MONGOL CULTURE, MEDICINE AND SPORTS IN CHINA

MONGOLIAN CONTRIBUTIONS TO CHINESE CULTURE AND SCIENCE

The Mongolians have a fine cultural tradition, and they have made indelible contributions to China in culture and science. They created their script in the 13th century and later produced many outstanding historical and literary works, including the Inside History of Mongolia of the Mid-13th Century and the History of the Song Dynasty, History of the Liao Dynasty and History of the Kin Dynasty edited by Tuo Tuo, a Mongolian historian during the Yuan Dynasty. The reign also enjoyed a galaxy of Mongolian calligraphers and authors like Quji Wosier who was credited with many works and translations done in the Han and Tibetan languages. Da Yuan Yi Tong Zhi (China's Unification under the Great Yuan Dynasty) was a famous work of geographical studies compiled under the auspices of the Yuan court. Mongolian architecture in the construction of cities and especially of palaces at that time was also unique. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]

Further advances in culture were made by Mongolians in the Ming Dynasty. Apart from such great literary and historical works as the Golden History of Mongolia, An Outline of the Golden History of Mongolia and Stories of Heir Apparent Wubashehong, Mongolian scholars produced many grammar books and dictionaries, as well as translations of the Inside History of Mongolia and the Buddhist Scripture Kanjur done into Chinese. These works enriched Mongolian culture and promoted cultural exchanges between the Mongolian, Han and Tibetan people. *|*

The development of Mongolian culture in the subsequent Qing Dynasty was represented by a greater number of dictionaries and reference books like the Principles of Mongolian, A Collection of Mongolian Words and Phrases, Exegesis of Mongolian Words, Mongolian-Tuote Dictionary, Mongolian-Tibetan Dictionary, Manchurian-Mongolian-Han-Tibetan Dictionary, Manchurian-Mongolian-Han-Tibetan-Uygur Dictionary, Manchurian-Mongolian-Han Tibetan-Uygur-Tuote Dictionary and A Concise Dictionary of Manchurian, Mongolian and Han. Noted literary and historical works included The Origin and Growth of Mongolia, Peace and Prosperity Under the Great Yuan Dynasty, Random Notes from the West Studio, Miscellanies from Fengcheng, A Guide to a Means of Life, A One-storied House, and Weeping Scarlet Pavilion. The Stories of Shageder, also produced in this period, has been regarded as the most outstanding work in the treasure-house of Mongolian literature. Other great works of folk literature include the Story of Gessar Khan of the 11th century, the Life Story of Jianggar, an epic of the 15th century. *|*

Mongolians owed their achievements in medical science, astronomy and calendar to the influence of the Hans and Tibetans. Mongolian medicine has been best known for its Lamaist therapy, which is most effective for traumatic surgery and the setting of fractured bones. To further develop their medical science, the Mongolians have translated into Mongolian many Han and Tibetan medical works, which include Mongolian-Tibetan Medicine, A Compendium of Medical Science, The of Secret of Pulse Taking, Basic Theories on Medical Science in Four Volumes, Pharmaceutics and Five Canons of Pharmacology. Outstanding contributions have also been made by the Mongolians in the veterinary science. In the field of mathematics and calendar, credit should be given to the Mongolian astronomer and mathematician Ming Antu. During the decades of his service in the Imperial Observatory, he participated in compiling and editing the Origin and Development of Calendar, Sequel to a Study of Universal Phenomena and A Study of the Armillary Sphere. His work Quick Method for Determining Segment Areas and Evaluation of the Ratio of the Circumference of a Circle to Its Diameter (completed by his son and students) is also a contribution to China's development in mathematics. He also made a name for himself in cartography. It was due to his geographical surveys in Xinjiang that the Complete Atlas of the Empire, the first atlas of China drawn with scientific methods, was finished. *|*

Mongolian Doctors and the Mongolian Medicine

In the course of surviving in a harsh environment and battling illness for centuries, Mongolians have accumulated many unique theories on medicine and treatments, often incorporating local plants, minerals and animals. As early as 13th century, the Mongols were utilizing many medicines and therapies which suited their lifestyle, geography and climate. These included strong “hedier” medicine, moxibustion, bath treatments, bonesetting, traumatism treatment, koumiss treatment, diet treatment, smoke fomentation, cows and sheep's rumen ruminating fomentation and hot blood soak treatment. Their moxibustion and fomentation techniques influenced medical practices in China and Tibet. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

After the 13th century, as the economic and cultural communication between The Mongols and other Arabs, Europeans and other nationalities increased, non-Mongolian medicines and treatments spread into the Mongolian area, which enriched and developed their knowledge in medical treatment and medicament. In Ming and Qing dynasty, the Mongolian medicine absorbed the theories and clinical experiences of the Tibetan and Chinese medicine. The result were ideas such as Yin and Yang doctrine, five elements doctrine, chills and fever is a unity of opposites doctrine, seven element and three dirt doctrine, six cause dialectical doctrine, internal organs and main and collateral channels doctrine.

Famous Mongolian doctors and health experts have included Naoerji Moergen, Zhanbula, Yixibalazhuer, Zhanbuladaoerji and Yourigedandaer and so on. Among the dozens of famous medical works are the Sea of Prescribes, Four Amrita, the Formal Dictionary of Mongolian Medicine, the Brook of Amrita, An Outline of Examining Pulses, New White Dew Treatment, and Selections from Mongolian Medicine. In the Formal Dictionary of Mongolian Medicine, 879 kinds of medicine were described with 576 illustrations. Over time, the division of departments in clinic practice have became more and more detailed, with department for orthopedics, internal medicine, epidemic, infectious disease, gynecology and obstetrics, pediatrics, dermatology and facial features.

After PRC was founded in 1949, the health care improved in Inner Mongolian treatment as and medical industry has developed greatly. Dozens of Mongolian hospitals, Chinese Mongolian hospitals, Mongolian medicine research centers and Mongolian medicine colleges have been built in Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region. The Mongolian medical treatment institution and several Mongolian medicine pharmaceutical factories produce over 350 kinds of Mongolian preparation and patent medicine.

Loss and Rebirth of Traditional Mongol Culture in China

While standards of living have risen more ethnic Mongols now seem to be questioning the system under which they live. Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press wrote, “A mining boom has enriched some but pushed further to the margins an already dwindling number of herders---whose roaming the grasslands with their herds of cattle, goats and sheep lies at the core of Mongol identity. Meanwhile a new generation of Mongol students is coming of age wired to the Internet in a time of relative affluence and are questioning what it means to be Mongol.”[Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, May 31, 2011]

Christopher P. Atwood, an expert on Inner Mongolia who has studied the disintegration of herding communities, told the New York Times that ecological migration was merely accelerating the inevitable demographic shift brought on by two decades of sagging livestock prices and the rural stagnation that drove young Mongolians to the region’s Han-dominated urban centers.”Rural communities are the stronghold of Mongolian culture and language, so breaking them up has a direct impact on ethnic identity,” said Mr. Atwood, chairman of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, June 11, 2011]

Andrew Jacobs wrote in New York Times, “The result has been a steady decline in the proportion of students who attend Mongolian-language schools, a figure that has dropped by nearly half, to 40 percent, since the 1980s. The shift has largely been propelled by former herders like Huang Liying, 38, a shop owner whose 13-year-old daughter studies at a Mandarin-language school in Baotou, an industrial city 500 miles away.” “To be successful in the modern world you need to speak good Chinese,” Ms. Huang said. “I feel regret she doesn’t speak her mother tongue, but Mongolian is not very useful beyond the grassland.” [Ibid]

Jacobs wrote: “Even if the government is not directly responsible for the ebb of Mongolian language and culture, many of those who joined" anti-government protests have "directed their ire at the Han officials who run the show in Inner Mongolia. They complained about increasing intermarriage, the heavy-handed censorship of local Web sites and the fact that Mongolian script on street signs is sometimes rendered smaller than the adjacent Chinese characters.”

Barry Sautman of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology said the current protest movement "could serve to reinforce Mongol identity and revive calls for protecting pastoralism as an aspect of the culture," Sautman said. The Mandarin language is increasingly popular among Mongolians for economic reasons. A rappers named Sodmuren who raps in Mongol said: "We're worried about the future of the Mongolian language, because there are fewer and fewer children attending bilingual schools. The danger is that we'll lose our Mongolian identity."

Wolf Totem

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The novel Wolf Totem has been one of the best selling books in China in recent years and won the Man Asian Literature Prize. Written by Jiang Ring, a former Red Guard who spent much of the 1970s in Inner Mongolia, it is about a man much like the author who is sent to Inner Mongolia to teach the herdsmen there. During his stay he is the one who receives an education--about life on the steppe, especially wolves who are despised for killing the herdsmen’s animals but are revered. Central episodes include adoption of a wolf cub by the main character and a ferocious battle between a starving wolf pack and a herd of wild horses. The book has also recently been translated into English by Howard Goldblatt.

The official version of Wolf Totem Howard Y. F. Choy of Wittenberg University wrote: “Wolf Totem became a cultural sensation in China when it was published in 2004---a flashpoint for historical, spiritual, and cultural concerns. Although Jiang Rong intended his debut novel as a political fable to appeal for freedom and popular elections, it has often been regarded in commercial circles as a business handbook for the practice of wolf wisdom in market competition. As a cultural phenomenon, its wolf symbolism is as celebrated as it is controversial: it critiques Confucianism in light of militarism, calls for environmental protection and sustainability according to the law of the jungle (or, in Jiang Rong's own term, “grassland logic”), and advocates “peaceful” survival of the fittest through territorial expansion and a renewed space race.” [Source: Howard Y. F. Choy of Wittenberg University, MCLC Resource Center Publication , April 2009]

“Jiang Rong is a pseudonym of Lü Jiamin, a former political science professor and democracy activist jailed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Wolf Totem is a quasi-autobiographical novel about a Han Chinese urban intellectual's personal experience on the steppes in north-central Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Chen Zhen, the author's alter ego, spends a decade of nomadic life in the Ujimchin Banner on the Chinese border of Inner and Outer Mongolia. It is in this contact zone that the protagonist ponders the complex interrelationship between Mongolianness and Han Chineseness. He soon becomes fascinated with Mongolian wolves and Genghis Khan (1167-1227), the phantom of a wolfish heroism that once occupied China and founded a vast empire across Eurasia. When Chen risks a clash with his hosts' totem and taboos by adopting a wolfkin as a pet, he finds himself adapting to a nomadic brave new world, where he witnesses a wilderness paradise in the process of being lost to the impact of internal colonization. The novel closes with Chen's burden of guilt over having ‘snipped off the canines of the . . . cub, stripping him of his freedom with a chain during his short life, and in the end crushing his head.” [Ibid]

“The pleasure of reading is swiftly aroused in the beginning of the novel by its wolf lore---pages of breathtaking descriptions of wolf raids on gazelles and prized horses, followed by bloody wolf hunting. The problem with such pleasure is that the gory graphic details render violence not only delightful and entertaining, but also sublime and sacred. Wolves are portrayed as warriors and strategists, with high spirits and esprit de corps, and masterly hunting tactics in spying, encircling, ambushing, assaulting, and intercepting; they are, moreover, apotheosized as messengers from Tengger, Mongol heaven. Nevertheless, these powerful sections of the narrative fail to develop into an interesting story, as they soon yield place to the grandiose theory of evolution one third of the way into the novel. As Lee Haiyan observes, in the course of the “scientific experiment” of raising the cub, Chen Zhen's “loving gaze that elevates it to a mythic being is also an epistemological gaze that reduces it to a lab creature.” Little Wolf is simultaneously deified as the object of a new totemism and objectified by “wolfology” at the same time.” [Ibid]

"Structurally, each of the thirty-five chapters opens with epigraphs excerpted from historical documents or studies. An example is the legend about Mongolian ancestry from the opening of The Secret History of the Mongols : “At the beginning there was a blue-grey wolf, born with his destiny ordained by Heaven Above.” Indeed, Jiang Rong rewrites 5,000 years of Chinese history in the last 50,000 characters of his 500,000-character book so as to make it conform to his lupine discourse. ...The author concludes his grand narrative by opining that the Chinese people are not so much “descendants of the dragon” as “disciples of the wolf” and that nomads are the ancestors of the Han farming people. Seeking a barbarian civilization in the term “civilized wolf” as a modern transition from ancient “civilized sheep” to future “civilized man,” he advocates “nomadizing” peasant mentality and the necessity to “Mongolianize” Han culture. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the jarring sermon that comprises the last one tenth of the work has also been cut from the English rendition.”

Analysis of Wolf Totem

“Chinese critic Li Jianjun has pointed out that Wolf Totem is a product of an age of evacuated values and cultural crisis, with humanism in retreat and science at the forefront, and in which the law of the market has become a new ideology, or rather, a new form of the Marxist-Maoist philosophy of struggle.[6] Indeed, Jiang Rong's extremism echoes Stalin's social Darwinist statement about “the jungle law of capitalism” in his 1931 speech to industrial managers: “You are backward, you are weak---therefore you are wrong; hence, you can be beaten and enslaved. You are mighty---therefore you are right; hence, we must be wary of you.”“ [Source: Howard Y. F. Choy of Wittenberg University, MCLC Resource Center Publication , April 2009]

“Wolf Totem is reminiscent of Zhang Chengzhi's educated youth fiction of Inner Mongolia produced in the late 1970s and 1980s, including his novella “The Black Steed” and novel Golden Prairie, in which Zhang reconstructs his Hui identity by identifying with yet another minority nationality rather than the Han majority. In the context of Chinese literary history, Nicole Barnes considers “Wolf Totem the latest literary expression of a long-lived Chinese political identity crisis in which fear of emasculation drives Han men to their nation's cultural frontier in an existential search for virility and assertiveness, qualities believed to be more abundant among the ethnic minorities than among China's Han majority.” The antidote Jiang Rong prescribes for the “feminized” Han national character is the “blood transfusion” of Mongolian machismo. [Ibid]

“While the Han majority has taken pride in its ability to Sinicize all minorities, the novelist proposes to introject Mongolian otherness onto Han selfhood in antitheses of nomads/farmers, carnivores/herbivores, brutalism/domestication, liberalism/Confucianism, and wolf worship/sheep spirit. In these simple binary pairs the former is deemed good, brave and intelligent, whereas the latter is bad (if not evil), weak and stupid. Such binary oppositions present to us not only a clash of nomadic and agrarian civilizations but also, because the latter is derogated to the rudimentary stage of world history, a crisis of superiority and inferiority complexes. [Ibid]

“Although Jiang Rong's alleged opposition to Han chauvinism in his ethnic epic turns the superiority of the Han majority and the inferiority of the ethnic minorities upside down, its representational construction remains homogeneous...Chen Zhen's “sympathy” for his miserable Mongolian compatriots under the government's wolf-eradication campaign is expressed in environmentalism---in the term's two senses of ecological concern and belief in the influence of the milieu on the race. With the desertification of twenty-eight percent of the Chinese territory, Han colonizers are condemned for continuously cultivating the fragile grasslands into farmlands. Cultivation contaminates a pure landscape and tames wild nature. [Ibid]

Nadaam

Nadaam Fair is a seven day fair held in Inner Mongolia in July or August. Nomads and herdsmen, as well as ordinary settled Mongolians, come from all over Inner Mongolia and set up their yurts on an empty grassland. Some come with oxen carts, some with camels, and some with Toyota Landcrusiers. Tea mixed with camel milk and fermented mare’s milk are prepared and everyone carries on and has a good time. The fairs in Hohhot and Baotou are open to tourists. During the day there are all kinds of competitions: bulu throwing, horse lassoing, Mongolian chess, balls games and martial arts. Mongolian tug of wars are interesting. Two competitors bend over and face away from each other with their butts sticking in the air. A rope is looped around the competitors' waists and they pull. The most popular events are traditional Mongolian wrestling matches, horse racing and archery. At night people sit around bonfires and watch dances and performances and listen to haolabao, a kind of story telling put to song.

. Nadaam (meaning "to play" or "have a good time") is the biggest Mongol holiday of the year. It has traditionally been a time when nomads gathered at designated places in the country to enjoy long summer days, catch up on news with old friends and enjoy traditional Mongolian sports. The explorer Roy Chapman Andrews described the Nadaam he saw in 1922 as "an amazing spectacle. "All the elite of Mongolia gather on the Tola [Tula] River, dressed in their most splendid robes," he wrote. "The archery, wrestling, and horse racing are famous throughout the East.”

The first day of the festival is marked with a parade of horsemen dressed like Genghis Khan’s soldiers. Most of the sporting events take place during the first two days. The horses races are big events. There are several categories of horse race, depending on age of the horse, with the main race being the last one, held towards the end of the second day. Two or three hundred riders between the ages 5 and 12 compete at distances of 15 to 35 kilometers. Often, thousands of spectators watch and hundreds of horses and riders compete Food stalls and yurts are set up where the races takes place. Archery contests tale place in an archery field, where men and women aim at a target of fist-size baskets, Men shot 40 arrows at a distance of 75 meters and women shoot 20 arrows at a distance of 60 meters. The wresting matches go on all day the first days. Many Mongolians don’t get really interested until the final round.

It is said the Nadaam Fair originated in the Genghis Khan era in the 13th century. At that time, a big "Huli Letai" (a big meeting) was periodically held by Mongol leaders. Many activities conducted at these meetings, such as making laws and regulations, appointing and removing officials, and giving prizes and dishing out penalties. For entertainment wrestling, horse racing and archery contests were held. During the Qing Dynasty, Nadaam were held in league, banner or Sumu unit every half year, year or two years. Winners of the three sports events were given horses, camels, sheep, brick tea, and silk as awards. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

In China, the content and form of Nadaam changed greatly after liberation. In addition to the three traditional sports game—wrestling, horse racing and archery— the content was enlarged to include many new activities, such as theatrical performances and movies. In some places the festivities last for seven days. According to the Chinese government: “The newly added contents pushed the traditional national grand meeting to a joyous, auspicious, happy and effective one. Nowadays, Nadaam is always held in the golden autumn or summer when the herds of sheep and cattle are thriving. Herdsman converge from all directions carrying yurt and all kinds of meat and milk food on their light wooden cart. While putting up the yurt on the greensward, people begin to simmer tea and stew meat. While Smoke curls upward from kitchen chimneys on the whole grassland, all the people are absorbed in a joyous atmosphere.”

Mongolian Sports: Skills of Men"

Mongolians enjoy archery, horse racing, and wrestling. These are known as Eryn Gurvan Nadom, or “Three Manly Games.” Skills in his sports were valued by Mongols of the Genghis Khan era as essential for living on the steppes. Wrestling is a male-only event. Women sometimes compete along side men in archery and horse racing events and often win. Sport competitions are the featured events of Mongolian fairs and prizes range from a goat to a well-bred horses.

Since ancient times, the "Three skills by men"--- wrestling, horse racing, archery--- have been regarded as the three skills that man should possess. The three manly Mongolia sports can be played any time and everywhere. No special fields, specified equipment or a fixed number of people are necessary to enjoy them. Therefore, the three sports are not only the major fixtures of Nadaam and other fairs and festivals, they are also often enjoyed as weekend entertainment and are ejoyed when people get together for a wedding or summer time in the pastures. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

In China, the Mongolians of Inner Mongolia have a reputation for being good at sports. According to the Chinese government: “The mass sports activities such as wrestling, horse racing and archery play the very important role in both physical training and enrichment of amateur culture life. The more important thing is that, numbers of excellent athletes are cultivated in Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Mongolian athletes are always the winners in many competitions in the country, as well as some international matches, wining honor for the Chinese nation.”

Mongolian Wrestling

Buh (or bukh, traditional Mongolian wrestling) is regarded by many as the national sport of Mongolia and a symbol of Mongolian regional pride. Round-shouldered Mongolia wrestlers often appear abroad in parades dressed in traditional costumes, displaying their medals. It is said the sport was created by nomads based on their wild-horse-breaking techniques. Boys wrestle almost as soon as they learn to walk and are told to settle disputes with bukh.

Mongolian wrestlers wear a traditional zodog (open-fronted, long-sleeved leather vest that fits tightly over the back and chest) and shuuddag (Speedo-swim-suit-style shorts) and gutuls (high riding boots) and a belt. The garments of made of durable silk. High ranked wrestlers wear a jana—a collar that symbolizes their ranking. The zodog is made of cowhide or canvas. In some places a pair of loose wrestling trousers are worn instead of the bathing-suit style trunks. A colorful cloth chaplet is often worn around the neck.

Buh reportedly has its roots in shamanism. In the old days, wrestlers were viewed as representatives of local power. A Mongolian professor told a Japanese newspaper, “When a local wrestler becomes weak, it means the strength of the region is also lessened, When he retires, an old wrestler passed down is jana to a promising young wrestler in his hometown to bring the power back to the region.”

Mongolian wrestling is different from Olympics wrestling, Chinese wrestling and sumo wrestling in Japan. There is no fixed number of particpants— as long as they are even numbers such as two, four, six, eight, 16, 32, 64 or 128. All the matches are arranged by drawing lots under the supervision of judges who enjoy high prestige and command universal respect. Tournaments are generally single- elimination competitions in which losers are not allowed to compete again. Half of the people are eliminated every round. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

Hasu is a new kind of wrestling with a five minute limit and a wrestling area similar to sumo. Dog fighting is a sport with elements of boxing and wrestling and performed by humans not dogs.

Wrestling Matches

Large matches held at large Nadaam fairs begin with 500 or so wrestlers and have nine knockout rounds. The final 16 are dubbed Nachin (Falcons”). The final four are named Xaan (“Elephants”). The two finalists are Arsian (“Lions”) with an Avraga (“Giant”) emerging as the final champion.

Wrestling matches begin with ceremonial dances and warm up routines in which the wrestlers leap, dance and flap their arms like great eagles. The dance helps the wrestlers get psyched up. After a match a winner shows off his strength by doing an eagle dance around the loser. If a wrestlers carries the title of an animal he also performs the dance of that animal to begin a bout.

The wrestlers begin the match standing up and the object is for a wrestler to throw his opponent off balance. Like sumo, a wrestler loses if any part of body other than his feet touches the ground. Grabbing and hold on to an opponents clothing is allowed and this is often an essential element of both offense and defense. Traditional buh does not have a ring or time limit and is done outside. There are no weight categories or age limits. The are 600 identified techniques in Mongolian wrestling, including throws, holds and strikes. Many are throws: over the hip, over the shoulder and over the back. Some of them are based on techniques used to bring down horses.

In a match, As soon as the judge gives an order to start, the opponents first shake hands to show respect to each other, and then begin wrestling. There is no limitation of time and the opponents can freely choose any methods they want: such as a pull, kick, trip, push, hold, lift. However, it is not allowed to wrestle while holding the opponent’s legs, kicking arbitrarily, or pulling on trousers. The field for wrestling is relatively small. An area of lawn or soft space is all right. The spectators can sit around on the ground. Before the wrestling start, a challenging song is sung in order to build up momentum and power. Moreover, whenever wrestlers enter or exit the wrestling ground, they have to imitate the action of a bird of prey which jumps to go forward full of power and grandeur. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

Horse Racing

Mongolian horse racing can generally be divided into two: walking race and galloping. In walking (pacing) horse racing, horses are competing for the speed, resistance, steadiness and beauty by letting the horse to run by pacing—the two legs on the same side of the horse move forward together. The horses that run these races are generally older than five years and the riders are always adults. The race require a highly degree of skill among the riders, who aims to rein the horse to walk as steadily, beautifully and as fast as possible, without galloping. Galloping races mainly tests the horses' speed and resistance. Therefore, the winner is the first one who reaches the finish line. The way a horse moves its hooves for galloping is quite different than the pacing used in the walking race. Most of the riders are male children around twelve or thirteen, who are regarded as nimble but light. Galloping horses are often not equipped with saddle or stirrups, for sake of lightening the load of the horse. The horses wear colored uniforms so they can be identified and riders have a red ribbon tied around their heads. The distance of the galloping race is usually 25 to 35 kilometers. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

The short, stocky horses run surprisingly fast and are often whipped by their riders much of the race. The horses are trained to keep going even if the rider falls off. The fate of horse race, Mongolians believe, is more in the hands of the trainer than the rider. Describing, the finish of a Mongolian horse race, Oliver August wrote in the Times of London, “Clouds of dust on the horizon announce the racers’ arrival well before they are visible. As they approach, hooves make the ground tremble and whips and bridles lash the air. At the finish line the horses are tackled and halted by men in striped robes so the animals do not carry on into the next valley.”

As galloping horse racing is more common and widespread than the walking race, more people take part in races and come to watch. When the race starts, riders mount their horses and raise their whips and gallop off. The spectators jump and shout encouragement to the riders. After the race, Top-placing horses are honored in front of a podium and words of praise are recited and sung by distinguished elders. In addition, to traditional ways of horse racing, new types of horse racing have come forth in recent years, such as obstacle races and figure races. ~

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Wrestlers at Mongol festival

Naadam Horse Race

The 28-kilometer children’s horse race is the featured event at Naadam. The race is limited to young boys between the ages of five and thirteen. Before the race starts judges check the age of the horses by examining their teeth and make sure the harness and saddles are tight. Trainers carefully groom their horse’s mane and tails are sprinkle koumiss on the mane for good luck. The riders sing a traditional songs, take a swig of koumiss and splash some on their mount for good luck.

Describing, a horse race, Robert McCracken Peck wrote in Discover Magazine, "At the opening shout, the young jockeys exploded onto the course and thundered off across the steppe for a distance of eight miles. Then, at the signal to turn, they galloped the same distance back to the waiting crowd. As the roars of excitement subsided, the dust-coated riders and their lathered mounts were literally doused with airag. The winning horse was dubbed 'Tumny ekh,' the Leader of Ten Thousand, and the riders were given presents of freshly chopped cheese." [Source: Robert McCracken Peck, Discover Magazine, June 1998]

To start the race the fans sing traditional songs of encouragement and the riders sing a song called gingo before the start and shout goog while they are riding. After the winner is declared fans scramble to brush the sweat off the horse with a scraper made of pelican’s beak.

The first five horses across the finish line are regarded as winners. The horse, the trainer and the rider are all graded as champions and they are given a reward of koumiss, which the horses drink and the riders have sprinkled on their heads. The last place finisher has a special song sung for him called the Bayan Khodood (“Fat Stomach”). The song is about a young rider who tried his best but does poorly because the stupid trainer overfed the horse. The song then goes on to say that the horse will make a comeback next and glitter like gold.

Children and the Naadam Horse Race

Children are chosen over adult riders in the Nadaam horse races not because of age limits or rules but because of their light weight.. Some compete without shoes, saddles or stirrup to save weight. When they ride sometimes it looks as if they are holding on for dear life.

Children begin training the spring before the race on the fastest and strongest horses. Because the race takes place during the hottest time of the year, the horses are wrapped in sheepskins to prepare them for the heat. They are trained not to stop no matter how grueling the conditions are. In the months before the race they are given a special diet intended to give them strength but keep them light.

Sometimes the children are badly injured. They break bones and suffer severe bruising in falls. Some international children welfare groups have lodged complaints against children participating in these races. Mongolians admit the sport can be dangerous but insist the races build strength and character, plus they scoff at the idea of Westerners telling them what to do.

In any given race about 5 percent of the riders fall off. Some children receive life-long injuries. In 1999, one child was killed. In Ulaan Baatar some riders now wear helmets and knee and elbow pads. But there are many places in the countryside where barely know that such things exist.

Mongolian Archery

Mongolian archers engaged in traditional archery use a composite bow made of glued sinew and horn, which can shot arrows up to 350 meters. The bow has no sight and the arrows are made of thin willow twigs and the feathers of the griffon vulture. The points are made of bone, the strings of bull tendons. The target consists of 360 small leather rings fixed on a wall 40 to 50 centimeters high and four meters wide.

In Naadam the men shoot at leather balls that are 75 meters away and women shoot at the same targets at a distance of 65 meters. Men shoot 40 arrows and must score at least 15 to 18 points. Women shoot 20 arrows and must score at least 13 to 17 points. When a targets is truck a short song of praise called a ukhai is sung by a several men standing on either side of the target.

Traditional Mongolian bows are made with ibex and reindeer horn, bamboo and fish guts. They take two months to make and only 40 sets a year are made at a special factory in northern Mongolia.

There are two main archery types: shooting an arrow while standing and shooting while riding. The arrow's pattern, weight and length and the pulling force of the bow can be chosen freely without any limitation. Generally, each one has nine arrows to shoot and three turns and the result depends on the numbers of arrows that hit the target. For standing events the distance from the target to the archer is in accordance with specific conditions, and is usually fixed for a given competition. In shooting while riding the rider draws his bow and shoots while riding a galloping horse on a special track. Generally, the track is a special channel that is four meter wide, eighty-five meter long and half a meter in depth. There are two targets: one the left side and one on the right. Coming into the first target the rider draws his bow while the horse is speeding up and shoots while the horse is galloping at full speed. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

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Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) 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 ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|* New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese 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 June 2015

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