The early 300-year-long control of the country-many say “occupation” – by the Chinese Qing Dynasty remains the stuff of much public anger and bitterness in today’s Mongolia.

The main factors to keep in mind about this admittedly grim period of Mongolia’s history was that it was actually the Manchu – and not Chinese – who were involved… and they also had many willing Mongolian accomplices. The only group that comes out well for their persistent were the Oirads, also known as the Dzungars or Junggars.

The Manchus started off as the Jurchens, a Tunjisic but also Altaic-language group of nomads based farther east and northeast of the Mongolians. As already mentioned, there was certainly no love lost between them, especially after the Jurchens formed the Jin Dynasty in the early 12th century. Genghis khan went after them early on, capturing their capital in today’ Beijing, and his son Ogodei brutally finished them off in 1233. From their northeastern lair, they’d nursed their wounds through the Mongol empire and then the Ming Dynasty until, now known as the Manchu, they started flexing their muscles again in the early 17th century.

Labeling themselves the Late Jin Dynasty, the Manchu moved on the Ming, now severely destabilized by peasant revolts around China. Heading southwest towards the Great Wall, they encountered the Mongolian tribes of today’s Inner Mongolia. Divided as ever, some quickly joined the Manchu. But Ligdan Khan of the Chahars – the Great Khan in name only-determinedly resisted until forced to flee westwards with 100.000 followers. Resistance in southern Mongolia collapsed. At a now-infamous kuriltai of the 16 eastern khans in 1636, these Mongolians became willing vassals of the Manchu, even handing over the jade “imperial seal” of the Yuan Dynasty to legitimize the new rulers. Mongol troops from this region then helped the Manchu conquer the Ming and take over Beijing and its newly built Forbidden City. Six years later in 1644, the Manchu renamed themselves the Qing Dynasty and would become totally sinicised by the time of their collapse in 1911. This Mongolian surrender also marked the permanent partition of its people into Inner and Outer Mongolia, with the former now part of China.

As the Manchu consolidated their power in southeastern Mongolia and inside China, the Oirads in western Mongolia were growing in a huge power base known as Dzungaria. In a particularly fascinating development from this relatively late period, one tribe (the Torguts) who refused to join in this new confederation simply packed up and migrated west-some 250.000 of them – to the Volga River where they became the Kalmyks, today a significant Russian minority of over 500.000 people.

Securing their hold over Tibet, including beating off an attempt by the Red Hat sect to regain power, the Dzungars actively pushed Yellow Hat Buddhism and Lamaism throughout Mongolia, including building palaces and monasteries, to strengthen their overall position. When Galdan Khan – widely regarded as the greatest of all the Mongolian princes – came to power in 1671, he quickly expanded Dzungar rule over today’s western Xinjiang and into Central Asia. Trade expanded along the Silk Road and also into Russia, now starting its own eastward imperial drive.

In 1678, Qing Emperor Kangxi – who had already devoted so much time to defeating the Mongolians – formally recognized Galdan as Khan of Dzungaria. But for the astute Manchu emperor, his entitling of Galdan was simply another tactic designed to bring all of Mongolia and Tibet under his control, in which everything, including Tibetan Buddhism, was fair game. The Halh of western Mongolia were never that supportive of Galdan Khan who was, after all, an Oirad, and the Manchu were quick to pick up on the old Chinese game of divide-and-rule. A growing number of Halh princes became vassals of the Qing Dynasty and were rewarded with presents, titles and princesses. When war broke out between the Oirads and the Halh in 1688, Galdan Khan won a quick victory and united east and west into a nation the same size as today’s Mongolia. For the Mongolians, this was their last opportunity to unite against the Qing – and they failed.

By this time, the Halh nobles had fervently embraced Tibetan Buddhism and quickly rallied around the young man whom the Dalai Lama had proclaimed head of the Buddhist church in Mongolia when he was only four, the First Bogdgegeen Javzandamba. Zanabazar, as he was popularly known, had been educated in Tibet and formally converted to the Yellow Hat, or Gelugpa, sect. He was also an extremely gifted artist, a Mongolian Michelangelo, and renowned Buddhist architect. Clearly, many Mongolians today prefer remembering Zanabazar for his artistic genius, including his creation of the Soyombo symbol, than what happened next.

Extending his authority into the political realm, Zanabazar convoked and conferred titles on the Halh nobles. He placed both the Ming Emperor and Galdan Khan with gold statues, artworks, sacred texts and even temples. He also sought to reconcile his nobles with the Oirads. But when Galdan Khan invaded in 1688, Zanabazar and many other Halh nobles and followers fled in panic to Inner Mongolia, where they threw themselves at the mercy of the Manchus. In a ceremony at Dolonnur – not far from Kublai Khan’s Xanadu – in 1691, personally attended by Emperor Kangxi, they became vassals of the Qing Dynasty.

Fifty years after the capitulation of Inner Mongolia, Outer Mongolia also lost its independence. Explains historian Baabar somewhat bitterly: “these Halh people decided that submitting themselves to the alien Chinese was better than being ruled by the hated Oirrad khan Galdan.

Zanabazar headed off to China, where under Kangxi patronage he would spend most of the rest of his life, dying there in 1723. But back home in Mongolia and down in Tibet too, the stage was now set for a final bloodletting. In 1696, the emperor personally led a 50.000-man force equipped with cannons into the Mongolian heartland and inflicted a fatal blow to Galdan khan at Zuunmod near today’s Ulaanbaatar. Of the khan’s force of 30.000, some 5000 were killed, including his own wife, and another 3000 taken prisoner. Galdan fled westwards with his survivors – a handful of whom settled in Arkhangai aimag – and committed suicide the following year. The battle for control of Tibet dragged on for 20 years before falling to a huge Chinese-led force in 1716.

Despite the Dzungar defeat in eastern Mongolia, Galdan khan’s descendants held on to its western region and Central Asia. For a while, they were able to play off the now-expansionist Russians against the Chinese. But when these two nations signed treaties clarifying their borders and spheres of influence, the Dzungars came under renewed pressure, including increasingly one-sided battles against musketry. Still, bringing the Oirads/Dzungars under Chinese domination was an epic struggle that dragged on for decades with all the intrigues of divide-and rule, crosses and double-crosses-even the odd uprising back in Halh Mongolia. After one last stand, the legendary Amarsanaa – honored with a statue in the capital of Hovd aimag – was finally defeated in 1757 and he fled into Russia. So many Oirads were executed in retaliation – at least 500.000 – that the Chinese emperor invited the Kalmyks to return and resettle their former lands. (Only some returned.) It had taken the Manchus 130 year, but Mongolia was finally under their control. And just to make sure, the western town of Uliastai became their all-important military headquarters. (The rest of Dzungaria on the other side of the Altai Mountains became Xingiang in China, and farther west into Central Asia part of Tsarist Russia’s new territory.)

Even before it had completed its conquest of Mongolia, the Qing Dynasty had already established an administrative, military and economic structure to run the country. Mongolia was not only divided into four aimags, or provinces, but into scores of smaller civilian and military fiefdoms that reinforced the feudal system. Under the banner system, each entity owed its loyalty directly to the emperor. Overlapping all these were the serfs and herds of the tax-exempt Buddhism church and its growing number of monasteries.

Under the treaty of vassalage at Dolonnur in 1691, Chinese-Mongolian relations were tightly controlled. Intermarriage was forbidden, although Mongolians who married Manchus were granted a special title. Chinese were not allowed to stay overnight with Mongolian family and needed special permission, renewable annually, to trade in Mongolia. Soon, Buddhist monasteries became powerful commercial centers, trading and storing goods for the Chinese who also lent money to the clergy and nobility. Taxes and duties were harsh.

After the second Bogd Javzandamba was implicated in the Oirads’ last campaign, the Qing court ordered that all future reincarnations coma from Tibet, ending the theocracy’s links back to Genghis Khan. But that hardly slowed the Buddhist church which, now with active Manchu encouragement, became even more powerful. Mongolia’s indigenous culture also underwent a dramatic change. Warriors no more, Mongolians fervently embraced a religion which absorbed many of their traditional superstitions. Religious festivals kept everyone occupied from spring to autumn. Out of poverty or piety, families gave up their sons to monastic life. The use of Tibetan in teaching and liturgy saw the near-disappearance of Mongolian script (ironically, the script survived in Inner Mongolia).

By the beginning of the 20th century, Mongolia had 700 monasteries and so many monks that the country was literally unable to feed itself. Some 100.000 of its 700.000 males were in monasteries. Well-off Mongolians sent their fortunes to make elaborate pilgrimages to Tibet, further weakening the economy. The hierarchy of the Buddhist church, including the Bogd Javzandamba of the day, was increasingly corrupt and indulged in opulent and immoral lifestyles. Voices for reform were lost in the morass.

Insolated and cut off from the world, Mongolia was stagnating. But by the mid-19thcentury, turmoil inside China from internal rebellions and western intrusions saw the first cracks in Qing control over Mongolia. Taxes rose and were now demanded in silver, now animals. Poverty grew as usury by Chinese traders became rampant. Expect as a buffer zone between itself and Russia, Mongolia held little real interest for the Qing. But now its policies became increasingly colonial as it relaxed earlier restrictions and allowed more traders and even colonists into Mongolia.

Just as in Inner Mongolia, the Mongolians now worried that they would become a minority in their own land. The end of the 19th century saw riots against the Chinese and the destruction of shops, mutinies by Mongolian troops and increasing anti-Chinese incidents. Dissatisfied Mongolians vainly sought Russian help in 1900. Some reforms were already taking place – including a secular revival – when the Manchu Qing Dynasty staggered to a dramatic close in 1911 and Mongolia declared its independence. But the road ahead would hardly be easy.

Resource: Carl Robinson "Mongolia Nomad Empire of Eternal Blue sky"