mandala and saying that “religion is poison.” (None of these events occurred in Harrer’s book or in any of the numerous histories that have been written about the matter. The airport in Lhasa was constructed in 1956 and the Dalai Lama used an incomplete road system for his Beijing visit with Mao Zedong in 1954. However, the scene does illustrate exactly how the Chinese Communists viewed traditional culture and religion because they destroyed a lot of places in China that were of cultural and religious significance like temples).

The Dalai Lama was enthroned after WWII. (His enthronement ceremony took place in 1940. He assumed temporal power in 1950).

Thailand:

King Mongkut of Siam was a cruel, eccentric, and indulgent monarch who opposed Westernization and was controlling of his harem of women. He also died while the American Civil War was raging in the states and was succeeded by his ten-year-old son. (True Mongkut had 32 wives and 82 kids, but he and his successors embraced modernization while retaining Siam’s culture. He released numbers of concubines so they could find their own husbands and banned certain practices like forced marriages and wife-selling. Not to mention, slavery there was not like slavery was in the West either. For instance, in Siam, slavery was sometimes voluntary and there was no racial distinction. Also, Siamese slaves couldn’t be tortured and could buy their freedom. He may have been eccentric but he wasn’t self-indulgent for he had lived as a Buddhist monk for 27 years before becoming king and probably didn’t torture or execute anybody. As for his death, Mongkut died in 1868 and by then his successor was a teenager {though he did try to send elephants to the US but he wrote the letter to James Buchanan, not Lincoln but it was Lincoln who answered}. He also died when Anna Leonowens was in England. Nevertheless, The King and I is banned in Thailand because of the film’s inaccuracies as well as its depiction of the royal family the Thai thought disrespected Mongkut and his son who are still revered as great kings to this day.)

Louis Leonowens died as a child in a riding accident. (He outlived his mother as well as married twice and had children. Also, he died in 1919 at the age of 63 most likely from Spanish Flu. And as an adult, visited Siam himself on many occasions but he would be estranged from his mother for 19 years due to debts in the US.)

King Mongkut wanted Anna Leonowens to stay in his palace for some unknown reason. (He actually didn’t want her to live in the expat community because he didn’t want her to try to convert Siamese children to Christianity like the Western missionaries have done before. Of course, Leonowens was more enlightened about religion than most whites in the 1860s {since she was part-Indian herself}.)

Anna Leonowens was a mother hen over King Mongkut’s harem. (She described these ladies as her “sisters” as well as her intellectual and moral equals or betters.)

Anna Leonowens was born in Wales around 1834 to an upper-middle class family. (She was born in Bombay in 1831 to a poor teenage mother of mixed British and Indian origin according to a recent biography, though she claimed this. Also, she spent her childhood in India knowing English, Hindi, and Marathi and she never visited Great Britain until after she left Siam. Still, she managed to reinvent herself in Singapore as an educated Welsh gentlewoman and begged for a job at the Siamese court. Sorry, but the real Anna Leonowens wasn’t exactly a person she claimed to be and more likely didn’t look like Deborah Kerr. And she’s probably lived a story similar to The Great Gatsby before Jay Gatsby.)

Anna Leonowens had one son with her husband. (She had four children but two didn’t survive infancy. Also, she had a daughter Avis at a English school at the time she went to Siam. Interestingly, she was a great aunt to Boris Karloff.)

Thailand was referred by its present name in 1936. (Until 1939, it was called Siam.)

Burma:

General Ne Win killed Aung San while he was standing. (He was sitting down and didn’t have time to stand before having 13 bullets through him. Also, his assassination plot was traced to a former prime minister U Saw back in 1947, not the guys leading Burma today.)

Aung San Suu Kyi was inspired to fight against the regime in Burma after she returned to see her sick mother, where the Burmese army cracked down on protestors weeks before she arrived. (Yes, but she also met many of the injured in the hospital her mother was staying.)

Aung San Suu Kyi’s first public speech was at Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. (She had delivered one at the Rangoon hospital two days before.)

Southeast Asia:

Krakatoa was east of Java. (It’s west of Java and yet we have Krakatoa, East of Java instead.)

Singaporeans wore triangular hats. (Taiwanese do, but no one from Singapore does.)

Chinese Singaporeans spoke Cantonese. (They speak Mandarin, which is the main Chinese dialect there.)

Miscellaneous:

Anyone in East Asia knew martial arts. (Kung Fu Hustle does a spectacular job illustrating and parodying this to hilarious dimensions.)

It wasn’t unusual for Asians and whites to intermingle even though their children showed no Asian features. (I went to school with a few guys with Asian and white parents, they looked more Asian than some of the Asians I’ve seen in classic Hollywood movies, even those who were mixed. Maybe that’s because they were played by Europeans with the exception of Yul Brynner in The King and I who had Siberian ancestry. For God’s sake, they had John Wayne play Genghis Khan!)

Buddhists and Hindus were vegetarians and nonviolent. (Not all Hindus and Buddhists were vegetarians and many of them fought in wars and their kings kept armies. Yet, there were Hindu and Buddhist rulers who were more enlightened than some of the western rulers of their day. Also, Buddhism was a big religion in China and Japan and both were rather violent civilizations. There were also well documented Buddhist uprisings in much of Asian history as well. Not to mention, Buddhism was widely practiced by Mongols and samurai and was the faith most practiced by the Vietnamese, especially those who lived in the North during the Vietnam War.)

Asians never spoke crudely nor engaged in any form of bathroom humor. (Some of the writings of Chairman Mao tell a very different story. Some of his sayings would make Howard Stern blush.)

Asia mostly consisted of East Asia. (There’s more to Asia than China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, and India. You also have Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Central Asia.)

Central Asians were savages. (They had their own civilizations. It’s just that Europeans and Chinese kept encroaching their territory.)

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One response to “History of the World According to the Movies: Part 15 – The Rest of Asia

  1. I can’t believe that Ghengis Kahn lived to be 72! Then, he died in a hunting accident. He must have been pretty tough.

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