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Khalkha Mongolian Mongol Uls, also called Outer Mongolia
Country, north-central Asia, between Russia and China.

Area: 603,909 sq mi (1,564,116 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 2,550,000. Capital: Ulaanbaatar. Some four-fifths of the population are Mongols; minorities consist of Kazakhs, Russians, and Chinese. Languages: Khalkha Mongolian, Turkic languages, Russian, Chinese. Religions: traditional beliefs, Buddhism, Islam. Currency: tugrik. Mongolia has an average elevation of about 5,200 ft (1,580 m) above sea level. Three mountain ranges stretch across the north and west: the Altai, the Hangayn (Khangai), and the Hentiyn (Khentei). The south and east are occupied by the Gobi Desert. Livestock raising, especially sheepherding, accounts for nearly three-fourths of the total value of agricultural production; wheat is the major crop. Mongolia’s rich mineral resources include coal, iron ore, and copper. Mongolia is a republic with one legislative house; its chief of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister. In Neolithic times it was inhabited by small groups of hunters and nomads. During the 3rd century bc it became the centre of the Xiongnu tribal league. Turkic-speaking peoples held sway in the 4th–10th centuries ad. In the early 13th century Genghis Khan united the Mongol tribes and conquered Central Asia. His successor, Ögödei, conquered the Jin dynasty of China in 1234. Kublai Khan established the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty in China in 1279. The Mongols were confined to their original homeland in the steppes after the 14th century. Ligdan Khan (ruled 1604–34) attempted to unite Mongol tribes against the Manchu, but after his death the Mongols became part of the Chinese Qing dynasty. After the fall of the Qing in 1912, Mongol princes, supported by Russia, declared Mongolia’s independence from China, and in 1921 the Soviet Red Army helped drive off Chinese and Russian forces. The Mongolian People’s Republic was established in 1924. The country adopted a new constitution in 1992 and shortened its name to Mongolia.

Official name Mongol Uls (Mongolia)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house (State Great Hural [76])
Chief of state President
Head of government Prime Minister
Capital Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator)
Official language Khalkha Mongolian
Official religion none
Monetary unit tugrik (Tug)
Population estimate (2008) 2,652,000
Total area (sq mi) 603,909
Total area (sq km) 1,564,116

Khalkha Mongolian Mongol Uls, also called Outer Mongolia

country located in north-central Asia. Its shape is that of an elongated oval, measuring 1,486 miles (2,392 kilometres) from west to east and, at its maximum, 782 miles from north to south. Mongolia is bounded on the north by Russia and on the south by China.

Located deep within the interior of eastern Asia far from any ocean, Mongolia has a marked continental climate, with long, cold winters and short, cool to hot summers. Its remarkable variety of scenery consists largely of upland steppes, semideserts, and deserts, although in the west and north forested, high mountain ranges alternate with dry, lake-dotted basins. Mongolia is highland country, with an average altitude of 5,200 feet (1,585 metres) above sea level. The highest peaks are in the Mongol Altai Mountains, of which Nayramadlïn Peak (also called Hüyten Peak; 14,350 feet [4,374 metres]), at the western tip of the country, is Mongolia’s highest point.

Nearly four-fifths of Mongolia’s area consists of pasturelands, which support immense herds of grazing livestock; the remaining area is about equally divided between forests and barren deserts, with only a tiny fraction of the land in crops. With a total population of slightly more than two million, Mongolia has one of the lowest population densities of any country in the world. However, since the 1950s the country has had one of Asia’s highest rates of natural increase.

The Mongols have a long prehistory and a most remarkable history. Their ancestors were the Huns, a people who lived in Central Asia from the 3rd to the 1st century bc. A single Mongolian feudal state eventually was formed in the early 13th century ad from nomadic tribal groupings. Its leader, Genghis Khan, and his successors in the 13th century controlled a vast empire that included much of China, Russia, and Central Asia. Because of its location between China and Russia, Mongolia subsequently was dominated first by one and then the other, but mainly by the Chinese (1691–1921). Damdiny Sühbaatar, the national hero of modern Mongolia, was profoundly influenced by the October Revolution (1917) in Russia and later, with Soviet assistance, drove out both the White Russians and the Chinese. Sühbaatar’s forces achieved power on July 11, 1921, traditionally the founding date of the present state.

From its independence from China in 1921, Mongolia was closely tied to the Soviet Union until the end of the 1980s. It received technical, economic, and military assistance from the Soviet Union and generally followed Soviet guidance in political and cultural matters, both domestic and international. Symbolic of the profound changes in culture and society was the replacement in the 1940s of the traditional Mongolian alphabet with a new one based on the Cyrillic letters of the Russian alphabet. In the period 1990–92, however, Mongolia moved away from a monopoly of political power by the communist party to free multiparty elections, a coalition government, a new constitution, greater cultural and religious freedom with more emphasis on national Mongol traditions, and a neutral position in international relations, as well as toward some elements of a market economy. In the 1990s the traditional script was once again taught in schools, and store signs appeared in both Cyrillic and traditional forms.

Chauncy D. Harris

The land

Mongolia can be divided into three major topographic zones: the fingerlike mountain ridges that thrust into the northern and western areas, the basin areas that lie between and around them, and the enormous upland plateau belt that sweeps across the southern and eastern sectors. The entire country is prone to seismic movements, with some earthquakes reaching extreme limits of severity; their effects, however, are diminished by the low population density.

The mountains
The present relief of Mongolia is the result of geologically recent upheavals of the Alpine mountain-building period. There are three major mountain belts. The highest and the longest spine is the westernmost, the Altai Mountains (Mongolian: Altayn Nuruu), which sweeps in from the northwestern tip of the country and thrusts toward the southeast for 1,000 miles. The main range—the only one in the country where contemporary glaciation has developed—is the Mongolian Altai Mountains, and a lesser range splitting off to the southeast is known as the Gobi Altai Mountains. The southeastern extremities of the main range also split into a number of smaller hills, all following the same general trend, losing themselves in the expanses of the Gobi.

The Hangayn (Khangai) Mountains, also trending northwest to southeast, form a solid mountain mass near the centre of the republic, with peaks towering to more than 12,000 feet. A characteristic feature is the gentle slopes and crests, often covered with fine pastures. The higher central portions are nevertheless rugged and precipitous. To the far north, the mountains adjoin the Sayan Mountains of Siberia.

The third mountain block, the smaller and lower Hentiyn (Khentei) range, trends southwest to northeast of Ulaanbaatar; it reaches a maximum height of about 9,200 feet, but in general its elevation is between 6,000 and 8,000 feet. Ulaanbaatar lies at the southwestern base of the range. The enormous Greater Khingan Range rises along and beyond the eastern frontier with China.

The northern intermontane basins
Around and between the main ranges mentioned above lie an important series of basins. In the northwest of the country, tucked between the Altai, the Hangayn, and the mountains of the frontier with Russian Siberia, lies a scenic basin complex known as the Great Lakes region, in which are strewn more than 300 lakes. Another basin complex lies between the eastern slopes of the Hangayn Mountains and the western foothills of the Hentiyn Mountains. The southern portion (the basins of the Tuul and Orhon rivers) is a fertile region important in Mongolian history as the cradle of settled ways of life. Its landscapes are strewn with the ruins of numerous ancient communities.

Farther north, on the northern flanks of the Hangayn Mountains, lies the remarkable Khorgo region, in which as many as a dozen extinct volcanoes and numerous volcanic lakes are found in a small area. Swift and turbulent rivers have cut jagged gorges. The source stream of the Orhon River is in another volcanic region, with a cluster of lakes, deep volcanic vents, and hot springs. Near the northern border, Lake Hövsgöl is the focus of another rugged, lake-strewn region, noted for its huge subterranean caves.

The plateau and desert belt
The eastern part of Mongolia has a rolling topography of hilly steppe plains, supplanted in the extreme east by clusters of small, flat plains lying at altitudes of 2,000 to 2,300 feet. Here and there, small, stubby massifs contain the clearly discernible cones of extinct volcanoes. The Dariganga area of Mongolia’s eastern tip contains some 220 such extinct volcanoes. Most of the southern part of the country is a vast rolling oasis-dotted plain, forming the northern fringe of the Gobi, which is predominantly stony. The flat relief is occasionally broken by low, heavily eroded ranges. Several spectacular natural features are found in the Gobi region. Huge, six-sided basalt columns, arranged in clusters resembling bundles of pencils, are found in the eastern and central regions. The southern Gobi contains three mountain ranges, known as the Gurvan Sayhan Mountains, and the scenic Yelyn Valley, now a national park, with deep gorges surrounded by towering rocky cliffs where condors have made their nests.

Mongolia lies on a continental divide: rivers in the north flow northward into the Arctic Ocean, and those in the northeast flow eastward into the Pacific. The western and southern two-thirds of the country consist of interior drainage basins, in which seasonal or intermittent streams end in salt lakes or disappear into the stones and sands of the desert. In the northern regions the turbulent mountain streams and small rivers merge into deep, well-developed rivers. In the southern areas—where there are only a few constantly flowing rivers—lakes, saltwater and freshwater springs, and wells draw on subterranean water supplies. The great divide, separating waters that flow into the oceans and into the interior basins, runs along the crest of the Hangayn Mountains. Mongolia’s greatest river, the Selenge (Selenga), with its main tributary, the Orhon, drains northward across the Russian border and into Lake Baikal; the Mongolian portion of the Selenge valley is in the north-central portion of the country. Mongolia’s other major rivers, the Onon and the Kerulen, run latitudinally across the eastern part of the country. The largest rivers draining into the interior are the Hovd (Kobdo), which rises from the glaciers of the Mongolian Altai Mountains, and the Dzavhan, which drains the southern slopes of the Hangayn Mountains; both flow into the Great Lakes region. A series of other rivers east of the Dzavhan run down from the southern flanks of the Hangayn, ending in salt lakes or disappearing in the Gobi expanses. Generally, the Mongolian rivers are swift and with a steep gradient, offering hydroelectric potential, as well as occasional flood dangers.

Mongolia has more than 3,000 lakes with areas of half a square mile or more. Many are salty, ephemeral, highly variable in area, and without outlets. The largest and deepest freshwater lake, Hövsgöl, occupies a structural depression in the northernmost part of the country. Other large lakes—all in the west—include the saline Lake Uvs, which is nearly 1,300 square miles in area, and the freshwater Lake Har Us, which drains into the saline Lake Hyargas. Many lakes are of volcanic origin, as is Lake Terhiyn Tsagaan on the Hangayn’s northern slopes.

Mongolia is situated at high latitudes and high altitudes, far from the moderating influences of the ocean. As a consequence, it experiences one of the world’s most pronounced continental climates with very cold winters, cool to hot summers, large annual and diurnal ranges in temperature, and generally scanty rainfall. The difference between the mean temperatures of January and July can reach 80 °F (44 °C), and temperature variations of as much as 55 °F (30 °C) can occur in a single day. Mean temperatures in the north generally are cooler than those in the south: the mean January and July temperatures for the Ulaanbaatar area are −15 °F (−26 °C) and 63 °F (17 °C), respectively, while the corresponding temperatures for the Gobi area are 0 °F (−18 °C) and 73 °F (23 °C).

Precipitation increases with altitude and latitude, with annual amounts ranging from less than 4 inches (100 millimetres) in some of the low-lying desert areas of the south and west to about 14 inches in the northern mountains; Ulaanbaatar receives about nine inches annually. The precipitation, which typically occurs as thunderstorms during the summer months, is highly variable in amount and timing and fluctuates considerably from year to year.

A remarkable feature of Mongolia’s climate is the number of clear, sunny days, averaging between 220 and 260 each year, with a high annual total of solar radiation. The weather is often severe and unpredictable. Heavy snow occurs only in the mountain regions, but fierce blizzards sweep across the steppes. Even a thin coating of snow can prevent animals from getting to their pasture. Sand or hailstorms spring up quite suddenly.

Sh. Tsegmid
Chauncy D. Harris

Plant and animal life
Vegetation zones
Climatic conditions are reflected in soil and vegetation patterns. Soils are predominantly of the chestnut or brown type, but with considerable salinization in desert and semidesert areas. Latitudinal and altitudinal belts of vegetation are probably the most obvious feature of the local Mongolian landscape. There are four basic divisions running in latitude from north to south and in altitude from the mountains to the basins and plains: forest-steppe, steppe, semidesert, and desert. In addition, the higher mountains have bands of coniferous forest (taiga) and, higher yet, an Alpine zone. The steppes (grasslands) predominate, covering more than three-quarters of the national territory.

The mountain forest-steppe zone exhibits the richest diversity of plant and animal life. Forests grow thickest on the northern shady slopes, the most widely distributed tree being the Siberian larch, followed by the cedar, with a varying admixture of spruce, pine, and fir. Deciduous trees include the birch, aspen, and poplar. Steppe vegetation is found in the intermontane basins, the wide river valleys, and the sunny southern flanks of the mountains. These huge expanses of pastureland are covered with feather grass, couch grass, wormwood, and many fodder plant species. In summer the steppes are carpeted with a magnificent covering of bright violet, blue, red, and yellow flowers. On the highest mountain slopes the damp, dark taiga gives way to the thin grasses and occasional flowers of the Alpine zone, merging into the bare rocks and rugged glaciers of the summit zone.

Semideserts are found in the Great Lakes intermontane depression in the west and over the Gobi in the south, giving way to true desert conditions near the southern border. Vegetation is scarce there but heavy enough to feed camels, goats, and sheep. Tracts of saxaul (xerophytic vegetation adapted to very dry conditions) and groves of elm and poplars cluster around springs or other underground water sources. The Gobi is a typical hammada, or rock-floored desert with gravel cover; only the extreme east has small areas of sandy desert.

Animal life
The varied natural conditions, the interior location, and the sparse human population of Mongolia all contribute to a rich and diverse wildlife that has attracted international attention and has commercial importance. Lying on the borders of several distinct zoogeographic regions (the Tibetan, the Afghano-Turkistani, the Siberian, and the North-Chinese-Manchurian), the country has a fauna combining species from each of them. The northern forests harbour lynx, maral (Asiatic red deer), elk, roe deer, musk deer, brown bears, snow leopards, wolverines, wild boars, squirrels, and sables. The steppes are the home of, among others, the marmot—whose pelts are important economically—and the lithe Mongolian gazelle. Clustering around water holes in the semidesert and desert region may be found the wild sheep known as argal, Asiatic wild asses (kulans), wild camels (khavtgays), and the Gobi bear (mazalai); some of these species are extremely rare and found nowhere else in Asia. Domesticated animals include sheep, camels, cattle, the hairy highland yak, goats, dogs, and the famous Mongolian horses. Birdlife includes larks, partridges, cranes, pheasants, bustards, and falcons in the steppes; geese, ducks, gulls, pelicans, swans, and cormorants in the rivers and lakes; the snowy owl, the golden eagle, and the condor, which frequent some areas. The freshwater lakes and rivers harbour some 70 fish species, including salmon, trout, grayling, perch, and pike. Hunting and fishing, for sport and for commercial purposes, are important; but the government has introduced stringent hunting regulations and other conservationist measures, including the establishment of national parks and nature reserves.

D. Banzragch
O. Shagdarsuren
Chauncy D. Harris

Settlement patterns
Human beings have long been in evidence in this part of what is sometimes called High Asia; and the ruins of long-abandoned cities, as well as archaeological remains dating back to the earliest days of prehistory, have attracted the attention of Mongolian and international scholars. Settlement in modern Mongolia is characterized by sharp regional contrasts: in the better-watered northern basins of the Orhon and Selenga rivers, densities of population may reach 10 persons per square mile (4 per square kilometre), but some desert areas are devoid of inhabitants. The core of habitation lies in the north-central area between Ulaanbaatar and Sühbaatar. There are found the richest pastures, the main crop area, the largest cities, the most industrial establishments, and the best transportation.

Rural patterns
The huge rural areas of the country have their own charm. A feature distinctive of the countryside is the yurt, or ger, the traditional Mongolian dwelling. It is a cone-shaped, latticed structure, light, strong, and easy to assemble, transport, and reerect, which offers warmth in winter and coolness in summer. It is still used by herdsmen moving from pasture to pasture, and the clusters of white felt-and-canvas cones against a green background still dominate the landscape in many areas. As the nomadic population becomes more settled, however, the yurt clusters are becoming associated with cooperatives and state farms, often at centres with more permanent dwellings.

Urban patterns
It is in the cities, however, that Mongolia presents its modern aspect. Cities grew rapidly in the second half of the 20th century, increasing their proportion of the total population from about one-quarter in 1950 to one-half by the early 1990s. The capital, Ulaanbaatar, by far the largest and most important urban centre, has a population of 500,000, one-fourth of the population of the entire country. It lies on the banks of the Tuul River in the north-central portion of Mongolia. Formerly known among Europeans as Urga, it was originally a nomadic princely residence and became settled on the present site in 1639. The old city—which numbered some 60,000 people in 1921—consisted mainly of monasteries, a few adobe structures, and clusters of yurts. By the late 20th century, however, the “city of felt” had been transformed into a modern city, with broad avenues and streets, apartment complexes, and massive governmental, cultural, and educational buildings. The yurt areas and the fenced-off small houses had become a diminishing feature of the peripheral regions. Two other important cities, Darhan and Sühbaatar, lie between Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia’s northern border. The city of Darhan is an example of planned urbanization. Its foundation stone was laid in 1961 in an existing settlement of about 1,500 people, and within 20 years the population exceeded 50,000. The new city became the centre of a major industrial complex, second only to Ulaanbaatar itself. Sühbaatar, founded in 1937, is a transportation and trade centre located at the confluence of the Orhon and Selenge rivers and on the Trans-Mongolian Railway near the Russian border. Other industrial centres include Choybalsan, on the Kerulen River in the northeast, and Erdenet, located west of Darhan.

The people
Ethnic and religious background
Anthropologically, the Mongols are quite homogeneous, belonging to the classic physical type to which they lent their name. Within Mongolia, Khalkha-speaking Mongols constitute almost four-fifths of the population. Other Mongolian groups—including Dörbed, Buryat, Bayad, and Dariganga—account for about one-eighth of the population. By tradition the Mongols have been Buddhists. Much of the rest of the population consists of Turkic-speaking peoples, mainly Kazaks, who traditionally have been Muslims; located mainly in the western part of the country, they have been granted an autonomous area. A small but significant number of Russians live mainly in the cities. The Chinese, who were formerly important in cities, trade, and finance, have largely left the country.

At the time of the founding of the modern state, the social composition was strongly influenced by the then-prevailing religious traditions of the lamas (monks), who followed tenets derived from Tibetan Buddhism, with a strong admixture of more primitive elements. Control lay in the hands of the head of the Mongolian Tibetan Buddhist Church (who was proclaimed the khan of all Mongolia) together with various local khans, hundreds of princes and noblemen, and the higher clergy. The new regime sought to replace feudal and religious structures with socialist and secular forms. During the 1930s the government closed monasteries, confiscated their livestock and landholdings, induced large numbers of monks to renounce religious life, and eliminated others. The number of Buddhist monks dropped from 100,000 in 1924 to 110 in 1990. Many aspects of the national cultural traditions are preserved in museums.

After a period of stagnation, the population of Mongolia increased rapidly in the second half of the 20th century, as birth rates climbed and death rates dropped. Improved health, sanitation, and medical facilities played a major role in reducing mortality, especially infant mortality. Also important was the government policy of encouraging families to have more children. Mongolia’s rate of natural increase reached a peak in 1960 and declined slowly thereafter. Thus, by the late 20th century Mongolia’s main demographic trend was toward a youthful, fast-growing population.

B. Gungaadash
Chauncy D. Harris

The economy
In the early 1990s Mongolia experienced great economic difficulties as it moved from a command economy to a system with elements of a market economy. About one-third to one-half of the budget had previously come from the now-defunct Soviet Union. Mongolia’s international debt was extremely high. The low national income per capita sank even lower as the population grew rapidly.

Mongolia possesses mineral resources. Geologic surveys have confirmed the existence of large deposits of coal and iron, tin, copper, gold, and silver ore and a number of lesser known minerals. Mongolia’s biological resources consist largely of the great herds of livestock in the country. Overall livestock figures rose throughout most of the 20th century, providing a rich agricultural resource base that even enabled some exports of meat to be made. In addition, the northern rivers of Mongolia offer great potential for hydroelectric development, whereas the wildlife of the country offers potential for commercial exploitation.

Livestock raising—based on millions of head of sheep, goats, cattle, and horses and including a large number of camels—accounts for about 70 percent of the value of agricultural production. Livestock are widely distributed throughout the entire country. The number of horses and cattle reach their greatest concentrations in the wetter north-central regions, whereas goats and camels are proportionately more numerous in the drier west and south. Most of the livestock belong to agricultural cooperatives. Although the earliest cooperatives were formed in the 1930s, the main government campaign to organize the livestock herders (arats) into giant cooperatives took place in the years 1955–59.

Pastoral Mongols traditionally have shunned crop tillage. Furthermore, most of the country has a semiarid climate more suited to livestock production by grazing on the extensive natural grasslands than to cultivation. Less than 1 percent of the area of the country is used to grow crops. Crop production is largely limited to the moister northern parts of the country, particularly in the broad lower valleys of the Orhon and Selenge rivers but also along the Onon, Uldz, and Kerulen rivers in the northeast. Part of the cropland receives supplemental irrigation. Because of the long, cold winters only a single annual crop is possible. About four-fifths of the cropland is in grains—primarily in spring wheat but with some in barley or oats—and nearly all the rest is in fodder crops (hay). Yields are relatively low and vary greatly from year to year. Potatoes and other vegetables occupy only a tiny fraction of the crop area. About four-fifths of the cropland is in state farms, with the rest in cooperatives. The large state farms each average about 700 square miles in size and typically include some livestock production as well as crops.

Mining and industry
The chief minerals extracted are coal, primarily for domestic use, fluorite (fluorspar), and copper and molybdenum ores, both of which are exported. Some gold and tungsten deposits also are worked. The two main coal-mining districts are Sharïn Gol, southeast of Darhan, and Nalayh, just southeast of Ulaanbaatar. To the southwest of Darhan lies the gigantic Erdenet copper- and molybdenum-mining complex, which began operation in the late 1970s.

Although the government has devoted a great amount of effort to industrializing the nation, much of Mongolia’s industrial capacity is still engaged in processing raw materials or meeting basic domestic consumer needs. Thus, the principal manufactured products are processed foods (meat, beverages, dairy products, and flour); articles of clothing and footwear made from wool, hides, skins, and furs; and lumber, paper, matches, and furniture. Also important are the operation at Erdenet that concentrates copper and molybdenum ores for shipment and the construction industry. About half of the industrial employment is in Ulaanbaatar, which is the centre of light industry. Heavy industry is concentrated in Darhan, and forest products are processed in Sühbaatar.

During the 1980s minerals and ore concentrates became Mongolia’s principal export, surpassing the traditional exports of livestock and their by-products. The main imports are machinery and equipment; fuels, minerals, and metals; and manufactures, particularly consumer goods.

More than three-fourths of Mongolia’s trade was with the former Soviet Union, and much of the rest with former Comecon countries, but from the early 1990s Mongolia sought to increase trade with other nations. However, the development of a diversified international trade was hampered by various factors, notably the absence of direct access to the sea, the need to use Russian and Chinese transport and ports, the long distances and high transport costs, and the difficulties of competing in international markets.

Mongolia’s most important transportation artery is the Trans-Mongolian Railway, which runs north-south through the central part of the country; it links Mongolia to Russia and to China and provides the shortest overland route between Moscow and Peking. The railway is divided into northern and southern sections. The northern section extends from the Russian border to Ulaanbaatar, following several river valleys through the mountainous terrain. It connects Mongolia’s main urban and industrial centres and carries a substantial portion of the country’s freight. The southern section, from Ulaanbaatar to the Chinese border, runs through rolling steppe and semidesert country. It was built in the mid-1950s, during the period of close Sino-Soviet cooperation. Another railway connects Choybalsan and other urban centres in the northeast with the Siberian rail system.

Roads provide connections between Ulaanbaatar and the aymag (provincial) centres and among smaller settlements. Nearly all the country’s roads are unpaved. Trucks carry most of the nation’s freight not carried by rail, particularly outside of the core area along the northern Trans-Mongolian Railway. Camels are still used in the sparsely populated desert areas of the south, and yaks and oxen still haul some goods in the rugged mountains of the west.

Air service is particularly suitable for passenger movement in Mongolia because distances between population centres are great, population density is low, and weather conditions generally are favourable for flying. Level, unobstructed terrain for landing strips is also widely available. Ulaanbaatar has an international airport, and the capital has regularly scheduled service to the province centres. Special medical and veterinary flights also are arranged.

Administration and social conditions
From the founding of an independent Mongolia on July 11, 1921, the country followed Soviet leadership for nearly seven decades; it was the first Soviet satellite and remained the longest. The Soviet army became Mongolia’s main defense force, and party and governmental structures closely followed the Soviet models of a one-party political system. The economy was transformed gradually into a communist command economy with government ownership of the means of production and with an emphasis on mining and industry.

During the 1980s the party leadership underwent change. An era of openness permitted criticism of current and past party leadership and of economic, political, and social stagnation and resulted in the elimination of the monopoly of power held by the communist party (Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party [MPRP]) in March 1990; there were multiparty elections in July 1990, and subsequently a coalition government was formed.

A new constitution became effective on February 12, 1992, and was amended in 2001. Power is divided among independent legislative, executive, and judicial organs, with human rights guaranteed by law, with separation and mutual noninterference of state and religion, and with the authorization of private ownership of land, except for pastures used by nomadic herders. The land (except that given to the citizens of Mongolia for private possession), water, forests, fauna, and underground resources are the property of the state, which also regulates the economy.

The constitution provides for a strong, directly elected president, who nominates the prime minister and who has the power to veto legislation. The requirement that the president must be at least 45 years old places the position out of the reach of young reformers. The constitution also created a unicameral legislature, the State Great Hural, with 76 members elected for four-year terms. Parliament by a two-thirds vote can overturn a presidential veto. The MPRP continues to play a leading role in the government.

The country is divided administratively into 22 aimags (provinces), including the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, which has independent administrative status. Further local subdivisions include soums (districts), and bags (villages).

Justice is administered through an independent system of courts: Supreme Court, province courts (including a capital city court), and district courts. Special courts such as criminal, civil, and administrative ones may be formed. Matters relating to the interpretation of the constitution are decided by an independent Constitutional Court. Amendments to the constitution require a three-fourths vote of members of the Great Hural.

Armed forces
Mongolia maintains only limited military forces, consisting of infantry divisions and support aircraft. Soviet troops were withdrawn in the early 1990s. The 1992 constitution prohibits the presence of foreign troops.

Chauncy D. Harris

From the foundation of the modern state, educational development has been regarded as important. Until 1940 the main thrust was directed at eradicating illiteracy, establishing a free system of public education, and creating a trained intelligentsia. The creation of a network of schools was undertaken first. From the 1940s on, the main educational emphasis passed to establishing institutions of higher education and expanding elementary and secondary facilities. There are now several hundred general schools (offering primary and secondary education), many special vocational schools, and several universities.

Education is compulsory for 10 years, beginning at age six. Illiteracy has been almost eradicated. The Academy of Sciences coordinates research institutions, experimental stations, and other scientific establishments and supervises scholarly work.

Health and welfare
Health services were similarly expanded over the republic’s first half century. Under communist rule, medical treatment was free, subsidized almost entirely by the government. The state maintained a network of sanatoriums and holiday rest homes, vacation homes available to the working class. The political and economic changes in the early 1990s left Mongolia’s health care system scrambling for funding and struggling to stay afloat. With the state no longer providing free medical treatment, a national health insurance plan was introduced in 1994, and much legislation was enacted in the following years regarding the transformation of the health care system. Many private health care options are now available, primarily in Ulaanbaatar.

Nearly half of the country’s population lives in urban centres. Increasing urbanization has necessitated the building of modern apartment blocks in the cities. The yurt remains a traditional dwelling in the countryside, although the number of permanent rural structures is increasing with the introduction of more settled ways beyond urban centres.

B. Shirendev
D. Dashtseren
Chauncy D. Harris

Cultural life
Contemporary cultural life in Mongolia is a unique amalgam of traditional elements—the heritage of centuries—and a growing modern element.

Traditional elements
Mongolian literature evolved a wealth of traditional genres: heroic epics, legends, tales, yurol (the poetry of good wishes), and magtaal (the poetry of praise), as well as a host of proverbial sayings. These genres are infused with what Mongols regard as a national characteristic—a good-humoured love of life, with particular fondness for witty sayings and jokes, particularly evident in the image of Dalan Khuldalchi, the hero of humorous folktales, and in the stories about the badarchins, clever but wily wandering monks. The baatar—the popular hero of folk legend—is also a symbolic figure. Khurchins—folk poets and singers—carried down the oral epics and ballads; and their mime and gesture gave rise to the popular trenchant satirical vaudevilles Sumya Noyon and Dunkher Da-Lam. The religious mysteries, tsam and maidari, were formerly staged as mass spectacles.

Other folk arts include the making of shirdeg, richly ornamented felt carpets for adorning the entrances to yurts, as noted by 13th-century European travelers. The Mongolian form of chess, shatar, with a stern khan for king, a dog—the cattle breeder’s traditional honoured friend—as queen, and camels as bishops, has very deep roots, and some finely carved chess sets have been produced. The ancient faience decoration of glazed earthenware, with exquisite motifs, has been revived.

A complicated and dignified ritual still accompanies the traditional offering and acceptance of hospitality in a country where traveling is all-important, and the seating arrangements in the yurt are likewise carefully arranged. When conversing, Mongolians traditionally place the right palm on that of the left hand, a symbol of mutual esteem, and the same gesture, together with a light bow, expresses gratitude, greeting, or farewell.

The most famous celebration of traditional ways is the annual Naadam festival of the Three Games of Men, beginning each year on July 11, National Day, and held in all provinces and counties. The festival has recorded roots going back 2,300 years or more. The first sport is wrestling, prominent in ancient times at religious festivals. The ritual entry into the arena of several hundred participants, clad in the bright colours of a special tight-fitting costume known as the Dzodog Shudag and simulating the flight of the mythical Garudi bird, is a spectacular sight. The contests themselves also are conducted with great ceremony. Titles awarded are those of Titan, Lion, Elephant, and Falcon. A three-time winner becomes a Darkhan Avarga (“Invincible Titan”). The second sport is archery, and bowmen vie for the title of Merghen, or “Supermarksman,” in individual and group contests, shooting at a leather-covered target with weapons of ancient design. Exceptional winners are characterized as Miraculous Archer, Most Scrupulous Archer, and similar titles. The third sport, horse racing, is in many ways the most spectacular because all the competitors are children, ranging in age from 7 to 12. They are highly skilled and wear fine ornamental dress as they race for about 20 miles (32 km) cross-country. National horse-riding competitions for all ages are held during January and February, the Mongolian New Year, and are claimed to date back to the Bronze Age. Marco Polo, visiting in the 13th century, described a gathering of not fewer than 10,000 white horses held at the behest of the Great Khan.

Modern elements
Modern sports range from freestyle wrestling (introduced 1962) to motorcycling, rifle shooting, table tennis, boxing, and gymnastics. A growing number of economic enterprises cater to the various folk arts. The Palace Museum has a superb collection of folk art housed in the former winter palace of the khan, built in 1898. The architectural ensemble contains temples housing the famous sculptures of the goddess Tara made by the 17th-century artist Zanabazar. The State Central Museum and related exhibits portray the rich archaeological and paleontological remains of the country. Buddhist relics are exhibited in the Temple Museum, built in 1903–05. The Erdene-Dzuu Monastery Museum on the site of Karakorum (Har Horin), Mongolia’s ancient capital, is also noteworthy. Each province now has its own museum of regional studies. The State Public Library contains works of great variety and historical value.

In literature, the poems and short stories of Dashdorjiyn Natsagdorj became particularly significant in the 1930s. The literature of the 1940s was more varied in theme and genre, and the autobiographical “Old Scribe’s Story” by G. Navaannamzhil was popular. Younger writers in the 1950s and ’60s injected a more contemporary note, attempting to balance psychological and social imagery. The realistic epic novel continues in popularity.

The State Drama Theatre, founded in 1931, performs both Mongolian and classical works, and the State Opera and Ballet Theatre has a deserved reputation. There is a puppet theatre in the capital, as well as internationally known song and dance companies. Practically every community has its own amateur art group, and the State Circus is also very popular. The Mongolkino film studio in the late 20th century was making an increasing impact at international festivals: its productions are assisted by the magnificent landscapes and clear air of the country, which help the production of wide-screen epics. National radio broadcasting began in 1934 and television broadcasting in 1967. Mass radio and television services, now aided by satellite links, are important because of the great distances in the country. (Indeed, it was only in the 1940s that a trunk telephone-telegraph link connected Ulaanbaatar with all the province centres.) The vast majority of households have radios, and the ownership of televisions has spread. There are about a dozen central and nearly two dozen local newspapers. The leading newspapers are Unen (“Truth”) and Pionyeriyn Unen (“Pioneers’ Truth”). There are also several dozen popular and specialist periodicals.

Sh. Bira
Chauncy D. Harris


The Mongols constitute one of the principal ethnographic divisions of Asian peoples. Their traditional homeland is centred in Mongolia, a vast plateau in Central Asia now divided politically into an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China (Inner Mongolia) and the independent country Mongolia (Outer Mongolia), which lies at the eastern end of what was a great corridor of migration between Northeast China (Manchuria) and Hungary throughout history. Nineteenth-century physical anthropologists introduced the terms Mongol and Mongolian as descriptive of “racial type” even though the Mongols exhibited a wide range of physical characteristics. Today the Mongols are recognized as a group of peoples bound together by a common language and a common nomadic tradition.

The geographic origin of the Mongols themselves is the northeast corner of present-day Mongolia. To the east the ancient tribal history is mostly that of the Tungus peoples (including the ancestors of the Manchu) and to the west, that of the Xiongnu, or eastern Huns, and their Turkic-speaking successors, whom the Mongols eventually displaced and in part absorbed. As a result of later wars and migrations, Mongols are now found in Mongolia; in southern Russia; in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (which includes a large portion of Northeast China), the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningxia, the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang (Chinese Turkistan), and the northern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China; and in Afghanistan.

Ethnography and early tribal history
All Mongols recognize their kinship to each other in varying degrees through legend, written history, and especially language. Dialects vary from east to west more than from north to south, but few are unintelligible to other Mongols. Historical change in the language is indicated by the fact that reading The Secret History of the Mongols (mid-13th century), the oldest major document written in Mongol, is for the Mongols of today like reading the work of Chaucer for modern speakers of English. Pan-Mongolism, the desire to reunite politically all the Mongols and always more a romantic than a practical idea, is now a dead issue.

The Mongols have always been nomads, though they have also always cultivated crops. However, nomadism is the seasonal movement of livestock and camps from one pasture to another, not unfettered wandering. Nomads have a clear concept of the possession of territory, though they sometimes interpret this in socially conflicting ways. Legend and folklore show that among the premodern Mongols the common people considered livestock to be private property and land to be the collective property of the tribe, while the families of ruling chiefs tried to claim the land as well as individual subjects as their property.

Traditional society was based on blood relationship traced through the common male ancestor who gave his name to the clan, though evidence exists of a more ancient system of matrilineal descent. Marriage was forbidden between members of the same clan, giving rise to complicated marriage alliances (and also feuds) among the clans. As clans grew and merged into tribes (often inventing a fictitious common ancestor), the most successful families tended to arrogate to themselves claims to “real” ancestry and, at the same time, to control of the tribal territory, while lesser families could claim ancestry only in a vaguer, tribal sense. In this process weak clans fell to a subordinate but not servile status: they owned their own cattle and had their own headmen but paid tribute to the ruling clan and moved, camped, pastured, and fought under its orders.

Political and military organization was matched to the family-clan-tribe pattern. Every man who could ride and bear arms was both a herdsman and a soldier according to the need of the moment. Raiding other tribes to capture cattle, women, and prisoners was a recognized method of property accumulation. When a tribe rose to notable power, however, as in the time of Genghis Khan in the 13th century, a decimal form of military organization was adopted, with units of 10, 100, 1,000, and 10,000. Commanders of large units were assigned territories from which they drew the tribute to the supreme khan and mustered their quotas of troops. Mongol history fluctuates between such periods of feudal concentration and those of tribal dispersion.

The first mention in the Chinese chronicles of tribes that can be identified with Mongolia goes back in a shadowy way to the 2nd millennium bc. The first inhabitants of whom there is certainty, however, are the Xiongnu, in about the 5th or 4th century bc. It was once thought that they were Turks, or at least Turkic-speaking, but the opinion has grown that they spoke a paleo-Asiatic language, represented today by the Ket dialects of the Yenisey River valley in Siberia. The Xiongnu created a great tribal empire in Mongolia while China was being unified as an imperial state under the Qin (221–206 bc) and Han (206 bc–ad 220) dynasties. After several centuries of war with the Chinese, complicated by civil wars among themselves, the Xiongnu confederation broke up. Some of the southern tribes surrendered to the Chinese and were settled within China, where they were eventually absorbed. Some of the northern tribes migrated westward, where descendants—together with the members of other tribes—appeared in Europe in the 5th century ad as the Huns of Attila. By then, of course, these people were considerably more mixed ethnically.

In Mongolia the Xiongnu were succeeded both by Turkic-speaking peoples and by others identified by some scholars as Mongols, or Mongol speakers. There is a lack of convincing archaeological or historical evidence that these groups came to Mongolia from some distant region to fill a void left by the Xiongnu departure. Probably they were there all the time as the subjects of the Xiongnu, until the breakup of that confederation gave them the opportunity to assert themselves. Among the peoples who have been considered possibly Mongol, the most important tribal names are Sienpi (Xianbi), who may however have been Tungus (modern Evenk) rather than Mongol, recorded in Han dynasty annals, and the Juan-juan (Rouran, or Geougen) of the 4th to 6th centuries. The latter have been identified by some scholars with the Avars, who migrated into Europe along the plains of the Danube and were nearly annihilated in Hungary by Charlemagne in the late 8th century.

According to a legend recorded by the Chinese, the Turks of Mongolia, whose name is recognizable under its Chinese transcription “Tujue,” were a subject tribe ruled by the Juan-juan. The Turks overthrew their masters and soon were in control of all Mongolia, centring their power in the Orhon valley in the northern part of the country. The Orhon (Orkhon) Turks were contemporaries of the Tang dynasty (618–907) in China, and their fortunes rose and fell in counterpoint to periods of Tang strength and weakness. Comparison of archaeological and historical data, moreover, shows that power in Mongolia was at this time not based simply on levies of nomad horsemen. The khans and great men had fixed headquarters, surrounded by cultivated land that enabled them to breed large, stable-fed horses capable of carrying a man in armour. This situation emphasized a class distinction between the aristocrat on his charger and the herdsman-warrior-archer on his smaller horse. Agriculture also became an element in the economy, and the Uighurs, who came to power after the fall of the Orhon Turks, enter history as an oasis-centred people.

In the welter of tribes, the name Mongol first appears in a tribal list recorded under the Tang dynasty. It then vanishes, to reappear only in the 11th century, when the Khitan (Khitai, from which comes the word Cathay) ruled in Northeast and North China and controlled most of Mongolia. The Khitan, who established the Chinese dynasty of Liao (907–1125), were themselves a Mongol people, but their homeland was in Northeast China rather than in what is now Mongolia. Like other Chinese dynasties, the Liao exercised its power in Mongolia by playing off the tribes against one another. Liao sources record the existence of a rather shadowy tribal power known in Mongol tradition as Khamag Mongol Uls (“Nation of all the Mongols”), which did not, however, include all of the population who spoke the Mongol language.

When the Khitan fell, their power in China was taken over and extended by the Juchen (Jürched), a Tungus people based farther north in northeastern China. They took the Chinese name of Jin (“Golden”). In their tribal policy they switched their favour from “All the Mongols” to the Tatars (known in the West as Tartars, from a medieval pun on tartarus, Latin for “hell”). Although Mongols, the Tatars were not part of the tribal league of All the Mongols, centred in the Onon and Kerulen valleys in the eastern half of North Mongolia; the Tatars lived to the east and south of them.

On the whole, though chastened occasionally by punitive expeditions, All the Mongols had been transfrontier allies or auxiliaries of the Khitan-Liao. A contingent (large for that time) of 50,000 Mongols fought on the Khitan side in the last battles of the Khitan empire. Presumably, this was one reason why the Juchen-Jin transferred their favour to the Tatars, nearer to their frontier. Such alternations, between using the more-distant and using the nearer transfrontier and frontier tribes, were frequent in the policies of dynasties in China, and this one had the desired effect of creating a feud between Mongols and Tatars.

Before the era of Genghis Khan, a defeated Khitan army had migrated westward at the fall of their Liao dynasty. It was led by a prince of the Khitan imperial line but must have included heterogeneous tribal elements. Moving westward through Mongolia, it reached what is now Kazakhstan and created a new and briefly powerful empire, the Karakitai. It ruled primarily over Turkic-speaking peoples, made up of nomads and city dwellers in the oases, and the Khitan nucleus had the opportunity to apply its knowledge of how to deal with nomads and its ability in the administration of a bureaucracy.

The rise of Genghis Khan
Such was the setting in Mongolia when Genghis (Chinggis) Khan (his given name was Temüjin) was born, about 1162 (the date favoured by contemporary Mongol scholars, though others cite 1155 or 1167). Genghis Khan was born into a clan that had a tradition of power and rule, being the great-grandson of Khabul (Qabul) Khan, who had been the greatest ruler of All the Mongols. Genghis Khan inherited a feud against the Juchen-Jin dynasty and another against the Tatars, who had betrayed a collateral ancestor of his to the Juchen. His own father was poisoned by Tatars. He also inherited feuds among the ruling clans of All the Mongols and a feud with the powerful Merkit (Mergid) tribe, from whom his father had stolen his mother.

Genghis Khan was even more deeply a political man than a warrior, and he resorted to war only as an extension of policy by other means. He was orphaned in his teens; his family fell on bad times, and power among the Mongols passed to other clans. Even in such apparently primitive practices as camp raiding and horse thieving, he skillfully used ancient customs: marriage alliances; putting himself under the patronage of a stronger prince; making an alliance with Jamuka (later his dangerous rival) by the oath of anda, under which men became as if blood brothers; and recruiting nökhör (the modern Mongol term for “comrade”). Unlike the institution of anda, which created a fictitious kinship and harboured the possibility of deadly rivalry, a man who became a nökhör forswore all loyalties of kinship and tribe and declared himself solely “the man” of his chosen leader. Genghis Khan later fell out with his anda, but he was never betrayed by a nökhör, and his most brilliant generals were nökhör.

Genghis Khan broke alliances and betrayed loyalties, but only when he could seem to be acting in “the common cause.” By 1206 his success in tribal warfare caused him to be proclaimed ruler of All the Mongols with the rank of khan and the title of Genghis (Chinggis)—a word deriving probably from the Turkic tengiz, meaning “a large body of water, the ocean”; although this explanation has not convinced all Mongol scholars, it is consistent with the belief that the ocean symbolized breadth and depth of wisdom, and later the equivalent Mongol word ta-le (Anglicized as dalai) was applied to the supreme lama of Tibet. Previous nomads had invaded China, but none had yet ruled the whole of it, chiefly because they had invaded prematurely, leaving other nomads on their flanks and in their rear. Genghis Khan, however, first united all the tuurgatan (“dwellers in felt-walled tents”), probing far back, away from China, to make sure that he controlled all potential nomadic rivals.

His first move was to bring under control the major tribal groups to the west of him in Mongolia, the Naiman and Kereit (Kerait) with whom he had been alternately in alliance and rivalry, as well as the tribes fringing the northern Mongolia-Siberia frontier. He then turned toward China, where at this time the eastern half of North China, south almost to the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River), was ruled by the Juchen-Jin. In the northwest corner of China and the western extension of Inner Mongolia there was a small state, that of the Xi (Western) Xia; its rulers were Tangut from Tibet, and under them there were Turkish and Sogdian merchants who exploited the caravan trade, the cultivators of the oases being Turks and Chinese. China south of the Yangtze was ruled by the Nan (Southern) Song dynasty (1127–1279). Although they had lost North China, the Nan Song were expanding southward toward Indochina, bringing rich new land under cultivation. Among all these states there was an interplay of diplomacy, alliances made and broken, and open warfare. The Mongols themselves, far from being ignorant barbarians, understood the game and played it skillfully.

Between 1207 and 1215 the armies of Genghis Khan probed deep into North China. Genghis Khan made good use of the Khitan in northern and northeastern China, whose Liao dynasty the Juchen-Jin had overthrown and who were now discontented subjects of the Jin. In 1215 the Jin capital Zhongdu (modern Beijing), from which the Jin emperor had withdrawn southward, was taken and sacked. Realizing, however, that it was premature to commit his main strength to the conquest of China, Genghis Khan withdrew to Mongolia, leaving one of his best generals, Mugali, to ravage and weaken the country. He himself turned westward. When he had defeated the Naiman, the last of the powerful tribes in Mongolia proper, the son of the last ruler of that tribe, Küchlüg, fled to Karakitai and married the daughter of its last ruler, whom he then overthrew. In that variegated kingdom, which included Semirechiya in Russian Turkistan and the Kashgar (Kashi) oasis in Chinese Turkistan (Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang), he favoured the Buddhist minority and persecuted Islam, the majority religion. This situation made it easy for the Mongols to defeat him. The Mongol general Jebe (Jeb) proclaimed freedom of religion and forbade massacre and plunder. This policy indicates that the Mongols did not massacre out of sheer savagery but only when they thought it necessary to break the power of an opponent.

Taking over the lands of the Karakitai opened the way for Genghis Khan to Khwārezm, the land of the oases along the Syr Darya and Amu Darya in northern Iran. For drawing on the resources of a higher civilization, this gave him an alternative to China, and it also secured him against the danger of any other nomadic power organizing, on his flank and rear, a military striking force backed by agricultural and urban resources. This done, he turned back toward China, leaving further campaigning into Russia and the eastern fringes of Europe to his generals and sons. He would not, however, commit his main forces in China until he had dealt with the wealthy Tangut state of Xi Xia; it was on this successful campaign in 1227 that he died.

The successor states of the Mongol empire
Genghis Khan had already dealt with the problem of succession. Each of his four sons was to hold a vassal kingdom: Jöchi, the eldest, was given the land from the Yenisey River and the Aral Sea westward “as far as the hooves of Mongol horses have reached”—a wording attributed to Genghis Khan himself; the second son, Chagatai (Tsagadai), received Kashgaria (now the southern part of Xinjiang) and most of Mavrannakhar between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya; the third son, Ögödei (Ogadai), received western Mongolia and the region of Tarbagatai (now the northwestern corner of Xinkjang); the youngest, Tolui, inherited the ancient Mongol homeland of eastern Mongolia. Two years later, in 1229, a great Mongol assembly confirmed the succession of Ögödei as the great khan (khagan).

These dispositions made skillful use of ancient traditions. It was the custom among prosperous families that the eldest son, on reaching manhood, was given a wife and his share of the future inheritance; he then moved away and set up his own camp, independent but still allied to his family. The other brothers followed in due order, but each one nearer to the “home camp” than his next older brother. The youngest, as “guardian of the hearth and fire,” remained with his parents until their death and received the residual heritage. It was convenient that Jöchi could in this way be placed at the greatest distance from the ancient homeland because he got on poorly with his brothers, who considered him illegitimate, conceived while his mother was the captive of a hostile tribe. The election of Ögödei as great khan over the head of his elder brother Chagatai (Jöchi had already died) did not do violence to nomadic tradition; it was quite acceptable in wartime for the dying ruler to nominate as his successor the son who was considered ablest and most acceptable to his brothers.

With this first division, further fission was inevitable. Under Batu, the successor of Jöchi, there began the formation of the Golden Horde, which ruled, or rather drew tribute from, the city-states of Russia. In this khanate the Mongols were greatly outnumbered by Turks; the Turkish language soon displaced Mongol, and Islam became the prevailing religion. Because its reservoir of nomad power was in the Kipchak Steppe, the Golden Horde is sometimes known as the Kipchak khanate. By its methods of collecting taxes and tribute, it contributed to the rise of the grand dukes of Muscovy, and it was eventually a Moscow-led alliance that broke the power of the Mongols (by then more frequently called Tatars), at the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. Partly by treachery and partly by guile, the Golden Horde was still able to take and sack Moscow two years later, but its power soon disintegrated—an important factor being attacks by Timur (Tamerlane), coming from Turkistan.

To the east were the khanates of the house of Chagatai and the Il-Khans of Iran (Persia). Like the rulers of the Golden Horde, the rulers of the house of Chagatai considered themselves senior, in genealogy, to the house of Ögödei; they were frequently at odds with the great khan, with each other, and with the Il-Khans. On the other hand, the Il-Khans (the title itself implies subordination) accepted and supported the authority of the great khans. Like the Golden Horde, again, the house of Chagatai controlled wide pastures and therefore retained a strong nomadic base, while the Il-Khans, like the great khans (especially after Kublai Khan moved his capital into China), were directly affected by the urban influences of an old, highly developed civilization with a rich literary tradition. As in China, this situation led rather rapidly to the passage of real administrative control from Mongol hands into the hands of their subjects. The greatest of the Il-Khans was Hülegü (Khulagu, Hulagu)—a brother of Kublai (Khubilai) Khan of Mongolia and China—who began the Il-Khan tradition of supporting Beijing against the house of Chagatai and the Golden Horde.

This brief review of the outer khanates helps to explain the subsequent history of the Mongols in Mongolia and the Mongol dynasty in China. As great khan, Ögödei authorized the continuation of Mongol campaigns in Russia and the west and also in China, where the disintegration of the Juchen-Jin dynasty in 1234 had brought the Mongols face to face with the surviving Song dynasty in the Yangtze valley. Ögödei was also able to maintain a system of imperial representatives in the appanages of his imperial kinsmen in Central Asia and Iran but was less able to control the always insubordinate Golden Horde. He died in 1241 and was succeeded, after a stormy regency under his widow, Töregene, by his son Güyük (Kuyug) who had already quarreled with his cousin Batu of the Golden Horde. Güyük died at Samarkand in 1248, while preparing an attack on Batu.

A major change then occurred in the succession. At the next great assembly of the descendants of Genghis Khan, enlarged by the presence of powerful commanders and officials, the great khan chosen (again after much intrigue) was not a son of the house of Ögödei but Möngke (Mungke, Manga), a son of Tolui, the “guardian of the fire and hearth” of the Mongol homeland. This choice was favoured by Batu Khan, and Möngke responded by trying to stabilize and pacify relations among the khanates. Of his brothers he sent Kublai to continue the conquest of Song China and Hülegü to subdue the Assassins (Nizārī Ismāʿīlīs); on this campaign Hülegü also took Baghdad, a rich and powerful city and seat of the ʿAbbāsid Caliphate. Möngke was aware of the desire of some of the Crusaders for a Mongol alliance against the Saracens, but, like Ögödei and Güyük, he would not consider this except on terms of the submission of the European rulers and the pope. He himself campaigned deep into southwest China and there died of a fever in 1259.

The succession was then disputed between Möngke’s second brother, Kublai, and his youngest brother, Arigböge (Ariböx, Arikböge). A third brother, Hülegü, supported Kublai. The dispute was more than a brawl over spoils among barbarian warriors; ideology was involved. Genghis Khan’s concept of conquest and rule had been clear: the “people of the felt-walled tents” should remain in the steppes and continue their ancient warrior way of life, drawing tribute from the world of farms, cities, and caravan trade. Kublai and Hülegü, however, favoured moving into the conquered countries and there becoming the new ruling class—even if this meant mingling with the remnants of the conquered ruling class. In this respect Arigböge was closer to the concept of Genghis than was Kublai, but Kublai prevailed and Arigböge died in honourable captivity.

Kublai had himself proclaimed great khan in Mongolia in 1260. Kublai’s reign has been romanticized in the West ever since it was chronicled by the Venetian adventurer Marco Polo. Kublai Khan moved the capital from Karakorum (Kharakhorum), which had been built by Ögödei (not Genghis Khan, as is often said), to a new city that he had built on the site of Zhongdu (Beijing), naming it Dadu (“Great Capital”). He used Mongolia as his base for ascendancy over the other Mongol khanates but drew his main revenue directly from China. He used foreigners (including Polo and his family) to lessen his dependence on Chinese bureaucrats, but the administrative structure was essentially on the Chinese model; and consequently the Mongols, because they no longer held the real keys to power, lost the throne to the native Chinese Ming dynasty in 1368, only a century after the accession of Kublai and within a decade or two of the end of the Golden Horde and the Il-Khanate.

Internecine strife
Although in the first vigour of reconquest the Chinese penetrated deeply into Mongolia and destroyed Karakorum, they never succeeded in establishing control. Mongol unity was shattered, but Mongols in different regions began to recover. Mongol fission followed several lines. In western Mongolia there arose new lines of chieftains who did not claim descent from Genghis Khan. As a group, these were the Oyrat (Oirat), but at times the names of subgroups or individual tribes, such as the Dzungar (Jüüngar) or the Dörbed (Dörböd), predominated. In the centre, both in Outer and Inner Mongolia, the ruling princes claimed descent from Genghis Khan. In northeastern China were princes whose ancestor was Khasar, a brother of Genghis Khan.

What followed, in the renewed tribal wars and pressure on the frontiers of China in the 15th and 16th centuries, was much more than a resurgent “wave of barbarian invasions.” A distinct new period was opening in which all concerned understood that in order to have real power outside the Great Wall of China it was necessary to coordinate nomadic military mobility with towns inhabited by productive artisans, capable of attracting trade from China, and supplied with food by local farming. The lead was first taken by the Oyrat, in the far west of Mongolia, who established control over some of the oases of Xinjiang and began to penetrate Tibet. This advance meant that in the regions where the imperial power and economic ascendancy of China under the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) were weakest, the Oyrat drew on new resources. Both the Tibetans and the Turkic-speaking oasis people were active merchants, had a literate class whose thinking was independent of the Chinese model, and could keep the records without which a state more advanced than a tribal league was impossible. This stage initiated the long-enduring cleavage between the Oyrat and the Khalkha, the main body of what was later to be Outer Mongolia.

Ascendancy then passed to the Mongols of the Ordos, in the great loop of the Huang He (Yellow River), under Altan Khan (reigned 1543–83). He exploited a geographic base that enabled him to develop agriculture and trade, to challenge the Oyrat in Tibet, and to pressure the Chinese. Meanwhile, the Mongols of the centre, the Khalkha in the north, and the Chahar (Chakhar) in the south (there was as yet no “Outer” and “Inner” Mongolia) had lagged behind for lack of a suitably diversified geographic base. The best that they could achieve was a tribal league unification under Dayan Khan—a descendant of Kublai and grandfather of Altan Khan—who was proclaimed khan in 1470 at age five and died in 1543. After this and after the death of Altan Khan, the supremacy over the Mongols of the centre passed to the south to another descendant of Dayan, Ligdan (Legdan, Lingdan) Khan of the Chahar. Using the geographic advantages of the modern Chinese frontier province of Chahar, close to the Great Wall, he tried during his reign (1604–34) to build up a power comparable to that held by Altan Khan. He was too late, however, because of the rise of the Manchu.

Revival of Buddhism
During this period there was a second flowering of Buddhism among the Mongols. In the reign of Kublai Khan, Buddhism in its Tibetan form had been fashionable at court and among some of the Mongol aristocracy, but the people as a whole had not been converted. The new entry of Buddhism was promoted by political considerations. A number of Mongol princes saw that for the kind of power that was now advantageous it was necessary to have not only a religious ethos higher than that of shamanism (whose priests used magic to cure the sick, to divine what was hidden, and to control events) but also a literate class to provide a bureaucracy. To use the Chinese language meant the risk—as had been proved under the Mongol empire in China—of the absorption of the Mongol ruling class into the Chinese ruling class. Tibet, however, was not strong enough to dominate Mongolia, and the Tibetan monastic system had already produced able clerical bureaucrats. Moreover, Tibetan alphabetic writing was easier to use than Chinese ideographs.

Thus it was that Altan Khan invited from Tibet a prelate who had claims to primacy in Tibet, but also rivals, and proclaimed him Dalai Lama. Moreover, a way was found to link church and state. A son of the line of the Tüshētü Khans of Khalkha was conveniently found to be the first “reincarnation” of the line of Jabtsandamba Khutagt (Khutukhtus) of Urga. The significance of this device is underlined by the fact that, as soon as the Manchu controlled Mongolia, they ruled that no man of the lineage of Genghis Khan could be “discovered” to be a reincarnation or “living Buddha” and also that the Khutagt of Urga must always be discovered in Tibet. In their rule of Mongolia, they thus separated church and state and used them against each other.

At the beginning of the revival of Buddhism in Mongolia, there was a great burst of translation of the scriptures from Tibetan (and Sanskrit) into Mongol. The Mongols wanted to use Buddhism as a unifying principle in a new nationalism. When the Manchu won control, however, they threw their support to the use of Tibetan as the “Latin” of the church, further widening the cleavage between clerical and secular authority and bureaucracy. By the end of the Manchu regime, there were many monks in Mongolia who were literate in Tibetan but not in their own language.

The ascendancy of the Manchu
The rise of the Qing, or Manchu dynasty, which had such profound effects on the fate of Mongolia, began long before 1644, the year a Manchu emperor was first seated on the throne in Beijing. In the late 16th century, it was becoming clear that a new barbarian conquest of China was again possible. In competition with the various Mongol princes and tribes already mentioned, the Manchu had the advantage that in the southern part of Northeast China (Manchuria), but outside the Great Wall of China, there was a large Chinese population with a number of urban centres and a flourishing trade that, instead of passing by land through the Great Wall, went largely by sea to the Shandong Peninsula—to the rear, that is, of the rulers in Beijing. These Chinese were somewhat alienated from other Chinese. They had for centuries been accustomed to trading with the barbarians and to farming under the patronage of barbarian princes, and they did not like Beijing’s periodic attempts to maintain a “closed frontier” along the Great Wall.

The Manchu not only subjugated these Chinese but also cultivated their loyalty and were soon heavily dependent on them, not only economically but for military manpower. To balance this dependence, they built up a network of alliances with their other neighbours, the easternmost Mongols. Mongol troops took part in the conquest of China; and before they occupied Beijing, the Manchu had control of the southern fringe of Mongolia. They organized it as part of their military reserve for the domination of China; this organization is the origin of the institutional and administrative concept of “Inner” Mongolia. It took the Manchu about a century to add northern or “Outer” Mongolia to their empire, resulting in two Mongolias markedly different from each other, Inner Mongolia being much more closely integrated with China.

Meanwhile, the Oyrat, under their leading tribe, the Dzungar, made a belated effort to unite all the Mongols in rivalry with the Manchu. The Oyrat were strengthened by their control of a number of the Xinjiang oases but weakened by rivalries among their chiefs, by the diversion of much of their strength to adventures in Tibet, and by the reluctance of the Khalkha princes to accept the overlordship of princes not descended from Genghis Khan. Led by such warriors as Galdan (Dga’-ldan), the Oyrat made sweeping campaigns far to the east in Mongolia but were never quite able to consolidate their gains. In trying to make the Oyrat a recognizably distinct nation, the great religious leader the Jaya Pandita revised the Mongol alphabet, making it phonetically more accurate, and originated an independent literary tradition.

Unwilling to accept submission to the Oyrat as the price of unification, the Khalkha princes rallied more and more to the Manchu, who guaranteed their aristocratic privileges and titles in a great convention at Dolon Nor (Duolun), in Inner Mongolia, in 1691. With the added resources of Khalkha, the Manchu were then able to mount a long series of military campaigns in which they annihilated the Oyrat power with tremendous slaughter on the scale of genocide.

This conquest was not completed until 1759, however, and it was complicated by many events, particularly a major revolt against Manchu rule in western Khalkha in the 1750s led by a noble named Chingunjav. Chingunjav was a coconspirator with an Oyrat leader named Amursana, who in turn had first submitted to the Manchu and then rebelled against them. But this was the last period of general warfare involving the Mongols, and it ended with a considerable redistribution of the tribes. Several Khalkha groups that had fled from the Oyrat into Inner Mongolia never returned; a few Chahar from Inner Mongolia were settled in Xinjiang as garrisons; numbers of the Oyrat group were included in the western part of Khalkha geographically but not within the tribal organization; some ended their migrations in Ala Shan, at the western end of Inner Mongolia, but not within the Inner Mongolian organization; and some ended theirs far away in the Koko Nor–Qaidam region of Tibet. The most distant Oyrat wanderers (mostly Torgut and Dörbed) migrated in the early 17th century from the Altai to the Volga, where they took service under the tsars and took part in the Russian conquest of the Caucasus. In 1771 about 70,000 families migrated all the way back to Xinjiang, where they were accepted under Manchu rule and allotted pastures for grazing. The descendants of those who remained on the Volga were known as the Kalmyk (Kalmuck).

The ensuing period of peace degenerated into stagnation and economic decline. Chinese camp followers had accompanied the Manchu conquest, and from this grew Chinese control of the caravan trade and of a barter trade exploiting usurious terms of credit. Because Mongol troops were of decreasing use for the control of China, there was no incentive for the Manchu to protect, economically, this source of manpower, and the Manchu authorities relied increasingly on the potentates of Lama Buddhism, who were themselves increasingly corrupt, for the control of Mongolia. Chinese colonization began to encroach on the pasturelands of Inner Mongolia, and at the end of the 19th century an attempt was made to plant a screen of Chinese colonists along the frontier between Siberia and Outer Mongolia.

Mongolia since 1900
In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 both Russians and Japanese enlisted Mongol mercenaries as auxiliaries; from this time on there were Japanese army officers who dreamed of a new Mongol nationalism that could be used against both Russia and China. The Russians were more restrained and were satisfied with Buryatia (Buryat Mongolia). By secret treaties after the war, Inner Mongolia east of the meridian of Beijing was recognized by Russia as a Japanese sphere of interest.

By 1911, when the Chinese Revolution broke out, unrest was widespread in Mongolia. At the time, the Mongol language and Mongol sources being little known outside Mongolia, most observers thought of Mongolia only in terms of Russian and Japanese intrigue. But the rich documentation that later became available proved that the unrest was both social and political. The Mongols by this time identified the Manchu with the Chinese, the Chinese with usurious debt, and their own clerical and secular rulers as people who lived in luxury on Chinese loans and passed on the usurious interest to their subjects. The rulers, for their part, saw both the chance of a new government they could control and the danger that, if they did not act, they would not be able to control the people.

Under the leadership of the Jabtsandamba Khutagt, in 1911 the Mongols declared their independence. Uncertain of themselves in world politics, however, they sought to replace Manchu imperial patronage with that of the tsar; but the Russians, because of the secret treaties with Japan and an understanding with Britain about Tibet and Mongolia (which, though not secret, could hardly be comprehended by the Mongols), would go no further than support of “autonomy,” not “independence.” This status was ratified after difficult negotiations between the Mongols, the Russians, and the new Republic of China. Union between Inner and Outer Mongolia was similarly frustrated. Some leaders in Inner Mongolia saw themselves as the future elite of a united Mongolia because they could draw on an intelligentsia with a knowledge of the language and politics of China, but for the same reason they were distrusted in Outer Mongolia as being too Chinese.

This uneasy situation endured with increasing economic distress and social unrest until the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war. In 1919 a faction within the shaky republican Chinese government took advantage of the instability in Russia and sent a military expedition into Mongolia that forced the Mongols to sign a “request” to be taken over by China. Almost immediately afterward, defeated anti-Bolshevik troops from Russia began to enter Mongolia. Their most important leader was Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, known as the “Mad Baron,” who defeated the Chinese occupation forces but then treated the Mongols with unfeeling savagery.

In this period of terror and confusion, two secret revolutionary groups, which later merged, were formed by Damdiny Sühbaatar, a former trooper and machine gunner in the Mongol forces disbanded by the Chinese, and Khorloghiyin Choibalsan, who had run away from a monastery as a boy and later studied in Siberia. Choibalsan, though not the principal leader during the lifetime of Sühbaatar, was in touch with underground Bolsheviks—refugees hiding in Mongolia who were later massacred by Ungern-Sternberg. Memoirs of the Mongol partisans enlisted by these two show that, quite apart from Russian propaganda, there was already in Mongolia a geographically widespread and socially embittered demand for radical social and political change. The traditional leaders had been discredited by their inability to handle either the Chinese intervention or the incursions of the antirevolutionary Russians.

The revolutionaries took the initiative in going to the Bolsheviks for help, which was quickly granted. The remnants of the Chinese warlord forces were driven out, and Ungern-Sternberg was handed over to the Bolsheviks for execution. Urga, the capital (now Ulaanbaatar), was taken by a joint Mongol-Russian column in July 1921, now considered the date of the founding of the present republic, though the first measures of the revolutionary victors were surprisingly moderate. The Jabtsandamba Khutagt (the living Buddha of Urga) was continued in office but as a “constitutional monarch,” meaning he could sign only documents prepared for him by the new regime.

Sühbaatar died in 1923 and the Khutagt in 1924. Mongolia was engaged in a revolutionary process which was also going forward at different rates of speed in the Soviet Union, where Soviet leader Vladimir Ilich Lenin died in 1924, and in China, whose leader Sun Yat-sen (Sun Yixian) died in 1925. The problem of the Khutagt was easily solved; no successor was found, and on November 26, 1924, Mongolia was proclaimed a People’s Republic—using a wording that exactly follows the Chinese, not the Soviet, model. The government, and the controlling People’s Revolutionary Party, was a coalition of conservative and nationalistic revolutionary elements. Shifts between “rightist” and “leftist” policy ensued, closely affected by the rise of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and by the defeat of the Chinese communists (for the time being) by the Chinese Nationalist Chiang Kai-shek. Increasingly important, too, was the Japanese invasion of Northeast China (Manchuria) in 1931, followed by Japanese encroachment on Inner Mongolia and North China and all-out invasion of China in 1937.

The uncertainty, both internal and external, engendered cliques and conspiracies—some real and others imagined—resulting in an atmosphere of suspicion and fear that cost many lives. The situation began to clear after 1939, when the Japanese, in a thrust toward Siberia, invaded the northeastern corner of Mongolia, testing the Soviet-Mongol alliance. The Mongol border troops fought ferociously, holding the heights of Nomynkhan (Nomonhan) and the line of the Khalkyn River until the arrival of Soviet troops. The Japanese defeat was shattering, and it undoubtedly played a major part in Japan’s fateful decision not to honour its military agreement with Nazi Germany (see Anti-Comintern Pact) but instead to focus effort in the Pacific and Southeast Asia during World War II. In Mongolia the victory dispelled fears that elements of the army might go over to the Japanese; on the contrary, many Inner Mongolian troops recruited by the Japanese went over to the Mongols. The military alliance with the Soviet Union was reconfirmed when the Mongols took part in the Soviet campaign in Inner Mongolia and Manchuria in the last two weeks of World War II.

At that time, refugees from Inner Mongolia swarmed into the Mongolian People’s Republic. The Japanese had organized a puppet government of Inner Mongolia under Teh Wang (Prince Teh, Demchukdongrub). He had, however, tried to minimize Japanese control and to promote Mongol nationalism. When the Chinese communists came to power in Inner Mongolia, he was condemned as a war criminal but later released.

Under an agreement negotiated at the Yalta Conference (February 1945), Chiang Kai-shek consented to a plebiscite in Mongolia after the war. The result was overwhelmingly in favour of independence over “autonomy.” Full diplomatic recognition did not follow, however, because of a border dispute. Mongolian membership in the United Nations was at first sponsored by Chiang but later opposed by him and by the United States, and it was not until 1961 that Mongolia gained membership. In the meantime, Inner Mongolia was reorganized as an autonomous region within the People’s Republic of China.

Owen Lattimore


For many years the Mongolian People’s Republic’s relations with China were strained because of the former’s unswerving loyalty to the Soviet alliance. Nevertheless, its long frontier with China was amicably redemarcated. Tensions, which had been considerably elevated since the early1970s, eased considerably in the mid-1980s, leading to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1986. On January 27, 1987, diplomatic relations also were established between the United States and the Mongolian People’s Republic for the first time in the history of the two countries.

A series of events in the middle and late 1980s led to the failure of the social and economic system constructed by the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP). The ouster from power of Yumjaagiyn Tsedenbal in 1984 and the introduction by his successor, Jambyn Batmönh, of Mongol versions of the Soviet policies of glasnost (“openess”) and perestroika (economic and political restructuring), led to economic stagnation and demands for further social reform. Public demonstrations in December 1989 by a number of newly formed opposition groups forced the entire leadership of the MPRP to resign in 1990 and call for new elections. Prior to the elections in July 1990, the constitution was amended to provide for multiparty balloting, and the MPRP was denied its previous position as sole party and “guiding force” in Mongolia.

Laws abolishing the socialist economic system, privatizing state property, and introducing reforms in banking and foreign investment were passed in 1990, 1991, and 1992. A new constitution, ratified in January 1992 and promulgated in February 1992, swept away the last remaining vestiges of the socialist system, and the People’s Republic was renamed simply Mongolia. The constitution established the single-chamber State Great Hural. Elections to the Great Hural in 1992 produced a strong majority for the MPRP. In 1993, however, the opposition candidate Punsalmaagiyn Ochirbat was elected president of Mongolia. Communist control of the Great Hural did not fade until 1996, when, to the surprise of many, the Democratic Alliance swept the national elections that year. Their austere economic reforms exacerbated the existing poverty and unemployment affecting many Mongolians, who then became disillusioned with the Democratic Alliance. The following year Natsagiyn Bagabandi of the MPRP was elected president, and in the 2000 elections the MPRP reclaimed the majority of seats in the Great Hural.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, relations between Mongolia and Russia were initially strained, as disagreements arose over the extent of Mongolia’s debt to the former U.S.S.R. and over the pace of withdrawal of Soviet military forces. The remaining Russian troops left in 1992, however, and the two countries signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation the following year. Mongolia concluded a similar treaty with China in 1994.

The changes to the political climate in the 1990s led to a resurgence in the practice of Buddhism, which had been ruthlessly suppressed under communist rule. In 2002 Mongolia’s Buddhist leaders invited the Dalai Lama to Mongolia, but his visit elicited much protest from China. The political and economic changes initiated in the 1990s also led to social unrest in the early 21st century. Pervasive poverty and unemployment continued to be a source of anxiety among Mongolians; these issues, as well as government corruption and abuse of human rights, prompted demonstrations and hunger strikes in western Mongolia in 2003 and protests in Ulaanbaatar in 2005.

Larry William Moses



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