Mongols - Orientation

Identification. Mongols live in a number of different countries. The Siberian Buriats and the Kalmuk Oirats on the Volga reside in the Russian Federation; the Barga, Khiangan, Juu Ud, Khorchin or Jirem, Chakhar, Shiliingol, Alshaa, Ordos, Turned, Daurs, and a small community of Buriat Mongols live in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region (IMAR), People's Republic of China (PRC); the Oirat (or Deed) Mongols live in Qinghai Province and in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, PRC; the Khalkha, along with a small population of Buriat and a larger one of Oirats, live in the Mongolian People's Republic (MPR).

Location. The range of Mongolian culture extends from northeastern Manchuria (125° E) westward to eastern Xinjiang (80° E). A north-south geographical projection extends in the south from the Ordos Desert, 37° N, northward to Lake Baikal in Siberia at 53° N. Mongols also live in Qinghai Province and along the lower Volga and Don rivers. There is a small remmant Mongolian community in Yunnan Province in the PRC.

The MPR, nearly four times the size of California, is wedged between Russia, to its north, and Inner Mongolia to the south. Ecologically, Mongols in Central Asia live in a landlocked, arid region. There is, nevertheless, much topographical diversity. In both the MPR and the IMAR there are high mountians; rich, wooded areas with rivers, streams, and lakes; and rolling plains of grass (steppes). The Mongolian plateau is the origin of many important Asian rivers. The Yellow River cuts through northwestern Inner Mongolia. The climate is characterized by warm summers and very cold, dry winters. The climate varies by region. At Ulaanbaatar (in Russian, Ulan Bator), capital of the MPR, the average temperature ranges from 18° C in July to below 0° C in January; whereas in Alshaa County in southwestern Inner Mongolia the temperatures can range from 37.7° C for July to below 0° C for January.

Demography. Mongols constitute 90 percent of the MPR's 1,943,000 total population. In contrast, Mongols constitute only 13.5 percent (2,681,000 Mongols and 60,000 Daurs) of the IMAR's 19,850,000 total population. The population in both regions is expanding. The MPR financially rewards families with six or more children, whereas the PRC, in 1986, restricted urban and peasant Mongolian families to two children. The new policy does not apply to pastoral Mongols.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Mongolian language is similar to other Altaic languages (Turkish, Uigur, Kitan, Jurchen, and Manchu). In the MPR the largest and most important dialect is Khalkha. In the MPR Oirat is the only other main dialect, whereas in the IMAR dialects may be divided into many regions: in the center there is the Chahar-Shiliingol dialect, which is closely related to standard Khalkha; in the northeast Barga and Buriat are spoken; in the southeast the major dialect is Khorchin; in the northwest it is Alshaa; and in the southwest it is the Ordos dialect. The Oirat or Kalmuck dialect is spoken in northwestern Xinjiang, Qinghai, and the western part of the MPR. With the exception of the Daurs, who speak a separate language in northeastern Inner Mongolia, the dialects are more or less mutually intelligible. Historically, the Mongols adopted a Uigur or vertical script under the leadership of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan (1206-1227). In 1946, the MPR formally adopted the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. The Uigur script remains the official script in the IMAR. In the MPR the official language is Mongolian, whereas in the IMAR both Mandarían and Mongolian are the official languages of government publication and documentation.

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