FROM THE STEPPES OF CENTRAL ASIA
Mongolian vertical script poem with drawing of Chinggis Khan in background.
A poem attributed to Chinggis Khan (1162-1227) that begins: "If my little body is
tired - then let it be tired. But my great government - let it not unravel . . ."
Reprinted with permission from A Pair Melody of the Stone Monument: An Anthology
of Mongolian Poetry (Ulaanbaatar: Munkhiin Useg Publishing Company, 2006) copyright
by G. Ayurzana, M. Saruul-Erdene, and D. Tsolmon. Mongolian Collection, Asian Division.
A new, dynamic force burst forth from the grasslands of Central
Asia in the thirteenth century. After unifying the Mongolian-speaking
tribes, Temujin took the name Chinggis Khan and led his renowned
cavalry across northern China and Central Asia. The "Great
Khan's" sons and grandsons continued the conquests, reaching
into Europe and establishing Mongol rule over all of China following
the collapse of the Southern Song in 1279. Chinggis' grandson
Kublai ruled as the first emperor of the new Yuan dynasty.
With empire came literacy. The Mongolian writing system dates
to the beginning of the 13th century when Chinggis Khan adopted
the alphabet used by the Uighurs, who assisted the Mongols with
civil administration. In turn, the Uighur alphabet came from
the Sogdian script used by central Asian traders and can ultimately
be traced back to Syriac, a writing system developed in the Fertile
Crescent around the second century BC from the Aramaic alphabet.
In the thirteenth century, Tibetan Buddhism spread quickly through
Mongolia and into China with imperial support. The Asian Division's
classical Mongolian collection began in the early 20th century
with the arrival of approximately eighty manuscripts and xylographs,
about half of which are Buddhist religious texts. Others in the
original collection are works of biography, history, medicine,
language, and an episode of The Epic Poem of King Geser, printed
in 1716 and one of the classics of Mongolian literature.
The classical Mongolian collection has expanded significantly
in recent years. In 2006, through a special acquisitions fund,
the Library purchased a collection of over 270 rare Mongolian
and Tibetan manuscripts and block prints. Included are manuscript
copies of the "Seven Jewel Sutras," written with seven
different inks made from precious stones as well as sutras written
in gold ink.
In addition, the Library holds compete reprint editions of the
Mongolian Kanjur and Tanjur, the Tibetan Buddhist canons. The
Library's Tanjur is a microfilm copy a 226-volume set of photocopy
enlargements of the extremely rare Urga Tanjur. Considered to
be a national treasure, the original manuscript of the Urga Tanjur
is held by the Academy of Sciences in Ulaanbaatar.