This Seams Interesting: MONGOLIA UNDER BOGD KHAN
Hello and welcome, this is This Seams Interesting. It’s a monthly column looking at weird, interesting, and overlooked people and events throughout history. October’s topic is…
MONGOLIA UNDER BOGD KHAN: Two Revolutions for the Price of One
When it comes to the Mongolian history, most people stop at the death of Genghis Khan or if you’re a history nerd, the Golden Horde in Russia. However, the Mongolians have a deeply interesting and ignored history. This will cover a specified time in Mongolian history. In a short amount of time they went through two different revolutions, the Revolution of 1911 and Revolution of 1921, including a brief flirtation with a monarchy. This laid the path for what they would become in the 20th century.
Before I start at 1911, I need to set a foundation. Mongolia was not independent pre-1911. It was a military protectorate under Imperial China for centuries. There were several races under Chinese control most prominently Mongols, Manchus, and Han. They more or less operated on its own since it was the furthest part of the empire. Mongolia was like the kid in the back of class that the teacher sometimes forgets is there. Mongolia was divided into two different protectorates, Outer Mongolia and Inner Mongolia. Outer is what we now know as Mongolia and Inner was right below it (Some is modern China and some is modern Mongolia). By the late 20th century Imperial China was nearly at its end. The shadow of Russia was slowly but surely closing in.
Meanwhile in Europe Great Britain and Russia were in the midst of the Great Game. This was a battle of diplomatic dick size in Central Asia. Russia wanted to prove itself following their embarrassing defeat in the Crimean War. This included a series of treaties in the 1890s, one of which included recognizing Tibet as a part of China. The Russians had been moving into China via Outer Mongolia for a while by this point. They set up shop throughout the Mongolias. The Chinese didn’t like it but couldn’t do anything about it. Also numerous Chinese businesses had moved into Outer Mongolia. Now, this sounds good but it wasn’t. The Qing government reach barely touched Mongolia. It was a haven for businesses that didn’t have to follow the law. The Russians and Chinese were taking advantage of the local Mongol population. They used monasteries as trading depots. There were a lot of them given that 45% of the male population in Outer Mongolia were Buddhist monks. The Mongols didn’t have many natural resources aside from animal products, which weren’t worth a lot, and had no real foot in the door in the trade between China and Russia. This is only the beginning if Mongolia’s complicated relationship with Russia.
The Chinese saw this as a golden opportunity. The Mongols could only sell their goods for low prices. The Chinese sold their goods on credit. This went on for decades. By 1911, the Mongols had accumulated 15 million taels in debt to Chinese to traders. 1 tael is $653.31 in current American dollars. That means the total debt was $9,799,650,000. If divided between every household in Outer Mongolia, it’s 500 taels/$326,655 per home. This was only one of the problems that led to the Mongols revolting.
The Qing regime realized following their crushing defeat during the Boxer Rebellion that they have problems. It was too late stop the avalanche. A series of restrictions on its citizens were abolished. These included, allowing Mongols to speak to Chinese, allowing marriage between Chinese, Manchus, and Mongols, allowing Chinese to move their families in Mongolia (Outer and Inner), and Han (largest Chinese ethnic group) settlement in the Mongolias. Even though on the surface this appears good for Mongolia. It in fact made the situation worse. The racial tension between the Mongols, Han, and Manchus went from bad to worse. The Qing administration was so dedicated to this that they established the Department of Colonization in 1907. The purpose of it was to promote Han movement to the Mongolias and attempt to get the Russians and their allies out of Chinese territory. All the while, the Mongolians were still treated as second class citizens.
The Qing tried to force the Mongols to convert their land into villages and farms. This failed. The Mongolian land is much better for herding animals than growing crops. On top of this, the Qing tried again to build gold mines throughout the Mongolia. The Mongolians did not like this. It would ruin their land but no one cared and they tried it anyway.
Remember how the Qing administration wanted to remove all the Russians. This also didn’t go as planned. A Russian noble, Baron Von Grot, managed a Belarus-Russia company that attempted to build a gold mine in Outer Mongolia, in Tushiyetu Khan and Setsen Khan aimags (Mongolian province) to be specific. One year later in 1901, they ran out of money and abandoned the project. In 1906, Von Grot did the same thing again. He requested permission from the Qing this time. They said no but he did it anyways. He was backed by the Romanovs after all. The Chinese could only tax the gold mines and just let them do it regardless. In 1910, the Qing received 200,000 taels/$130,662,000 from these gold mines alone. That was only 10% of their total profits by that point. Again, no one cared about the Mongolians.
The groundwork for revolution was firmly planted in Mongolian soil. By this point, the Revolution of 1911 had ravaged through China and eventually reached Mongolia.
Decades before that though a baby boy was born in Tibet. The year was 1869. His father managed the finances of the Dali Lama. The boy’s name was Jivzundamba Agvaanluvsanchoijinyamdanzanvanchug. 5 years later, the family moved to Mongolia, where Jivzundamba spent his childhood. He also happened to be the 8th reincarnation of Bogd Gegen or the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu (Mongolian for, “Mongolian Holy Precious Master”). This made him the Buddhist religious leader in Mongolia, Pope level prestige. He married Ekh Dagina in 1902. They had a son and adopted daughter. I’ll refer to the Mongolian Holy Precious Master as Bogd Khan from here on.
Bogd Khan had the best education available. He was trained in many religious studies, and several languages. Apparently, his Mongolian was better than Tibetan. As word of revolution started to spread to Mongolia, it reached Bogd Khan. He started to publicly encourage the Mongolians to revolt. Mongolia wasn’t strong enough to break away from China so they need help. The closest nation that can help is Russia. You know one of the reasons they wanted to be revolt in the first place. Remember when I said their relationship with Russia is complicated.
By 1911, the Xinhai Revolution was raging in China. This led to Mongolia’s Revolution of 1911. The Empire was collapsing. This was the time. The top Khalka Khans (nobles) from the most powerful aimag; Tusheet Khan – Dashnyam, Zasagt Khan – Sonomravdan, Setsen Khan – Navaantseren, and Sain Khan – Namnansuren, along with Bogd Khan wrote and signed a letter seeking assistance from the Russians to separate from China. It would be impossible without them.
In the meantime when waiting for a response, there were several meetings throughout the year to figure out the semantics of becoming a separate nation. They did these under the cover of religious ceremonies for the Bogd Khan. By October 1911, they had formed the General Provisional Administrative Office for the Affairs of Khalka Khan or the GPAOAKK. The Russians replied, and…it…was…a…YES!
December 1, 1911, they sent a Declaration of Independence to the Manchu military governor.
December 29, 1911, Bogd Khan and Ekh Dagina are enthroned as the monarchs of Mongolia (This day is now their Independence Day aka Tusgaar Togtnoliin Udur). This wasn’t just a local issue for China, it was international news. The Frankfurter Zeitung (Frankfurt General Newspaper in English) on January 10, 1912 reported, “The Crisis in Mongolia has its origin in the failure of the last Chinese Emperors to conceal, driven by their political activities, their dissatisfaction with the Khutuktu, who is the religious leader of this nation. It was the Khutuktu who turned to the Russians. He just like the Dalai Lama of Tibet, led by the people who were discontented with Chinese sovereign rule…This second living Buddha, overconfident in himself, entertained unrealistic ideas. The Khutuktu is rather old and likes alcoholic drinks and other earthly pleasures that are unacceptable to his religion.”
The Revolution of 1911 is a success.
The newly crowned king picked a cabinet of ministers. They were; Interior Minister – Da Lam Tserenchimed, Foreign Minister – Khanddorj, Finance Minister – Chagdarjav, Justice Minister – Namsrai. In July 1912, a Prime Minister was selected, Namnansuren. The initial goal was to eventually incorporate Inner Mongolia into their country. 38 out of 49 Mongolian banners (ethnic sub-group) were in support of independence. However, the Chinese were not gonna let these Mongols have their land.
Meanwhile in China, a republic was established. They wanted to get the band back together via the Republic of 5 Races. The Mongolians were not interested, they moved out last year. The Chinese tried to sweeten the pot several times and the Bogd Khan never bit. Later that year, on November 3, 1912, the Russian-Mongolian Agreement was signed. Russia was the first nation to formally recognize Mongolia as a fellow nation. The agreement also included a military alliance and military protection via the Russians.
Even though the Chinese said they were done with Mongolia. They did continuously threaten to send in troops but the threat of the Russians kept them away. This looks great. Mongolia is on its own and they have a buddy named Russia that will always be there to protect them but the Russians also recognized China’s rule over Mongolia. They also helped Mongolia a lot in the next few years.
On May 25, 1915, China finally recognized Mongolia as a nation.
The Mongolian military was a messy situation to put it lightly. Initially, it had 20,000 troops. The Bogd Khan didn’t want a military or have the money to support one for long. The Russians gave them 2,000,000 Rupees/$1,000,000 American Dollars (current) to build up a military. A Machine Gun company, 2 calvary regiments, and 4 gun battery of artillery were created because that’s what the Russians told them to do. 1,900 Russian soldiers and officers were sent as well to oversee the overhaul. They attempted to whip the army into shape. It didn’t work.
The Mongol soldiers thought the Russians were too cruel. Numerous soldiers deserted in response to the harsh training and treatment. The Russians tried again. They gave the Mongolian Army another 1,000,000 rupees along with a financial officer to see how they’d spend the money. After this failed the Russians backed out for a few reasons. By 1919, the army was a mere 2,000 troops. In 8 years it shrank by 90%.
The Russians backed out on the Mongolians because of something called the Bolshevik Revolution and more importantly their training wasn’t working. On top of that the Bogd Khan weren’t great rulers but they were liked by the people. The Chinese moved in and swiftly occupied Mongolia. In 1919, after 8 years Mongolia is a part of China again.
One soldier Sukhe Bator (“Ax Hero,” in Mongolian) decided to change this. He was a prominent and well-liked Mongolian soldier. He quickly moved through the ranks. He got together with other revolutionaries and established the Mongolian People’s Party. They fled to the Soviet Union for more training and support.
Sukhe Bator returned a few years later, in 1921, with Mongolian and Soviets soldiers. They fought back and swiftly fought their way through Mongolia. They reached Khiagt, Outer Mongolia on July 11, 1921. The Chinese gave up on Mongolia for the second and final time. This day is celebrated as their National Holiday. Khiaght became the new capital. The Revolution of 1921 is a success. They are a free nation again.
A new government was formed, the People’s Government of Mongolia. They are now a communist nation with a monarchical figurehead. The Bogd Khan had limited power but he still had influence. It was not fully communist yet. He was the last monarch to rule in Mongolia. The queen, Ekh Dagina, and national hero, Sukhe Bator, both died in 1923. Bogd Gegen died in 1924. They fully shifted to a communist state after his death.
Jivzundamba Agvaanluvsanchoijinyamdanzanvanchug aka Bogd Gegen ruled in one of Mongolia’s most interesting, turbulent, and defining eras, that is too often overlooked.
Act, The Movement In Mongolia After The 1911 Revolution Is Often Written Within The, Context Of The Mongolian Declaration Of Independence, But This Article Analyzes, and Various Reactions From Pro-Independence Forces And Constitutional Monarchy. The 1911 Revolution and “ Mongolia”: Independence, Constitutional Monarchy, or Republic (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.
Ng. Chapter 18 The Mongolian National Revolution of 1911 and Bogdo Jebtsumdamba Khutuktu, the Last Monarch (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.
“Warfare History Blog.” : Outer Mongolian Revolution: Tibetan-Buddhist Holy Warriors & the Asiatic Cavalry Division, 1919-1922. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.
“Mongolia – Modern Mongolia, 1911-84.” Mongolia – Modern Mongolia, 1911-84. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.
Kotkin, Stephen, and Bruce A. Elleman. Mongolia in the Twentieth Century: Landlocked Cosmopolitan. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1999. Print.