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Mongolia History, Language and Culture

History of Mongolia

The Hunnu (Xiongnu) Empire was the first great confederation of tribes to occupy the land of present day Mongolia and its raiding parties caused the Chinese to build the Great Wall of China. Under the leadership of Genghis Khan, the Mongols emerged in the 13th century and quickly amassed an empire that stretched from Korea to Hungary. Even today, Mongolians view this period as their golden age and Khan still enjoys God-like reverence.

Mongolian independence was achieved in 1911 after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. China attempted to reassert its rule following the Russian Revolution of 1917 but was beaten back in 1921, with Soviet help. The Soviet intervention led to virtual occupation by the USSR for the next 70 years.

China finally recognised Mongolian independence in 1944 and in 1990 pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in Ulaanbaatar eventually leading to the demise of communism and the creation of a new constitution based on democratic principles.

A number of political parties participate in free elections and Mongolia has been ruled by several coalitions under a directly elected President who then appoints a Prime Minister. 

Mongolia is undergoing dramatic change with the demise of a traditional nomadic lifestyle that, a generation ago, was lived by a third of the population. Mongolia’s cities are growing rapidly as people leave the land. Another important change has been the resurgence of Buddhism, which the Communists largely suppressed. Mongolians are adherents of the Dalai Lama, although this is handled with great caution by the country’s leadership for fear of upsetting the Chinese.

Mongolia’s foreign relations are necessarily dominated by its giant neighbours, China and Russia, and based on bilateral friendship treaties. However, the Mongolians have also quietly developed increasingly closer links with the West and in 2003, a small but symbolically significant contingent of Mongolian troops was despatched to support the US-led military operation in Iraq.

Did you know?

• Mongolia’s first rock band, Soyol Erdene, formed in 1971 and were heavily criticised by the government for their Merseybeat sound. They are still active today.

• The country’s main festival, Naadam, has existed for centuries and is held throughout the country in midsummer when participants compete in horse racing, archery and traditional Mongolian wrestling.

• On 21 November 2005 George W Bush became the first sitting US President to visit Mongolia.

Mongolia Culture

Religion in Mongolia

Buddhist Lamaism is the main religion, although there is no state religion. The Kazakhs in western Mongolia loosely adhere to Sunni Islam. About 5% of Mongolians are Christian. The traditional animist religion is still popular in northern Mongolia.

Social Conventions in Mongolia

Religious customs should be respected. Mongolia has a large number of customs and traditions although Mongolians are generally not offended when foreigners break custom.

Photography: Permission should be granted before entering temples and monasteries. A fee is payable for photography in protected areas, although this regulation is often not enforced. Caution should be exercised when photographing government buildings, military establishments and border crossings.

Language in Mongolia

Khalkha Mongolian is the official language. Kazakh is spoken by 5% of the population. There are also many Mongolian dialects.