Inner Mongolia

A Mongol autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China, Inner Mongolia is distinct from Outer Mongolia, which was a term used by the Republic of China and previous governments to refer to the now independent state of Mongolia plus the Republic of Tuva in Russia.  “Inner” and “Outer reflect a central Chinese prospective and could be considered to be jingoistic, but in modern Chinese, the term ‘Outer Mongolia’ is being used more infrequently in favor of ‘Mengguguo’, which means ‘State of Mongolia’.

In Mongolia the region is known as obur monggol, with obur meaning south, inner, front, bosom or breast depending on the context.  This corresponds to the traditional Mongolian and Manchu world view where south China is regarded as front, right as west, left as east and north as back.  Some Mongolians use the name ‘Southern Mongolia’ in English.

This autonomous region is roughly the size of France and Spain put together, or Texas and California.  It has an area of 1.18 million square km, a total of 12 percent of China’s land area, and as of 2004, some 23.84 million people lived within its borders.

All along the south, Inner Mongolia borders China proper; going from southeast to southwest, it provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilan, Liaoning, Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Gansu.  To the north lies Mongolia and Russia.


The central and western parts of Inner Mongolia, especially the Hetao region, have historically been fought over by the Chinese farmers in the south and the nomads of the north (including the Xiongnu, Xianbei, Khitan, Nurchen and Mongol nomads).  Eastern Inner Mongolia is actually a part of Manchuria and its history is one of internal power struggles rather than a fight for control between nomads and Chinese agriculturalists.

During the Zhou Dynasty, nomadic people such as the Loufan, LInhu and Di lived in central and western Inner Mongolia (the Hetao region and surrounding area), while the eastern Inner  Mongolia was inhabited by the Donghu.  King Wuling (340-295) tried to expand his power base in the region during the Warring States Period, and after destroying the Di state of Zhongshan in what is now the province of Hebei, he defeated the Linhu and Loufan and established the commandery of Yunzhong near modern day Hohhot.  He also built a long wall through the Hetao region.  After Qin Shihuang unified the Chinese empire for the first time in 221 BC, he sent general Meng Kuo to expel the Xiongnu from the area, and he incorporated King Wuling’s old wall into the Qin Dynasty Great Wall of China.  He also operated two commanderies in the region and to reinforce a secure presence there, he moved 30,000 households to the area.  These efforts were abandoned, however, after the collapse of the Qin Dynasty in 206 BC.

During the Western Han Dynasty, in 127 BC, Emperor Wu sent general Wei Qing to take the Hetao region from the Xiongnu.  The general succeeded, and Emperor Wu continued the policy of having people move into Hetao to defend it against the Xiong-Nu.  That same year he set up the commanderies of Shuofang and Wuyuan in Hetao.  Meanwhile what is now eastern Inner Mongolia was ruled by the Xianbei, who would later become more powerful and influential than the Xiongnu.

The Xiongnu who surrendered to the Han Dynasty during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) began to settle in Hetao and mixed with Han immigrants there. Later, during the Western Jin Dynasty, it was a Xiongnu noble from Hetao, Liu Yuan, who established the Han Zhao kingdom in the area, which was the beginning of the Sixteen Kingdoms period that saw the disintegration of northern China under various regimes including the Xiongnu and Xianbei.

A unified Chinese empire was again established in the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and Tang Dynasty (618-907), and the people in Hetao were conquered and the area populated with residents loyal to the conquerors.   Once again, when the Tang empire fell, those efforts were stopped.  Hetao and the rest of what is today Inner Mongolia was taken over by the Khitan Empire (Liao Dynasty), founded by a nomadic people called the Khitans who were originally from what is now the southern part of Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia.    The Khitans eventually gave way to the Jurchens, forefathers of the modern Manchus, who set up the Jinn Dynasty over Manchuria and northern China.

In 1206 Genghis Khan unified the Mongol tribes.  He went on to conquer the Tanguts in 1227 and the Jurchens in 1234.  The Yuan Dynasty was established when his descendents completed his conquest of China in 1279.  It was nearly a hundred years before the Han Chinese Ming Dynasty threw out the Yuan Dynasty from China proper in 1368, and it was then too that the Ming rebuilt the Great Wall of China at its present location, which roughly describes the southern border of the modern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The Manchus ruled the Mongols in the early 17th century and then invaded Ming China in 1644, bringing it too under the control of their Qing Dynasty.  Under the Manchu Qing Dynasty from 1644 to 1912, Mongolia was administered differently according to each region:

Outer Mongolia:  This area is equivalent to the modern independent state of Mongolia, the Russian-administered region of Tannu Uriankhai and a part of northern Xinjiang.  Under the Manchu Qing, the General of Uliastay based at the city of Uliastay oversaw the four leagues of the Khalkha Mongols in northern and central Mongolia, as well as the Tannu Uriankhai and Hovd areas in northwestern Mongolia.

Inner Mongolia:  This was roughly the equivalent of modern Mongolia plus some nearby areas in Liaoning and Jilin provinces.  The tribes of southern Mongolia came under six leagues: Jirim, Juu Uda, Josutu, Xilingol, Ulaan Chab and Yeke Juu.

Taoxi Mongolia:  This was the area which is now the westernmost part of modern Inner Mongolia; here, the Alashan Oolud and Ejine Torghuud banners were separate from the leagues of Outer Mongolia (aimags) and of Inner Mongolia (chuulghans).

The Chahar Eight Banners were under the military command of Chahar (now Zhangjiakou).  The area they controlled reached from southern Ulaan Chab and Baynnur in modern Inner Mongolia, plus the area around Zhangjiakou in Hebei province.  The jurisdiction of some border departments of Zhili and Shanxi provinces overlapped into this region.

The Guihua Tumed banner was controlled by the military commander of Suiyuan, which is now Hohhot.  The area corresponds to the larger region of the modern city of Hohhot.  The jurisdiction of some border departments of Shanxi province overlapped into this region.

The Hulunbuir region is now northeastern Inner Mongolia and was under the jurisdiction of the General of Jeilongjiang, one of the three generals of Manchuria.

Common Mongols were not allowed to travel outside their own leagues.  But although they didn’t leave their prescribed areas, newcomers came to them. Han Chinese farmers, who had been present in Inner Mongolia since the time of Altan Khan, began to increase rapidly in number.  The Manchus were becoming more and more under the influence of the Chinese, and threatened by the Russians, they encouraged Han Chinese to settle in both Inner Mongolia and Manchuria as added protection. The railways then being built eased the Han Chinese settlement, who bought or leased land from Mongol Princes, or had land stolen from the nomads simply given to them.

During the Republic of China era, Outer Mongolia, with Russian support, became a Soviet satellite.

Inner Mongolia, meanwhile, was reorganised into provinces.  Rehe province was created to include the Juu Uda and Josutu leagues, as well as the Chengde area in what is no northern Hebei.  The Jirim league for the most part came under the new province of Fengtien in southern Manchuria.  Suiyuan province was created to include Ulaan Chab league, Yeke Juu league and the Hetao region (former Guihua Tumed territory).  Hulunbuir remained within Heilongjiang in Manchuria, which had become a province.  Chahar province was created to include Zilingol league as well as a large percentage of the former Eight Banners territory.   Some maps in Taiwan still show this organisational structure.

In 1931 Manchuria came under the control of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo.  The Mongol areas in the Manchurian provinces were also taken and Rehe was incorporated into Manchukuo in 1933 (and with it the Juu Uda and Josuta leagues).  Manchukuo ruled these areas until the end of WWII in 1945.

Open war broke out between the Republic of China and Japan in 1937.  On December 8, 1937, Mongolian Prince De Wang declared the remaining parts of Inner Mongolia independent as Mengkiang or Mengkukuo and he signed agreements with Manchukuo and Japan, turning Inner Mongolia too into a Japanese puppet state.  The capital was set up at Zhangbei, now in Hebei, and the puppet government’s control stretches as far west as the Hohhot region.  In August 1945, Mengkiang was taken by Soviet and Outer Mongolian troops during Operation August Storm.

After WWII ended, the Chinese Communists took over most of Manchuria with Soviet support and set up the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in 1947 according to Soviet nationalities policy.  At first, the autonomous region included just the Hulunbuir region, but as the communists established the People’s Republic of China and consolidated control over mainland China, Inner Mongolia was expanded over the next decade to include five of the six original leagues (except Josutu League, which remains in Liaoning province), the Hetao region and the Alashan and Ejine banners.  Over time, nearly all nearby areas with sizeable Mongol populations were incorporated into the region, giving present-day Inner Mongolia its elongated shape.

During the Cultural Revolution, beginning in 1969, much of Inner Mongolia was parceled out to surrounding provinces, with Hulunbuir divided between Heilongjiang and Jilin; Jirim given to Jilin, Juu Uda to Lianing and the Alashan and Ejine region divided among Gansu and Ningxia.  Inner Mongolia returned to its pre-revolution status when the distribution policy was reversed in 1979.

Some groups today are calling for Inner Mongolia’s independence from what they view as Chinese imperialism, but these groups are not as strongly supported and have less influence in and around Inner Mongolia than similar movements have in Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Inner Mongolia today is divided into 12 prefecture-level divisions, including nine prefecture-level cities and three leagues.  Many of the prefecture-level cities were converted very recently from leagues.  The 12 prefecture-level divisions of Inner Mongolia are subdivided into 101 county-level divisions, including 21 districts, 11 county-level cities, 17 counties, 49 banners and three autonomous banners.  These in turn are divided into smaller townships (1425), towns (532), townships (407), sumu (277), (18) ethnic townships, one ethnic sumu and 190 subdistricts.


The nominal GDP of Inner Mongolia in 2005, 382.28 billion yuan or US $47.2 billions, was a full 120 percent higher than it was in 2000.  The average annual increase has been 16.6 percent. Its per capita GDP exceeded 15,500 yuan (US $1,900) in 2005, and the urban per capita disposable income and rural per capita net income were 9,130 yuan and 2,980 yuan, up 78 percent and 46 percent respectively.

Inner Mongolia has rich natural resources including coal, cashmere, natural gas, rare earth elements and leads all of Chinese provinces in the amount of natural niobium, zirconium and beryllium.  These resources have not, however, been exploited very efficiently to date.  Inner Mongolia is also an important producer of coal.  It plans to double the 2005 annual coal output of 260 million tons by 2010.

Industries related to coal, power generation and forestry-related industries have been built up in Inner Mongolia, where the focus is now on six competitive industries: energy, chemicals, metallurgy, equipment manufacturing, processing farm produce and hi-tech products.  Well-known companies based in Inner Mongolia include ERDOS, Uili and Mengniu.


Han Chinese make up about 80 percent of the population, with Mongols comprising about 17 percent.  These Mongols include many diverse Mongolian-speaking groups including the Buryats and the Oirats.  Many of the nomadic Mongols have settled into permanent homes since the Maoists made the economy collective.

The other ethnic groups in Inner Mongolia include the Daur, the Evenks, the Oroqin, the Hui, the Manchus and the Koreans.


The Han Chinese living in Inner Mongolia speak many different dialects depending on the region.  In the east they usually speak Northeastern Chinese; in the centre they speak varieties of Jin.  Cities such as Hohhot and Baotou each have their own unique Jin Chinese dialect which is sometimes incomprehensible to other Jin speakers.

Mongols speak various dialects of the Mongolian language including Chahar, Bairin, Ordos, jin-Alxa, Barghu-Buryat and others.  Standard pronunciation of Mongolian in China is based on the Chahar dialect, whereas in independent Mongolia, the standard pronunciation is based on the Khalkha dialect.  The Daur, Evenks and Oroqin speak their own languages.

By law, all street signs, commercial outlets and government documents must be bilingual – in Mongolian and Chinese.  Public transportation announcements are also supposed to be bilingual now, but young ethnic Mongols speak fluent Chinese and Mongolian is starting to lose importance in urban areas.  In rural areas, however, many ethnic Mongols speak only their native language.

Inner Mongolia has always been famous for its vast grasslands, and Mongolian art often depicts these grasslands in a positive way, recalling the nomadic traditions of the Mongol people.  As far as cuisine, Inner Mongolian specialties include dairy-related products and hand-held lamb. In recent years, franchise restaurants based on Mongolia’s Hot Pot have sprung up, and Inner Mongolia is also famous for its brand names Mengniu and Yili, both of which began with dairy products and ice cream.

Jinju or Shanxi Opera is popular among Inner Mongolia’s Han Chinese.

Circus acrobatics attract a lot of young people as a career choice in Inner Mongolia.  The famous Inner Mongolia Acrobatic Troupe travels and performs with famous circuses such as Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey.

Clive Cussler’s book Treasure of Khan deals with the discovery of petroleum deposits in Inner Mongolia. and one of China’s most famous actresses, Siqin Gaowa, is an ethnic Mongol native to Inner Mongolia.


Bashang Grasslands, on the border near Beijing, is a popular retreat for urban residents wanting to escape the city and experience grasslands life.

The Mausoleum of Genghis Khan and the cenotaph of Genghis Khan in Ordos City also draws large number of tourists.

Inside the capital city of Hohhot there are numerous attractions including:

Dazhao Temple is a Lamaist temple built in 1580 and is known for its silver statue of Buddha, elaborate carvings of dragons and murals.

Xiaozhao Temple, also known as Chongfu temple, is another Lamaist temple and was the favorite of the Qing Dynasty emperor Kangxi.  It was built in 1697.

Zhaojun Tomb is the tomb of Wang Zhaojun, a Han Dunasty lady-in-waiting at the palace who became the consort of a Xiongnu ruler.

Colleges and universities

There are nine institutions under the authority of the government which offer full-time bachelor programmes, including the Inner Mongolia University of Science and Technology and the Inner Mongolia Medical College.

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