The Mongolians live mostly in the Inner
Mongolia Autonomous Region, with the rest residing in Liaoning,
Jilin, Heilongjiang, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, Hebei, Henan,
Sichuan, Yunnan and Beijing. /Having their own spoken and written
language, which belongs to the Mongolian group of the Altaic language
family, the Mongolians use three dialects: Inner Mongolian, Barag-Buryat
and Uirad. The Mongolian script was created in the early 13th century
on the basis of the script of Huihu or ancient Uygur, which was
revised and developed a century later into the form used to this
The largest Mongolian area, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region
with its capital at Hohhot, was founded on May 1, 1947, as the earliest
such establishment in China. This vast and rich expanse of land
is inhabited by 21,780,000 people, of whom about 2 million are Mongolians
and the rest Hans, Huis, Manchus, Daurs, Ewenkis, Oroqens and Koreans.
The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region is located in the northern
part of China. Covering 1.2 million square kilometers and rising
900 to 1,300 meters above sea level, it has 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 canals. Over southwestern Inner Mongolia flows the Yellow River,
which is, among other things, famous for its carp and the well-developed
irrigation and transport facilities it has provided for the area.
Inner Mongolia also has several hundred richly endowed salt and
alkali lakes and many large freshwater lakes, including Hulun Nur,
Buir Nur, Ulansu Nur, Dai Hai and Huangqi Hai. 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. 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 are mushrooms and day lily flowers, which enjoy
brisk sales on both the domestic and world markets.
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 Kazak 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.
Mongol was initially the name of a tribe roaming along the Erguna
River. Moving to the grasslands of western Mongolia in the 7th century,
the Mongols settled in the upper reaches of the Onon, Kerulen and
Tula rivers and areas east of the Kentey Mountains in the 12th century.
Later, their offshoots grew into many tribal groups, such as Qiyan,
Zadalan and Taichiwu. The Mongolian grasslands and the forests around
Lake Baikal were also home to many other tribes such as Tartar,
Wongjiqa, Mierqi, Woyela, Kelie, Naiman and Wanggu, which varied
in size and economic and cultural development.
Early in the 13th century, Temujin of the Mongol tribe unified
all these tribes to form a new national community called Mongol.
In 1206, he had a clan conference held on the bank of the Onon River,
at which he was elected the Great Khan of all Mongols with the title
of Genghis Khan. This was followed by the founding of a centralized
feudal khanate under aristocratic rule, which promoted the development
of Mongolian society. Military conquests ensued on a large scale
soon after Temujin's accession to the throne. In 1211 and 1215,
he launched massive attacks against the State of Kin (1115-1234)
and captured Zhongdu (present-day Beijing). In 1219 he began his
first Western expedition, extending his jurisdiction as far as Central
Asia and southern Russia. He died in 1227.
In 1260, Kublai Khan (1215-1294) became the Great Khan and moved
his capital from Helin north of the Gobi Desert to Yanjing, which
was later renamed Dadu (Great Capital). In 1272 he founded the Yuan
Dynasty (1206-1368), and in 1279 he subdued the Southern Song (1127-1279),
bringing the whole of China under his centralized rule.
The subsequent Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) placed the areas where
Mongols lived under the administration of more than 20 garrison
posts commanded by Mongolian manorial lords. In the early 15th century
the Wala (Woyela) and Tartar Mongols living west and north of the
Gobi Desert pledged their allegiance to the Ming empire.
In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) more Mongol feudal lords dispatched
emissaries to Beijing and presented tributes to the Qing court.
Later, some Jungar feudal lords of the Elutes, incited by Tsarist
Russia, staged rebellions against the central government. They were
put down by the Qing court through repeated punitive expeditions
and the Mongolian areas were reunified under the central authorities.
To tighten its control over the various Mongol tribes, the Qing
government instituted in Mongolia a system of leagues and banners
on the basis of the Manchu Eight-Banner Institution.
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.
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. Mongolian scholars also translated
such Chinese classics as A Dream of Red Mansions, Outlaws of the
Marsh, Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Pilgrimage of the West.
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 astronomist 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.
Customs and Habits
Mongolians grow up on horsebacks and horses thus play an important
part in their life. Every Mongolian loves to prove his worth by
showing good horsemanship and archery as well as wrestling.
"Nadam," meaning games in Mongolian, is the name of a traditional
Mongolian fair, which is held in July and August each year. At the
fair, people wearing their holiday best, participate in horse racing,
archery, singing, dancing, chess playing and wrestling.
The life of the Mongolians is unique. Those in the pastoral areas
wear fur coats lined with satin or cloth or nothing at all in winter
and loose, long-sleeved cotton robes in summer. Mongolian costume
is generally red, yellow or dark blue in color. A red or green waistband,
flint steel, snuffbox and knife in an ornate sheath for cutting
meat are accessories common to all men and women. Knee-high felt
boots are a type of common footwear. Mongolians, men and women,
wear cone-shaped hats in winter; they also like to wear silk or
cloth turbans. Girls wear their hair parted in the middle, embellished
with two large beads and agate, coral and green jade ornaments.
In pastoral areas, beef, mutton and dairy products are the staple
food, while in the farming areas, people like to eat grain. Tea
is indispensable. Dried cow dung is a common cooking fuel.
Mongolian herdsmen used to live in felt yurts, which were usually
seven to eight feet high and ten feet in diameter. With an opening
in the top of the umbrella-shaped roof, they give ideal ventilation
and good protection against wind and cold.
After the mid-20th century, as more and more herdsmen ended their
nomadic life and settled down, they began to build yurt-like houses
of mud and wood and one-storied houses, each with two or three rooms
like those in other parts of the country.
The Mongolians are warm-hearted and straightforward. They welcome
strangers travelling on the grasslands to stay for the night in
their yurts and treat them to tea with milk, mutton and milk wine.
Upon leaving, the guests will invariably be given a warm send-off
by the hosts.
Mongolians believed in shamanism in ancient times. The red sect
of Lamaism began to find its followers among the Mongolian rulers
in the 13th century. In the 16th century, many feudal lords as well
as herdsmen shifted to the yellow sect. Lamaism was later protected
and encouraged by the imperial court of the Qing Dynasty. Different
titles, posts and privileges were granted to high-ranking lamas,
who gradually formed a ruling feudal stratum existing side by side
with the ruling feudal lords. These rulers not only rode roughshod
over the people but took possession of numerous herds and large
tracts of land. Their influence could be felt in every aspect of
Mongolian life. The feudal rulers encouraged young people to become
lamas, who neither got married nor took part in physical labor.
As a result, the number of lamas increased to as many as one third
of the Mongolian population during the Ming and Qing dynasties,
seriously impeding the development of production and the growth
of the population.
Mongolians practice monogamy. Before the mid-20th century, intermarriage
between nobles and common people was permitted except that daughters
of Zhasake lords were not allowed to marry common people. Marriage
was generally arranged by parents, or local feudal lords as in the
case of the western grasslands, with costly betrothal gifts demanded.
Before weddings, Buddhist scriptures would be chanted and heavenly
A Mongolian family usually consists of the parents and their children.
When the son gets married he usually lives in a separate home close
to his parents. There are also families formed of several married
brothers and sisters-in-law in the farming and semi-farming areas.
The Mongolians have been known as "a people of music and poetry."
Their singing, sonorous, bold, passionate and unconstrained, is
the true reflection of the temperament of the Mongolian people.
"Haolibao" is a popular Mongolian form of singing to set melodies
with the words improvised extemporaneously. Also very popular are
many other forms of singing including "Mahatale" (paean), "Yurele"
(congratulation), "Dairileqi" (antiphonal singing), riddles, proverbs,
stories, legends, fairy tales and fables.
Mongolian dances are known far and wide. The best ones include
the "Saber" dance, "Ordos" dance, "Andai," "Buryat Wedding," "Horse
Breaker" and "Little Black Horse." "Wine Cup" and "Chopsticks,"
widely recognized as the most lively Mongolian dances, are known
for their brisk steps which are characteristic of the candor, warmth
and stoutness of the Mongolian people.
Horse-head fiddle is a musical instrument favorite with the Mongolians.
It provides fine accompaniment to solos with its low and deep, broad
and melodious sounds.
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. This has further
fired the enthusiasm of the Mongolian people.
All 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.