Human remains found in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert date back nearly 500,000 years ago. By the third century BC, Mongolia was inhabited by various nomadic tribes. Sometimes these tribes would unite into confederations and when they began to grow, they posed a threat to China. The establishment of the Xiongnu Empire in the third century BC was the first confederation that wielded realistic power. The raiding they inflicted on China resulted in the building of the northern part of the Great Wall of China. For the next several hundred years, Mongolia was subject to different ruling groups including the Xianbei, the Rourans, the Turkic and the Kyrgyz. Mongolia was essentially a confederation of rival clans that lasted until the 12th century.
The late 12th century saw the emergence of twenty-year-old Temujin who went on to unite most of the clans in Mongolia. He was given the honorary name of Genghis Khan (universal king) in 1189. Genghis Khan set up cavalry against China and Russia and by the time of his death in 1227, the Mongol Empire spread from Beijing to the Caspian Sea. Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai Khan (1216-1294) continued his grandfather’s mission ending the Chinese Song Dynasty and becoming emperor of China’s Yuan Dynasty. Kublai Khan realized that the success of his empire was not in how much it could expand, but in how well he could keep it together. At the height of the Mongol Empire, it stretched from Korea to Hungary and as far south as Vietnam, making it the largest empire the world has ever known.
After the death of Kublai Khan, the Mongols were forced to rely on the people they had conquered. However, the conquered people were deeply resentful and so the once great empire was split into different groups all vying for power. The collapse of the Yuan Dynasty in the mid-14th century saw 60,000 Mongols expelled from China and any unity that had once existed dissolved resulting in clan warfare and a period of decline.
Mongolia was then ruled by China until the Qing Dynasty fell in 1911 providing an opportunity for independence which was granted on 1 December 1911. However, the Russian Revolution in 1917 afforded China an opportunity to reassert its control. The brutality that the Mongolian people experienced during this time only fueled their desire for independence once more. They asked the Bolsheviks for help and expelled China in 1921. The aid provided by the Bolsheviks resulted in virtual occupation by the Soviet Union for the next seventy years.
Mongolia was not exempt from the Stalinist purges of the 1930s resulting in a totalitarian nightmare for the country. The campaign against religion was horrific. A ‘Reign of Terror began in 1937 against monasteries and saw the execution of thousands of monks. By 1939, some 27,000 people had been killed.
After the Soviet Regime fell in the 1980s, Mongolia came under the rule of Jambyn Batmonk who tried to introduce Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost - openness to transparency in government and perestroika - restructuring. In 1989, full diplomatic relations with China began and the unravelling of the Soviet Union resulted in decolonization. The 1990s began with pro-democracy demonstrations which signalled the end of Communism in Mongolia.
Currently, Mongolia is in a period of great change. The traditional nomadic way of life is in decline and people are moving into the cities. With an economy that is growing at 7.5% a year and a new government as of June 2012, it will be interesting to watch Mongolia continue to adapt and modernize while hopefully retaining some of the traditional ways of life that make the country unique.
Mongolia Travel Information
At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to Mongolia.
Learn about the history and culture of Mongolia, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Mongolia's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information, will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Mongolia for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our Mongolia tours today!
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