Certain historic episodes and events, which took place long ago, had a profound impact on the political, economic and social life in many countries. One of such events is the Mongolian Conquest of China in the 13th century. This conquest revealed the aggressive and even furious nature of the Mongolian nation. The Mongol Empire broke apart, but its impact on the Chinese and the consequences for the Mongols are still evident. One of the most significant issues, which has originated from the mentioned event and exists even now, is the struggle for national identity in Inner Mongolia. The paper will demonstrate that the Mongols, living on the territory of China, do not have enough instruments to fight for their ethnical identity and badly need the assistance of the Chinese government.
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The conquest of China by the Mongols was originally discussed from a very negative perspective only. This event was mainly associated with the destruction of the existing society (Han). However, currently there exists a new question of how the Mongols live today in the region of Inner Mongolia, which is an autonomous district of China. They live in the complicated conditions of displacement and urbanization, as they feel that they represent a minority population of China and have to fight for the preservation of their cultural traditions and identity (Sanchez). The Mongols were originally associated with steppes and nomadic lifestyle. However, nowadays they live in the degrading environment, and see the desertification of their pastoral lands. The Chinese government tries to encourage herding families to move to other regions, but provides minimal financial support to them (Han). The state government fails to keep in mind that the “diminishing space for the Mongol’s pastoral society and the government’s policies aimed at restricting or even eliminating the pastoral way of life, represents a great assault to Mongol’s cultural identity” (Han 62). Therefore, asking the Mongols to change their place of living and get involved in some agricultural activities completely destructs their identity.
At the same time it is possible to consider more ethnic markers, which are left for the Mongols. These markers include the Mongolian understanding of space and the language of the nation. They may stay with the Mongols forever, if they fight for the preservation of their ethical traditions. However, this issue is associated with some problems related to the fact that Inner Mongolia is a part of China. “The Mongolian language has still been prominent in rural areas. However, in urban centers, which are increasingly Han-dominant, Mongolians find they must use Mandarin in order to function within the city” (Sanchez). The question of the Mongolian language in China is a burning issue as it is on the verge of completely disappearing from the social life so that it will be spoken only at home in narrow family circles. The reasons of this are both political and economic policies of the Chinese government. Han states that “the choices of colleges and higher education for Mongolian-educated students are generally much narrower than for those educated in Chinese.” (64). What is even more important is the fact that there are almost no opportunities for employment for the Mongols, who do not speak Chinese (Han). As a result, the Mongol parents choose the colleges and higher educational establishments for their children, where they can learn Chinese to use it in the future (Han). Therefore, the Chinese governmental policies significantly reduce the power of the Mongolian language as an identity marker for the Mongols.
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The second ethical marker of the Mongols, which deserves special attention and can be preserved due to the efforts of the Mongols and the contribution of the Chinese government, is the understanding of space as a place for pastoral activities (Sanchez). Sanchez writes that “for Mongols, their pastoral lifestyle informs their morality and their identity. It connects them to their history, their culture, their memory, and their community”. Herders and grasslands are the symbols of the Mongols and it is important to allow them to keep these concepts. The Mongols consider the place of their living to be an open area, some space being occupied with endless grasslands and numerous herders. Unfortunately, the aforementioned factors seem not to give the Mongols a chance to completely preserve their cultural identity.
Though the perspectives for the Mongols to remain with their cultural markers sound not very convincing, it is possible to identify more factors for the preservation of their identity. These factors include symbolism and culture (Sanchez). Sanchez notes that some specific symbols of the Mongolian architecture demonstrate the views and values of the nation. To illustrate this viewpoint, it’s worth mentioning that blue is a typically Mongolian color. It is a symbol of skies for the Mongols. The Mongolian “ger” is a symbol of prosperity and a family spirit. Therefore, the “ger” sculpture, situated in the main University of Inner Mongolia is a symbol of the national culture. However, it is painted not in blue, but in red, which is the national color of China. Therefore, the Mongols just demonstrated that their culture is still alive, but it is under the control of China. Mongolian folksongs may also serve as an important factor of the preservation of the Mongolian ethnical identity as they preserve the Mongol spirit (Sanchez). It is possible to limit the Mongols geographically, but the Chinese cannot destroy their cultural traditions.
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Three concepts of “history”, “culture”, and “kinship” generalize the ideas of the Mongols in terms of their ethnical identity and may serve as the firm basis of it. The history of the Mongols is penetrated with the spirit of freedom, conquest and aggression. It also possesses the mentioned symbols of pastoral lifestyle and steppes. Therefore, nowadays the inhabitants of Inner Mongolia want to live in peace and not to be limited by ordinary agricultural activities. They should remember that if some time ago they were warriors, known to all nations, nowadays they should only fight to preserve their traditions (Sanchez). The concept of a “family” is very important for the Mongolian culture. The Mongols traced descent patrilineally. Discussing kinship of the Mongols, it needs to be noted that many male members of the family were mentioned. However, by the 19th century this tradition had been lost as the question of whether some Mongolian clan belonged to some powerful political lineage or not became unimportant. Nowadays the Mongols have only one name and a patronymic, which does not convey much information about the person’s kinship. However, some Mongols still remember their roots (Sanchez). The Chinese perceive their society as a big family, in which the majority has to treat the national minorities as parents treat their children (Borchigud). However, ethnical discrimination, which is evident at school, “often conflicted with Mongolian family identity” (Borchigud 293). In order to maintain the pure Mongolian family identity, the Mongolian children need proper ethnical education (Borchigud). The ways the Mongol culture can become the foundation for the formation and strengthening of the national identity have been discussed above and summarizing them, it is worth saying that the cultural markers of the Mongols are still alive in Inner Mongolia and need to be developed.
It is understandable that the Mongols need help in reestablishing the principles of their cultural identity and distinct revelation of their ethnical markers. Han writes that there are indeed some organizations, which are ready to fight for better life conditions of the Mongols in Inner Mongolia. However, these organizations are located in the USA, Japan and Europe. Every year these establishments organize some manifestations to protect the rights of the Mongols. However, their activities are not influential enough. Han tries to single out some facts, explaining why the Mongols stay so passive and do not fight for their ethnical preservation in the territory of Inner Mongolia. The author does not blame the nation, but determines some factors influencing such behavior: (1) absolute demographic minority status of the Mongols in Inner Mongolia; (2) lack of strong Inner Mongolian leadership; (3) the nation does not have strong religious identity; (4) the proximity of Inner Mongolia to Beijing, the political center of China, which has a powerful influence on the discussed autonomous region (Han). It seems that the Mongols living in Inner Mongolia are not the kind of nation to be blamed for weakening of its cultural identity. The fact that the territory of Inner Mongolia is a part of China is fully responsible for the Mongolian language being forgotten, pastoral lifestyle being terminated and herding families not having a chance to find a normal place to live without being involved in some ordinary agricultural activities.
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To conclude, it is important to state that the issue of the Mongols, living in Inner Mongolia, the conditions of their living and ethnicity markers should be improved and preserved for the nation to survive. As it was mentioned at the beginning of the paper, the negative perspective of the Mongolian conquest in the 13th century can nowadays be considered as an important stage in the development of the Chinese nation. Currently being a part of China, Inner Mongolia does not have enough means to fight for its grasslands, pastoral lifestyle, language and culture. Therefore, the Chinese government should identify other means to encourage the development of the Mongol culture, support the nation’s ethnicity and help the Mongol families financially to get adjusted to new conditions.