Language Chaos And Empress Ki

New York City, as an international metropolis, is saved from a chaotic language scene due to the fact that English is so universal now that most people learn some English in school. In many parts of the world, for example in a large part of Asia, this is not enough and extra training in language is needed since English skills are required for study abroad, and careers in government and big companies.

However there’s a time and place where language created chaos and people didn’t know what to do with it. I am talking about the problem Mongolians faced in the early part of the 13th century. People spoke different languages and communication became troublesome, just to say the least. Also people in different regions demanded to learn the Mongolian language in order to converse with government figures. The Mongolians quickly came up with a solution–banning the learning of Mongolian language. Isn’t it ridiculous? The reason they gave was equally ridiculous–Mongolian language is secret and sacred, and nobody other than Mongolians should learn it.

With such an absurd policy, all the administrative communications were relied on people who grew up with different languages. Fortunately the Mongolian language is similar to many languages spoken in Central Asia. People from this region started to serve in the government. One of such figures was Urtu Saqal, who spoke several languages growing up. Another figure was Ahmad Fanākatī who’s a Persian living in Central Asia–his story was elaborated in Marco Polo’s travel book.

Empress Ki came into the scene at the end of the Mongolian era in the middle of the 14th century. She’s a Korean girl of a bureaucrat family. I need to point out that the Korean language is similar to the Mongolian language so much so that nowadays a South Korean businessman can go to Mongolia to do business without learning the language–he just needs to stay there for several months and he can understand the language almost perfectly. Growing up, Lady Ki could speak Korean and Chinese. When she was sent to the Mongolian court to be a servant, she was able to aid the administrative tasks with her language skills.

Rebels were common in those days. The first empress’ brother raised an army to attack the Mongol court. He was ruthlessly put down and the first empress was executed too–the moral of the story: Don’t read human history if you have a heart condition. The second empress was also purged due to tribal conflicts among the Mongols. Finally, Lady Ki, the administrative assistant, was promoted to be the third Empress Ki. The emperor was very lazy and hated the boring governmental affairs. He’s very happy to give all the power to his wife while he could live a life of hunting and theater–two entertainment choices of the day.

And you will think Empress Ki would take a rest after witnessing such political intrigue and bloodshed, but no. As soon as she rose to power, her brothers in Korea started to make plans to depose the Korean king, who’s running a client Korean state but who’s dreaming of independence. When her brothers’ plan was thwarted, all four of her brothers were slaughtered. Hearing the news, Empress Ki gathered a Mongolian army to attack the Korean king and the army was squashed in the battle–Koreans regained their independence.

By then, after more than a century of constant fighting, the Mongol court was very weak indeed. Their invasion of Japan (twice) and Southeast Asia (from Burma to Vietnam) weakened them considerably. Finally in 1368, Empress Ki, her husband, and her son quit the crumpling empire and fled to Mongolia, being chased by several rebellious forces.

Empire is much ado about nothing. Well, worse than much ado about nothing since a lot of people get hurt in the process.

32 thoughts on “Language Chaos And Empress Ki

    1. Wow, I love this quote. It is so simple and so true–and it rhymes. So many people and lives ruined by past empires and I wonder how much good it does to humanity. Actually a lot of people still suffer from the past empires and the consequence of the WWII. In many parts of the Asia at least, tensions and antagonisms are still there even after the past empires are long gone. The shadow is still there.

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  1. the moral of the story: Don’t read human history if you have a heart condition. >> how true! Thanks for sharing this story. I have seen Empress Ki in Korean dramas in Netflix, but haven’t really watched it yet. Now I understand why she’s legendary.

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    1. I haven’t watched the show either although I have the DVD. I don’t have one or two weeks to be allocated for the show. If I ever touch the Korean drama, I will be gone until I finish it. LOL. Yes, she is a legend. I wish she can be more enlightening, but I know it is hard.

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  2. That is interesting! Why do so many people speak English? It’s is because of the English and American empires. What about French, French empire especially in Africa. Most European are descendants of Latin, the language of the Romans.

    Yet with so many territories from Asia to Europe, I have always wondered why the Mongolian language has never been the lingua franca of Asia as much as Chinese or even vulgarized Sanskrit. Now I know.

    This Lady Ki almost sounds like Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Empire so many centuries later.

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    1. Yes, I am curious too. English is so ubiquitous right now. I often wonder about this too. I often heard of Sanskrit being mentioned and wonder if people are still using it, or is it like Latin–no speakers but still showing up in all kinds of languages. LOL.
      Cixi did her best to refuse to acknowledge a changing world and eventually it leads to the downfall of Manchus. Now Manchus don’t even have an entity or a language anymore. Sigh. In comparison, we Mongolians did much better.

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      1. Sanskrit is very much like Latin, it is the basis of many languages in South Asia like India and Sri Lanka. There is a tenuous influence as well on European languages as Sanskrit is older than Latin. I don’t know how Sanskrit influenced Europe’s languages, since I’m not a linguistic scholar. Nowadays, especially in India, Sanskrit is used as a devotional language. If you ever attended a Hindu prayer meeting (aka puja), the entire ceremony is done in Sanskrit. There are those who claim they speak Sanskrit as a primary language, but I have my doubts.

        Mongolians did much better. At least you still have your language. I do like that Russian Cyrillic has also been added as well.

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        1. Somehow I’ve always thought the scripts of Buddhism is written in Sanskrit–hope I am not mistaken–and the language has always a halo of divinity to me. LOL. I did hear that some people can still use Sanskrit to write poems. I wonder if that is true.

          The Mongolian government is going to install a double notation system of using both Mongolian Cyrillic and traditional alphabet in school from 2025. LOL. It shocks its neighbor like China, where more than five millions of Mongolians live.

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        2. When Buddhism first started, their scriptures were written in Pali a derivative of Sanskrit. That is mostly for the Theravada canon that is still practiced in Southeast Asia as well as Sri Lanka.

          Later on, when the Mahayana branch of Buddhism was formed, their scriptures were written in Sanskrit, which I think was to have a more widespread appeal. Either way, the Mahayana branch spread to China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam which of course meant the Sanskrit sutras were translated into many other languages.

          So yeah, you were right for the most part.

          I have this view that the Chinese government likes to push the Mongolian government around. Even one time I saw on TV Mongolian diplomat getting interrogated for his government opening relations with Taiwan. Am I correct?

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        3. Thank you. That’s very informative. I’ve always been curious about Sanskrit and the translated version of Buddhist script. There are so much of it and Buddhists really love to tell stories. It is said reciting those Sanskrit sutras can bring good luck. LOL.

          Due to economic reasons, there are a lot of Chinese businesses in Mongolia. The Mongolian government deliberately try to strike a balance to include Japanese and South Korean businessmen in the mix. Yes, on Taiwan issues too. LOL. Mongolians have lived underneath more powerful neighbors for hundreds of years–Manchus, Chinese, Russians. Now Mongolians are trying to forge better relationships with the U.S. just to keep the diplomatic balance…

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        1. Yes, she used up more than half the country’s treasury to build her own tomb, which was bombed and robbed by bandits not too long afterwards. Such corruption and such greed. I should have read something about her, but I can’t stand her.

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        2. That’s so true. She’s insane. So many peasants had to seek their livelihood in Southeast Asia since they were starving at home while she used all the money to build her stupid boat and stupid palace.

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        3. Yes, Manchus were running an empire that was by itself quite brutal to start with. On top of that, adding the Opium War and all the international tensions. It was totally rotten by the second half the 19th century. But even in such a bad shape, the Manchus dragged on for more than 60 years until 1912.

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    1. LOL. She is the main character of a Korean TV series Empress Ki, but her language skills are not mentioned in the show. Most of the remarkable women and girls are not visible throughout the history, and we are lucky just to see one or two. LOL.

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