Sunday, June 05, 2005

Mongolia and Linguistic Borders

UPDATE: If you liked this, check out my new site here, thank you.

     A lengthy conversation highlighted much good and a little bad news for my linguistic theory.  On the good side are the French (sometimes separtist) Canadians.  Although, I should be clear, nothing about conflict is good news.  Also "good" is the Malay situation in the three most southeastern sections of Thailand.  The rebels are primarily Malay speakers, Thai is Daic (it's own family) while Malay is Malayo-Polynesian (sometimes called Austronesian).

     On the negative side are two Chinese situations.  The first doesn't seem like it contradicts the theory.  The Hui are simply Muslim Chinese (not a different language) and have had some clashes with non-Muslim (Han) Chinese in 2004.  But it looks as if the only incident of violence was more of a local event than any permanent secessionist or terrorist situation.

     A more serious question is, why doesn't (Inner) Mongolia struggle against China?  My theory would make them a likely candidate for it.  Mongolia's people speak Mongol, an Altaic language like Turkish or Manchurian.  The Altaic family, in fact, is named for the Altay Mountains(Altai means "Gold") of Mongolia, but we don't hear about Mongolian (linguistic) separtists or terrorists like we hear with the Uyghur of Sinkiang.  So, I looked up some history.  The State Department "International Boundary Study"(pdf) from 1984 on the Chinese-Mongolian border over the years is informative.  Before having read that, as many people know, the Mongols once had conquered China (united in its largest yet extent under the grandson of Chingis(Ghenghis) Khan.  From 1790 until 1911 the Manchu Dynasty basically returned the favor, demanding an annual tribute of eight white horses and one white camel, but not much else.  In 1911/2, the Manchu Dynasty ended, starting with Sun Yat-Sen's Chinese Republic, which was followed six years later by the change in government in Russia, followed again in 1947 by another change in government in China.  From the Border Study...

[S]ettlement of Mongolian lands [by Chinese] violated historic agreements--agreements that justified Chinese suzerainty. In December [1911], "autonomous" Mongolia, ruled by the Living Buddha of Urga, declared itself independent from any form of Chinese rule. Some chance of success was assured in that the declaration occurred when the demise of the Manchu Dynasty was at hand.

In 1912 the Republic of China was born, and its leadership was quick to initiate efforts to reassimilate Outer Mongolia. The republic's "Regulations Concerning the Treatment Applicable to Mongols" declared: "Hereafter, Mongolia should not be treated as a dependency, but should be placed on equal footing with other provinces." Such efforts were almost predestined to fail. Indeed, in the chaotic times that followed the fall of the Manchu Dynasty, the republic was fortunate that Chinese Inner Mongolia's efforts to unite with Outer Mongolia had been unsuccessful.
(emphasis mine).

     Pehraps I should change the quote to read "No Longer Living Buddha of Urga?"  Anyway, the net result was a rapid series of treaties with Russia and/or Russia and China that gave the Tsar control, according to the paper, primus inter pares, by 1915..  I find another USG paper which includes these details.  The paper is part of the US "Country Studies" series, this one on Mongolia.

Soon, however, the effects of the upheaval in Russia began to reach Mongolia. In October 1920, Russian White Guard troops under Baron Roman Nicolaus von Ungern-Sternberg invaded from Siberia. In February 1921, after a fierce battle, Von Ungern-Sternberg drove the Chinese out of Niyslel Huree and occupied the city. At first the White Guards were hailed as liberators by Mongolian monarchists, but in the next several months Von UngernSternberg 's reign of terror and destruction aroused popular opposition.
The locals saw the Soviet Moscow government an ally, and by 1924 Mongolia was declared a "People's Republic."  Soviet-Mongolian connections increased mightily during WWII, as the Japanese had troops in neighboring Manchuria and Inner Mongolia.  The Country Study says the Soviets were afraid of a "Mengkukuo", a Japanese puppet monarchy in Mongolia.  To shift gears quickly here, it had formerly been the Buddhist hierarchy which had formed the center of Mongolian intellectual life, and the Soviet aligned government, in conformity with their principles of atheism and taking away control from old elite groups, ruthlessly destroyed it.  The local Communists executed thousands of top monks, imprisoning many more middle-ranking ones.  After WWII, China had troubles enough with Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, and Sinkiang, (the latter two having seen Soviet-Mongolian troops during the last stages of WWII) and so ceded any claim to Mongolia in order to get full recognition of its claims closer to the center. 

     Perhaps the reason for the lack of Mongolian uprising in China has more to do with the Soviet control over Mongolian policies than anything else?  The brief unification effort in 1911 could be seen as reflecting relative power relations.  Perhaps more important was that the current government of Mongolia existed, and may not have wanted to deal with an angered China.  The Manchu Chinese had exerted effort to divide and conquer Inner Mongolia when it divided the region, a division that is maintained.  Another thing occurs to me.  China has over 50 "ethnic" groups, and has numerous linguistic minorities, not to mention the inherent language problems with Chinese itself, with a common written but widely varied spoken practice.  Does China have more practice with linguistic minorities?  Their experience with the Tibetans resulted in the maintenance of Tibet within China, but was not done in a great way.

     I should mention that I am aware of the situation in Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi leads the democracy party against the ruling military junta.  Suu Kyi, like her father before her, represents the Karen, a large linguistic group which is in the Sino-Tibetan Family, but not in the Burman sub-family.

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