Outer Mongolian revolution of 1911

Outer Mongolian revolution of 1911
History of Mongolia
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The Outer Mongolian revolution of 1911 occurred when the Chinese province of Outer Mongolia declared its independence from the Qing dynasty during the Xinhai Revolution. A combination of factors including economic hardship and failure to resist Western imperialism led many in China to be unhappy with the Qing government. When a new program to colonize Mongolia with Chinese and assimilate the natives was unveiled, it was met with resistance that resulted in a relatively bloodless separation from China.


The setting of Outer Mongolia

By the early 20th century, Mongolia was impoverished. Repercussions from the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) were primarily responsible for this economic deterioration. Loss of tax revenue from south China during the rebellion and expenses for its suppression had depleted the Qing treasury. Silver, rather than livestock as was the custom, became the primary medium for paying taxes. [1] The major source of silver for Mongolians was from loans borrowed from Chinese merchants. These loans, transacted at crippling interest rates, were repaid in livestock, which was then exported to China. The result was a catastrophic decline in the size of the herds upon which the livelihood of Mongolians depended.[2]

A disintegrating economy, growing debt, and increasing tax demands were ingredients of social and political unrest in Mongolia. However, it was Qing plans for the transformation of Outer Mongolia that produced the impetus for rebellion.

The “New Administration”

The Qing dynasty (1644-1911) was founded by the Manchu clan Aisin Gioro in what is today Northeast China (also known as Manchuria). They were certainly not the first non-Han people to rule all of China, but the fate of these previous dynasties had always been the same: they invaded; they governed; they intermarried; and eventually they merged, more or less becoming Chinese themselves. Attempts were made to keep the Manchu strain ethnically pure, although these efforts proved fruitless. The early Manchus enacted various laws to isolate Manchuria from China and Mongolia.[3] They did the same for the Mongols: Han Chinese were prohibited from entering Mongolia and Mongols were not allowed to travel outside their own leagues. Mongols were forbidden from speaking the Chinese language or intermarrying with the Chinese. While over time enforcement waned, the laws still remained on the books, receiving at least token observance.

Western imperialism in the Qing empire during the latter part of the 19th century changed political priorities in China. The Qing defeat by the Japanese in 1895 (First Sino-Japanese War), followed shortly afterwards by the German seizure of Shantung and the “scramble for concessions” that followed dramatically proved the inadequacy of previous Qing efforts to resist the West. The Boxer Rebellion, and particularly Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905, were widely interpreted in China as the triumph of constitutionalism over autocracy. It was then that far-reaching economic, political, and military reforms, known as the “New Administration” (Xin zheng), were ordered.

In Outer Mongolia, however, the New Administration was accented rather differently. The aim was not simply modernization, as it was in Han Chinese territories, but cultural assimilation. Russia’s occupation of the Liaodong Peninsula in 1898 and then of Northern Manchuria in 1900 excited the Qing government's fears of a larger Russian design on the entire northern frontier of their empire. The Qing rulers believed that survival of their state as an integral entity depended on the effectiveness of their frontier serving as a protective “shield” (in the language of the time) for China proper. To accomplish this, the peoples inhabiting this region would have to become Chinese.

Between 1901 and 1910, therefore, the Qing government inaugurated an expansive plan for Chinese colonization of the frontier and reorganization of its native governments (though the colonization of lands in Inner Mongolia by the Chinese has started much earlier). A decree in 1910 abrogating the old prohibitions against Chinese settling in Outer Mongolia, Chinese and Mongols intermarrying, and Mongols using the Chinese language was the final step toward dismantling that wall of isolation that the Manchus had erected centuries earlier. [4]

In early 1910 the Qing government appointed Sando (or Sandowa), a Manchu himself and former deputy lieutenant governor of Guihwa, as viceroy of Mongolia in the capital city of Urga (modern Ulan Bator), to implement the New Administration. He immediately set about organizing twenty offices to oversee such matters as the military, taxation, police, government and commerce. Plans were made for the colonization of Mongolia with Chinese farmers. In January 1911 a Lieutenant Colonel Tang Zaili arrived to supervise the organization of a Mongolian army, half of which was to consist of Mongolian herdsmen. A 400-room barracks was erected near Urga. The Mongolians saw in all this a threat to their very survival. Their desperation was echoed in a petition to the Qing government: “Among the many directives repeatedly issued, there is not one which benefits the Mongolians. Consequently, we all desire that we be allowed to live according to our ancient ways.” [5] The arrogance and brutality of Tang Zaili’s staff and military escort did not help. [6]

Mongolian resistance

No more than a month after Sando’s arrival, a brawl broke out between some intoxicated lamas (Buddhist priests) and Chinese at a Chinese carpentry shop in Urga. Such incidents were not unknown in the past, but they had been firmly suppressed by Qing officials. This one developed differently. When Sando arrived at Gandan Monastery, the principal monastery in the city, to make arrests, the lamas pelted him and his troops with stones, forcing them to withdraw. Sando demanded that the Jebstundamba Khutuktu (variously spelled), the spiritual leader in Urga of the Mongolians, surrender a particular lama believed to be the ringleader of the incident. The Khutuktu refused and Sando fined him. In response, the Mongolians petitioned the Qing government to remove Sando, but without success.[7]

Other incidents followed, all underscoring the diminished authority of Sando: A minor noble, Togtokh Taij, with a small band, had with the connivance of local Mongolian officials plundered several Chinese merchant shops in eastern Mongolia. Sando dispatched two detachments of soldiers to capture Togtokh. They were led into a trap by their Mongolian guide; most were killed. Mongolian princes resisted providing soldiers for Sando’s army. And the prince of the khoshuun which Togtokh had raided refused Sando’s demand to pay compensation to the plundered Chinese merchants. [8]

The decision for independence

By the spring of 1911, some prominent Mongolian nobles persuaded the Jebstundamba Khutukhtu to convene a meeting of nobles and ecclesiastical officials to discuss independence. The Khutukhtu consented. To avoid suspicion, he used as a pretext the occasion of a religious festival, at which time the assembled leaders would discuss the need to reapportion taxes among the khoshuuns. The meeting occurred on July 10 and the Mongolians discussed whether it would be better to submit to or resist the will of the Qings. The assembly became deadlocked, some arguing for complete, others for partial, resistance. Eighteen nobles decided to take matters into their hands. Meeting secretly in the hills outside of Urga, they decided that Mongolia must declare its independence. They then persuaded the Khutuktu to send a delegation of three prominent representatives—a secular noble, an ecclesiastic, and a lay official from Inner Mongolia—to Russia for assistance. [9] The particular composition of the delegation—a noble, a cleric, and a commoner—may have been intended to invest the mission with a sense of national consensus.

The delegation to St. Petersburg brought with it a letter signed in the name of the Khutuktu and the “four khans of Khalkha.” It asked for assistance against the Chinese, including arms, and implied that Russian troops would be needed against a Chinese unit which the Mongolians believed was at that moment advancing into Mongolia. To coax a commitment, the Mongols promised economic concessions in return. The letter itself was unclear as to the specific type of relationship the Mongols wished to establish with Russia. Russia wanted to include Outer Mongolia in its sphere of influence and as a buffer state offering protection from China and Japan, but never planned to make it a part of her empire.[10] The Russian government decided to support, by diplomatic rather than by military means, not full independence for Mongolia, but autonomy within the Qing empire. It did, however, increase its consular guard in Urga to protect the returning delegation. [11]

The Russian minister in Beijing was then instructed to inform the Qing government that the Mongols had sent a delegation to St. Petersburg complaining of Chinese immigration, military build-up, and administrative reorganization. He stated that Russia could not but be concerned about these developments, in view of the common boundary shared with Khalkha, and cautioned that China would have to bear the consequences if this warning were ignored.[12]


On learning of the Mongolian mission to Russia, the Qing government instructed Sando to investigate. Sando immediately summoned the head of the Khutukhtu’s ecclesiastical administration (Ikh shav’), the Erdene Shanzav, and demanded an explanation. The Erdene Shanzav, pleading that he had not been involved, revealed the entire plot. Sando then demanded that the Khutuktu withdraw his request for Russian troops. The Khutuktu agreed, provided that Sando dismantle the New Administration. Sando cabled to Beijing for instructions, and was told that parts of the New Administration could be delayed.[13]

The moment was ripe for conciliation. Sando chose to bully instead. He ordered the princes in Urga to sign a statement that only a few individuals had been responsible for the appeal to Russia. The princes did give such a declaration, but only orally. Sando then ordered the Mongolians to have no further contact with the Russian consulate, threatening in case of disobedience to bring an additional 500 troops to Urga and to arm the Chinese population in the city. He posted sentries around the Khutuktu’s palace with orders to bar Russian visitors. And he sent a contingent of troops to the Russian-Mongolian border to intercept the Mongolian delegation to Russia on its return.[14]

Events of seismic proportions were then taking place in China proper. On October 10 there was an uprising in Wuchang and a revolution against the minority ruling class had begun. One province after another declared its independence from the Qing authority. Believing that his position was untenable, Sando wired the Beijing government asking for permission to resign, but his request was denied. In the meantime, the Mongolian delegation to Russia secretly returned, and reported the results of its trip to a group of princes and lamas. They composed a joint memorial to the Khutukhtu asking what Mongolia should do in lieu of the provincial uprisings. He advised that Mongolians form a state of their own. [15]

Buoyed by the Khutuktu’s support and by the impending collapse of the Qing Dynasty, the Provisional Government of Khalkha was formed, headed by some prominent Khalkha nobles. On November 28, the government ordered all four provinces (aimag) of Khalkha to mobilize a thousand soldiers each. Almost immediately 500 men from the neighboring khoshuuns had gathered in Urga. Two days later, Sando received a letter, signed in the name of the nobles and lamas of Khalkha, stating that they had heard of a secessionist movement in China, and that Chinese troops of the “revolutionary party” were preparing to march on Urga from Inner Mongolia. The letter went on to state that, in view of the benefit obtained by the Khalkhas from the Qing in the past, the Khutuktu had ordered the mobilization of 4000 troops to advance on Beijing to defend the Emperor. Sando was asked to provide these men with provisions and arms. He was given three hours to reply. No reply came. Abandoning this thin deception, a delegation of nobles and lamas visited the amban’s office, and informed him of their decision to declare independence and to install the Khutuktu as emperor. Sando pleaded with the delegation. He admitted that what had come to pass was the result of his own folly, and he promised to recommend full autonomy for Mongolia, but not independence. The delegation curtly replied that it had come simply to deliver a message, not to debate it. Sando was ordered to leave the country within 24 hours. [16]

There was little Sando could do. He had only 150 troops, who in any event were in a refractory mood because of arrears in back pay. On the following day, his soldiers were disarmed by Mongolian militiamen, as well as Russian Cossacks of the consular convoy under command of Grigory Semyonov, future Ataman. Sando and his staff moved into the compound of the Russian consulate for their own safety. On December 5, Sando left Mongolia with Russian escort. [17]Chinese authority in the rest of the country collapsed quickly after that. Later that month or in January 1912 (sources differ) the Military Governor of Uliastai in western Mongolia, his staff and military guards, peacefully departed under the protection of Cossack troops. The Deputy Military Governor of Khovd, however, decided to resist, hoping for reinforcements from Xinjiang. The troops came too late: the town was surrounded by Mongolian troops, reinforcement detachment was crushed. In August 1912, his stronghold was overcome by Mongolian troops, and he and his staff were escorted out of the country by Cossacks.[18]

On December 1, the Provisional Government of Khalkha issued a general proclamation announcing the end of Qing rule and the establishment of a theocracy under the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu. At the end of the month, on December 29, the Khutuktu was formally installed as the Bodg Khaan ("Great Khan", or "Emperor") of the new Mongolian state. This ushered in Bogd Khaan era, 1911-1919.

The Mongolian revolution was for the most part an orderly transference of power. [19] Its relatively peaceful character was due to the realism of Qing authorities in Mongolia, and in no small part to the presence of Russian troops, who provided protection for these authorities and Chinese troops.

Role of Russia

The role of the Russians in this revolution (and later in the revolution of 1921) has been controversial. Chinese historians especially have often explained the events of 1911 as the product of "Tsarist provocations and manipulations". This conclusion however contradicts with archival materials from Russia and Mongolia. The movement for independence in Outer Mongolia was to a large extent the reaction to the new Qing policies aimed at assimilating the Mongols by Han Chinese. Russian imperial government preferred to see Outer Mongolia as a buffer state against Chinese and Japanese influences on the Russian borders in Siberia, a dependent state or autonomy of China. The revolution also reflected a growing sense of nationalism on the part of the Mongolians, [20] and their desire to form a nation state, political and social forces that were at work in China at that time as well.[21]


  1. ^ Sh. Natsagdorj, Manjiin erkhsheeld baisan üyeiin Khalkhyn khurangui tüükh (1691-1911) [The history of Khalka under the Manchus], (Ulan Bator, 1963, p. 173.
  2. ^ A.P. Bennigsen, while traveling through Mongolia in 1909 to 1911, was told by Mongolians that their herds had decreased ten-fold during the past decade. Neskol’ko dannykh o sovremmenoi Mongolii [Some information on modern Mongolia], (St. Petersburg, 1912), p. 57. This is supported by the archives of the ecclesiastical administration of the Jebzundamba Hutuhtu (Ikh Shav’), which recorded a decline in the number of livestock from a million in 1861 to around 12,000 in 1909. D. Tsedev, Ikh shav’ [Ecclesiastical administration], (Ulan Bator, 1964), p. 91.
  3. ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/644543/Willow-Palisade
  4. ^ Thomas E. Ewing, Revolution on the Chinese Frontier: Outer Mongolia in 1911, Journal of Asian History, v. 12, p. 104 (1978). See also Thomas E. Ewing, Ch'ing Policies in Outer Mongolia 1900-1911, Modern Asian Studies, v. 14 (1980).
  5. ^ Chen Chungzu, Wai menggu jinshi shi [The modern history of Outer Mongolia], (Shanghai, 1926), bien 2, p. 5.
  6. ^ Natsagdorj, p. 261.
  7. ^ Ewing, p. 106.
  8. ^ Chen Lu, Jrshi biji [Reminiscences], Shanghai (1919), p. 179.
  9. ^ L. Dendev, Monglyn tovch tüükh [Short history of Mongolia],(Ulan Bator, 1934), p. 2; Sh. Sandag, Mongolyn uls töriin gadaad khariltsaa (1850-1919) [Foreign relations of Mongila (1850-1919) (Ulan Bator, 1971), p. 244.
  10. ^ Batsaikhan, O. Mongolyn tusgaar togtnol ba Khyatad, Oros Mongol gurvan ulsyn 1915 ony Khiagtyn geree (1911–1916). Ulaanbaatar: Mongol Ulsyn Shinjlekh Ukhaany Acad. Publ.
  11. ^ Die Internationalen Beziehungen im Zeitalter des Imperialismus [International Relations in the Age of Imperialism], (Berlin, 1931-40), s. III, v. 1.1, p. 405.
  12. ^ Die Internationalen Beziehungen, pp. 494-95.
  13. ^ Chen Lu, p. 185.
  14. ^ Internationalen Beziehungen, p. 495.
  15. ^ Dendev, pp. 19-21.
  16. ^ Chen Lu, pp. 185-86.
  17. ^ Sando went to Mukden in Manchuria, where he received a telegram expressing the emperor's astonishment over Sando's inability to control the Mongols. The Amban was removed from office, and he was ordered to await an inquiry into his conduct. Chen Chungzu, Waimenggu jinshi shi [The recent history of Mongolia], Shanghai, 1926; repr. Taipei, 1965), bien 1, p. 13. The fall of the Qing saved him from further embarrassment, or worse.
  18. ^ A.V. Burdukov, V staroi i novoi Mongolii. Vospominaniya, pis'ma [In old and new Mongolia. Reminiscences, letters] (Moscow, 1969).
  19. ^ Some shops in Urga were looted and burned, but for the most part the Chinese were left unmolested. The departure of the Uliastai Military Governor was also peaceful. The storming of Khovd and the loss of life and property several months later were the exception.
  20. ^ On the establishment of the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, letters were sent to the Inner Mongols, the Barguts, the Oirats of western Mongolia, the Tannu Uriankhai inviting them to join in athe all-Mongolian state. Ewing, p. 116.
  21. ^ Ewing, pp. 117-18.

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