PEOPLE OF MONGOLIA

PEOPLE OF MONGOLIA

Noun: Mongolian(s); adjective: Mongolian. Ethnic groups: Khalkh 81.9 percent, Kazak 3.8 percent, Dorvod 2.7 percent, Bayad 2.1 percent, Buryat-Bouriates 1.7 percent, Zakhchin 1.2 percent, Dariganga 1 percent, Uriankhai (Tuvans) 1 percent, other 4.6 percent (2010 est.). Languages: Khalkha Mongol 90 percent (official), Turkic, Russian (1999); Religions: Buddhist 53 percent, Muslim 3 percent, Christian 2.2 percent, Shamanist 2.9 percent, other 0.4 percent, none 38.6 percent (2010 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Mongolia has an ethnically homogenous population: 97 percent of the population is Khalkh Mongol. The largest minority, numbering an estimated 130,000 people, is Kazakh (Muslim), concentrated in the far west. In the 1980s, nearly 90 percent of the population was Mongol. The rest were Kazakh (5.3 percent), Chinese (2 percent), Russian (2 percent); Tuvans, Uzbeks, Uighurs, and others (1.5 percent). [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

People from Mongolia are known both as Mongolians and Mongols. Mongolian generally refers to the inhabitants of Mongolia and includes non-Mongol ethnic groups that live there such as the Kazakhs. Mongol can refer to the historical Mongols or to the ethic group of Mongolian-speaking, traditionally-pastoral people that live in Outer Mongolia and Inner Mongolia and a few other places in China, Central Asia and Russia. The language these people speak in known as both Mongol and Mongolian. Mongols is also their historical name.

Mongolia's population is ethnically quite homogeneous; about 90 percent of the populace speaks one of several dialects of the Mongol language. Mongol is an Altaic language, related to the Turkic languages, such as Uzbek, Turkish, and Kazakh, and more distantly to Korean and perhaps, in the opinion of some linguists, to Japanese. Except for the dialect of the Buryat Mongols, who predominantly inhabit the area around Lake Baykal in Siberia, and the dialects of scattered isoglosses in Mongolia, all dialects of Mongol spoken in Mongolia are readily understood by native speakers of the language. [Source: Robert L. Worden, Library of Congress, June 1989 *] ▪ Mongolia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. There are only about 3 million people in the entire country, or an average of only two people per square kilometer. There are fewer people living in Mongolia than live in Brooklyn and Staten island. About 60 percent of all Mongolians live in urban areas (compared to 76 percent in the United States) and most of these urban areas are in the north central part of the country. A third of the population lives in Ulaanbaatar, the capital and largest city of Mongolia. ▪ The largest Mongol subgroup, the Khalkh (Hahl) Mongols, account for over 82 percent of the total population. Tungusic Mongols make up 4.6 percent of the population. The largest non-Mongol minority is the Kazakhs, a Turkic-speaking people who live primarily in western Mongolia and comprise about 4 percent of the population. Chinese and Russians and other minorities make up about 3.4 percent of the population.

Mongolia is home to 22 smaller nomadic groups, most of whom live in western Mongolia. These include the Dorvod (2.7 percent of the population), Buriat (1.7 percent), Bayad (2.1 percent), Dariganga (1 percent), Darkand (0.7 percent), Zakhchin (1.2 percent), Urianhai (1 percent), Uuld (0.4 percent) and Torguud (0.3 percent), Barga, Khoton, Myangad, Tsaatan, Uzemchin. There are also Russians, Chinese

Kazakhs, Other Minorities, See Minorities Mongol People

Mongolians (Mongols) are related linguistically to Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Siberian ethnic groups, Turks and Koreans. They are also related based on some genetic markers to American Indians. A number of groups found in Mongolia, the former Soviet Union and China—including the Buriats, Kalmuks, Oriats and Daurs—are regarded as Mongols. There also a number of Mongol tribal groups living mostly on Inner Mongolia. Among these are the Barga. Alshaa, Ordos, Tumed and Oriata.

The range of Mongol people not only encompasses Mongolia and Inner Mongolia it also embraces northern Xinjiang, southern Siberia east of Lake Baikal and parts of Manchuria. There are even communities of Mongol people along the Volga River in Russia and the Yunnan Province in southern China. Around a half million Mongolians live in Russia.

More Mongols live outside of Mongolia than in it. Most of them are in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous region (IMAR) of China, and Chinese provinces near the IMAR, namely Xinjiang and Heilongjiang. But there are more Chinese living in Inner Mongolia. There are also some Mongols in Kazakhstan. The Mongol-speaking Buryat and Kalmyk peoples live in Russia.

Traditional Mongolian society was affected heavily by foreign influences: commerce was controlled by Chinese merchants and the state religion--Tibetan Buddhism or Lamaism--was simultaneously bureaucratic and otherworldly. Modern society has been shaped by the continued foreign--primarily Soviet-- influence. But despite increasing urbanization and industrialization, nearly half of the population lives either by the traditional methods of pastoral nomadism--moving their herds (sheep, horses, cattle, goats, and yaks) from one area of temporary sustenance to another--or in a close symbiotic relationship with the nomads. Despite its hardships, the nomadic life provides Mongols with national values and a sense of historical identity and pride. [Source: Robert L. Worden, Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Khalkh Mongols and Western and Northern Mongols

The Khalkh Mongols are the largest element of the population. According to the 1979 census, they made up 77.5 percent of the population. The term Khalkh, which means "shield," has been used at least since the mid-sixteenth century to refer to the nomads of the traditional Mongol heartland of high steppes and mountains. They have been the most thoroughly pastoral of all the Mongol tribes or subethnic groups, the nomads' nomads, and the least affected by foreign influences. In the twentieth century, they occupied most of the central and the eastern areas of the country. [Source: Robert L. Worden, Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Khalkh Mongol is the standard language; it is taught in the schools and is used for all official business. The written language is based on the Khalkh of the Ulaanbaatar region, and when Mongol script was replaced by a Cyrillic alphabet between 1941 and 1946, the Russian Cyrillic was modified to suit the phonetic structure of Khalkh. *

Another 10 percent or so of the population speaks a variety of western or northern Mongol dialects, such as Dorbet, Dzakchin, Buryat, or the southeastern Dariganga. Speakers of these dialects were concentrated in their ancestral territories in far western or northwestern Mongolia in Hovd, Uvs, and Hovsgol aymags, or along the Chinese frontier in the southeast. Ethnic distinctions among the various Mongol subgroups have been relatively minor; they have been expressed in oral traditions of historical conflicts among the groups, in such ethnic markers as women's headdresses or the shapes of boots, and in such minor variations in pastoral technique as placement of camels' nose pegs. Apart from immediate adaptation to different environments, Mongol culture has been relatively uniform over large areas, and dialect or tribal differences have not become significant political or social issues. *

Cultural Unity and Mongol Identity in the Soviet Era

The result of Mongolia's economic development and urbanization was a population that was, on the one hand, increasingly and unprecedentedly divided by occupation, education, residence, and membership in well-defined and fairly rigid status groups, but that was, on the other hand, less clearly distinguished from that of other economically developed and urbanized countries. If being Mongolian meant living in a ger in the midst of a sheep herd and being good at riding horses, then the Mongolian identity of those who lived in highrise apartments, rode buses, and worked at desks or in factories where knowledge of the Russian language was required was problematic. [Source: Robert L. Worden, Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Mongolian nationalism, clearly a politically sensitive topic, continued to be a strong although implicit force in Mongolia in the Soviet era. The Mongol language, the cultural trait most obviously shared by all Mongolians, continued to be fostered. Much effort was devoted to translating foreign literature and textbooks into Mongol, and teams of Mongolian scholars carefully replaced Russian loan words with new terms developed from ancient Mongol roots. The goal appeared to be to ensure that Mongol did not become a dialect restricted to shepherds or preschool children and that the educated elite did not speak mostly Russian or Russian-influenced Mongol.

Apart from the significant omission of Buddhism and Buddhism, much of traditional Mongol culture was studied, preserved, and transmitted to the younger generation as a source of national pride. In early 1989, party general secretary Jambyn Batmonh told a Soviet interviewer that the harmful errors of the 1930s included destruction of the monasteries and with them the priceless cultural heritage of the Mongolian people. In 1989 the party called for overcoming indifference to the national cultural heritage, and efforts were under way to change the negative evaluation of Chinggis, who had been condemned as a bloodthirsty and aggressive conqueror of, among other places, Russia. Higher secondary schools began teaching the traditional Mongol script, replaced by Cyrillic in February 1946. In early 1989, the trade union newspaper Hodolmor (Labor) called for mass production of the traditional Mongol gown, the deel, and suggested that all Mongolian diplomats wear it.

Mongoloids, Mongolians and Mongolian Birthmarks

The name Mongolian was given to Asians by early anthropologists because it was thought these people were typical Asians. Other Asians and Mongolians have resented these classifications. Mongoloid is the general physical type of some or all of the populations of East Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Eastern Russia, the Arctic, the Americas, parts of the Pacific Islands and parts of South Asia. Individuals within these populations often share certain associated phenotypic traits, such as epicanthic folds (Asian-style eyelids) and sinodonty (dental features found in northern and northeast Asia).

The term "mongoloid" was introduced by early ethnology primarily to describe various central and East Asian populations, one of the proposed three major races (Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid) of humanity. Although some forensic anthropologists and other scientists continue to use the term in some contexts (such as criminal justice), the term mongoloid is now considered derogatory by most anthropologists due to both its association with disputed typological models of racial classification and the connotations of its independent use in reference to Down Syndrome and associated intellectual disabilities, previously referred to as "Mongolian imbecility" or "Mongolian idiocy". [Source: Wikipedia]

Almost all Japanese, Korean, Mongolians, and some Chinese are born with a Mongolian birthmark, a small patch of brown pigment located on their butts or lower back. The mark vary in size and usually disappear within a few years. Indians in North, Central and South Americas also have these marks. Some scientists have suggested that these marks are evidence that these people originated from Asia. Khoisians ("bushmen") from southern Africa also have epicanthic folds and Mongolian birthmarks.

Mongolians Versus Caucasians

The word "Mongolian” as a term for East Asia people was coined by Johann Friedreich Blumenbach (1752-1840), a German anatomist and naturalist who established the most commonly used system of racial classification partly based on his study of human skulls. In the third edition of his thesis De Generis Humani Varietaye Nativa (On the Natural Variety of Mankind), published in 1795, Blumenbach broke down the human race into five categories: Caucasians, Mongolians, Ethiopians, Americans and Malays. Blumenbach included East and South East Asians, but not Native Americans or Malays, in the Mongolian category. He stated that Turkish and Hindostan women were Caucasians but that people from Bengal and Esquimaux people were Mongolians.

In 1795, Blumenbach wrote: " Caucasian variety. I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because...in that region if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greater probability to place the autochthonous [original forms] or mankind.” On his ranking of the five groups Blumenbach wrote: “I have allotted the first place to the Caucasian . . . which makes me esteem it the primeval one. This diverges in both directions into two, most remote and very different from each other; on the one side, namely, into the Ethiopian, and on the other into the Mongolian. The remaining two occupy the intermediate positions between that primeval one and these two extreme varieties; that is, the American between the Caucasian and Mongolian; the Malay between the same Caucasian and Ethiopian.

Blumenbach described a female skull found near the Caucasus mountains as "really the most beautiful form of skull which...always of itself attracts every eye.” Explaining his view, he wrote:

“In the first place, that stock displays . . . the most beautiful form of the skull, from which, as from a mean and primeval type, the others diverge by most easy gradations. . . . Besides, it is white in color, which we may fairly assume to have been the primitive color of mankind, since . . . it is very easy for that to degenerate into brown, but very much more difficult for dark to become white."

In 1865, biologist Thomas Huxley presented the views of polygenesists (Huxley was not one of them) as "some imagine their assumed species of mankind were created where we find them... the Mongolians from the Orangs". In 1972, physical anthropologist Carleton Coon said, "From a hyborean [sic] group there evolved, in northern Asia, the ancestral strain of the entire specialized Mongoloid family". In 1962, Coon believed that the Mongoloid "subspecies" existed "during most of the Pleistocene, from 500,000 to 10,000 years ago". According to Coon, the Mongoloid race had not completed its "invasions and expansions" into Southeast Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific Islands until "[t]oward the end of the Pleistocene". By this time Coon hypothesis that the Mongoloid race had become "sapien". [Source: Wikipedia]

Mongols in China

According to the Chinese government: Mongols “are a legendary ethnic group with a long history. For thousands of years, they roamed as nomads and conquerors across the vast steppes of Central Asia and Mongolia. In present-day China they have traditionally occupied the lands that stretches from the Great Wall in the south to the Gobi Desert in the north and from Xingan Mountains in the east to Henan Mountain in the west. On the places they live, an ancient Mongolian ballad goes: "The sky is gray, the open country is vast, grasses bend in the rustle of wind and flocks and herds come into the sight." Otherwise the land of the Mongols is known for its boundless pasture with the blue sky, white clouds, green fields, red flowers, flocks of sheep and tent camps heavy with the aroma of meat and milk. From here "the nationality on horseback" rode forth and shook heaven and earth and swept over Europe and Asia, fighting valiantly with clever tactics and tenacity. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

Most Mongols live in China, where they are one of the larger minority but are still outnumbered in their traditional homeland by Han Chinese. Mongols live mainly in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and some prefectures of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province. Others are distributed over Liaoning, Jinlin, Heilongjiang, Henan, Sichuan, Beijing and Yunnan. In Russia, some live in the Buryat Republic. The Mongolian people living in Xinjiang were formerly known as Oirat or Ojila. Their population comprises around 170,000 people. They are divided in three main tribes: 1) The Zhungar tribe, which has been living in Xinjiang many centuries; 2) the Turgut, that came back from the Volga River at the end of 18th century; and 3) the Chahar tribe who moved from Inner Mongolia and Hebei province. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\]

There are about 4.2 million Mongolians living in Inner Mongolia (about three times as many as in 1949) and 20 million Chinese (35 times as many as in 1949). About two thirds of the Mongolians that live in China live in Inner Mongolia. The other third are mostly scattered throughout northwest China. Average disposable income of Inner Mongolia is around $7,000, one of the highest in China and on par with Beijing. Among the Chinese, Mongols have a reputation for being heavy drinkers. Some, Chinese say, drink heavily while they are working. Chinese police say that many prostitutes in China are from Inner Mongolia.

The Chinese government generally doesn’t allow Mongolians in Inner Mongolia to visit Mongolia. The Chinese authorities worry that such visitors could stir yo nationalist sentiments.

There were about 10,000 ethnic Chinese in Outer Mongolia in 1949, with about 6,000 of them are in Ulaanbaatar. In mid-1983 many Chinese were expelled by the Mongolian government. They returned after the Deng reforms in China and Gorbachev-style reforms began taking hold in the late 1980s.

Mongols at least superficially have been absorbed and assimilate into the larger Han Chinese population. Many Mongols speak little or no Mongolian as a result of being educated in Chinese school systems---a fate Tibetans and Muslim Uighurs fear befalling them. Few Mongols live as traditional horsemen and herders. Most made the move from yurts to brick homes decades ago and wear traditional robes only on special occasions. “Most of our people have moved away from the old way of life," the Mongolian punk-folk-singer Ilchi said, “After moving to the cities, many of us have gradually been subjected to a very strong cultural invasion by an oppressive culture.".Everyone surrounding you speaks Chinese," Ilchi says. “No one speaks Mongolian. If you don't speak Chinese, you can't survive. It's unavoidable. The Beijing government claims they are happier than they were before.

Mongol population in China: 0.4488 percent of the total population; 5,981,840 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 5,827,808 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 4,806,849 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. [Sources: People's Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Inner Mongolia

Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region was founded on May 1, 1947, as the earliest such establishment in China. It is not province but an autonomous region like Tibet theoretically set up to give the Mongolians some autonomy. This vast and rich expanse of land is inhabited by 24.8 million (2011), with Mongolians making up about 18 percent of the population and Han Chinese 80 percent. There are also some Huis, Manchus, Daurs, Ewenkis, Oroqens and Koreans. Over time parts of Northeast China have been added to Inner Mongolia. Gansu province contains areas that have traditionally been part of Inner Mongolia. The Yellow River cuts through northwestern Inner Mongolia.

Inner Mongolia is one of China's largest and least densely-populated areas. Covering more than a tenth of China's land mass and twice the size of California, it is a sprawling area of pasturelands that sits atop northern China bordering the independent nation of Mongolia. Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region covers 1.2 million square kilometers and has an average elevation between 900 to 1,300 meters above sea level. There are vast tracts of excellent natural pastureland with numerous herds of cattle, sheep, horses and camels. The Yellow River Bend and Tumochuan plains, known as a "Granary North of the Great Wall," are crisscrossed with streams and irrigation canals. The Yellow River flows in southwestern Inner Mongolia. Inner Mongolia also has several hundred salt and alkali lakes and many large freshwater lakes, including Hulun Nur, Buir Nur, Ulansu Nur, Dai Hai and Huangqi Hai. Hohhot is the regional capital of Inner Mongolia. It is home to 2.6 million people , more than 87 percent of who are Han, the predominant ethnic group in China. Banner is a traditional term for county. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]

Following the founding of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, autonomous prefectures and counties were established in other provinces where Mongolians live in large communities. These include the two Mongolian autonomous prefectures of Boertala and Bayinguoleng in Xinjiang, the Mongolian and Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai, and the seven autonomous counties in Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning. Enjoying the same rights as all other nationalities in China, the Mongolians are joining them in running the country as its true masters.

More than 60 mineral resources such as coal, iron, chromium, manganese, copper, lead, zinc, gold, silver, tin, mica, graphite, rock crystal and asbestos have been found. It is the world’s largest source of rare earths. The Greater Hinggan Mountain Range in the east part of the region boasts China's largest forests, which are also a fine habitat for a good many rare species of wildlife. This unique natural environment makes the region a famous producer of precious hides, pilose antler, bear gallbladder, musk, Chinese caterpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis), as well as 400 varieties of Chinese medicinal herbs, including licorice root, "dangshen" (Codonopsis pilosula), Chinese ephedra (Ephedra sinica), and the root of membranous milk vetch (Astragalus membranaceus). Specialities of the region known far and wide include mushrooms and day lily flowers.

Mongols Dominated by Han Chinese in Inner Mongolia

Mongols make up about 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 24 million. At one time they presumably made up near 100 percent. In Inner Mongolia today, Han Chinese outnumber the Mongols by more than 6 to 1. There are about 4.2 million Mongolians living in Inner Mongolia (about three times as many as in 1949) and 20 million Chinese (35 times as many as in 1949). About two thirds of the Mongolians that live in China live in Inner Mongolia. Han Chinese tend to be concentrated in the cities of Baotou and Hohhot. Other minorities that live in Inner Mongolia include the Huis, Nachus, Daurs and Ewenkis.

Even as an exemption from the nation's one-child policy granted to minorities helped expand their numbers, Mongolians are still outnumbered by Han five to one. Inner Mongolia has traditionally been southern half of the homeland of the Mongols. A large number of Mongolians live in the central region of Xinjiang. Inner Mongolia is supposed to have a high degree of autonomy, as are Tibet and Xinjiang in the far west. But Beijing keeps a tight rein on the region, fearing ethnic unrest in strategic border areas.

On Mongol assimilation, Kerry Brown wrote in his book “Struggling Giant: China in the 21st Century”, “Dressing up in colorful clothes, dancing exaggerated dances, eating mutton and drinking white spirit are all O.K. But musing about just what the historical claims of the current Chinese state on Inner Mongolia are, or writing more trenchant articles in Chinese about the gradual annexation of the region are good ways to be rewarded with unwanted police attention and very probably lengthy prison sentences."

Relations between the Mongols and Han Chinese in Inner Mongolia varies from mild antagonism to overt hostility. Even so most Mongols there regard themselves as citizens of China and do not have a strong desire to reunify with Mongolia. They tend to have issue with the Chinese government for not providing enough benefits while the Han Chinese believe the government's affirmative action policy favors the Mongols too much.

Life of Mongols in China

In an attempt to assimilate the Mongols into Chinese culture, Mongols were forced to study Chinese in school and abandon their nomadic ways and settle on sheep farming cooperatives and communes. To placate the Mongol population in China, the Communists trumpeted "Genghis Khan's Chinese armies" and "minority assistance in building the Great Wall." Since the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the emergence of democracy in Mongolia, the Chinese government has worried about a resurgence of Mongolian nationalism in Inner Mongolia.

Unlike the Kazakhs who migrate between summer and winter pastures, the Mongols in Xinjiang live year-round in widely separated farms where they raise crops and breed horses.

One Mongol told Thomas Allen of National Geographic magazine, "The state gives herdsman money to help make them into farmers. Now those herdsman don't have to worry about the weather. And many who have changed have become rich. In the past there was no industry. Now we have a textile factory and a plant for making quick food. We have many roads. Ninety-seven percent of the children go to school.”

Since 1978, the "job responsibility system," under which the earnings of the herdsmen and peasants are linked with the amount of work they put in, has been implemented in the region. According to the Chinese government: This has further fired the enthusiasm of the Mongolian people and this has brought tremendous changes to the life of the Mongolian people. In the old days, the majority of them lived in hunger, being deprived of the essential means of life such as an old yurt. Today they have well-furnished yurts with clean beds and new quilts. Sewing machines, radios, TV sets, telescopes and cream separators are no longer novelties to the ordinary Mongolian herdsmen. Many new houses with paned windows have been built in the Mongolian settlements. *|*

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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