Mongolia (/mɒnˈɡoʊliə/ (listen), Mongolian: Монгол Улс, transcription: Mongol Uls, Traditional Mongolian: ᠮᠤᠩᠭᠤᠯ ᠤᠯᠤᠰ, transliteration: Mongγol ulus) is a landlocked country in East Asia. Its area is roughly equivalent with the historical territory of Outer Mongolia, which is sometimes used to refer to the current state. It is situated between Russia to the north and China to the south, where it neighbors the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakhstan, although only 37 kilometers (23 miles) separate them.
Mongolia’s area is 1,564,116 square kilometres (603,909 square miles), and with a population of just 3.3 million, makes it the 18th-largest sovereign state and one of the most sparsely populated. It is the world’s second-largest landlocked country, behind Kazakhstan, and the largest landlocked country that does not border a closed sea. Mongolia contains very little arable land, as much of its area is covered by grassy steppe, with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south. Ulaanbaatar, the capital and largest city, is home to about 45% of the country’s population. It is also ranked the coldest capital city alongside Moscow, Ottawa, and Nur-Sultan.
Approximately 30% of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic; horse culture remains integral. Buddhism is the majority religion, with the nonreligious being the second-largest group. Islam is the second-largest religion, concentrated among ethnic Kazakhs. Most citizens are ethnic Mongols, with roughly 4% of the population being Kazakhs, Tuvans, and other minorities, who are especially concentrated in the west.
What is now Mongolia has been ruled by various nomadic empires, including the Xiongnu, the Xianbei, the Rouran, the First Turkic Khaganate, and others. In 1206, Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous land empire in history. His grandson Kublai Khan conquered China to establish the Yuan dynasty. After the collapse of the Yuan, the Mongols retreated to Mongolia and resumed their earlier pattern of factional conflict, except during the era of Dayan Khan and Tumen Zasagt Khan.
In the 16th century, Tibetan Buddhism spread to Mongolia, being further led by the Manchu-founded Qing dynasty, which absorbed the country in the 17th century. By the early 20th century, almost one-third of the adult male population were Buddhist monks. After the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, Mongolia declared independence, and achieved actual independence from the Republic of China in 1921. Shortly thereafter, the country became a satellite of the Soviet Union, which had aided its independence from China. In 1924, the Mongolian People’s Republic was founded as a socialist state. After the anti-Communist revolutions of 1989, Mongolia conducted its own peaceful democratic revolution in early 1990. This led to a multi-party system, a new constitution of 1992, and transition to a market economy.”
“Mongolia, pronounced mong GOH lee uh, is a country in east-central Asia. It lies between Russia and China. Ulan Bator is the capital and largest city.
Plateaus and towering mountain ranges cover much of Mongolia. The Gobi, a bleak desert area, blankets much of the southeastern part of the country. Mongolia’s little rainfall occurs in a few summer storms.
Many Mongolians raise livestock for a living. But industry employs an increasing number of people.
Mongolia is the original home of an Asian people called Mongols. The Mongols built the largest land empire in history during the 1200’s. They conquered an area from eastern Asia to eastern Europe. China ruled Mongolia from 1691 to 1911. Mongolia was then called Outer Mongolia. A Mongol region to the south, called Inner Mongolia, is still part of China.
Communists gained control of Mongolia’s government in 1921. In 1924, they established the Mongolian People’s Republic. Their party, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), became the country’s only political party. In 1990, the MPRP gave up its monopoly on power, and many new parties were formed. Free elections were held in June of that year.
Government. Mongolia’s president is elected by voters to a four-year term. The president is the head of the armed forces and nominates the prime minister, who carries out the day-to-day operations of government. The prime minister is usually the leader of the party or coalition with the most seats in the legislature. The prime minister nominates the ministers who make up the Cabinet.
Mongolia’s people elect members of a national legislature that is called the State Great Hural. The members are elected to four-year terms. The 76-member State Great Hural makes decisions regarding domestic and foreign affairs. The legislature also appoints (approves) the prime minister and Cabinet.
For administrative and judicial purposes, the country is divided into 18 provinces, which are called Aimags, and three independent cities. These cities are Darhan, Erdenet, and Mongolia’s capital, Ulan Bator.
The people. Nearly all the people of Mongolia are Mongols. Kazakhs make up the largest ethnic minority. Some Chinese and Russians also live in Mongolia.
The official language, Mongolian, has several dialects. Most of the people speak Khalkha Mongolian, which is the official dialect. Mongolian may be written in two ways. It is written in the Uyghur script, a traditional Mongolian alphabet borrowed centuries ago from the Uyghur Turks and written in vertical columns. It is also written in a special form of the Cyrillic alphabet, the alphabet of the Russian language.
Tibetan Buddhism (archaic term is Lamaism), which is a form of Buddhism, and Shamanism are the chief religions in Mongolia. The practice of religion was discouraged under Communist rule, but Mongolia’s democratic government permits greater religious expression.
Many of Mongolia’s people live on livestock farms. The farms are like huge ranches with small towns in the center. The central buildings include houses, offices, shops, and medical posts for the people and animals.
Few Mongolians still follow the traditional way of life of nomadic herders. Those who do, journey from place to place with their animals. They live in felt tents called ger or yurts, which help protect them from the intense heat and cold. The government is gradually settling the nomads on farms.
The Mongolian State University was founded in Ulan Bator in 1942. The country has teacher training colleges and technical schools where students study such subjects as agriculture, economics, and medicine.
Land. No part of Mongolia lies less than 1,700 feet (518 meters) above sea level. The Altai Mountains in western Mongolia rise to more than 14,000 feet (4,270 meters). A high plateau lies between the Altai Mountains and the Hangayn Mountains in central Mongolia. This plateau has many lakes. Uvs Lake, the largest, covers about 1,300 square miles (3,370 square kilometers). Dense forests cover the Hentiyn Mountains, northeast of Ulan Bator. Eastern Mongolia is a lower plateau of grassland. It becomes less fertile as it nears the Gobi, a bleak desert area that stretches from southeastern Mongolia into Inner Mongolia.
Climate. Mongolia has long, cold winters and short, hot summers. Temperatures ranging from -57 to 96 °F (-49 to 36 °C) have been recorded in Ulan Bator. Mongolia’s coldest temperatures usually occur in the northern part of the country during the winter. Summer temperatures in the dry Gobi area in the south can be extremely high. Snowfall and rainfall in Mongolia are usually light. Heavy rains may occur in July and August. Violent earthquakes sometimes shake the country.
Economy. Under Communist rule, the state owned and operated most factories and farms in Mongolia. But since Communist rule ended, Mongolia has worked to reduce government control of industry. Livestock-raising is the backbone of the economy. Herders keep over 30 million animals, nearly half of them sheep. Other animals include camels, cattle, goats, and horses. Cattle make up about 35 percent of the country’s exports, and wool about 40 percent. Mongolia also exports dairy products, furs, hides, and meat.
Manufacturing and construction are of major importance to the Mongolian economy. Building materials, furniture, glass and china, matches, processed foods, soap, tent frames and felts, and wool and woolen fabrics rank among the chief manufactured products. Mongolia has rich deposits of coal, copper, gold, iron, molybdenum, and petroleum.
Mongolia’s main railroad connects Ulan Bator with Russia’s Trans-Siberian railroad in the north and with Chinese railroads in the south. The country has about 47,000 miles (75,600 kilometers) of roads. Most of these are dirt roads. Mongolia and Russia trade goods over Hovsgol Lake and the Selenge River. Air service links Ulan Bator with other countries and with provincial capitals in Mongolia.
Mongolia’s leading daily newspaper is Odriin Toli (Daily Mirror). The country also has a number of other newspapers and periodicals.
History. Various groups of Mongols were united under Genghis Khan in the early 1200’s. Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan extended the Mongol Empire from Korea and China westward into Europe. The empire broke up in the late 1300’s.
Mongol princes reunited Mongolia in the late 1500’s and converted the people to Tibetan Buddhism. In 1634, the Manchu rulers of Manchuria gained control of Inner Mongolia. The Manchus conquered China in 1644 and seized Outer Mongolia in 1691. Mongolia, like China, had little contact with other nations during the 1700’s and the 1800’s.
The Mongolians drove Chinese forces out of Outer Mongolia in 1911. They appointed a monk, called the Living Buddha, as ruler, and appealed to Russia for support. In 1913, China and Russia agreed to give Outer Mongolia control over its own affairs. Legally, Outer Mongolia remained Chinese territory. But, in fact, it came largely under the control of Russia. In 1920, during Russia’s civil war, anti-Communist Russian troops occupied Outer Mongolia and ruled it through the Living Buddha. Mongolian and Russian Communists gained control of Outer Mongolia in 1921. They established the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924, after the Living Buddha died.
The Soviet Union was formed in 1922 under Russia’s leadership, and it existed until 1991. Mongolia supported the Soviet Union in the Soviet-Chinese dispute for leadership of the Communist world.
In the late 1980’s, reforms resulted in more freedom for people in the Soviet Union and Communist countries of Eastern Europe. Influenced by these changes, people in Mongolia held demonstrations in early 1990 for more freedom. As a result, the country’s ruling Communist party, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), gave up its monopoly on power. The country adopted a multiparty system and also began moving toward creating a free-enterprise economy.
In 1990, the MPRP won the legislative elections. In February 1992, a new democratic constitution went into effect. In elections held in June, the MPRP again won the majority of legislative seats. In 1996, a coalition of democratic parties, the Democratic Union Coalition, won the largest number of legislative seats. In legislative elections in 2000, the MPRP returned to power.”
Contributor: Morris Rossabi, Ph.D., Professor of History, City University of New York.