Emergence of the Countries of Tibet and Mongoliaby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
What forces led to the creation of Tibet and Mongolia? How volatile are those borders today? Why?
When one hears mention of Asia, one often pictures the densely-populated countries of China and India, the enormous expanses of Russia, or perhaps the Pacific island of Japan. Yet it is a much rarer occasion that one pauses to consider the nearby countries of Tibet and Mongolia. Tibet and Mongolia lie to the west and north, respectively, of China, and the histories of their emergence into nations often intertwine. From their early origins up through the present, different circumstances have molded and shaped their existence. Throughout the centuries, these nations have seen the change from their beginnings as individual tribes of roaming nomads bound together by tenuous treaties, to the well-established, relatively settled, and more permanently delimited countries seen today.
The people of Mongolia and Tibet trace their histories from long before any country boundaries were definitively demarcated. They started out as nomads and herdsman who were led by tribal leaders and who inhabited the areas of Asia that lay north and west of China. Tibet traces its decent from the Qiang tribes.1 In the seventh century, the teachings of Buddha were introduced to these tribes by Indian missionaries, and Buddhism quickly became the predominant religion.2 Since this early time, this darkness has shrouded the region and veiled many hearts from recognizing Christ's light. As most nomadic tribes of the day, they often sparred with other tribes over territorial disputes.
Major tribal groups in the early period of the Mongol people's history included the Xiongnu, Xianbei, Toba, Ruruan, and Turk. But these nomadic tribes were constantly at war with one another and with China. Territorial borders often changed during the following years as tribes conquered portions of northern China and, in turn, powerful Chinese dynasties arose which reoccupied their invaded lands and reeked havoc in the territories of the tribes further north. This pattern continued unbroken for the next several hundred years, repeating itself over and over, but with different tribes and circumstances. In 1162, however a man was finally born who would break this monotonous cycle: Genghis Kahn. Genghis Khan's leadership marked an unprecedented change in the history of these nomadic peoples because he succeeded in accomplishing what none of his predecessors had been able to achieve; he united all the various tribes in the region into one body under his sole command. By utilizing "a logistical nexus involving food supplies, sheep and horse herds, intelligence and security, and transportation"3 he managed to keep these tribes together. One of Genghis' primary goals was the subjugation of the Jin in northern China, but he also led campaigns into Europe and Russia. In the early thirteenth century, Genghis arrived in Tibet and took control of the country. Despite the influence of Nestorian Christianity in his family, upon encountering Buddhism in Tibet, Genghis Khan was himself converted and soon adopted it as Mongolia's official religion. After his death in 1227, Genghis' rule was succeeded by several other strong Mongolian rulers-Ogedei, Mengki, and Kublai-who managed to keep his legacy alive for some time and who eventually completed the subjugation of China. Kublai Khan (the grandson of Genghis) and his descendents took power in China, establishing the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). Thus, for some time, Mongolia and China converged under one common ruler. But eventually, the Kublai line of rulers were sinicized into the Chinese culture and lost control of all territories outside of China, making Mongolia and China distinct and separate entities once again.
As time progressed, an important step towards Tibet's emergence as a country-the rearrangement of its political governing system-occurred. During the 1400s, the lamas of Buddhism, religious leaders declared to be reincarnations of their predecessors, took control of the country and governmental affairs. The third such lama was given the title "Dalai Lama," a name which implied the meaning "Ocean of Wisdom."4 But in 1717, the Chinese Emperor Kang Xi, after chasing invading Mongols out of Tibet and occupying the country with Chinese forces, proclaimed Tibet to be a protectorate of China.5 Yet though the Chinese ruled the country for the next several years, power eventually began to shift back to the lamas and from 1788 onward the Chinese presence diminished in the area.
The centuries following Genghis and Kublai Khan's rules were years of change for Mongolia as well. But they brought decline, instead of prosperity, to the Mongol empire. The people were spread too thinly and as the years passed they eventually became assimilated into the cultures they had conquered and became synonymous with its peoples.
"The change in Mongol cultural patterns that did occur inevitably exacerbated natural divisions in the empire. As different areas adopted different foreign religions, Mongol cohesiveness dissolved. The nomadic Mongols had been able to conquer the Eurasian land mass through a combination of organizational ability, military skill, and fierce warlike prowess, but they fell prey to alien cultures, to the disparity between their way of life and the needs of empire, and to the size of their domain, which proved too large to hold together. The Mongols declined when their sheer momentum could no longer sustain them."6
Yet the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries were not completely devoid of important events in the emergence of the country of Mongolia. In 1571, the Mongolian tribes signed a treaty with the Ming Chinese Dynasty that ceased all warring between the two peoples. Later in the sixteenth century, raids into Tibet rekindled Buddhism when the Mongolian leader of the day was converted. In 1587, the first Mongolian Lamaist monastery was constructed and Lamaism emerged as the state religion. By 1636, approximately fifty years later, raids had resulted in Tibet developing into a "virtual protectorate" of the Mongols. During that same year, the prince of a particular Mongol tribe was proclaimed to be the reincarnate of an old and highly-esteemed scholar. The prince was named Jebtsundamba Khutuktu (Living Buddha) and his life marked yet another significant change, as it instigated a succession of such religious leaders that endured for approximately 300 years.7
Still, despite these changes over the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries, the Mongol empire had degenerated to such a degree that each individual tribe was no longer united in one body. And this had given the Manchu, rulers of China, the opportunity to slowly gain more power and more influence in Mongolia. Though not connected to each other, each individual ruler was bound to the Qing Chinese Dynasty. A result of this became evident during the 1750s when the Chinese established a partition defining Northern and Southern Mongolia. "The southern provinces-.know as Inner Mongolia-were virtually absorbed into China. The remainder of the region-the northern provinces, which became known as Outer Mongolia-was considered an "outside subordinate" by the Manchu, and was largely ignored."8 During the time when Mongolia was essentially ruled by China, religion began to play a more prominent role in the country's development and identity. Buddhism was combined with the indigenous religion of Shamanism, generating a new set of religious beliefs in the country. By the 1800s, the Chinese basically held complete control over Mongolia and peace succeeded in the area for several years.
But after approximately 100 years, with Russian expansion continuing in inner-Asia and beginning to encroach upon Mongolian borders, the Chinese became more possessive of Outer Mongolia. By this point, however, many locals had grown dissatisfied with Chinese rule and at the turn of the 20th century, rebellion was astir. In 1911, Outer Mongolia requested help from the Russians, and proclaimed their independence from China, declaring themselves an "autonomous theocratic government" ruled by the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu of the day. Because of disunity within China, the Chinese were unable to respond forcefully to the situation. And as a compromise, "In [a] November 5, 1913, agreement, Russia recognized Chinese suzerainty over Mongolia, and China recognized Outer Mongolia's right to self-rule and to the control of its own commerce and industry."9
Several years later, Mongolia began to feel the affects of the on-going Russian civil war. Soon, Russians of the White Guard, the Chinese, and the Japanese were attempting to gain control of the country. In 1919, disregarding its treaty, a Chinese warlord captured the Mongolian city of Niyslel Huree. The White Guard forces of the Russians drove out the Chinese a year later, but quickly lost popular support because of the regime's brutal policies. These events birthed a yearning desire for liberation and independence among the Mongolian people. And in March of 1920, Mongolian leaders, after receiving the blessing of the current Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, petitioned Moscow for aid. A joint Soviet-Mongolian army succeeded in driving out the White Guard the following year, and on September 14, 1921, Mongolia once again declared its independence. The current government was replaced by the People's Government of Mongolia. After the death of the current Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, the new government prohibited the search for his reincarnated successor and began, with much Soviet aid, the establishment of an independent government. Often bloody religious and governmental purges followed, and thus, Mongolia was eventually established as a communist nation.
In the meantime, the Tibetans had aroused the disapproval of the Chinese by signing a treaty with the British that China did not authorize. But in 1906, the British conceded that China held suzerainty in Tibet. During the year 1910, China invaded Tibet and took control, causing the Dalai Lama to flee the country. But within the next few years, China was crippled by an internal revolt and in 1912, all Chinese forces vacated Tibet to subdue the Chinese revolution. In 1913, both Tibet and Mongolia signed a treaty announcing their freedom from China.10 The thirteenth Dalai Lama finally assumed control in 1913, and Tibet was left in peace until 1943. But in 1959, the jurisdiction of the country changed one more time, as the Chinese, under Mao Zedong, again overtook the Tibetan government. Its poor choices lead to starvation among many of Tibet's peoples. Buddhism was suppressed under the communistic Chinese leadership, and the country's many monasteries were destroyed, as were numerous important religious and cultural memorials. By the time Mao's successor finally granted the country the status of "Tibetan Autonomous Region" in 1965, the country had seen "1.2 million deaths, the destruction of 6352 monasteries and nunneries, the absorption of two-thirds of Tibet into China, 100,000 Tibetans in labor camps, and extensive deforestation."11 And though religious freedom was reestablished, it was done so more nominally than in sincerity. In addition, monetary rewards were offered to Han Chinese willing to uproot and move to Tibet, and the year 1984 saw over 100,000 take up the offer.
In 1946, China finally officially acknowledged Mongolia as an independent nation. Throughout the twentieth century, Mongolian and Soviet relationships continued to increase in closeness as a growing chill developed in relations with China. And despite China's signing of the Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Assistance in 1960, a fear subtly developed that China might attempt to regain Mongolia. In 1961, Mongolia was finally welcomed into the United Nations. According to Dr. S.T. Kimbrough, "Nestorian Christian influence continues as the underpinning of Mongolian law. ... A tenet of the Mongolian law is that all people on earth are created by one creator."12
Yet even with the Mongolian fear of possible Chinese resurgence, Tibet's borders today remain much more volatile than do Mongolia's. Today, Tibet, now called Xixang, remains an autonomous region within China. But the region is still in unrest. As China continues to encourage the migration of Han Chinese into Xixang, the people of the area now face the risk of being overrun by foreigners and becoming a minority within Tibet.13 And in the future, the region may possibly lose its autonomous status and find itself integrated into the rest of China. Still, over the centuries these countries have experienced great change in order to become what they are today. From tribal nomadism, these nations continued to progress throughout history, though sometimes encountering setbacks, into the more permanent, government-run establishments of today.
1"Tibet/History", http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/north_east_asia/tibet/history.htm, (27 January, 2005)
3U.S. Library of Congress, "The Era of Chinggis Khan, 1206-27", http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field(DOCID+mn0019), (26 January, 2005)
4"Tibet/History", http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/north_east_asia/tibet/history.htm, (27 January, 2005)
5"Tibet/History", http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/north_east_asia/tibet/history.htm , (27 January, 2005)
6U.S. Library of Congress, "The Mongol Decline", http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field(DOCID+mn0031), (26 January, 2005)
7U.S. Library of Congress, "Mongolia in Transition, 1368-1911", http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field(DOCID+mn0032), (26 January, 2005)
8U.S. Library of Congress, "The End of Independence", http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field(DOCID+mn0034), (26 January, 2005)
9U.S. Library of Congress, "Modern Mongolia", http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field(DOCID+mn0035), (26 January, 2005)
11"Tibet/History", http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/north_east_asia/tibet/history.htm, (27 January, 2005)
12 Dr. Dr. S.T. Kimbrough, Jr., "Mongolia - GBGM Staff Briefing Summary", http://gbgm-umc.org/global_news/full_article.cfm?articleid=577 31 January, 2005
(27 January, 2005)
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