Mongolia's Twentieth century
by Tsedendambyn Batbayar
Modern mongolia online
Mongolia is a landlocked country sandwiched between Russia and China.
Its territory is about the same size as Alaska. Mongolia has several mountain
ranges, the highest being the Altai mountains, located in the far west.
Much of southern and eastern Mongolia is occupied by a vast plain or grassland.
The so-called Gobi region, Mongolia's semi-desert, lies in the south.
It can go years without rain, but surprisingly it also has oases. Rivers
are mainly in the north. The important Selenge river drains into Lake
Baikal in Russia.
Mongolia has an extreme continental climate with long, cold winters and
short, hot summers. Annual precipitation is usually less than 15 inches
per year in the wettest areas. Mongolia is called the "Land of the
Blue Sky" because it averages 257 cloudless days a year. On the other
hand, Japanese call Mongolia "Sogen-no Kuni", which means the
"Country of Grasslands". It is also true. Less than one percent
of the land is arable, 8-10 percent is forested, and the rest is pasture
Mongols have nothing in common with the Chinese. Not only is their language
totally unrelated, but also their way of life is completely different.
Mongolia's population is quite homogeneous. Over 90 percent of the population
is made up of subgroups of the Mongol nationality, the largest being the
Khalkha (70 percent of the total). They are mostly concentrated in the
central and eastern areas of the country. Distinctions between the Khalkhas
and other Mongols (including Buryads, Dorwods, Oolds, Bayads, Dzakhchins,
Uriankhais, Uzemchins, and Bargas) are minor. The largest non-Mongol ethnic
group is the Kazakhs (5.9 percent). They are pastoral, Turkic speaking
Muslim people who live in extreme western Mongolia.
The modern Mongolian language, as the national language, developed after
the establishment of the Mongolian People's Republic (MPR) in 1924 on
the basis of the Khalkha dialect. The traditional Mongolian script, which
originated from the Sogdian letters of Aramaic origin, was used in the
MPR until 1941, when a new alphabet based on Cyrillic was adopted. After
the democratic revolution of 1990 the use of traditional script was restored
to a certain degree.
Today, the Mongolian language comprises several dialects, including Khalkha,
Buryad, Oirad, Chahar, Kharchin, Khorchin, Ordos and others. Among all
Mongolian scripts, traditional Mongolian is considered the most viable
and is still used in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China. This
is primarily because its graphical pecularities make it suitable for all
Shamanism, Mongolia's "old-time religion", had originated in
pre-historic times and played a crucial part in the spiritual life of
the Mongols up to the sixteenth century. Buddhism was first introduced
during the reign of Khubilai Khagan (1215-1294) but did not spread widely.
Buddhism, in the form of Yellow Hat religion or Lamaism, made further
inroads into Mongolia from the second half of the sixteenth century. Its
large-scale penetration was encouraged by the Manchu court which was anxious
to pacify its northern neighbors.
Lamaist monasteries soon gained popularity and prestige, promoting literacy
and disseminating knowledge and sciences. Lamaism became an inseparable
part of everyday life of Mongols. The Jebtsundamba Khutagts (religious
leaders of Khalkha) and many other Khutagts were indeed influential personalities
and enjoyed enormous popularity among their followers. Many of them were
philosophers, historians, writers, physicians and some of them were also