1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mongolia

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32035351911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — MongoliaPeter Alexeivitch Kropotkin

MONGOLIA, a vast territory belonging to the Chinese empire, the administrative limits of which cannot be determined with precision. On the N. it is bounded by the frontier of Russia, beginning at Mount Kalas or Kanas (49° 5′ N., 87° 40′ E.) in the Altai, and running to the S.E. corner of Transbaikalia in the vicinity of Dalai-nor, thus having on the N. the Siberian provinces of Tomsk, Yeniseisk, Irkutsk and Transbaikalia. In the E. the boundary line which separates Mongolia from Manchuria runs past Dalai-nor and Lake Buir, crossing the Great Khingan in 47° 30′ N., towards Tsitsihar in Manchuria; then, crossing the Nonni river, it strikes the Sungari at Khulan-chen, where it turns westwards up this river, reaching the Shara-muren river in 123° 30′ E. From China proper on the S. Mongolia is separated by a line running in a south-westward direction up the Shara-muren and across the Mongolian plateau to the bending of the Hwang-ho or Yellow river in about 40° N. and 110° 30′ E. Thence the boundary describes a sinuous line, following the Great Wall, and thus includes the Ordos (Ho-tau) and Alashañ (Si-tao), and reaches its most southern point in 36° 40′ N., 104° 20′ E. Thence it turns north-west, following the Great Wall for over 300 m.; it then crosses the plateau so as to separate Mongolia from the Chinese province of Sin-Kiang (Hañ-su-sin-tsiang, which includes the Nan-shan highlands and eastern Turkestan), and from Dzungaria, reaching the Chinese or Ektagh Altai in 46° 30′ N., 92° 50′ E. From that point the boundary coincides with the main water-parting of the Altai Mountains till it reaches Mount Kalas.

Geographically, Mongolia may thus be said to occupy both terraces of the great plateau of east Asia, which stretches in the south of Siberia, between the Sailughem range of the Great Altai and the Great Khingan—with the exception of the Dzungarian depression. From Manchuria and China it is separated by the border ridge of the plateau—the Great Khingan, while in the south-west it runs up to the foot of the high northern border ridges of the Tibetan plateau—an artificial frontier separating it from east Turkestan and Dzungaria. Broadly speaking, Mongolia may be divided naturally into three parts: (1) north-western Mongolia, which occupies the high terrace of the plateau; (2) the Gobi, in its wide sense, covering the lower terrace of the plateau, together with a slightly more elevated and better-watered zone along the western slope of the Great Khingan and its south-western continuation; and (3) south-eastern Mongolia, on the eastern slope of the Khingan. Of these parts, the second is considered in detail under the heading Gobi.

North-western Mongolia was formerly represented as a region intersected by lofty mountain chains. It appears, however, from Russian explorations during the last third of the 19th century, that it has all the characteristics of an elevated plateau, of a rhomboid shape (like Bohemia), bounded by four mountain ranges; namely, the Russian Altai onNorth-western Mongolia. the N.W., the Sayans on the N.E., the Kentei range on the S.E., and the Ektagh Altai on the S.W. The border-ridge character of the Sayans (Ergik-targak-taiga) is well established, and the same orographic character is confirmed by recent explorers with regard to the Sailughem range of the Altai. The only point still remaining undecided is whether the valleys of the Bom-kemchik (a tributary of the Yenisei) and its left-hand tributaries do not belong geographically to the Altai region. At any rate, throughout the whole of north-west Mongolia, which covers an area of nearly 370,000 sq. m., the altitude nowhere falls below 2370 ft. (Ubsa-nor); and the area round this lake which has less than 3000 ft. of altitude covers only 6600 sq. m. The remainder of this extensive territory ranges at altitudes of 3000 to 4500 ft., even in the bottoms of the river valleys and in the lower plains; while the ridges which constitute the water-partings rise about 2000 ft. above the general level of the plateau. Along the south-western border of this division of Mongolia a gigantic border-ridge, the Ektagh (or Mongolian) Altai, runs in an E.S.E. direction from the Russian Altai to 99° E. and is probably continued even farther by the Artsa-bogdo, the Saikhat and other ranges as far as the northern loop of the Yellow river. The passes across the Ektagh Altai lie at altitudes of 10,000 ft. in the north-west and 9250 ft. in 93° 20′ E.; farther east they become much lower. But while its southern foot stands in the Dzungarian trench, i.e. at altitudes of 1550 ft. only near Lake Ulungur, and at 3000 ft. in 94° E., its north-eastern foot rests on the high plateau, i.e. at 4260 ft. at Kobdo, 5410 at Oshku, 4070 at Orok-nor on the route from Kiakhta to Su-chow, and so on. Thus the Ektagh Altai is a true border-range—that is, a lofty and steep escarpment facing the Dzungarian depression, with a gentle and relatively short slope towards the plateau.

In the same way the Kentei (or Gentei) Mountains, as they are called, to the north of Urga, and the Yablonoi Mountains of Transbaikalia, separate the higher terrace of north-west Mongolia (drained by the tributaries of the Selenga) from the lower terrace of the Gobi, which is drained by the upper tributaries of the Onon and the Kerulen, both belonging to the basin of the Amur. It is also very probable that the Tannu-ola Mountains north-east of Ubsa-nor, and the Khangai Mountains between Ulyasutai and the upper Orkhon, both running W.N.W. to E.S.E., border another slightly higher terrace of the same great plateau of north-west Mongolia, upon which Lake Kossogol lies, at an altitude of 5320 ft. On this vast upper terrace even the bottoms of the river valleys are at altitudes of 4200 to 5500 ft., with one single exception—the narrow gorge of the Khua (Khi)-khem, or upper Yenisei; while the highest pass across the Tannu-ola Mountains is 7090 ft., though the others are much lower. The conception of north-west Mongolia as a region filled with mountain ranges radiating from the Altai must thus be abandoned. It is a massive swelling of the earth's crust, representing the northern counterpart of the plateau of Tibet. This massive swelling is cut into, between the Ektagh Altai and the eastern Tʽien-shan, by the relative depression of Tarbagatai and Dzungaria, 1500 to 3000 ft. in altitude; while to the south of the eastern Tʽien-shan comes the Tarim depression, from 2200 to 3000 ft. high, and occupying an area of about 88,000 sq. m. Neither of these “depressions,” however, penetrates beyond 94° E., and on the route from Kiakhta to Su-chow, in 100° E., there is only one single place (42° N.) in which the altitude drops as low as 3300 ft.; everywhere else it varies between 4000 and 5000 ft.

Lakes and Rivers.—North-western Mongolia is well watered, and has in its western part a group of lakes which possess no outlet to the ocean, being in reality the rapidly desiccating remains of what were formerly much larger basins. The chief of them is Ubsa-nor (2370 ft.), which receives the large river Tes. It lies in the middle of a large plain, and has to the west of it a smaller but much higher lake, Urga-nor, besides several smaller ones. Farther south on the same wide plain lie the sister lakes Kirghiz-nor and Airyk-nor, which receive another large river, the Dzap’hyn, and the Kungui. Many small lakes are scattered over the plain to the east of them. A third group of lakes occur in the neighbourhood of Kobdo. The Kobdo river, which rises in the Dain-gol (7060 ft.) in the Ektagh Altai, winds in great curves across the plateau, and enters Lake Kara-usu (3840 ft.), which also receives the Buyantu, an outflow from Lake Kobdo, and is connected by a small river with another large lake, Durga-nor, situated a score of miles to the east. There are also many smaller lakes fed by the glaciers of the Sailughem (Achit-nor, 4650 ft., and Uryu-nor), and others scattered through the Ektagh Altai. The largest lake of this region is, however, Kosogol (Khubsu-gul), which lies at an altitude of 5320 ft., close to the Russian frontier, at the foot of the snow-clad Munku-sardyk. Besides the rivers just mentioned, there are others belonging to the basin of the Yenisei (Khua-or Khi-khem, Bei-khem and Bom-kemchik); while yet others belong to the Selenga, a river formed by the junction of the Eder with the Telghir. The Selenga receives the Orkhon, at the head of which remarkable inscriptions were discovered in the end of the 19th century, and cleverly deciphered by Professor V. Thomsen of Copenhagen.[1] The rivers which flow down the outer slopes of the border-ridges become lost in the Gobi shortly after entering it.

A very large portion of north-west Mongolia constitutes high plain, 3000 to 4200 ft. in altitude, which penetrates from the south-east in a north-western direction between the Ektagh Altai and the Khangai Mountains. It has a true Mongolian character, i.e. it is covered with gravel, and presents the appearance of a dry prairie devoid of forests. This same character is also exhibited by the bottoms of the broad valleys, while the more elevated and hilly portions of the territory, especially on their northern slopes, are covered with larch, cedar, pine and deciduous trees belonging to the Siberian flora; where the forests fail they are marshy or assume the character of Alpine meadows—e.g. in the Khangai, the Tannu-ola, and on the slopes of the border-ridges. The whole of this region is covered with excellent pasture. The forests decrease as one travels southwards. For instance, while both slopes of the Sayans are covered with forests, the Tannu-ola and the Khangai Mountains have woods on their northern faces only, and the Ektagh Altai is quite devoid of woods, even on its northern slope.

Climate.—Owing to its high altitude, north-western Mongolia is very cold, and the severity of the winter is intensified by the prevalence of cold but dry north-western winds. The north-east wind brings more moisture. In summer the warm winds come from the south and south-east, but having first to cross the Gobi, they are dried before they reach north-western Mongolia. The yearly amount of rain at Urga (altitude 4350 ft., at the northern foot of the Kentei Mountains) is only 91/2 in., and the average temperatures are: year 27° F., January −18°, July 64°; a minimum of −35° F. has been observed. The climate of Ulyasutai (5400 ft.) may be taken as typical, its average temperatures being: year 31·6°, January −12°, July 66°.

The geology is still very imperfectly known. The plateau is built up of granites, gneisses and crystalline schists of Archean and probably Primary age. Coal is known to exist to the south-east of Kobdo, in the Tannu-ola, and in the basin of the Yenisei, but its age is unknown (fresh-water Jurassic ?). Graphite and some silver ores have also been found.

The fauna is a mixture of the Siberian and the Daurian—the latter penetrating up the valleys of the Selenga basin. The chief towns of north-west Mongolia are Urga, Ulyasutai, Kobdo and Ulankom.

South-eastern Mongolia is the part of Mongolia which lies on the eastern slope of the Great Khingan Mountains, entering like a wedge between the lower course of the Nonni river and the middle Sungari. Chiefly owing to the dryness of climate, its physical characteristics are similar to those of Mongolia proper, except that the altitudeSouth-eastern Mongolia. of the plains is much lower. This portion of Mongolia is also much better watered, namely, by the Khatsyr, the Lao-ho and the Shara-muren, all flowing from the Khingan Mountains eastwards, and the last making the frontier between Mongolia and the Chinese province of Chihli.

Population.—The population of the whole of Mongolia is estimated at about 5,000,000. It consists of Mongols—Eastern Mongols and Kalmucks in the west—various Turkish tribes, Chinese and Tunguses. The Mongols proper, with the exception of those who inhabit north-west Mongolia, may be divided into northern and southern (more properly north-western and south-eastern) Mongols. The former, belonging to the Khalkas, occupy the Gobi and the regions of the Kentei Mountains and Khingan Mountains, while the second, divided into numerous minor branches, roam over south-eastern and southern Mongolia. The principal occupation of the Mongols is cattle-breeding, and Russian writers estimate that on an average each yurta, or family, has about 50 sheep, 25 horses, 15 horned cattle and 10 camels. The transport of goods is their next most important occupation. It is calculated that 100,000 camels are used for the transport of tea only from Kalgan to Siberia, and that no less than 1,200,000 camels and 300,000 ox-carts are employed in the internal caravan trade. Agriculture is only carried on sporadically, chiefly in the south, where the Mongols have been taught by the Chinese. Various domestic industries are also carried on. The trade is chiefly concentrated at Urga, Ulyasutai and Kobdo in north-west Mongolia; Kalgan, Kuku-khoto, Kuku-erghi, Dolon-nur and Biru-khoto in southern and south-eastern Mongolia; and at Kerulen in the north-east.

Administration.—Before the Manchurian conquest the Mongols were governed by their own feudal princes, who regarded themselves as being descended from seven different ancestors, all, however of the same kin. Each group of principalities constituted a separate aimak, and each principality a separate hoshun. Under Manchu rule the aimaks became converted into the same number of military corps, each composed of so many hoshuns as military units. Each of these again was divided into sumuns or squadrons, each containing 150 families. In case a hoshun contained more than 6 sumuns, every 6 of the latter were organized into a regiment—tsalan. Four Manchu tsian-tsuns, or governor-generals, acted as chiefs of the troops, and the prince of each aimak, nominated from Peking, was considered as the lieutenant or assistant of his respective Manchu chief. The hoshuns were subject to their own princes, each of whom had a military adviser, generally a Manchu. Their internal or tribal affairs were in the hands of the princes, those which concerned a whole aimak being settled at gatherings of the princes under the eldest of them, named khan. This organization was maintained by the Manchu rulers, the khan being elected from among the princes, and the latter having each an adviser, tusalakchi, nominated from Peking.

Mongolia is now administered by a Lifan Yuen or superintendency with headquarters at Peking. Excluding the territory to which the name of Mongolia is geographically applied, but which is included in the provinces of Shansi and Chihli, Mongolia is divided into inner and outer divisions. Inner Mongolia, lying, between the desert of Gobi, China proper and Manchuria, is divided into 24 aimaks. There are two military governors-general and two commissaries of the viceroy of Chihli, having control of civil matters. One of each pair of officials is stationed at Kalgan, and the other at Jehol. Outer Mongolia, the remainder of the territory, has 4 aimaks, three of which are under hereditary khans. There is a Chinese imperial agent at Urga.

Authorities.—The following works in Russian are the most important: Prjevalsky, Mongolia and the Land of the Tanguts (1875), and his Third and Fourth Journey (1883 and 1888); G. N. Potanin, Sketches of North-West Mongolia (1881–1883) The Tangut-Tibet Border of China and Central Mongolia (1893 seq.); V. Pyevtsoff, Sketch of a Journey to Mongolia, &c. (Omsk, 1883); D. Pozdnéeff, Towns of North Mongolia (1880); Mongolia and the Mongols (1896 and 1899); and the article “Mongolia” in Russian Encycl. Dictionary, vol. xix. (1896); G. and M. Grum Grzimailo, Description of a Journey to Western China (1898–1899); V. Pyevtsoff, K. Bogdanovitch, V. I. Roborovsky and P. K. Kozloff, The Tibet Expeditions (1886–1902); V. Obrucheff, Central Asia, Northern China and the Nanshan (1900–1901); Z. Matusovskiy, Geogr. Descr. of Chinese Empire (1888); Batorskiy, Essay of a Military and Statistic Sketch (1890); A. Woyeikoff, Climates of the Earth (1884); Mongolia and Kham (Imperial Russian Geographical Society’s Expedition, 1899–1901). See also R. Pumpelly, Geol. Researches (Washington, 1866); Ney Elias, in Journal R.G.S. (1873); Baron Richthofen, China (1877); J. Gilmour, Among the Mongols (1883); W. W. Rockhill, Journey through Mongolia and Thibet (1894); F. E. Younghusband, The Heart of a Continent (1896).  (P. A. K.) 

  1. See V. Thomsen, Inscriptions de l’Orkhon (Helsingfors, 1900)