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Secret History of the Mongols

by: Paul Kahn

Boston MA: Cheng & Tsui 1988, $9.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 978-0-88727-299-8

Summer Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(2) page(s): 27

This may be the oldest surviving literary work translated from the Mongolian language, an item written for their royal family some time after the 1227 death of Chingis Kahn, published as a “C&T Cultural series,” the original author remains anonymous. Maybe it was originally written in their script, perhaps a transcription or translation in Chinese. It tells about the origin of Chingis Kahn, and in Chinese is known as Yuan Chao Pi Shih. This scholarly English translation is by Francis Woodman Cleaves, now accessible to all, and is enjoyed by many of us. Some say it may be the oldest item in Mongolian, was composed after the death of Chingis Kahn (1277 CE.) and perhaps once the private property of his noble family.

It opens in the mythical past, quickly moves on to factual times and information about his life and career, and is about Mongolians in general describing their personal lives, their social structure, customs, and some of their cultural and historical events during his lifetime.

Reading it one then understands these Central Asian nomadic grasslands people. The book is about their oral narratives, and does detail them telling their epic tale, a Mongolian classic. It is about their youth, their heritage, wars, empire, and the reign of Ogodei Khan and about the death of Chingis Kahn.

The last two chapters are poetic and they are followed by seven pages of their proper names, three of selected bibliographic material, their lineage table, births and deaths from Chingis to Khubilai, a table of animal years, and paragraph numbers by page of Yuan Chao Pi Shih, page by page.

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