Woman looks after herd in Mongolia

Mongolia is almost the size of Western Europe. It is completely landlocked, with Russia in the north and China in the south. There are mountains in the north and west, larch and taiga forests in the north, the Gobi Desert in the south and steppes (grassy plains with rolling hills) in the central part of the country.

The climate is extremely harsh. Temperatures range from -40°F (-40°C) to 104°F (40°C). Winters are very long, lasting from October to April.

Capital: Ulaanbaatar

Population: 2.9 million

Density: 1.7 per square km

94.9% Mongolian

5% Turkic (mostly Kazakh)

0.1% Other (Chinese, Russian)

The official Mongolian language is Khalkh Mongolian, a Ural-Altaic language unrelated to Chinese but related to Korean and Turkish. English has been declared the official second language of Mongolia, and foreign English teachers are continually requested.  In addition, Korean, Russian, Chinese and Japanese are widely taught.

  • Buddhism/animism 53%
  • Non-religious/other 39%
  • Shamanism 3%
  • Muslim 3%
  • Christian 2%

In 1206, Genghis Khan united warring Mongolian tribes. He saw himself as appointed by heaven to subdue the nations. He and his descendants created the world’s largest continuous land empire in history, from the Pacific Ocean to Central Europe.  Ruling over China, his grandson Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty and moved China’s capital from Xi’an to Beijing. Trade and the exchange of ideas was increased between Asia and Europe, and historians now view the Pax Mongolica as a forerunner to Christopher Columbus and globalization.

In 1368 the Ming Dynasty was established, with Han Chinese chasing their former Mongolian rulers back to the north.  To prevent the Mongolians from rising up again, the Ming Dynasty encouraged Tibetan Buddhist monks to convert Mongolia to Tibetan Buddhism to pacify the once great warrior people.  During the Manchurian Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Mongolia became absorbed into Chinese territory.  The southern Mongolians, closer to Beijing, were more loyal to the Qing rulers and their land became known as “Inner Mongolia,” while independent minded Mongolian leaders to the north ruled over what came to be known as “Outer Mongolia.”

“Outer Mongolia” declared independence from China at the deposing of China’s last emperor in 1911.  But de facto independence came in 1921 with the leadership of a young Mongolian nationalist D. Sukhbaatar, with great help of the Soviet Union.  The Mongolian People’s Republic was announced in 1924. The city of Urga was renamed “Ulaan Baatar” or “Red Hero,” and became the capital city. Soviet-style communism dramatically changed Mongolian life, bringing nearly 100 percent literacy, education, hospitals and agriculture.  However, Stalinist purges also occurred and people were fearful of neighbor spying against neighbor.

Influenced by sweeping changes in Eastern Europe, young Mongolians began demonstrating in Ulaanbaatar in December 1989, and thousands demonstrated for political change in 1990. Communist one-party rule was renounced later that year and a multi-party democracy was instituted with a new constitution in January 1992. Today there are elections in which the democratic coalitions compete with the Mongolian People’s Party (formerly the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, or, former Communist Party).  Power shifts back and forth between the different parties in free elections.

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