That women held power in the age of Genghis Khan is a secret, according to Jack Weatherford in his book The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire. Pages telling of feminine leaders were cut from the Mongol records, probably by men who did not want their stories told. The author, however, has been able to reconstruct a bit of their history from accounts by the Mongols' enemies and by reexamining historical artifacts. His finding is that for nearly three centuries Khan's daughters, granddaughters, and their female descendants took part in defending and defining the Mongol empire.
Readers unfamiliar with Asian history (most of us?) will be surprised by Weatherford's characterization of Genghis Khan. He has been described by many histories as a barbarian, a destroyer of civilization. The records, however, show that he had many progressive ideas. He degreed that women could not be traded for animals or property, and, Weatherford claims, Khan even established his daughters as rulers over four of the regions in his empire. They were as ruthless as and more successful than his sons.
As interesting as the plot is, The Secret History of the Mongol Queens was not a hit with our book discussion group. In the first two sections of the history, there are far too many people and place names and far too few developed stories for most readers. Interest in reading wained for many. Only in the final section of the book was Weatherford able to write a sustained narrative with well-developed characters.
Interestingly, the Field Museum of Chicago has just opened an exhibit on Genghis Khan. The promotional materials mention Khan and his sons but not his daughters. Have they read this book? It will be interesting to compare the accounts.
Weatherford, Jack. The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire. Crown Publishers, 2010. 317p. ISBN 9780307407153.