Doris Yangs story, appropriate for both young adult and adult readers, meshes nicely with this sites information about Mongol women. Her fictional heroine is Emmajin Beka, one of the many grandchildren of Khubilai Khan, the powerful conqueror of what was known to be China. Allowed as a child to practice the "three manly sports" (archery, horse racing and wrestling), upon reaching her sixteenth birthday Emmajin is expected to forego these skills and to marry. Ever the rebel, she sets out instead to challenge the traditional role of a woman of her status by becoming a warrior in the Khans army. She recalls Mongols nomadic past when all women had weapons training and sometimes accompanied their husbands in conquests of foreign lands, if only to defend the supplies if they came under attack. Now, however, elite women of the Khubilai Khan court live a relatively settled luxurious life in their Chinese-style palaces.
With the arrival of Marco Polo at court, Emmajins chance to break with tradition appears. In spite of the disapproval of her family, she is asked by the Great Khan to pry information from the young merchant regarding the power and possible weakness of his country. What follows are the adventures of these two who manage to form a connection across their cross-cultural divide.
Doris Yang provides well researched details about Mongol customs, material life, and foreign policies. Using the first person voice of Emmajin to move the narrative, however, is problematic. At times the pedantic descriptions uttered by Emmajin seem out of character for this still young, unworldly woman. There also is the problem of the literary license used to create the thoughts and actions of historic figures, in this case Marco Polo, Khubilai Khan and his chief wife Empress Chabi. One would wish, too, that the brief Authors Note and very useful extensive Glossary had offered some sense that it was most likely Japan, not all Christiandom, that figured most heavily in Khubilai Khans future conquest plans, and that although Khubilai Khan claimed the title of Great Khan, other Mongol khanates (Chagatai Khanate, Golden Horde, Ilkhanate) were powerful movers and shakers as well. Author Yang nonetheless succeeds in presenting the 13th century Pax Mongolica as a pivotal time in Asian/European history while giving us a glimpses into the lives of that eras royal women. And, she might have based the character of Emmajin on the story a legendary warrior, Khutulun, who supposedly accompanied her father, Kaidu, in many battles, most notably against the armies of Khubilai Khan.
To learn why women in Mongolia commanded decision-making authority, click here.
For resources on Women In Mongolia, click here
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Women in World History Curriculum