Unlike Mulan who only exists in ancient Chinese folk tales, Mongolia has a real-life warrior princess named Khutulun who fought in wars alongside her father and remained undefeated in wrestling throughout her entire life.
Who is Khutulun?: Born around 1260, Khutulun, also known as Aigiarne, Aiyurug and Khotol Tsagaan, was the daughter of Kaidu Khan, cousin of Kublai Khan who would found China’s Yuan dynasty and great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan, according to South China Morning Post.
Khutulun grew up with 14 brothers and excelled in archery, horse-riding and wrestling.
She fought alongside her father to protect their nomadic Mongol lifestyle in Chagatai Khanate from the adopted Chinese culture of Kublai’s court.
Venetian explorer Marco Polo, in his writings, described Khutulun as “so well-made in all her limbs, and so tall and strongly built, that she might almost be taken for a giantess,” adding that she was “so strong, that there was no young man in the whole kingdom who could overcome her, but she vanquished them all,” Ancient-Origins reported.
The writing also detailed her method of fighting, which is to rush into battle, seize an enemy horseman and drag him to her own people.
Wedding challenge: Aside from being a fierce warrior in battle, Khutulun is also known for her unbelievable winning streak in wrestling.
Khutulun’s father wanted to marry her off, but the female warrior set a condition that she would only marry the man who could defeat her in wrestling.
Using her power at the time, she proclaimed across the Mongol Empire that any man can take up her challenge and if he should win against her, she would become that man’s wife.
Horses were also wagered during the challenge. After going undefeated and winning wrestling matches against 1,000 men, she managed to amass 10,000 horses, a number considered to be as many as any emperor at the time.
She eventually married someone, but reports of who the man is varied. Persian writer Rashad al-Din, who was traveling in Asia at the time, suggest Khutulun married Mongol ruler Ghazan after she fell in love with him, but there are others who suggested she married a prisoner of her father’s or one of his aides.
Another report also suggested she married a man without doing the challenge to stop the circulating rumor about her having an incestuous relationship with her father.
Death and legacy: Khutulun died in 1306, a few years after her father who died in 1301. He wanted her to succeed him, but her brothers denied his wish.
Jack Weatherford, a professor of anthropology at Macalester College, explained in Lapham’s Quarterly in 2010 how men wear a particular type of clothing to be certain their opponent is male.
“At the end of each match, the winner stretches out his arms to display his chest again, and he slowly waves his arms in the air like a bird, turning for all to see,” Weatherford said. “For the winner it is a victory dance, but it is also a tribute to the greatest female athlete in Mongolian history, a wrestling princess whom no man ever defeated.”
“Ever since she reigned as the wrestling champion of the Mongols in the thirteenth century, however, male wrestlers have only wrestled men,” the professor added.
Turandot, a character in the opera of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, is believed to be inspired by the story of Khutulun. However, instead of wrestling, Turandot challenges her suitors with three riddles, and instead of horses, they pay the loss with their lives.
Khutulun was also featured in the Netflix series “Marco Polo” played by Korean actress Claudia Kim before the show’s cancellation after two seasons in 2016.
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