Reviews

This long and dense article by a Mongolian author deals with the place of the Chinggisid lineage in the formation of Mongolian nationality. It is based on the author’s Ph.D. dissertation [“Mongolian Identity and Nationalism: Origin, Transformation and Nature (From the Thirteenth Century to the mid-1920s”)] submitted in Hokkaido University, Sapporo, in 2004). The period covered by the article is somehow wider than the three centuries mentioned in the title, that have seen the Mongolian ― mostly Chinggisid ― leaders either submitted to or defeated by the raising Manchu power, and live under the latter’s suzerainty. The reader will also find in these pages a reflection of the difficulties faced by present-day Mongols in defining their nation while they are citizens of three different states, in which they hold different statuses and have in the course of modern history constructed specific identities (Mongolian, Inner-Mongolian, Buryat, Kalmyk). At the same time, in Mongolia proper they were coexisting with populations from different ethnic groups (Kazakhs, Tuvas). A “particularly grave question” is: Should the concept of nation and nationality accommodate all the Mongols or rather divide the Mongols by citizenship?

The first section (“Conceptual Crisis of Mongolian Identity and Nationality Lexicon and Its Roots,” 52-61) highlights the different and polemical interpretations of the word ündüsüten ~ ündesten (from ündüsü “roots, origin”), the Mongolian standard term for “nation”, and of its inclusive or exclusive understanding. In Mongolia the form ündüsüten (lit. “those with the same roots”) has been used since the early twentieth century for rendering the Soviet concept of natsiia (“nation, nationality”), that Stalin defined as the sharing a common language, culture, territory, and way of life (the author omits a common psychology, Stalin’s fifth criteria). Following the dismantlement of the Soviet system that altered the cultural and religious heritage of the Mongols, nationalist feelings and a search for identity have surfaced, giving way ― writes the author ― to a “complex development” and “uneasy interactions” (55), a euphemism if one thinks of the xenophobic phenomena that are present in Mongolia today. There, the official definition of ündüsüten is still based on the same criteria but with addition of a political one: The constructed national identity is by now embedded in the idea of the nation-state of Mongolia, even if a shift is perceptible, with the introduction in the 1992 Constitution of the notion of “linguistic national minority (öör khel bükhii ündestenii tsöönkh).”

However, some people like Ts. Gombosüren advocate the use of ündüsüten to denote the Mongol ethnic group and the use of ulus (“people, state”) for referring to Mongolia’s population, a term that better conveys the Western concept of “nation, national”. This meaning of ulus, notes the author, can be found already in the proclamation of Mongolian independence in 1911. Such an understanding comes closer to the interpretation of Mongols living outside Mongolia, such as U.S.-based anthropologist U. Bulag, himself a native of Inner Mongolia. For U. Bulag, sums up the author, Mongol ündüsüten refers to all ethnic Mongols, and Mongolia’s exclusive definition leaving out the Mongols outside its borders reflects “Soviet-Mongolian nationalism” and “Khalkha-centrism”. Munkh-Erdene sees in Bulag’s perspective a “Greater Mongolia” sentiment, and argues that his “discrimination experience” is in fact shared by all Mongols when confronted with different Mongolian identities. It therefore should not be described as discrimination but as the manifestation of another vital condition for being a member of the Mongolian nation next to shared historical and ethno-cultural heritage: the “mutual recognition and loyalty of fellows”, as E. Gellner puts it in Nations and nationalism (1983). In other words, the author belittles the discrimination suffered by Mongols of China in the eyes of self-imagined “pure Khalkhas” in Mongolia, and justifies it by calling on the main principle of nationalism as defined by Gellner, viz. the congruency of the political and the national unit. One is therefore tempted to question the ability of the author to leave his conviction outside his study of nation ― as E. J. Hobsbawm recommended to do in his introduction to Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (1990). . . .

In the following sections, the author analyses at length the notions present in the Mongolian terminology of nationality and their diachronic evolution. He divides them into two sets of terms, one belonging to a state-cultural or politico-cultural discourse (ulus, irgen, denoting people, or citizen; keleten, lit. speaker; toɣatan or counted in), and another set based on an ethnic-racial discourse: ündüsü (“roots / lineage / nationality”), izaɣur (“origin”), oboɣ (“ancestry / clan”), ugsaɣa (“descent”), udum (“gene / stock / race”), yasu (“bone”). Although the author agrees with the general view that modern nationalism is only a nineteenth-century phenomenon (late-nineteenth-century as far as the Mongols are concerned), and that shifts have occurred in their understanding, he considers that Mongolian nationality terms, and to some extent the concepts behind them, were already present in Mongol chronicles in the seventeenth century. Both sets, he points out, are closely interwoven with the history of Mongolian statehood and by the prominence of the Chinggisid lineage in Mongolian society till the 1920s. The imperial lineage is analysed by the author as the archetype of the “Mongols’ traditional ethos of human genealogy”, while Chinggisid statehood and lineage are their origin myths. Chronicles identify the Mongols as a distinct body, a “community of descent” in S. Reynolds’ terms, having as their unique origin the ancestor of the Chinggisids, and producing thus a “primordialist” conception of nation and nationality. As the Chinggisids ruled almost all Mongolian banners, which made their lineage a “national” one that became the main frame of reference in constructing a Mongolian identity. As pointed out by C. Atwood in his “How do you say minzu in Mongolian” (1994), the Mongols continued to see themselves as collectively forming a single realm even through times of political disunity or incorporation into the Qing empire. For Munkh-Erdene, this imagined statehood or realm was the fundamental source of their collective identity.

The last section (75-90) is devoted to the role of the Tümed Mongol Injinnashi, the author of the late-nineteenth-century historical novel Köke sudur (“The Blue Chronicle”), in the emergence of a nationalist ideology and his insistence on reviving the Mongols’ national consciousness through the historiography of their ug ündüsü or “lineage-nationality”. The author also analyses the influence on Mongolian nationalism of the Eighth Jebtsündamba Khutugtu (later enthroned as Bogdo Khaan)’s rhetoric and identification of the Mongols with the descendants of the Chinggisids (although he was himself Tibetan born, his first incarnation had been the son of a major Chinggisid ruler, and he thus considered himself as such). The author examines the uses and transformations of the nationality terminology in the documents of the first decades of the twentieth century related to the Bogdo Khaan’s period, then the new communist regime (with a vocabulary initially inspired by the views of the Buryat intellectual Jamtsarano Tseveen). The author concludes his substantial essay by stressing the importance of the sense of collective identity, a sense that matters more than the sovereign right of the people, in devising the modern nation. This article provides many interesting insights on the important and presently relevant question of Mongolian nationalism, and it will therefore be of interest for any student or researcher on the subject. If the translations of the various terms expressing the concepts cannot of course satisfy all readers, the latter will appreciate that the author always gives the Mongolian form, that matters most, in a coherent transcription (the same cannot be said of the incoherent transcriptions used in the Mongolian titles of the bibliography, a point that should have been seen by the Editors of the journal).

Marie-Dominique Even, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-3.1.A-99