Why is Mongolia divided into two parts: Outer Mongolia and Inner Mongolia

By 15th century Mongols were no longer the dominant force that propelled them into the largest contiguous world empire. Mongols were divided into Eastern and Western Mongols ( Oirads, Dzungars). The Eastern Mongols further subdivided into Northern and Southern Mongols. The situation was chaotic, as many khans were competing with each other to become the next great khan.

Manchus, a Jurchen group whose power was rising, have also harbored the dream of becoming the next greatest empire. They were fighting for reunification of Mongols and subjugation of the Ming dynasty. Therefore by capitalizing on internal fighting of Mongols, they have promised some and fought some.

By 1634, the last Southern Mongol Khan, Ligden Khan was soundly defeated. After the loss, the Southern Mongol tribes under control of Ligden khan, and other Southern tribes submitted under the Manchu leadership. They have provided invaluable assistance to the Manchus in the conquests of the Ming Dynasty. Southern Mongolia is the present day Inner Mongolia. They become part of the military reserve of the Manchus and were deeper integrated with the Manchus and the Qing Dynasty.

The next pivotal point came when the Northern Mongols were almost overrun by the Western (Dzungar) Mongols. The Northern Mongols requested assistance from the Manchus and subsequently became a vassal of the Manchus.

The Western Mongols were finally defeated by the Manchus in 1758. The biggest portion of the Western Mongols territory is the present day Xingjiang Autonomous region and Tibet, while the smaller part is now a Western part of Mongolia. During the campaigns for subjugation of the Western Mongols, an estimated 80 percent of the population was either killed in warfare or of disease. This is around 800,000 people. The event is known as the Dzungar Genocide.[1]

So the Southern Mongols due to their cooperation were regarded as one of the Qing dynasty’s provinces and were directly administered by the Manchus. That’s why they are called Inner, kind of inner circle of trust. The Northern Mongols due to their later subjugation were more of an autonomous region than a true province, therefore, they we called by the Manchus, the Outer Mongolia. So the Outer and Inner designation of Northern and Southern Mongols, was the invention of the Manchus.

Since there were many attempts by Inner Mongols, Outer Mongols and Western Mongols to unite and fight against their lords, The Manchus established a strict system of division(banners) inside both Inner and Outer Mongolia. The Mongols were forbidden to travel to the neighboring banners and to other non-Mongols banners as well. There was also prohibition of Han Chinese to travel to Mongolian provinces. This system lasted until the fall of Qing Empire. The mass migration of the Han Chinese to Mongolian provinces at the end of the Qing dynasty, was the trigger that started again, the rebellion.

The Outer Mongols declared independence in 1911. The Inner Mongols also attempted to re-unite with the Outer Mongols, but their rebellion was crushed. But this will be a topic for another time…

pic: Galdan Boshigt Khan, the khan of the Western Mongols (Dzungar) is both respected and reviled by the Mongols. He was the reason Dzungars were able to fight against Manchus for more than 60 years. He is also the reason why the Northern Mongols requested the assistance from the Manchus thus relinquishing their independence.

For more questions about Mongolia, go and visit my website Mongolia FAQ


[1] Dzungar genocide — Wikipedia

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