Mongolia is a geographical region of east central Asia, lying principally between the Soviet Union and China, and including portions of those countries. Traditionally Mongolia was divided into two distinct regions, Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia, separated by the Gobi Desert. Inner Mongolia has been under Chinese control since the 17th century. Outer Mongolia was a Chinese province from the end of the 17th century until 1911. It was called "Outer" because, from the Chinese point of view, it was beyond (that is, outside of) Inner Mongolia.
Today the contiguous area of Mongolia is divided into the following political units: (1) the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, which belongs to China; (2) the Mongolian People's Republic; and (3) two political units in the Russian republic of the USSR: the Buryat and Tuva autonomous republics. The total Mongol population of these areas is about 3 million.
Mongolia is a mountainous, landlocked, arid plateau, covering some 2 million square miles of steppe, forest steppe, desert steppe, and true desert. Most of the area has a continental climate, with light precipitation and great extremes and variations of temperature.
The scattered nomadic population of Mongolia bases its economic life principally on livestock herding. Chinese immigration from the south and Russian immigration from the north are greatly extending and expanding the area's agricultural and industrial development, but they also are constricting the traditional Mongolian pastoral nomadism and significantly decreasing the total area in which the Mongols are culturally and numerically dominant.
Only in the Mongolian People's Republic do Mongols still constitute a clear majority of the population: more than 800,000 of a total population of slightly over a million in the 1960's. Russians and Ukrainians now outnumber the Mongols in the major Soviet Mongolian areas of the Buryat, Tuva, and Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics.
Chinese outnumber native Mongols in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, the total population of which was over 9 million in the early 1960's. The 1953 census of China reported 1,462,956 Mongols in China, mostly in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region.
The Kalmyk Mongols comprise a group that numbers fewer than 100,000 in European Russia. The small number of Hazara Mongols who live in central Afghanistan have lived in complete isolation from the other Mongols for centuries and constitute a unique group.
Mongolian People and Their Way of Life
The Mongols are classic examples of the yellow, Mongoloid race. They usually possess stocky builds with short legs, and rarely exceed 5 feet 6 inches in height. The catalogue of identifying characteristics includes: round head; coarse dark hair; scant beard; flat nose; slanted black or brown eyes; generally broad, flat face; and, for a brief period after birth, the "Mongolian spot" of bluish pigment in the skin of the lumbar region.
Mongolian territorial divisions include the small basic herding unit, the bag, ruled by an elected elder. Bags were united into sotnons, khoshuns, and aimaks or banners. Banners were sometimes joined into khanates or leagues, under hereditary princes.
The typical traditional Mongol herded livestock, lived in a wooden latticework-framed felt tent (yurt or ger), and moved with his herds in a fairly well-defined seasonal pattern of nomadism. The herds comprised mainly sheep, plus lesser numbers of horses, cattle, goats, and camels. Nomadic mobility depended upon the horse, which occupied a very special place in the heart of the Mongol, often reflected in song and story. Camels (the two-humped variety) served for transport, and the camel caravan was a common sight on the Mongolian steppe. Such typical Mongols drank large quantities of tea and airak (kumiss, or fermented mare's milk) ; spoke Mongolian ; but rarely could read or write it; and professed Buddhist Lamaism, which included many superstitions surviving from shamanism. Widespread illiteracy, superstition, and disease characterized the Mongols. Russian and Chinese influence have affected all of these characteristics and have completely eliminated some of them.
Collectivization of the herds and concomitant settlement of the nomads eliminated pastoral nomadism among the Buryats years ago, and now threaten the arats (livestock-herding nomads) of the Mongolian People's Republic and Inner Mongolia. Many Buryats live in Russian log huts; some Inner Mongols live in Chinese loam huts. In the Mongolian People's Republic the yurt has changed, now often including a stove and a wooden floor and frequently electricity as well. Thousands of Mongols work in factories and live in Western-style housing. Military service, internal passports, taxes, production norms, labor laws, an extensive police system, and improved health and sanitation standards now affect the outlook and activity of the people.
Language, Literature, and Theater Arts of Mongolian People
The Mongols of the Mongolian People's Republic now use the Cyrillic (Russian) script. This script has been applied to the contemporary Khalkha dialect as it is spoken around the city of Ulan Bator.
The republic announced adoption of this modified Cyrillic alphabet in March 1941. From January 1, 1946, all printing in the republic was done in the new alphabet, and from January 1950, use of the new alphabet became mandatory in all official business.
The People's Republic of China has announced adoption of the Latin script for Inner Mongolia. The traditional Mongolian vertical script, however, is in fact still used extensively in Inner Mongolia.
Buryats employed a Latin alphabet from 1931 to 1937, and at that time changed to Cyrillic. Differences in pronounciation, vocabulary, and grammar make Buryat sufficiently variant from Khalkha so that the two are to a large extent mutually incomprehensible. The Tuva Autonomous Republic, many of whose indigenous inhabitants formerly employed Mongolian, had been assigned its own Turkic-based language and Cyrillic alphabet. The Mongolian language belongs to the Altaic family, which also includes Turkic and Manchu-Tungusic. Many Mongols in Buryat Mongolia and the Mongolian People's Republic speak Russian, and in Inner Mongolia many speak Chinese.
Traditional Mongolian literature was rich in epics and other oral forms, and some historical writing and legal codification developed as well; but contemporary Mongolian literature generally follows the Russian example, and much of the traditional literature has been lost completely or is known only to specialists. The Khalkha author, Tsendein Damdinsuren, and the Buryat writer, Khutsa Namsarayev, represent the new literature, based largely on Soviet models. Beginning around 1900, there had been a promising literary renaissance, especially among the Buryats, which attempted to harmonize and combine the traditional with Western literary forms and content, but most representatives of this approach lost their lives, or at least their liberty, in the great Soviet purges of 1937-1938. Tsyben Zhamtsarano, Badzar Baradin, and Solbone Tuya led this Buryat intelligentsia.
The Mongolian People's Republic has established art schools, and the State Theater of Music and Drama sponsors productions of Mongolian dramatic works. Plays of Shakespeare, Moliere, Chekhov, and other classical European dramatists are also performed. After 1921 motion pictures became one of the most popular forms of entertainment. In addition to some foreign films, the republic has film studios of its own.
History of Mongolia
Genghis Khan's exploits in the 13th century, the spread of Lamaism and the outbreak of Oirat-Khalkha civil war in the 17th century, and the Manchu collapse along with Japanese and Russian expansion in th'e 20th century constituted particularly critical developments in Mongolian history. On the Mongolian steppes there are monuments of earlier epochs, particularly of the 9th century Turks, but the conquests of Genghis Khan and his immediate successors serve most conveniently as a starting point.
Between the time when Genghis Khan became emperor of the Mongols in 1206 A.D. and the fall of the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty in China in 1368, the Mongols erupted and flowed out over great areas of Asia and Europe, reaching as far as Vienna and Muscovy, and exercising control in most of China. Mongolian remnants continued even later; for example, the Khanate of the Golden Horde collected tribute in Russia until 1480. But because of their small numbers (probably not many more than 100,000 Mongols raided Europe), the relatively short period of their hegemony, and their mobile and impermanent way of life, they left surprisingly light traces of the period of their political and military supremacy.
Late in the 16th century there began the concentration of forces which redistributed power in central Asia. The Tibetan form of Buddhism (Lamaism), not unknown to the Mongols in earlier times, experienced a renaissance, spreading rapidly among all the Mongols and largely displacing or taking over the former shamanism. The building of the monastery of Erdeni Dzu (in north central Outer Mongolia, 250 miles west of Ulan Bator), in 1584, represented a landmark in this development, and some time later the first Jebtsun Damba Khutukhtu (Living Buddha) of Urga (1623) became religious leader of a large number of the Khalkha Mongols. From that time until the 20th century, Lamaism constituted an integral part of Mongolian culture and came to absorb large numbers of the population and a large proportion of the country's wealth. A theocratic "state within a state," with its own aristocracy and its own laws, property, and customs, became a major factor in Mongolian society. In the early 20th century, lamas accounted for one third of the total male population of Outer Mongolia.
Another important development of the 17th century resulted from the great division and civil war between the western Mongols (the Oirats) and the eastern Mongols (the Khalkhas). The Manchus, who established a new dynasty in China (the Ch'ing, 1644-1912), exploited the intra-Mongol differences in order to assume dominance over most of the Mongols in three main stages: over Inner Mongolia, about 1640; over the Khalkhas of Outer Mongolia by the Diet of Dolonnor in 1691; and over the Oirats of the Kobdo district of western Outer Mongolia in 1754, when the last Oirat khan, Amursana, fled to Russian territory. Meanwhile, the Russians continued their expansion across Siberia to the Pacific, and by treaties with the Manchu emperors of China, at Nerchinsk in 1689 and at Kyakhta (Kiakhta) in 1727, they assumed control of the Buryat-Mongols. Thus by 1754 there had emerged the main outlines of the political pattern which regulated the Mongols until the 20th century: Manchu rulers of China dominated Inner and Outer Mongolia, and Russia controlled Buryat-Mongolia.