People, especially those who live outside of Asia, tend to forget that East Asia is not just China, Japan, and Korea. There are other groups and countries that are East Asian, including Taiwan and Mongolia. Every time East Asian issues are being discussed, Mongolia is NEVER mentioned. The only way to combat this lack of information is to provide a general sense of what Mongolia is, because if you don’t take the time to understand a country or group of people, you will never care about its issues.
Mongolia is a landlocked nation situated between Russia and China. It is the 18th largest country in the world by area, but it is only home to about three million people. A large percentage of Mongolians are still nomadic – nearly 3 in ten people. Most Mongolians speak and understand the Mongolian language, using the Cyrillic alphabet that replaced traditional script in the 1940s. In terms of religion, the majority of Mongolians are Buddhist or do not have any religious affiliation. Mongolia’s government is a unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house, and the capital of the nation is Ulaanbaatar or Ulan Bator.
Mongolia is one of the most polluted countries in the world, almost solely because of the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, where nearly half of the entire population lives. The air found here has a high concentration of particulate matter. These particles can be so fine that they pass the lungs and go into the bloodstream. Most of the pollution, especially during the winter, comes from the burning of coal from informal settlements known as gers. The coal used is very cheap and not processed in any way, producing large amounts of particulate matter as well as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide. This issue has largely come up in the past thirty years as Ulaanbaatar’s population nearly tripled.
The country of Mongolia, known to some as “Outer” Mongolia, was separated from “Inner” Mongolia in 1945, as part of an agreement to guarantee independence for what is now known as the country of Mongolia. An issue that Inner Mongolians are now facing is how to go about life in China now that the Mongolian language has just been banned and other assimilation efforts have gone into place.
Stereotypes + Cultural Insensitivity
Because there are many people who aren’t well informed in Asian geography, a surprisingly common misconception is that Mongolia is in China or Russia, or that Mongolians are Chinese or Russian. This is like implying that just because the US is located between Canada and Mexico, they are actually Canadian and Mexican. Another insensitive topic that always seems to come up is Genghis Khan. People love to bring him up randomly because it seems funny to them. The equivalent of that is mentioning George Washington or Thomas Jefferson anytime anybody mentioned they were American.
*A personal note: I’ve had people tell me that being Mongolian was somehow equivalent to taking the average between Russia and China, and that I was basically just a mixture of both. It seemed like a funny joke at the time, but as I’ve grown older I’ve realized it just dilutes my actual identity as a Mongolian person.
East, Central, or North?
As many other countries bordering Mongolia made regional boundaries, Mongolia could be categorized as East, Central, or North Asian. The importance of this categorization basically only lies in how discussion about these countries impacts the awareness surrounding their issues. Mongolia is geographically northeast Asian, but Mongolia’s nomadic culture could categorize it as a Central Asian country. However, Mongolia is largely irreligious or Buddhist, which separates it from the majority Muslim populations in Central Asia. Also, Mongolia was never a part of the Soviet Union, unlike many Central Asian countries. It would then become easy to categorize Mongolia as an East Asian country but this basically guarantees no exposure for any of its issues. As it stands right now, other East Asian ‘activists’ don’t seem to really care that much about Mongolia.
I hope that you were able to learn at least a little bit about Mongolia. With so many countries around the world, it may be hard to try to learn about each and every one, but even just having a basic understanding can mean the difference between ignorance and awareness.
Edited by Michelle Nishidera