Saturday, February 18, 2006

Inner Mongolia

Mongolia traditionally included Outer Mongolia - now an independent republic - with an area of 604,000 square miles and Inner Mongolia with an area of 455,480 square miles. This landlocked territory was the epicenter of the largest ever contiguous empire in history under Genghis Khan in the 13th century. It was a part of the Mongol-Turkic Central Asian steppes. The Mongol tribes produced leaders whose forces expanded into Burma, China, India, Iran, Russia and Tibet.

The land was the focus of Sino-Russian rivalry since the 17th century. Qing dynasty China annexed Inner Mongolia in 1636 CE and Outer Mongolia in 1691 CE. Outer Mongolia broke away in 1911 although the Chinese briefly recaptured it in 1919 during the Russian civil war. Soviet intervention in 1921 led to the expulsion of the Chinese and the establishment of an independent republic in Outer Mongolia.

The Chinese continued to administer Inner Mongolia until 1937 when De Wang - a Mongol prince - declared independence under Japanese sponsorship. The defeat of Japan in World War 2 in 1945 witnessed the emergence of multiple political units in Inner Mongolia. Stalin pre-occupied with expanding his hold in Europe just after World War 2 had failed to ensure the merger of Inner Mongolia with Outer Mongolia. The Chinese Red Army consolidated control over Inner Mongolia between 1947 and 1949.

Although Han Chinese had started settling in Inner Mongolia in the late 1800s, there was a huge influx of ethnic Chinese after the establishment of the People's Republic of China. The Han Chinese today constitute 80% of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million. The remainder is indigenous Mongols. The proportion of Han Chinese is much higher here than in Tibet or East Turkestan/Xinjiang. Inner Mongolia should perhaps be now called Outer China. Beijing transferred two-thirds of the territory of Inner Mongolia to five adjoining traditionally Han Chinese provinces in 1969. It reversed this policy decision in 1979.

Tibet and Inner Mongolia have a shared religious identity that acknowledges the leadership of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. The Red Army had destroyed monasteries and killed several thousand Mongols during the Cultural Revolution. There has since been a resurgence of Tibetan Buddhism in Inner Mongolia. Monasteries have been rebuilt and religious practice revived. The study of Tibetan has been reintroduced in lamaseries. These developments have heightened ethnic consciousness.

Expatriate Mongol groups based in the United States and elsewhere advocate independence for Inner Mongolia. The prospects of secession are nil given the demographic equation. Nevertheless, the territory merits close attention on the part of Indian decision makers. South Bloc has a huge asset in the Dalai Lama, who is the acknowledged spiritual leader of both the Tibetans and the Mongols.


Leela Navaratnam said...

The Chinese had sponsored revolts in Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. They built up Pakistans nuclear and missile capacity. They occupy significant chunks of Indian territory and claim much more. It is surprising that India did not exploit the divisions within China itself like Tibet, the uighurs and the mongols. But then what do you expect when a former foreign minister traveled to Kabul to hand over terrorists to the taleban in person! there is no teeth to indian resolve.

Jaffna said...


You might be interested in the Agence France Presse article that appeared today. It hints at tensions between Inner Mongols and Chinese in claiming the historic persona of Genghiz Khan, not to mention growing Inner Mongol interest in Gada Meiren, a folk hero who resisted the Chinese Communist Party.

There was another AFP blurb last week on the resurgence of Tibetan Buddhism in Inner Mongolia. Fyi.

Best regards
HOHHOT, China (AFP) - Sitting astride his horse in a warlike pose, the bronze Genghis Khan in the middle of the Inner Mongolia University campus emits a clear signal.

This is a national hero, a Chinese hero. This is not the mass murderer vilified by generations of Western historians, but the brave founder of the biggest land empire ever.

"Many of us are proud of Genghis Khan," said Wang Youde, a student of forestry science, strolling around the statue.

"It's no small feat to conquer the entire known world all the way to the Danube from horseback."

The 800th anniversary of the founding of Genghis Khan's empire in 1206 will be celebrated this year not just in Mongolia proper but also in Inner Mongolia, historically part of the same culture but now under China's firm control.

Although the great Khan has been dead for nearly eight centuries, his memory is alive and he remains an important political factor in this part of the world.

China's communist government is attempting to co-opt him as a great historical figure transcending ethnic barriers.

"He's become part of the Chinese pantheon of generals and great cultural figures," said Flemming Christiansen, an expert on Chinese politics at Leeds University.

It has been the same story whenever new rulers have taken over in what is now Inner Mongolia, whether Chinese Republicans in the early 20th century, or Japanese imperialists before and during World War II.

All were convinced, probably rightly, that they were better off with Genghis Khan as their ally and tried to harness him for their political purposes.

The Mongolians themselves, now a small minority accounting for about 20 percent of the total population in their own region, are not impressed.

"For the Mongolians, Genghis Khan is a symbol. It's because of him that the Mongolian people exists," said Tengus Bayaryn, an anthropologist at the university.

"The official Chinese view is that Genghis Khan was a Chinese emperor, but Mongolians think he was a Mongolian ruler and had nothing much to do with China," he said.

In Inner Mongolia today, Genghis Khan is a ubiquitous, Che Guevara-style icon, but local affection runs much deeper than that, and an entire religious cult is built around the great founding father.

In officially atheist China, many Mongolian families worship him as a demi-god, setting up regular shrines to him at home.

However, signs are emerging that Genghis Khan's status is declining among younger generations, according to Christopher Atwood, an expert on Inner Mongolia at Indiana University.

"I wouldn't say that Genghis Khan is passe, but my sense is that especially young Mongolians have limited interest in Genghis Khan, because he's been taken over by the Chinese," he said.

A parallel in the west would be the fading allure of Martin Luther King Jr. to African-Americans once he was embraced by white American liberals, he said.

Desperate for other role models, young Mongolians now prefer to celebrate the likes of Gada Meiren, a rebel leader of the early 20th century, especially in their songs.

Gada Meiren is tolerated by the Chinese government, but only because he can be conveniently depicted as a rebel against feudal oppression, not against the Chinese or the Communists.

In between youthful indifference and government attempts to usurp Genghis Khan, modern Mongolian scholars are left to try and figure out what the legacy of the great warrior actually is.

For Bayaryn, it is important to salvage Genghis Khan from his reputation as just a fierce, hardly civilized warrior chieftain.

He has uncovered documents which he claims are evidence that he was actually literate -- even if the Mongolian writing system was only invented when he was at a mature age, as many find plausible.

Given the straightforward, phonetic Mongolian writing that existed at the time, it would not have been too difficult, Bayaryn argued.

"It would have taken an average adult two months to learn written Mongolian, while a relatively intelligent person would be able to do it in one month. And Genghis Khan was intelligent," he said.

"If it's accepted that he was indeed literate, it will change our perception of him as simply an uncivilized mass murderer."

Even if he could not read and write, Genghis Khan was much more than a military man, according to Baladugqi, an ethnic Mongolian and a professor at the Inner Mongolia Modern History Research Institute.

"Only under Genghis Khan and his successors was the Silk Road under one political authority. You could transport a product all the way from Beijing to Moscow and sell it there," he said.

"Political, economic, social, cultural and religious exchanges thrived on a scale never seen before."

For Baladugqi, it is an undeniable fact that Genghis Khan founded his empire on raw power, but if his skills had been only military he would never have been able to create a world empire.

"Genghis Khan was open-minded and not at all conservative. He adjusted his rule to local conditions," he said. "Mongolians have a very open mind, and it could be because they are used to the wide-open steppes."

libertarian said...

Jaffna, fascinating analysis. Chinese society has historically been insular and xenophobic even when it was inventive. They're strong-arm tactics are no surprise. Unfortunately, as you pointed out, the probability of Inner Mongolia secession is zero.

sydaus said...

It is interesting that the chinese are helping rebuild Buddhist monastaries destroyed by them.

Its seems they are well aware of the pacifying effect tibetan Buddhism has always had on the temperment of the mongol hordes who so tormented Han chinese throughout history prior to its introduction among them.

So this is perhaps just another tactic of the communists to subdue a potentially problematic ethnic minority "autonomus province".

On another note, it is often believed that one of the items on marco polo's agenda during his journey to the far east was orders by the then pope to establish contact with the mongols and convert them to christianity so as to
gain a hugely powerful allie to help them wage war against islam.


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