17 the historians task is to recognize both the

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17 The historian’s task is to recognize both the falsity and the effectiveness of myth. 18 As soon as the battles for territory ended, the battles for control over the historical meaning of conquest began. The conquest of Eurasia played a critical role in the national conceptions of all three of the competi- tors, but it was interpreted in strikingly different ways. Thus our story be- gins with nature, continues with individual actors, and ends with the histo- rians. After a long excursus through the events, we return, in a cycle of recapitulation, to examine how myth making, which began under the Qing empire, created the elements that composed the nationalist histories of the twentieth century. The conclusion returns to the perspectives sketched here, to address the implication of this story for general paradigms of Chinese and world history. The Unboundedness of Central Eurasia Central Eurasia has never coincided neatly with national boundaries. Only under the brief rule of the Mongols was the region united under one impe- rial ruler. Until 1991, China, Mongolia, and Russia or the Soviet Union controlled the bulk of the region, with other parts in Iran, Afghanistan, and the Ottoman empire. Today, eight independent nations (the five former So- viet Central Asian Republics, Russia, Mongolia, and China) divide up most of the territory. Fragmentation has been by far the most common experi- ence of Central Eurasians. The bipolar Soviet–Chinese split turns out to have been a brief interlude. Most broadly defined, Central Eurasia extends from the Ukrainian steppes in the west to the shores of the Pacific in the east, from the southern edge of the Siberian forests to the Tibetan plateau. But all of its borders are so ambiguous that endless disputes arise. If Central Eurasia includes all grasslands and steppes, it extends through the Ukraine into the Hungarian plains. By cultural and linguistic criteria, including the Ural-Altaic language family, Turkic and Mongolian peoples are found as far afield as Finland, Manchuria, and, arguably, Japan and Korea. Steppe nomadism alone is not sufficient as a defining feature, because all across the region nomads coex- isted with settled agriculturalists; and other nomads, of the Middle East, or reindeer herders of Siberia, are omitted. Almost every scholar defines the boundaries of the region differently. Cyril Black includes the five Central Asian Republics, Iran, Afghanistan, Ti- bet, Xinjiang, and Outer Mongolia in “Inner Asia,” but not Manchuria or environments and state building 19
Inner Mongolia, because Chinese dominated these areas in the twentieth century. He estimates a total area for this region in 1989 of 4.9 million square miles (12.7 million square kilometers), with a population of 135 million.

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