THE Mongolian People's Republic, better known as Outer Mongolia, a purportedly independent country of over 600,000 square miles and less than a million people, is not administratively a part of either the Soviet Union or Communist China, and its location between these two countries lends it special political importance.

Direct Russian influence in Outer Mongolia has clearly declined, but major legacies remain of the many years of Soviet dominance. Most important are the single Communist Party (called the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party) which dominates the political life of the country, and other concomitants of a Communist system: high degree of centralization and discipline; an official line of interpretation of history, art and other aspects of life; a tightly-controlled press, with Mongolian equivalents of Pravda, Red Star, Krokodil, etc. Terror, too, has in the past been an instrument of government, nor has Mongolia been spared the curse of secret police and purges. An internal passport system does not now exist, but is being seriously discussed, and labor books have become important documents for many Mongols. The Party comprises 3 to 4 percent of the total population, and it operates an extensive set of mass youth organizations with nearly universal membership.

Molotov still serves officially as the Soviet Ambassador in Mongolia, although he has apparently been absent much of the time. The U.S.S.R. also maintains a consulate in the city of Choibalsan (formerly Bayan-tümen) in the eastern part of the country, where direct Russian-Mongolian trade makes use of the rail cutoff from the Trans-Siberian line constructed for military operations against the Japanese in the late 1930s. Russian-Mongolian trade also employs shipping on Lake Khubsugul in northwestern Mongolia (personal observation confirms this) and the old Kobdo-Biisk-Barnaul route in the far west also reportedly continues to operate. Russian goods are sold in Mongolian shops, although Chinese-made clothing and textiles occupy an important place, along with increasing amounts of products from East European countries. Russian machinery is the rule in the few industrial enterprises.

Few Russians live in Mongolia now, and the number of Russian advisers has greatly decreased in the last few years. The Mongolian middle schools require Russian as the only foreign language, but surprisingly few Mongols speak the language well, and those who do have generally studied in the Soviet Union. School textbooks are usually Mongolian translations of Russian originals. The Cyrillic script is in use, although there is opposition to it, along with related pressure to return to the old native alphabet. New school texts for the study of Mongolian literature employ the old script as a deliberate attempt to keep it alive, for Mongols consciously recognize that use of Cyrillic cuts them off from their past. Furthermore, the Cyrillic script has been abandoned in Inner Mongolia, and a strong pan-Mongolist sentiment survives. Almost all of the more than 1,000 Mongols who study abroad pursue higher education in the Soviet Union, but Mongolian educational institutions have been deliberately expanding to reduce the need for foreign education.

Chinese influence, dominant in the country until practically eliminated by Russian pressure in the 1920s, has returned to a limited extent since the People's Republics of China and Mongolia established diplomatic relations in July 1950. Some 10,000 Chinese construction workers scattered throughout Mongolia now constitute an important foreign population element, but these workers stay only two or three years and then return to China, to be replaced by others. Very few of them have families in Mongolia, and few choose to settle there permanently.

At present there is no evidence that China is aggressively trying to exert influence in Outer Mongolia, and there is no particular trend of growing Sinification. For example, only 30 Mongolian university students and a handful of scholars are studying in Peking. The number of Chinese studying in Outer Mongolia is even less, although Küke Khoto, capital of Inner Mongolia, operates as a center of some Mongolian historical and linguistic studies. Here, too, Outer Mongolia maintains its only consulate within China. Also, China has withdrawn from participation in a proposed joint Chinese-Russian-Mongolian "History of Mongolia." Planning congresses for preparation of this history were held in Ulan Bator, the capital of Outer Mongolia, in 1956 and Moscow in 1957, but the one to be held in 1958 in Peking has been cancelled.

Clearly, Mongols do run their own internal affairs and retain a strong feeling of independence. Just as clearly, they cannot pursue an independent foreign policy, and must follow the Russian lead, but Mongols apparently hold all positions of direction and authority in the country. The native language, unrelated to either Russian or Chinese, remains vigorously alive and serves as the means of communication at all levels and in all circles. Although the top political leadership has been educated in the Soviet Union, the bulk of the administration and single dominating Party is now Mongolian-trained, usually having graduated from the Sukhe Bator Higher Party School or the State University in Ulan Bator.

A flourishing and independent-minded intelligentsia pursues scholarship and study in a wide variety of fields, especially in archaeology and history. They publish many books and articles in their own language, whereas they used to publish in Russian. Archaeological work in progress indicates the existence of highly developed urbanism at a very early date, which will probably lead to extensive revision of present ideas of "nomadic society" and the nature of the Empire of Chinggis Khan and his immediate successors. Modern urbanism in relation to nomadism is also the subject of serious study. Original work proceeds on close analysis of the period of Manchu control in the country. This is all independent Mongolian work, the type of work which not long ago was done only in coöperation with Russians, or by Russians alone.

An impressive educational system differentiates contemporary from traditional Mongolia, and constitutes one of the main Communist achievements in the country. The network of schools handles nearly 100,000 students, so that 10 percent of the Mongolian population now goes to school. Four-year primary schools, of which there are 333, take all Mongols in the 8-12 age group, and seven-year schooling is obligatory in the principal population centers. Ten-year schools also exist, and graduation from these qualifies students for entrance to the State University in Ulan Bator, which now boasts 2,100 students. Two thousand additional students attend the other higher educational institutions of Ulan Bator: the Agricultural Institute, the Higher Party School, and the evening Finance Institute and evening University of Marxism-Leninism. The State University offers foreign-language instruction in Russian, English, Chinese, classical Tibetan (the language of Buddhism), and Manchu. The new Agricultural Institute illustrates the growth of specialized technical training in the country, obviating the need for foreign specialists or foreign training of natives. This Institute is well equipped for both research and training, and pursues detailed scientific study of livestock and potential agricultural resources. Similarly, engineering personnel for the coal mines at Nalaikha now study in Ulan Bator rather than somewhere in the U.S.S.R. For some time, the schoolteachers have been mainly Mongolian graduates of local teacher-training institutes. A Scientific Committee, an Association of Historians, an impressive State Library, a fine State Museum, and other museums in Ulan Bator and other centers, complement the educational system. A Party Research Institute of the Central Committee of the People's Revolutionary Party comprises some 40 specialists working on the compilation of a Party history.


Most Mongols continue to follow a nomadic life, herding livestock, and living in tents called yurts or ger. These are beehive-shaped, perhaps 12 feet in diameter, and are constructed of white felt over a wooden latticework frame. An iron stove in the center, with a stovepipe running up out of the top, provides heat and cooking facilities. Iron bedsteads serve for both sleeping and sitting. Most of the yurts have a wooden floor, at least for the winter, and many people own battery radios and sewing machines. A wooden chest holds clothing and belongings. Just outside the yurt stands a galvanized steel container for water. Almost no one outside the cities has any electricity. A great advantage of the yurt is its portability, since it can be put up or taken down in 15 or 20 minutes and loaded on a camel.

Outside of Ulan Bator the life of the Mongols seems to the casual observer to be nearly unchanged from that of centuries preceding. This is misleading: the long arm of the Government in Ulan Bator does reach to the nomad on the steppe in ways it never did before. Local administrations are staffed by Party members who have very often been trained at the Higher Party School or similar institutions, and who frequently come from parts of the country other than that in which they work. These local officials form an important group subject to Party discipline and command, and constitute an army at key points, manipulated and controlled by the Party Central Committee. The Central Committee amounts to a kind of general staff directing all phases of political, economic and even cultural life. The principal control points are: (1) the administrative centers of aimaks, the 17 major Mongolian territorial divisions; (2) somon centers, subdivisions of aimaks; and (3) State farms and livestock coöperatives. Through officials nominally elected but actually almost certainly chosen by the Party, practically no arat (livestock-herding nomad) can escape production quotas, forced deliveries to the State, veterinary controls and calls to special labor tasks.

Some 24,000,000 head of sheep, goats, cattle and yaks, horses and camels comprise the main wealth of the country and its principal economic base; the livestock and the nomads who tend them have to a considerable extent been united into coöperatives, although the economy remains perhaps 50 percent private. The livestock coöperatives occupy an ever larger part in the national economy, and the number of required labor days is also increasing. Indirect and subtle pressure to join the coöperatives operates through State ownership of practically all equipment and machines, control of the distribution and marketing system, use of veterinary services, etc. The State has simply made it economically more attractive to join a coöperative, and economically disadvantageous to retain private ownership of livestock.

The city of Ulan Bator boasts 150,000 inhabitants, and has almost doubled in population since 1945. It constitutes the key to control of Outer Mongolia, dominating every phase of life. Outside of the capital city, there are only a few towns, the largest of which, Choibalsan, has a population of 20,000. These towns are much larger in winter than in summer, for in summer many of their inhabitants move their yurts out into the steppe. But the smaller towns do show significant changes from the traditional past. All include at least a few permanent buildings, and all have some small-scale production. Local industry now makes many items of domestic economy, such as standard wooden yurt-frames, wooden doors for the tents, boots and shoes and other clothing items, galvanized steel water-containers and iron stoves. Officials usually live in the towns, which serve as centers of political, administrative and economic control. The considerable number of officials, factory workers, teachers and scholars may now account for as much as 25 percent of the total population.

A typical Mongolian town might have a population of 1,000 in winter and 500 in summer. The few permanent buildings have probably been built since 1945 and include a four-year or seven-year school, a Party headquarters and government administration building, a small communications center comprising some radio, telegraph and telephone equipment, a building for local handicrafts and small-scale industry, a general store, and often a small restaurant and hostel. There are a few wooden huts for winter use, and sheds for storing agricultural implements. People use horses, bicycles and motorcycles, but camels continue to serve for most domestic transport. A very large fleet of Russian trucks, driven by Mongols, operates in public transport of both goods and people over longer distances. Paved roads are practically nonexistent and dirt tracks across the steppe provide the usual routes. Air transport now connects the major population centers and the Trans-Mongolian Railroad, in operation since 1956, runs from the Trans-Siberian Railroad south to the Chinese border, where the gauge narrows.

A city in the 10,000-population class (there are only four of these: Choibalsan, Tsetserlik, Kobdo, Sukhe Bator) possesses a large ten-year school, many buildings, including some apartments, large children's nurseries, a hospital, and governmental and industrial buildings. Centers of livestock coöperatives and State farms also include administrative office buildings, restaurants and often some permanent housing. Taking into account the considerable number of apartment dwellers in Ulan Bator, and the increasing number of permanent houses and apartments in towns and on collective and State farms, perhaps 15 percent of the population no longer lives in yurts.

Habits in dress, entertainment, and many other facets of contemporary Mongolian life are also changing. The del, or robe, which constitutes traditional dress in the country has in many cases been replaced by Russian clothing, especially among the men. Even those who still wear the del often combine it with European trousers and shoes, and the women very often wear the traditional del with socks and sandals instead of the old heavy boots. Higher officials and leading scholars almost invariably wear European clothing. Movies are shown widely and the Mongolian theatre and music include both indigenous and European products.

The present lowly and disfranchised position of the Buddhist Church also distinguishes contemporary from traditional Mongolia. While freedom of religion officially prevails and openly practising Buddhists can be found, the official Church today operates in an extremely restricted and closely controlled manner. Most of the monasteries which have not been closed or completely destroyed serve secular purposes such as grain-storage or warehousing. Neglect threatens many fine Buddhist buildings. Former temples now functioning as museums often display valuable Buddhist relics and manuscripts, but such fine things appear haphazardly and without identification among many less noteworthy objects. The principal religious museum in Ulan Bator mixes without discrimination the valuable and the worthless, the old and the new. At the very famous and historically important Erdeni Dzu monastery, largely destroyed by the Russians in 1937-38, the Mongols work at restoration but many buildings remain in ruins.

The official Buddhist Church in Outer Mongolia today is a travesty, maintained mainly to impress foreigners and particularly for Communist propaganda in other Buddhist countries of Asia. The principal showplace to impress visitors is the Gandan of Ulan Bator, one of the few operating monasteries in Outer Mongolia today. Beautifully maintained, the monastery comprises a priceless museum of Buddhist art. About 100 lamas sit in rows and intone Tibetan chants; the air is heavy with incense; beautiful statues and lovely tapestries and paintings set the scene. The Government cynically exploits this truncated and tame Buddhism not only to appeal to other Asian Buddhists, but also to use the lamas in its "Peace Committee." Exploitation of Buddhism for political purposes obviously constitutes a new line of the Soviet Government, too. It recently opened a new Buddhist monastery near Ulan Ude in Buryat Mongolia, and has repaired and refurbished the wrecked monastery at Goose Lake, south of Ulan Ude.

Destruction of monasteries and construction of schools represent major results of Communist power in Outer Mongolia. De-Stalinization has given Mongolia greater freedom and more control over its own affairs. Chinese influence has returned to the country but has not overtaken Russian influence and does not appear to be increasing. Indigenous Mongolian intellectuals and scholars do significant work and the inherent advantages of Ulan Bator as a center of Mongolian studies are being exploited by the Mongols themselves. The Mongols try sincerely and aggressively to extend their contacts beyond the Communist world. So far, however, official foreign relations include exchange of full-time diplomats only with the Soviet Union, China, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary and North Korea. Mongolia assigns an ambassador to India, but that country accredits its Peking representative also to Mongolia. Foreign diplomats accredited secondarily to Mongolia and primarily to Russia or China include those from North Viet Nam, Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, Albania, Jugoslavia, Indonesia and Burma.

The Mongols struggle with considerable success to maintain and strengthen their national identity. They continue to press for admission to the United Nations; certainly all Mongols support this major point of Mongolian foreign policy. They feel that they are victims of unfair discrimination and vehemently deny that they are Russian puppets. They undoubtedly want recognition by the United States as well, in large part to strengthen their independent position. They probably feel that admission to the United Nations and recognition by the United States would help them to ensure their territorial integrity against any designs by the Soviet Union or Communist China. They comprise, after all, one million people sandwiched between 200 million Russians and 600 million Chinese. They must move with circumspection. But they ardently desire contacts with the West, and plainly many well educated and highly intelligent Mongols would profit from such contact. Recognition by the United States and admission to the U.N. would greatly encourage them, and while it is unthinkable that at the present time they could pursue a truly independent foreign policy, Mongols do think for themselves and are jealous of such independence as they have. We should certainly go as far as we can (even to Mongolia!) to meet these just desires.

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  • ROBERT A. RUPEN, of the Department of Political Science, University of North Carolina, recently returned from a visit to Outer Mongolia.
  • More By Robert A. Rupen