Mongolia’s Fight for Independence
The 20th century was a struggle for Mongolia. At one time, Mongolia lorded over a sizable portion of the earth. Khaan Monkh once said: “Through the will of God, we will possess every place from where the sun rises to where the sun sets.” Mongolian leaders were unable to complete Khaan Monkh’s prophecy. Mongolia was conquered by the Manchurians; the Manchu dynasty existed between 1632-1755.
The Chinese Revolution that began in Uchan City in 1911 overthrew the Manchurian reign in Mongolia. This was the beginning of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the inauguration of China’s first president, Sun Yat Sen.
On December 29, 1911, Khalkh-Mongol (Outer Mongolia), which included four provinces, declared its independence, and the 8th reincarnation of Buddha, Jebtsendamba Khutuktu, ascended to the throne of the new state. During that time, the PRC considered Mongolia a part of China due to the fact that both countries were provinces of the Manchu dynasty. The Mongolians knew, however, that the new China was not the heir of the Manchu dynasty. After the dynasty collapsed, Mongolia and China were their own countries, though China did not see it that way. Both countries were struggling to be accepted into the international scene, seeking relations with Tsarist Russia and Japan.
The history of Mongolia is inseparably linked with the country’s relationship, during the early 20th century, to Russia and Japan. After the current Mongolian state announced its independence, several provinces joined the movement for freedom, including the 16 banners of the western Mongols – the former administrative unit during the Manchu reign – 3 banners of Zakhchin Mongols, 7 banners of the Urianhai Mongols, 3 banners of the Torguud Mongols, 8 banners of the Tsahar Mongols, and other Mongols who lived near Lake Kokh. During this time, Inner Mongolia, which consisted of 49 banners, 35 of which had agreed to join the new Mongolian state.
The primary goal of the new Mongolia was to establish a land with all the tribes, outer and inner. This was only a dream; for in the early years of the 20th century, Russia and Japan competed against each other to spread their own influence in Manchuria, which included what is today Inner and Outer Mongolia. Russia agreed that Korea was owned by Japan, but Japan did not agree that Manchuria was a Russian possession.
Finally, militaries decided who would be the sole possessor of the lingering province. The first war of the 20th century began on February 8, 1904, between Japan and Russia. The war ended with a Japanese victory. The two rival countries eventually reached a peace accord in America. The peace agreement stated that Russia must give Japan South Manchuria.
In 1907, without consulting China, Japan and Russia arranged a treaty in the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. The treaty separated Inner and Outer Mongolia. The 3rd article of the secret treaty stated that the “Japanese government will not interfere with any Russian interests in Outer Mongolia.”
Years after the treaty was signed, Russia agreed that Inner Mongolia was the sole possession of Japan. Mongolia and China were still unaware of the arrangement made between Japan and Russia. Mongolia, however, displayed its independence by taking advantage of the second Chinese Revolution of 1911. As a result, the two countries immediately made amendments to the established treaty. Russia lost its influence in Manchuria.
In June of 1912, Krupenski, the Russian ambassador to China, presented a documented to the Chinese government. The document presented three suggestions regarding Russia’s status in Mongolia:
1. China must relinquish all its military attachments in Outer Mongolia.
2. China must not maintain influence in Outer Mongolia.
3. China must not interfere with the internal administrative affairs in Outer Mongolia.
The Chinese government disagreed with the pact. After Russia created these three stipulations, the only option was to threaten China. In 1912, Russia declared that if the Chinese refused to abide by the suggestions, Russia would further strengthen Mongolian independence.
Every Mongolian province, including Inner Mongolia, believed that Russia’s threat included them as well. The declaration was made on behalf of Outer Mongolia. Russia did not accept Inner Mongolia as part of the Russo-Mongolian agreement. B. Tserendorj, who was the Minister of Inernal Affairs, was furious with the Russians for not including other Mongolian provinces. He asked Russian diplomat Korostovets why he did not include Inner Mongolia, Urianhai and Holonbuir in the agreement:
“It is not right to continue the separation of one country. Every province is being suppressed by China, and they all want freedom like Outer Mongolia. Outer Mongolian officials must pay attention to the other provinces’ fate, because they are our brothers and sisters. If we ignore their problems, we will be haunted and punished for doing so,” he stated.
Russia found it impossible to accept Mongolia’s ambition to establish a united Mongolia because they had previously made an agreement with Japan. Russia assumed that the agreement it had with Mongolia was only made to threaten China. This was obviously a huge misunderstanding. Mongolia had to deny its ambition to establish a “Great Mongolia”.
Korostovets had Outer Mongolia sign an agreement stating that the province would become autonomous. Outer Mongolia did not understand the terms and assumed that it meant independence. Finally, on November 3, 1912, Outer Mongolia and Russia signed a treaty that declared the “independence” of Mongolia, although the province was still unsatisfied because of the exclusion of other provinces.
China considered Mongolia one of its possessions, not having the right to make agreements with any country. China now knew Russia and Japan had divided Mongolia into two parts through the clandestine pact. Fearing Russian threats, the Chinese government agreed with the Russian proposal and drafted an agreement. The Chinese Parliament rejected it. President Yuan Shi Kai dissolved Parliament in order to have the arrangement passed. Trilateral agreements between Mongolia, Russia and China, based on the agreements of 1912 between Mongolia and Russia, and of the 1913 pact between Russia dn China, were begun on September 8, 1914 in Hiagt, situated on the Mongolian and Russian border. The aims of the three sides were very different from one another.
First, Russia wanted to guarantee its influence in the area allotted to it by the plans of 1907 and 1912. Second, China had no other recourse to the agreement made with Russia in 1913. Mongolia announcing its independence took advantage of the collapsing Manchu dynasty. They felt it enough to accept Mongolian autonomy. They would retain Inner Mongolia. Third, Mongolia did not agree with the 1912 decision. They felt “autonomy” equated with “independence”. Mongolians wanted Inner Mongolia as well. Neighbouring power struggles evaded their interests.
Each nation came to the table with their respective demands. Mongolia needed the provinces of Khalkh, Inner Mongolia, Urianhai, Kholonbuir, Dariganga, Tsahar, and Turmed. The Chinese side warned Mongolia that they were exceeding the Russo-Mongolian agreement. The Russian delegation accepted Outer Mongolian autonomy, without compromise.
Mongolia surrendered. There was no other way. They became an autonomous Outer Mongolia. Their fellow Inner Mongolians were not included. Outer Mongolia gained independence following the Second World War.
Nomads or Barbarians?
by Catriona MacPherson
Many nomadic tribes have been labelled barbarians by other cultures. We may be playing with semantics here, but I submit that most nomads are not barbarians – they are a product of their environment, now and in the past. Because of the land they dwelt in, they modified their lives in order to survive. Another way of saying it was the land shaped their lives.
You do what you have to do to survive.
The nomads were not barbarians; they were born into a harsh climate, forcing them to be fierce and sometimes cruel by our standards in order to survive. Being constantly occupied with survival, they had no time to learn a more sophisticated way of life, as had the sedentary peoples of China and Iraq. Nomads were not mentally inferior, but specialists in survival against severe odds. It has been said they did not know how to build a bridge to cross a river… Of what need had they for a bridge? For one thing, they might never need to cross a river at that particular spot again, since they were always on the move; for another, they could cross rivers by piling up their possessions on top of their horses and swim them across while holding on to their tails. Why tie themselves to a certain route, possibly going kilometres out of their way, just because there was a bridge there to cross the river? Sedentary people became too dependent on bridges, walls and other accoutrements of “civilisation”, dulling their ability to think and act quickly in a crisis. Not so the nomad: his wits were always razor sharp, enabling him to face his environment with a good chance at survival, whatever came his way..
There are many levels of civilisation, each with its accompanying body of knowledge and customs. The nomads may not have been on the top rung of the ladder, but they certainly had their place on the ladder.
The Mongols, as an example, were only one of the nomad tribes that inhabited the Asian steppes. However, not until unification under Chinggis Khaan did they become a Mongol nation. They had their own culture and tribal laws.
It was frequently necessary for nomadic tribes to engage in internecine wars that were usually not unprovoked. The strongest chief got the best grazing lands, and it was often necessary to obtain and keep them by force. Following tribal customs more often than not resulted in conflict with another tribe.
Judging nomad tribes by our standards, something we sometimes unwittingly do, is not fair to them. We must look at them in their time and place, recognise that their fight for survival and severe life kept them at a lower cultural level than their more sedentary neighbours. We can only imagine their reaction upon encountering the comparative luxury of the sedentary populations in their path.
Early Western writers referred to the Mongols as barbarians rather than nomads. Their opinions were largely based on Mongol military conquests and atrocities so often written into their accounts. While Brent says “… their activities have become synonymous with senseless cruelty, a violation of all security, all boundaries; for centuries they were regarded as the epitome of human destructiveness,” he further adds, “It has taken the cold ingenuity of the twentieth century to match and even outstrip them the heinous crimes that both legend and true recollection have placed at their door.” And legends must be taken with a grain of salt. What is said of the Mongols can said of many of the nomad tribes of Asia and Eastern Europe.
Looking at the Middle Ages as a whole, we find it a period of warfare and upheaval. Morris Bishop writes of the conditions in the West during the Hundred Years War, “… War became a rather dirty business. It was conducted by contract armies, recruited anywhere without concern for nationality. … Knights fought no longer from feudal obligation and loyalty, but for advantage. Their dream was to capture and hold some noble for an enormous ransom.” The Mongols were loyal to Chinggis Khaan, and even when Turks made up a large part of their fighting forces, the Mongols still fought as a unit, loyal to their commanders. While they were not paid and did not receive large quantities of booty, their unquestioned faith in their leader was their true incentive for remaining loyal. Nomad tribes were loyal to their clan chiefs; and as long as their chiefs led them to good grazing lands and protected them from other raiding tribes, the nomads remained loyal to them. The Mongol army was an excellent example of tribal loyalty. It was organised on a decimal system, which was nothing new, as nomad armies before Chinggis Khaan’s time had been so organised. It was a simple, but effective system. A troop of 10, called an arban, was the smallest unit. A squadron of 100, made up of 10 arbans, was called a jagun. A regiment of 1000, made up of 10 jaguns, was called a minghan. A division of 10,000, made up of 10 minghans, was called a tumen. Generally, there would be two to three tumens in a Mongol army. A personal bond of loyalty united the captains of tens, hundreds, thousands, and tens thousands, a feudal principle surviving in Asia while it was dying in Europe.
Through the years, students of military tactics have studied the campaign strategies of the Mongol general, Subodai; among the most well-known were Napoleon, Gustavus Adolphus, Rommel, and Patton. If their culture was so inferior, what could these great commanders learn from a “savage Mongol”?
To maintain communication throughout the Mongol Empire, a rapid and effective post system, Yam, was organised. A continuous change of mounts, made possible by the enormous numbers of horses available to them, allowed some of the riders to travel over two hundred miles in one day. Is this a sign of an inferior culture? There were three main classes to the postal system: ‘second-class’, carried by foot-runners; ‘first-class’, carried on horseback; and ‘His Majesty’s Service’, carried by non-stop riders who changed horses, but not riders. Not until the 1800s did America make use of a similar postal system.
Extended post roads spanned the entire Mongol Empire, which encompassed many nomad tribes, and both valuable merchandise and messages were carried to all parts of the empire. Legend has it that an unprotected young female could take a sack of gold safely from the Don River to Khanbaligh, the city of the Khaans.
Nomad merchants dispatched their caravans over these roads carrying new and useful things to Europe. This relinking of Europe and the Orient resulted in an increased cultural exchange, and a greater knowledge of world geography.
Worthy of attention in the field of nomad art were their carvings from horn, bone, and hard wood. From these materials, they made numerous articles: plates, cups, and bowls; bracelets, brooches, and plaques. These artifacts are generally used to describe a civilisation’s sophistication.
We usually associate polo with very civilised cultures, but Mongol horsemen played polo, which, of course, was only a minor legacy to the world.
Because the Mongols had no Bible or Koran, and no sacred scriptures, they left no lasting monuments to a brief, but glorious civilisation. For one should call the Mongol nation civilised: their roots can be traced back to a nomad/barbarian culture, but from the time of unification under Chinggis Khaan, when for the first time they called themselves Mongols, they must be considered a civilised nation.
The Badge of Sovereignty
Statehood is a long-held institution for Mongolians; and a milestone of this longevity is the state seal. The state seal exemplifies a country’s independence and sovereignty: a symbol of self-direction.
Seals of the Mongol empire were created in accordance with an official edict and established rules. They were engraved in precious stones – usually jade –, in metal, and in sandalwood, as well. Mongolian seals from the 13th century up to the 1930s were square in shape, thought to symbolize complimentary opposites and the four points of the compass. Sizes of seals varied depending on the bearer’s rank.
The handle of seals often depicted powerful creatures or national patterns symbolising strength and stability. Ancient Mongolians in all likelihood commonly used seals having grips engraved in the form of dragons, lions and tigers. However, under the rule of the Bogd Khaan – ending with the Revolutionary Party’s usurpation in 1924 -, most government offices used seals inlaid with jewels (chandmani). Seals of clergymen were decorated with ornamental patterns.
A new seal was called for and received with ceremony. Seal holders received a seal on a silk scarf – the hadag – while standing on a stretched white felt carpet. State seals were then placed in a specially-designed box on a pedestal in a decorated ger set aside for it.
Opening ceremonies to remove seals from their boxes, have been observed by Mongols since antiquity. Ceremonies show respect and responsibility, and have special rules. For instance, the box of the state seal of Mongolia under the Bogd Khaan was only to be opened while the five major ministers were present. Stamping was done daytime only, and an auspicious day and hour were preferred
During the Great Khaan’s throne, Mongolia had broad foreign relations with European powers. Chinggis Khaan’s conquests in Asia brought hope to Christian crusaders obsessed with the idea of seizing the Holy Land from Islam.
On July 22, 1246, after a fifteen-month journey, the Italian messenger Giovanni da Pian del Carpini reached to capital of Karakorum just as a new khaan, Guyug, son of Ogedei, was to be enthroned. Bearing an invitation from Pope Innocent IV asking the Khaan to embrace Christianity – and also to measure the chances of gaining an alliance in the Crusades against the alleged Islamic infidels. Guyug said, as the story goes, that first the Pope and heads of Europe would have to come and swear loyalty to him. On November 13 of the same year, Carpini took leave of the Mongol ruler, carrying with him Guyug Khaan’s reply to the Pope. In November 1247, Carpini delivered Guyug’s reply to the Pope. It was, to say the least, discouraging: “… You must come yourself as the head of all your kings and prove to Us your fealty. If you disregard the command of God and disobey Our instructions, We shall look upon you as Our enemy. Whoever refuses submission to the Son of Gods and Lord of the World will be eliminated.”
Under Manchurian rule, seals represented inscriptions in both Manchurian and Mongolian languages. At this time, Mongolia split into smaller administrative units under military governance. Since 1692, Tusheet Khan, Setsen Khan, Zasagt Khan, and Sain Noyon Khan aimags began to be referred to as the Northern Route, Eastern Route, Western Route, and Middle Route, respectively; and banners (khoshuuns) grew in number, according to the many annexes of the Mongolian empire, each entitled to use seals.
Having struggled against Manchurian rule for centuries, the Mongolian people restored self-rule in 1911. Bogd Jibzundamba VIII was elevated to King of Mongolia and conferred the stated seal with the inscription “Seal of Bogd Khaan, Head of Church and State, the Sunlight” in Soyombo, Mongolian and Square scripts.
The national symbol, the Soyombo – represented on Mongolia’s present-day flag – was incorporated into the state seal under Bogd Khaan. The Soyombo corresponds to a comprehensive ideal of man and state. In particular, man is respected first of all, and is therefore placed on top of the emblem, represented by three flames connected to the sun and the moon below – an instance of cultural beliefs often embodied in seals of state.
[Daniel & Sun-duk’s note: Guyug Khaan’s stamp on his letter to Pope Innocent IV read, “When the edict of the Oceanly Khaan of the Great Mongol Dynasty under the power of the Eternal Heaven reaches its subjects, they will abide and be overawed.”]