Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Decline & Fall of Genghis Khan

The few photographs
of Genghis Khan that
are known to exist
date from the Barnum &
Bailey years & show him
standing either before
a backdrop of The Great Wall
or outside a circus tent
made up to resemble
a yurt. Invariably
he is dressed in western
clothes - derby hat, three-
piece suit, wing collar, a
pair of shiny black boots
over which are the spats
that were de rigeur
for the time. It is said
he chose to appear
like this so as to be
unrecognisable to the
Lords of the Spirit World
who would otherwise
capture his soul
through the capture of
his true image. The beard,
so important to the Han,
is bound by a leather
thong, pulling it together
in a pigtail as if to face
the queue of servitude
full on. He is a small
man, an innocuous uncle,
an unlikely claimant to
the title of Conqueror
of All Asia which was how
he was promoted. Perhaps
his appearance is why his
act never proved popular;
though historians of a
slightly later time identify
the lack of popularity as the
first stirrings of the American
xenophobia against all Asian
races. After this the programs
of B & B never mention him
again; though there is a single
photograph taken shortly
after Bailey's takeover
of Buffalo Bill's Wild West
Show in which, at one end of
the back row of the lined-up
Native Americans, just under
the first F of the banner
"The Former Foe – The
Present Friend", wearing a
feather head-dress that trails
on the floor, is an elderly
stocky unshaven man gazing
hollowly into the distance,
as if inside him there were
no soul left for the Lords
of the Spirit World to take.

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