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Mongolian Revolution of 1921

The Mongolian Revolution of 1921 (People's Revolution of 1921, Outer Mongolian Revolution of 1921) was a military and political event by which Mongolian revolutionaries, with the assistance of the Soviet Red Army, expelled Russian White Guards from the country, and founded the Mongolian People's Republic in 1924. Although nominally independent, the Mongolian People's Republic was a satellite state of the Soviet Union until 1990. The revolution also ended Chinese occupation over Mongolia, which had existed since 1919. Official Mongolian name of the revolution is "People's Revolution of 1921" or "People's Revolution" (Mongolian: Ардын хувьсгал).


  • Prelude 1
    • Mongolian Revolution of 1911 1.1
    • Bogd Khaan 1.2
  • Abolition of autonomy 2
  • Resistance 3
  • Formation of the Mongolian People's Party 4
  • Ungern-Sternberg 5
  • Growth of the Mongolian People's Party 6
  • Aftermath 7
  • References 8


Mongolian Revolution of 1911

For about two centuries, the Qing Dynasty had enforced—albeit with mixed success—a policy of segregating the non-Han peoples on the frontier from Han Chinese. By the end of the 19th century, however, China faced the prospect of being parcelled out among the Western powers and Japan, each competing for its own sphere of influence in the country. On the northern frontier, Russian Empire was viewed by the Qing court as posing the greatest threat to its territorial integrity. In response, the Qing government adopted a different policy, the "New Administration" (Xin zheng), which called for the sinification of Mongolia through Chinese colonisation, the exploitation of Mongolia's natural resources (mining, timber, fishing), military training, and education.[1]

Many Mongols regarded the "New Administration" as a major threat to their traditional way of life, as was agreed to be preserved when they recognised authority of the Qing emperors, and began to seek independence. In July 1911 a group of Khalkha nobles persuaded the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, the head of Mongolian Buddhism (Lamaism), that Mongolia must declare its independence from the Qing Dynasty. They agreed to send a small delegation to Russia to obtain its assistance in this undertaking.

In October 1911 revolution broke out in China, with one province after another declaring its independence from the Qing government. On 1 December 1911 Outer Mongolia declared independence, and established a theocracy under the Khutuktu. On 29 December he was installed as the Bogd Khaan (Great Khan, or Emperor) of Mongolia.[2] This ushered in the Bogd Khaan era, which lasted from 1911 to 1919.

Bogd Khaan

The Bogd Khan
The new Mongolian government was a fusion of Buddhist theocracy, Qing imperial usages, and 20th century Western political practices. The Bogd Khaan assumed the same powers—symbolic and real—of Qing emperors in the past. He adopted a reign title, "Elevated by the Many"; the Mongolian nobility now owed their tribute to him instead of to the Qing emperor; and the Bogd Khaan assumed the right of conferring upon the lay nobles their ranks and seals of office. This new state also reflected the Mongols' desire to reshape their country into a modern state—they formed a national parliament composed of two chambers, a government with five ministries, and a national army.

The Buddhist religious establishment discovered new opportunities for political gain and financial profit. Despite the presence of a state government, real power lay in the Bogd Khaan's court. The religious establishment appropriated revenues for its own purposes. For example, it enlarged its financial holdings by transferring to the religious estate (Ikh shav') wealthy herdsmen who traditionally had owed their services and taxes to lay princes. There is a commonly held misconception that, over time, the greed of the Buddhist religious establishment so disaffected the lay nobility that it came to reject the very principles of theocracy upon which the new country had been founded.[3] According to Mongolian and Russian sources, the Mongolian society was generally satisfied with the theocracy but there were different views on future development of the country.[4]

On the diplomatic front, the Mongols worked tirelessly between 1912 and 1915 to win international recognition of a new pan-Mongolian state that would include (Southern Mongolia, Western Mongolia, Upper Mongolia, Barga, and Tannu Uriankhai). The Republic of China, for its part, did all it could to re-establish Chinese sovereignty over the country. Russia refused to support full independence for Mongolia; nor would it agree to the restoration of Chinese sovereignty. The matter was settled in 1915 by the tripartite Treaty of Kyakhta (1915), which provided for Mongolian autonomy within the Chinese state and forbade China from sending troops to Mongolia. Both the Chinese and Mongols found the treaty equally dissatisfying, although for different reasons.

Abolition of autonomy

The outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the Russian Civil War a year later changed the Mongolian-Chinese dynamic. In response to rumors of an imminent Bolshevik invasion, the Mongolians, very reluctantly and only after much encouragement by the Chinese High Commissioner Chen Yi at Urga (modern Ulaanbaatar), requested in the summer of 1918 military assistance from China (approximately 200 to 250 troops arrived in September). The invasion in fact did not occur, and so the Bogd Khaan's government requested that the troops be recalled. The Beijing government refused, seeing this violation of the Kyakhta Treaty as the first step in restoring Chinese sovereignty over Mongolia.[5]

Early in 1919, Grigori Semyonov, a White Guard general, had assembled a group of Buryats and Inner Mongols in Siberia for the formation of a pan-Mongolian state. The Khalkhas were invited to join, but they refused. Semyonov threatened an invasion to force them to participate. This threat galvanized the lay princes, who now saw a larger opportunity: the end of theocratic rule. In August. the Mongolian Foreign Minister approached Chen Yi with a message from the "representatives of the four aimags" (i.e., the Khalkhas) with a request for military assistance against Semyonov. More importantly, perhaps, it contained a declaration that the Khalkhas were unanimous in their desire to abolish autonomy and restore the previous Qing system.

Negotiations, with participation of the Bogd Khaan's representatives, began immediately. By October, Chen Yi and the Mongolian princes had agreed upon a set of conditions, the "Sixty-four Points", effectively recreating the political and administrative system. The "Points" were submitted to the Parliament. The upper house consented to it; the lower house did not.[6] However, in this as in all other matters submitted to the Parliament in the past, the upper house prevailed. Chen Yi sent the draft Articles to Beijing. The Bogd Khaan dispatched a delegation of lamas to Beijing with a letter stating that the people of Mongolia did not want to abolish autonomy. He wrote that this was all a contrivance of Chen Yi, and he asked that Chen be recalled.[7] However, the Chinese government was not interested in esoteric arguments whether or not a consensus existed in Mongolia for the abolition of autonomy. The "Points" were submitted to the Chinese National Assembly, which approved them on October 28.[8]

Political events then unfolding in China were to fundamentally alter Mongolian history. The Beijing government was controlled by a group of warlords nicknamed the "Anhui Clique" headed by Duan Qirui. The government had come under severe public criticism for its failure at the Paris Peace Conference to obtain a just settlement of the Shandong problem. There was criticism also of Duan's "War-participation army", which ostensibly had been formed for service in Europe in the First World War but in fact was used to maintain Duan's internal control. To divert criticism, he simply rechristened his office the "Bureau of Frontier Defense" and his army the "Frontier Defense Army". In June 1919, Xu Shuzheng, a prominent member of Duan's clique, was named "Northwest Frontier Commissioner", making him the senior Chinese military and civilian officer of Outer Mongolia.[9]

Earlier, in April, Xu had submitted a plan to the Beijing government for the total social and economic reconstruction of Mongolia, proposing, among other things, that Chinese colonisation and intermarriage between Chinese and Mongolians be encouraged in order to "transform the customs of the Mongols".[10] In short, Xu appeared to want nothing less than the total sinification of Mongolia under his authority.

Chen Yi's Sixty-four Points, which guaranteed Mongolia a kind of autonomy, would have compelled Xu to abandon his plans. This may explain the timing of his personal intervention. Xu arrived in Urga in October accompanied by a military contingent. He informed Chen that the Sixty-four Points would have to be renegotiated based upon a new set of proposals, his "Eight Articles", which called for an increase in population (presumably through Chinese colonisation) and economic development. Xu presented the Articles to the Bogd Khaan with a threat that refusal to ratify them would result in his deportation. The Bogd Khaan submitted the Articles to the Mongolian Parliament. As before, the upper house accepted them, while the lower house did not; some members of the lower house even threatened to expel Xu by force. Lamas resisted Xu's plans most of all. But again, the upper house prevailed.[11] On 17 November 1919, Xu accepted a petition—signed by the ministers and deputy ministers but not by the Bogd Khaan himself—for the abolition of autonomy.[12]

Xu returned to Beijing, where he received a hero's welcome arranged by the Anhui clique. By December, he was back in Urga to organise a formal ceremony for the transfer of authority: soldiers were lined up on either side of the road to the Bogd Khaan's palace; the portrait of the President of China was borne on a palanquin; the flag of the Chinese republic followed, and after it a marching band. Mongols were required to prostrate themselves repeatedly before these symbols of Chinese sovereignty.[13] That night, some Mongolian herdsmen and lamas gathered outside the palace and tore down the flags of the Chinese Republic hanging from the gate.[14]


The Russian Consulate in Niislel Hüree where Bodoo taught and headed the Consular Hill group

Between 1919 and early 1920 a few Mongolians came to form what were known later as the "Consular Hill" (Konsulyn denj) and East Urga (Züün khüree) groups.[15] This was the beginning of resistance to Xu and the abolition of autonomy.

The first group owed its existence principally to Dogsomyn Bodoo (1885–1922), a highly educated, 35 year-old lama who worked in the Russian Consulate at Urga during the Bogd Khaan era. Sharing a yurt with Bodoo was Khorloogiin Choibalsan (1895–1953), later to be known as the "Stalin of Mongolia". A certain Mikhail Kucherenko, a typesetter in the Russo-Mongolian printing office and a member of the Bolshevik underground in Urga, occasionally visited Bodoo and Choibalsan; conversations, no doubt, turned on the Russian revolution and the political situation in Mongolia. In time, other Mongolians joined Bodoo and Choibalsan in discussions over the abolition of autonomy and the failure of Mongolian princes and senior lamas to put up an effective resistance to the Chinese.[16]

The leaders of the East Urga group were Soliin Danzan (1885–1924), an official in the Ministry of Finance, and Dansrabilegiin Dogsom (1884–1939), an official in the Ministry of the Army. Another, albeit less prominent at the time, member was Damdin Sükhbaatar (1893–1923), a soldier in the Mongolian army who, after his death, was canonised by Communist historians as the "Lenin of Mongolia". The beginning of the East Urga group may be traced to mid-November 1919, when several of the more militant members of the lower house of the Mongolian Parliament, including Danzan and Dogson, met secretly on the first night following its dissolution by Xu Shuzheng, and resolved to resist the Chinese. Twice they approached the Bogd Khaan to obtain his support for armed resistance; twice the Khaan counselled patience. The group plotted to seize the Mongolian army's arsenal and assassinate Xu Shuzheng; however, the placement of Chinese guards at the arsenal and a revised travel itinerary for Xu thwarted both plans.[17]

Formation of the Mongolian People's Party

Russian expatriates in Urga had elected a revolutionary "Municipal Duma", headed by Bolshevik sympathisers, which had learned of the Consular Hill group. In early March 1920, the Duma was sending one of its members, I. Sorokovikov, to Irkutsk. It decided that he should also take a report with him about these Mongolians. Sorokovikov met with representatives of the two groups. On his return to Urga in June, he met with them again, promising that the Soviet government would provide "assistance of all kinds" to the Mongolian "workers". He invited them to send representatives to Russia for further discussions.[18]

A new sense of purposefulness now animated both groups. They had maintained a wary distance from one another, perhaps because of their different agendas—the Consular Hill group espousing a rather progressive social program while the East Urga group was more nationalistic in its goals—and there had been little cooperation between the two. The Soviet invitation changed that. The two groups met on 25 June, and formed the "Mongolian People's Party" (renamed later the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, adopted a "Party Oath", and agreed to send Danzan and Choibalsan as delegates to Russia.[19]

Danzan and Choibalsan arrived in Verkhneudinsk, the capital of the pro-Soviet Far Eastern Republic, in the first part of July. They met with Boris Shumyatsky, then acting head of the government. Shumyatsky knew little about them, and for three weeks dodged their demands for a speedy Soviet decision whether or not to provide military assistance to the Mongolians against the Chinese. Finally, perhaps at Shumyatsky's suggestion, they sent a telegram to members of the MPP in Urga with a coded message that they should obtain a letter, stamped with the seal of the Bogd Khaan, formally requesting Soviet assistance. The MPP did succeed in obtaining a letter from the Khaan's court, albeit with difficulty. Five members of the Party—D. Losol, Dambyn Chagdarjav, Dogsom, L. Dendev, and Sükhbaatar—brought it to Verkhneudinsk. When the seven men met with Shumyatsky, he told them that he had no authority to make a decision on their request; they must go to Irkutsk.[20]

On arriving in Irkutsk in August, the Mongolians met with the head of what was later to be reorganised as the Far Eastern Secretariat of the Communist International (Comintern), and explained that they needed military instructors, 10,000 rifles, cannon, machine guns, and money. They were told that they must draft a new letter, this time in the name of the Party, not the Bogd Khaan, stating their objectives and requests. Such a petition would have to be considered by the Siberian Revolutionary Committee in Omsk.[21]

The Mongolians divided themselves into three groups: Danzan, Losol, and Dendev left for Omsk; Bodoo and Dogsom returned to Urga, where they were to enlarge the party's membership and form an army; Sükhbaatar and Choibalsan proceeded to Irkutsk to serve as a communication link between the others. Before separating, the group drafted a new appeal with a more revolutionary message: The Mongolian nobility would be divested of its hereditary power, to be replaced by a democratic government headed by the Bogd Khaan as a limited monarch. The document also contained a request for immediate military assistance.[22]

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