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New Internationalist

Mongolian People’s Republic

November 1989

new internationalist
issue 201 - November 1989


Mongolian People's Republic

Map of Mongolia Mongolia - the cold, high homeland of Genghis Khan - maintains many rugged traditions from its nomadic past, with livestock still providing the main source of wealth.

Genghis Khan (1162-1227) and his heirs conquered and ruled over a huge empire stretching from China and Korea in the east to central Europe in the west. By the end of the 17th century the empire had disintegrated and was made part of China under the Qing (Manchu) emperor. The Manchu rulers divided Mongolia into two parts - Inner Mongolia, closer to the imperial capital, Peking, and Outer Mongolia, along the border of the Russian empire.

When the Republic of China was set up in 1911 the princes of Outer Mongolia declared their autonomy, with the Living Buddha of Mongolia as head of state. But in 1918 Chinese troops marched in and occupied the country. With Soviet help, Mongolian revolutionaries drove out the Chinese and established a national government in 1921.

When the Living Buddha died in 1924, the Mongolian People's Republic was proclaimed, while Inner Mongolia remained part of China.

The foundations of state industry and a modern economic system were created in the 1920s and 1930s, but the rise of Stalinism in the Soviet Union encouraged the growth of a cruel dictatorship under Marshal Choybalsan. Tens of thousands of lamas (priests) were slaughtered as counter-revolutionaries', the lamaseries destroyed and their treasures scattered.

For 40 years the Mongolian People's Republic was quite isolated and under tight Soviet control, the two countries locked together in their fear of China. Mongolia joined the United Nations in 1961 and Comecon in 1962. Increased Soviet aid at this time gave a spur to modemisation. Many people forsook the rural life of herding and moved into the towns which became centres of government bureaucracy: very different from a traditional Mongolian city with its Buddhist monastery at the core surrounded by the Chinese trading community and then clusters of yurts (felt tents).

In 1984, Jambvn Batmonh came to power and has taken steps to repair relations with China as well as following Gorbachev's policy of 'restructuring' by reorganising management of the stagnating economy.

This was not very successful, and Batmonh's recent programme of political reform is intended to encourage the drive needed to lift the economy. With a more open political climate, this time he may be able to tap into the energy that Mongolians pour into their three main sports - archery, wrestling and horse-racing - and channel some of that attacking zeal as lifeblood into the economy.

Alan Sanders

Leader: President Jambyn Batmonh

Economy: GNP per capita (est) US$2,140 (US $17,480)
Monetary unit: Togrog (not freely convertible)
Industry processing foodstuffs and livestock by products and mining. In agriculture, grain production meets national consumption. Livestock rearing is the main source of wealth with some 22 million cattle, sheep, goats, horses and camels.
Main exports: livestock, meat, copper ore.
Main imports: fuels, machinery, consumer goods.

People: 2.1 million

Health: Infant mortality 46 per 1,000 live births (US 10 per 1,000)

Culture: Population mainly Halh (Khalkha) Mongolian. also Kazakhs. Half the people are urbanised; some are still semi-nomadic. Some live in traditional ger (yurts) or felt tents and wear the national costume, the deel. Main sports are archery, wrestling and horse-racing.

Language: Mongolian: Kazakh in western Mongolia; Russian is the first foreign language.

Religion: The state propagates atheism. Remnants of Lamaism (Tibetan Buddhism), shamanism (spirit worship) and Islam.

Source: Alan Sanders, Mongolia: Politics, Economics and Society, 1987; State of the World's Children 1989.


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Urban wage-earners better off then hearders.

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Landlocked, heavily dependent on Soviet support.

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Role in industry, agriculture and commerce, important position in the arts.

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Communist one-party state.

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86% women;
93% men;
schooling for all.

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No opposition parties. No press freedom.

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65 years
(US 76 years)

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previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page [image, unknown]

This feature was published in the November 1989 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 201

New Internationalist Magazine issue 201
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