The Minority in China and Beyond: The Mongolian Community
Table of Contents
The study of Mongolian identity and culture has been significant for the last few decades. History suggests that they had been nomadic pastoralists for a very long period (Man 211). The Mongols have left an important cultural imprint on modern China. Their lifestyle has not been easy for the last few years since the Mongols have had to endure the harsh nomadic life. Mongolian nomadic activity involved continuous migration in search of water and pasture. The Mongol era is important because of the leadership of Khan in the Yuan Dynasty (Man 219). It embraced unique paintings and ancient artworks that witnessed a golden generation during the Yuan Empire. It was the period when the Mongols ruled in most of the Asian and East European regions. Additionally, Khan utilized assistance of monks as advisers, which facilitated creative ideas. Perhaps, this approach was necessary for the development of religious temples and monasteries. The Mongolian community had distinct ethnic markers, which played a key role in societal organization. The essay outlines ethnic markers left for the Mongols and the basis of identity they might have in case nomadism continues to diminish in Inner Mongolia. Additionally, it highlights the elements of Mongolian cultural identity and provides measures that might form a basis for identity creation.
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Ethnic Markers Left for the Mongols
Language is a significant ethnic marker that Mongols have left (Man 221). Most importantly, Khalkha Mongolian is the formal language spoken by the majority of Mongols. Roughly, ninety percent of Mongols speak this language, and it has been a part of the prevalent Uralic-Altaic family that diversified with the rise of the ancient Mongol Dynasty (Zhao 136). The Mongolian community still uses this language for communication. Although a few groups have adopted Kazakh, Russian and Chinese, the majority of Mongols are retaining their language roots. The situation demonstrates that even though their previous ethnic mark as nomads is reducing at a tremendous rate, the Mongolian people are still maintaining their identity via retaining their ancestral language.
Religion is another primary ethnic identity that is left for the Mongols. Shamanism was the original religion of the Mongols during the 16th century (Zhao 129). However, before the emergence of Shamanism, the Mongols were practicing Lamaism religion, which was a significant faction of the Tibetan Buddhism (Man 107). Furthermore, the leader Manchus promoted Lamaism to the Mongolian community because he believed that the doctrine would help to turn Mongolian males into renowned monks rather than into warriors. However, the 19th century witnessed the emergence of Buddhism religion in the Mongolian community, which gradually replaced Lamaism. Buddhism experienced a significant rise in the mid-20th century (Man 111). However, after the 1990s, the arrival of European missionaries in Mongolia introduced Christianity, which had a spiritual influence on a large number of Mongols. Although the presence of missionaries had a profound effect on the Mongols’ original religion, the majority of the Mongols are still practicing Buddhism.
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The Mongolian community is embracing a traditional kinship structure. The traditional Mongolian society practiced family relationships that were passed from fathers to sons. Sons had to respect their parents and learn from them as this was a sound traditional practice. Moreover, Mongolian kinship recalled a larger set of paternal lineages and members of the same clan (Man 126). The community recognized these groups as individual males originating from a common grandfather or older members of the society. Even though community clans had no political significance to the Mongols, they demonstrated their kinship identity, which the modern Mongolian society is adopting nowadays.
Family structure is an important cultural characteristic left for the Mongols. The traditional Mongols did not put as much emphasis on the extended family as on their neighbors. Rather, they highly practiced the nuclear type of family. The Mongolian family comprised a father, a mother and their children. Predominantly, large families were common among the Mongols. For instance, the 1979 population census revealed that sixteen percent of nuclear families consisted of roughly seven to nine individuals, and eleven percent of the families had nine or more members (Man 132). However, the modern family is slightly different from the traditional Mongolian family because of the education influence, but people still embrace the ethnic marker of the nuclear family.
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Marriage is another imperative ethnic marker left for the Mongols. Parents initiated traditional Mongolian marriages. Thus, parents negotiated the bridal price such as livestock according to the social status of the family. However, the 20th century witnessed a different approach to marriage practices (Zhao 173). The adults began to choose their desired marriage partner and initiated a marriage ceremony themselves. The agreement between the couple facilitated reducing parental involvement in the wedding ceremony. Most herders married women within the herding camp, and the modern Mongolian community is experiencing the same marriage trend.
The Basis of Identity the Mongols Might Have if Nomadism Continues to Diminish
The locals would still utilize the Mongolian written language for learning and communication. Historians consider the Mongols as great civilizing patrons. For instance, they developed an idea of the modern written language, which the Mongols utilized to interpret some expressive language within the Mongolian community. The people used the “square script” that translated a considerable number of words (Man 314). Furthermore, the Mongols adopted Khalkha Mongolian for communication, which is a formal language. Most of the people speak this language in modern China, which is roughly 90 percent of Chinese (Man 317). Therefore, the language mark might still be a collective identity for the Mongols even if nomadism continues to reduce at a tremendous rate.
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Mongols might preserve their traditions and rituals even in contemporary China. Although the Chinese value their traditions and customs in many different ways, it has not come at the expense of Mongols’ ancestral culture. Similarly, the Mongols have not neglected their traditions and rituals simply because of the spread of Chinese culture. At the time of Khan’s rule, they conquered many regions including Eastern Persian; however, this did not force the Mongols to forget their native culture (Zhao 256). Rather, the Mongol leaders took many measures to preserve their traditions, events and the uniqueness of the Mongolian culture. This is the main reason why customs and rituals might be a key identity for the Mongols even if nomadic activity continues to reduce.
The Mongols might practice Buddhism even with the significant spread of Christianity. The Khan dynasty was famous for many denominations, such as Islam, Buddhism and later Christianity. However, Buddhism, especially the Tibetan type of Buddhism, religiously inspired the Mongolian community (Man 324). This approach facilitated the Mongol leader to establish a great number of Buddhist monasteries in modern China. Most of the monasteries are running to date, and probably Buddhism would be another important religious identity for the Mongolian community at the expense of their nomadic community.
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Elements of Ethnic Identity as a Basis for Identity Formation
The Mongols history might provide a basis for national identity, which is a key foundation for ethnic markers. Remarkable triumphs of the Mongolian community under Genghis Khan facilitated the Mongols to expand their dynasty far beyond the neighboring regions in Asia spread as far as Europe (Man 326). Because of this, the Mongols have attained a national culture, which encompasses social organization values, governance, land control and cultural traditions. The nomadic historical activity of the Mongols has significantly shaped their national culture.
Culture might promote societal heritage, which is an essential basis for people’s traditions. The Mongols valued their traditions and customs at the expense of the Chinese culture. They supported Shamanism and valued shamans’ positions at the Khan’s tribunal in China. Additionally, they valued death and afterlife customs. They handled funerals with respect since they considered it essential to prevent curses from in the family. Thus, Mongol’s values and beliefs laid important foundations for their identity (Man 334).
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Kinship might promote guidelines for interaction between individuals in the Mongolian community. It defined a decent role relationship among the Mongols. For instance, the Mongols considered a relationship between a father and a son as acceptable. They recognized a paternal lineage and formation of clans, which involved elder male persons such as a grandfather (Man 352). Additionally, kinship dictated family line relationship and determined the person one can marry. For instance, the Mongols did not approve of the marriage of close relatives, such as incest marriage. The Mongolian kinship system might promote solidarity of cordial relationship.
In conclusion, the cultural characteristics left for the Mongolian community are significant for identifying their ethnicity. Language, religion, kinship, marriage and family ties are the primary ethnic markers that identify the Mongols. Furthermore, most of the Mongols are practicing Buddhism even in spite of the contemporary spread of Christianity. Others are practicing Islamic religion at the expense of Buddhism. The Mongols embraced a family structure that was comprehensively a nuclear type of household. However, written language, traditions, customs and religion are an important part of cultural identify, which the Mongols might adopt if pastoral nomadism continues to reduce. Therefore, history, culture and kinship provide appropriate measures in which the Mongols perhaps justify their identity formation.