Human skeletons discovered in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert date back almost 500,000 years. Mongolia was populated by different nomadic tribes by the third century BC. These tribes would sometimes form confederations, and as they grew in size, they presented a danger to China. The Xiongnu Empire, founded in the third century BC, was the first confederation with actual power. The raids they carried out on China culminated in constructing the northern section of the Great Wall of China. Mongolia was ruled by several tribes, including the Xianbei, Rourans, Turkic, and Kyrgyz, for the following few hundred years. Mongolia, which existed until the 12th century, was essentially a confederation of competing clans.
Temujin, a twenty-year-old man, rose to prominence in the late 12th century and unified the majority of Mongolia’s clans. In 1189, he was granted the honorary title of Genghis Khan (universal ruler). Genghis Khan established cavalry against China and Russia, and the Mongol Empire had expanded from Beijing to the Caspian Sea by the time he died in 1227. Kublai Khan (1216-1294), Genghis Khan’s grandson, carried on his grandfather’s goal, destroying the Chinese Song Dynasty and becoming Emperor of China’s Yuan Dynasty. Kublai Khan recognized that the success of his kingdom was determined not by how much it might grow but by how effectively he could hold it together. At its peak, the Mongol Empire extended from Korea to Hungary and as far south as Vietnam, making it the world’s most extensive empire.
Following Kublai Khan’s death, the Mongols were obliged to depend on the people they had conquered. However, the subjugated people were profoundly angry, and as a result, the once-mighty kingdom was divided into many factions, each fighting for control. When the Yuan Dynasty fell in the mid-14th century, 60,000 Mongols were exiled from China, and whatever unity had previously existed disintegrated, leading to clan conflict and a period of decline.
China controlled Mongolia until 1911, when the Qing Dynasty collapsed, allowing for independence, which China gave on December 1, 1911. The Russian Revolutions of 1917, on the other hand, provided China with a chance to reestablish its dominance. The violence suffered by the Mongolian people during this period further fuelled their yearning for freedom. They sought assistance from the Bolsheviks and ousted China in 1921. The Bolsheviks’ assistance culminated in the Soviet Union’s virtual control of the country for the following seventy years.
Mongolia was not immune to the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, which turned the nation into a totalitarian nightmare. The anti-religious crusade was heinous. In 1937, a ‘Reign of Terror’ against monasteries started, resulting in the death of hundreds of monks. Approximately 27,000 individuals had been murdered by 1939.
Following the fall of the Soviet regime in the 1980s, Mongolia was ruled by Jambyn Batmonk, who attempted to implement Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost – openness to transparency in government – and perestroika – restructuring. Full diplomatic ties with China were established in 1989, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union led to decolonization. The 1990s started with pro-democracy protests in Mongolia, signaling the fall of communism.
Mongolia is now undergoing significant transformation. The old nomadic way of life is dwindling, and more people are migrating to cities. With a 7.5 percent annual growth rate and a new administration in place as of June 2012, it will be fascinating to see Mongolia continue to adapt and modernize while ideally maintaining some traditional ways of life that make the nation distinct.
Discover much more of this great country’s millennia-long history with New Paths Expeditions, contact an adviser now firstname.lastname@example.org, and start planning this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
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