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17The historian’s task is to recognize both the falsity and the effectivenessof myth.18As soon as the battles for territory ended, the battles for controlover the historical meaning of conquest began. The conquest of Eurasiaplayed 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 ofrecapitulation, to examine how myth making, which began under the Qingempire, created the elements that composed the nationalist histories of thetwentieth century. The conclusion returns to the perspectives sketched here,to address the implication of this story for general paradigms of Chineseand world history.The Unboundedness of Central EurasiaCentral Eurasia has never coincided neatly with national boundaries. Onlyunder the brief rule of the Mongols was the region united under one impe-rial ruler. Until 1991, China, Mongolia, and Russia or the Soviet Unioncontrolled the bulk of the region, with other parts in Iran, Afghanistan, andthe Ottoman empire. Today, eight independent nations (the five former So-viet Central Asian Republics, Russia, Mongolia, and China) divide up mostof the territory. Fragmentation has been by far the most common experi-ence of Central Eurasians. The bipolar Soviet–Chinese split turns out tohave been a brief interlude.Most broadly defined, Central Eurasia extends from the Ukrainiansteppes in the west to the shores of the Pacific in the east, from the southernedge of the Siberian forests to the Tibetan plateau. But all of its borders areso ambiguous that endless disputes arise. If Central Eurasia includes allgrasslands and steppes, it extends through the Ukraine into the Hungarianplains. By cultural and linguistic criteria, including the Ural-Altaic languagefamily, Turkic and Mongolian peoples are found as far afield as Finland,Manchuria, and, arguably, Japan and Korea. Steppe nomadism alone is notsufficient as a defining feature, because all across the region nomads coex-isted with settled agriculturalists; and other nomads, of the Middle East, orreindeer 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 orenvironments and state building19
Inner Mongolia, because Chinese dominated these areas in the twentiethcentury. He estimates a total area for this region in 1989 of 4.9 millionsquare miles (12.7 million square kilometers), with a population of 135million.