2.4 The medieval period Following the fall of the Y¨an dynasty and the expulsion of the Mongols from China, the ruling elites returned to life on the steppe. (Technically, the Y¨an dynasty continued as the Northern Y¨an for some years, until Ligden Khan's death, but this was largely a fiction.) During the ensuing 250 years or so, although the Eastern Mongols would occassionally re-unite, they were never to achieve the same power they had under Chinggis Khaan. The Western Mongols (the Oirad), however, were to rise to some prominence on the steppe, becoming for a time a force to be reckoned with by both the Chinese and the Russians.

During this time, the Eastern Mongols were split what were known as the Six Tümen, the Halh, Tsahar (Chakar), Ordos, Tümed, Uriankhai and Yunsheebüü.[14] Of these, the first four were to retain some sense of group identity, while the latter two were to dissolve into other adminstrative units.

Much of the 250 years following the explusion of the Yüan would be spent in warfare among the different groups of Mongols, as various Khans jousted for power and influence, both on the steppe and with the Ming. This period of Mongolian history is vividly described by the socialist texts as "the period of feudal disintegration".

We will skip over much of this period in silence. The first person we must take account of is the near-mythical Manduhai Tsetsen Hatan (Manduhai the Wise Queen). As we shall see in later chapters, she is usually mentioned for her role in ensuring Batmönh Dayan Khan's success. Grousset notes of her and her background:

Grand Khan Mandaghol, Chinggis Khaan's twenty-seventh successor, died in 1467 as the result of a war against his great-nephew and heir Bolkho jinong [regent], and the latter in his turn was assassinated before he could be proclaimed khan (1470). Of the once so numerous Khublaid family [ie, descendants of Chinggis through Khubilai Khaan] there now remained only a five-year old boy, Dayan, the son of Bolkho jinong, who was 'deserted by everyone, even his mother, who had remarried.' Mandaghol's young widow, Manduhai, took the child under her protection and proclaimed him khan. She herself then assumed command of the loyal Mongols and inflicted a defeat on the Oirad. In 1481, she married young Dayan. In 1491-92, this heroic woman, whose exploits recall those of Oeleun-eke, Chinggis Khaan's mother, 'is again depicted at the head of an army which repulsed the Oirad.' It is to her that tradition gives credit for having overthrown Oirad supremacy and restored hegemony to the eastern Mongols (1970: 509).

Little else is known about Manduhai, although Howarth mentions she had seven sons, including two sets of twins (1876: 372-3). She is also mentioned in the Mongolian chronicle, Erdeniin Tovch written by Sagan Sechen in 1662 (Kreuger 1967). While not dismissing her entirely, the Russian scholar Pokotilov refers to her marriage to the young Batmönh as a "poetical legend" (1976: 79). Whatever the true facts surrounding her, what is central to our understanding of Manduhai and the role she plays in socialist era history books are two basic points. First, by marrying Batmönh, she managed to keep the Golden Lineage (as Chinggis's descendants are known) in a position of actual, as well as nominal, power. Second, in her campaigns against the Oirad, she set the stage for Batmönh's attempt at re-uniting the Mongols. (And thus, under socialism was credited with halting 'feudal disintegration'.)

Batmönh Dayan Khaan (1470-1543) continued the campaigns begun by Manduhai, and ruled briefly as Khaan over the united Mongol tribes. With his death, however, the empire was again to split up into warring factions. This would be the last successful attempt by a Chinggisid noble to unite the Mongols. (Although Lidgen Khaan (1592-1634) was in theory ruler of all the Mongols, in actual fact he presided over only the Chahar of what is now Inner Mongolia.

Batmönh's grandson, Altan Khan (1543-82) is noted chiefly for having reintroduced Tibetan Buddhism into Mongolia.[15] Altan Khan ruled the Tümed, a group in present day Inner Mongolia, and achieved some measure of success, securing peace with Ming China, and driving the Oirad out of Harhorin. (Interestingly enough, perhaps because he did not rule the Halh, his role in introducing Buddhism is glossed over in Information Mongolia.)

While the Mongols had toyed with Buddhism under Khubilai, it never appeared to achieve much penetration outside of the ruling classes, and largely died out after the fall of the Yüan dynasty. (Although it had more influence among the Oirad. See Jagchid [1988a].) After Altan's reintroduction of Buddhism, it was to take firm hold, becoming the dominant religion on the steppe. In 1578 the head of the Gelugspa sect (the "Yellow Hat" sect; hence Mongolian terms for Buddhism are based on this, ie, shar shashin, the yellow religion) travelled to Mongolia. There, Altan Khan bestowed upon him the title of Dalai Lama, recognizing him as a reincarnation of 'Phags-pa Lama. The new Dalai Lama in turn recognized Altan as the reincarnation of Khubilai Khan.

At the same time, several other khans were to convert, and Buddhism was from then on to play a central role in steppe politics, bringing to bear its ecclesiastical organization and resources. In time, it would almost totally dominate the social and economic life of the Mongols.

Shortly after Altan Khan's conversion, in 1639, the young son of the Tüsheet Khan (like Altan Khan, a descendant of Batmönh, and thus a Chinggisid), Zanabazar (1635-1723), was proclaimed as a Buddhist incarnation. He was given the title of Javzandamba Hutagt.[16] The young boy was sent to Tibet to study, and "obtain[ed] further ordinations from the Dalai Lama" (Bawden 1989: 35). The Javzandamba was to become the third ranking incarnation in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. He was also recognized by the Manchu Emperor in 1688, and was officially made head of the Buddhist Church in Mongolia.

Some historians have tried to argue that the spread of Buddhism resulted in a pacification of the Mongols, and this in turn led to their eventual domination by the Manchus. The evidence for this, however, is less than compelling. As Morgan notes:

It is not easy to demonstrate that the Mongols, except for the increasingly large proportion of the population that became monks, were much less warlike than their ancestors. They were certainly less effective militarily, but this probably has more to do with political developments and changes in military technology than with religion (1986a: 205).

The Javzandamba Hutagt in his various incarnations would soon become a very powerful and influential figure in Mongolia, although only the first and eighth were to be remembered for their holiness. After the death of the second Javzandamba, the Manchu Emperor declared that all future incarnations would be found in Tibet. This was to counter the growing political power of the Javzandambas. With reincarnations being found among the descendants of Chinggis Khaan, the Javzandamba had immediate political as well as spiritual legitimacy. They thus presented a possible threat to Manchu rule in Mongolia, and needed to be contained

From the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, the Buddhist Church presided over an increasingly large feudal estate, being a major owner of livestock and shav' (ecclesiastical serfs) by the time of the 1921 revolution. Rupen estimates that during the early twentieth century, the Church "directly or indirectly controlled approximately 200,000 people, comprising more than half the total male population" (1964: 82).[17]

In an attempt to check the power of the Church, the socialists were to declare on the death of the Eighth Javzandamba in 1924 that in accordance with an old prophecy, there would be no more incarnations. A Ninth Javzandamba Hutagt, however, was finally recognized by the Dalai Lama in 1991.

During this time, while the Halh Mongols were divided into three khanates, the Züüngar (Jungar) Mongols (an Oirad group, residing in what is now Western Mongolia and Xinjiang) were increasing their power. Under Galdan (d. 1697), the Züüngar empire was to pose a threat (or at least a major nuisance) to both the Russian Empire and the Manchus, now ruling China as the Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1912). Although Galdan was defeated in 1696, the Züüngars were to remain a thorn in the side of the Manchus until the 1750s.

Continue on to the next part of the chapter (Mongolia under the Qing)


14. A tümen literally means 10,000. A military unit of approximately 10,000 men during the Chinggisid period, it also was an administrative unit.

15. Serruys (1963) argues that this should be more properly seen as a revival, rather than a reintroduction, although he admits that in previous periods, Lamaism "probably was never much of a power among the native tribes of Mongolia" (pg. 181).

16. A hutagt is a high ranking reincarnation. The term itself means "holy" or "saintly".

17. This figure includes an estimated 85,000 shav'. For two years during the Autonomous Period, 1915 and 1918, Tsedev lists only 38645 and 49878 shav'' respectively (Tsedev 1964: 91). His highest twentieth century figure, 68246, is for 1905 (ibid).

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