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Mongols (mŏngˈgəlz, –gōlz), Asian people, numbering about 6 million and distributed mainly in the Republic of Mongolia, the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China, and Kalmykia and the Buryat Republic of Russia. Traditionally the Mongols were a predominantly pastoral people, following their herds of horses, cattle, camels, and sheep on a seasonal round of pasturage, and, when encamped, living in felt-covered yurts. Shamanism was the traditional religion of the Mongols, but Buddhism was introduced in the 16th cent.; competition between the two produced Lamaism, a combination of both. The Mongols have a written language; the earliest extant work written in Mongolian dates from 1240. The origin of the Mongols is obscure, but it is believed that many of the so-called Huns, who invaded Europe, as well as the Khitan, who founded a dynasty (916–1125) in N China, may have been Mongols. However, it was not until the early 13th cent. and the creation of the Mongol empire by Jenghiz Khan that the numerous Mongol tribes, hitherto loosely confederated and constantly feuding, emerged in world history as a powerful and unified nation. The Yasa (Jasagh), or imperial code, was promulgated. It laid down the organizational lines of the Mongol nation, the administration of the army, and criminal, commercial, and civil codes of law. As administrators the Mongols employed many Uigurs, whose script they adopted. From their capital at Karakorum the Mongol hordes swept W into Europe and E into China, and by c.1260 the sons of Jenghiz Khan ruled a far-flung Eurasian empire that was divided into four khanates. They were the Great Khanate, which comprised all of China and most of E Asia (including Korea) and which under Kublai Khan came to be known as the Yüan dynasty; the Jagatai khanate in Turkistan; the Kipchack khanate, or the Empire of the Golden Horde, founded by Batu Khan in Russia; and a khanate in Persia. Actually, the Mongol hordes (particularly those who conquered Russia and penetrated as far as Hungary and Germany) included large elements of Turkic peoples; they came to be known collectively as Tatars. Timur, who conquered most of the Jagatai khanate in the 14th cent. and founded a new empire, claimed descent from Jenghiz Khan, as did Babur, who in the 16th cent. founded the Mughal (i.e., Mongol) empire in India. The Mongols were completely expelled from China by 1382 and soon thereafter lapsed into relative obscurity.


See H. H. Vreeland, Mongol Community and Kinship Structure (2d ed. 1957); E. D. Philips, The Mongols (1969); F. W. Cleaves, ed. and tr., The Secret History of the Mongols (1982).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(self-designation, Mongol), in a broad sense, the historical name of all the peoples speaking Mongolian languages, including the Mongols living in the Mongolian People’s Republic and the People’s Republic of China, the Paoan, Tunghsiang, T’u (Monguors), Daur, Moguls of Afghanistan, Buriats, and Kalmyks; in a narrow sense, the Mongols proper, who live in the Mongolian People’s Republic and the People’s Republic of China. Anthropologically, the Mongols belong to the Central Asian branch of the Mongoloid race.

The earliest references to the Mongols (meng-ku, meng-ku-li, meng-wa) appear in the chronicles of the T’ang dynasty (seventh to tenth centuries). Much is still unclear about the ethnic history of the Mongols, although scholars have established that the Mongol ethnic group developed out of the ancient aboriginal inhabitants of Mongolia and northeastern China. The descendants of the Hsiung-nu (Huns), I (Tungi), and Tung-hu, who later inhabited this territory, drove out, replaced, and partly assimilated each other in the course of many centuries. In the tenth century much of the area came under the rule of the Mongolian-speaking Khitans. In the early 13th century a number of tribes and khanates, notably the Taidzhiuts, Naimans, Kereits, and Merkits, coalesced or were forcibly united by Genghis Khan into a single Mongol state, and the formation of a Mongol nation was completed.

In the 15th century the Mongols split into a western and an eastern group, and in the 16th century the eastern group was subdivided into a northern and a southern group. The groups developed along different ethnic and historical lines. The western Mongols, known as Oirats, formed the Oirat Khanate in the 1630’s. Some of their descendants later helped form both the Mongols of the Mongolian People’s Republic and China and the Kalmyks. The eastern (northern) group adopted the name Khalkha in the 16th century. The medieval Mongol chronicles Erdeniin tobchi, Erdeniin erihe, and Alton tobchi tell of 12 Khalkha tribes that were divided between the sons of Daian Khan after his death (c. 1543): seven passed to Geresendze and five to Alchu Bolodu. The descendants of Geresendze are the present Khalkha of the Mongolian People’s Republic, and the descendants of Alchu Bolodu are the Dzharut and Barin Mongols in China. Other ethnically diverse elements merged with the Khalkha, including some of ancient Mongolian origin (Bordzhigin, Gorlos, Olkhonud) and non-Mongolian peoples, such as the Tanguts. Most of the southern Mongols were incorporated into China, recognizing the sovereignty of the Manchu dynasty in 1636. The Mongol lands in China subsequently came to be called Inner Mongolia. Oirats, refugees from the Oirat Khanate, appeared in China in the second half of the 18th century. In the 16th and early 17th centuries the Mongols adopted Lamaism. The chief occupation of all the Mongol groups is livestock raising —nomadic in the past but today seminomadic or transhumant. Agriculture, practiced since the Bronze Age, and hunting are of secondary importance.

Mongols of the Mongolian People’s Republic The Khalkha, numbering 901,200 (1969 census), constitute the nucleus of the Mongols in the Mongolian People’s Republic, a socialist nation. Such other ethnic groups as the Dariganga, Khotogoits, Sartuls, Uzumchins, Khorchins, and Chakhars have fused with the Khalkha. The Derbets (34,700 persons), Baits (25,500), Zakh-chins (15,000), Olets (6,900), and Torguts (7,100)—western Mongols who have preserved their linguistic and cultural differences—have also been uniting with the Khalkha. The Khalkha language belongs to the eastern Mongolian language group and forms the basis of the modern Mongolian literary language. After the victory of the Mongolian People’s Revolution of 1921, the Mongolian people embarked on a noncapitalist path of development. The foundations were laid for industrial and cultural growth, and a national working class and intelligentsia emerged.

Mongols of the People’s Republic of China Several Mongol nations live in the People’s Republic of China, chiefly in the Inner Mongolian and Sinkiang Uighur autonomous regions but also in the provinces of Heilungkiang, Kirin, Liaoning, Tsinghai, and Yunnan. They speak various dialects of the southern, western, and eastern Mongolian language groups.

The Khorchins, Dzharuts, Barins, Onniuts, Kheshigtens, Kharachins, Tumuts, Uzumchins, Khuchits, and Sunits belong to the southern Mongol group. The Torguts, Olets, Derbets, Khoshuts, and Tumets are descended from the western Mongols, or Oirats. Other Mongol groups in China are the Barga, Buriat, Koko Nor, and Yunnan Mongols.

Many of these groups have retained their ethnic names. According to the 1953 census there were 1,680,000 Mongols in China. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the Chinese authorities adopted a discriminatory policy toward the Mongols, as well as other national minorities, forcing them to assimilate. The chief occupation of the Mongols in the People’s Republic of China is livestock breeding, although some have taken up farming. The neighboring Chinese and Manchus have influenced the economy and material culture of the Mongols.


Narody Vostochnoi Azii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965.
Tataro-mongoly v Azii i Evrope (collection of articles). Moscow, 1970.
Istoriia Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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