Mongolia is chiefly a region of desert and of steppe plateau from c.3,000 to 5,000 ft (910-1,520 m) high. Winters are cold and dry and summers are warm and brief. The Gobi desert, which is entirely wasteland, is in the central section. To the west are the Altai Mts., which rise to 15,266 ft (4,653 m). Rivers include a section of the Huang He (Yellow River) in the south and the Selenga, Orkhon, and Kerulen in the north. Rainfall averages less than 15 in. (38.1 cm) a year.
Mongolia has traditionally been a land of pastoral nomadism; livestock raising and the processing of animal products are the main industries. Wool, hides, meat, cloth, and leather goods are exported. Irrigation has made some agriculture possible; wheat and oats are the chief crops. Coal, iron ore, gold, and oil are important mineral resources. Mongolia is crossed north to south by a railroad linking Beijing with Russia. The region has an adequate system of roadways, although most roads are unpaved. Camels and yaks are often used in desert and mountain areas. Trade traditionally has been greater with Russia than with China, but this has been changing in recent years.
Great hordes of horsemen have repeatedly swept down from Mongolia into N China, establishing vast, although generally short-lived, empires. In the 1st cent. A.D. Mongolia was inhabited by various Turkic tribes who dwelt mainly along the upper course of the Orkhon River. It was also the home of the Hsiung-nu (the Huns) who ravaged (1st-5th cent.) N China. The Uigur Turks founded their first empire (744-856) with its capital near Karakorum in W Mongolia. The Khitan, who founded the Liao dynasty (947-1125) in N China, were from Mongolia. Many smaller territorial states followed until (c.1205) Jenghiz Khan conquered all Mongolia, united its tribes, and from his capital at Karakorum led the Mongols in creating one of the greatest empires of all time. His successors established the Golden Horde in SE Russia and founded the Hulagid dynasty of Persia and the Yuan dynasty (1260-1368) of China.
After the decline of the Mongol empire, Mongolia intruded less in world affairs. China, which earlier had gained control of Inner Mongolia, subjugated Outer Mongolia in the late 17th cent., but in the succeeding years struggled with Russia for control. Outer Mongolia finally broke away in 1921 to form the Mongolian People's Republic (now Mongolia). Inner Mongolia remained under Chinese control, although the Japanese conquered Rehe (1933), which they included in Manchukuo, and Chahar and Suiyuan (1937), which they formed into Mengjiang (Mongol Border Land). These areas were returned to China after World War II. In 1944, Tannu Tuva (see Tuva Republic), long recognized as part of Mongolia but under Russian influence since 1911, was incorporated within the USSR (now Russia). The Chinese Communists joined most of Inner Mongolia to N Rehe prov. and W Heilongjiang prov. to form the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region in 1949.
A high country, Mongolia has an average elevation exceeding 5,100 ft (1,554 m); the central, northern, western, and southwestern areas are covered with hills, high plateaus, and mountain ranges, reaching 15,266 ft (4,653 m) at Tavan Bogd Uul (Tabun Bogdo) in the Altai Mts. Much of the Gobi desert lies to the south and east; at no point is the elevation less than c.1,800 ft (550 m). Numerous lakes fill the depressions between the mountains; the largest, Uvs Nuur, or Ubsu Nur (c.1,300 sq mi/3,370 sq km) is saltwater. The main rivers are in the north and include the Selenga (Selenge Mörön), with its long tributary the Orkhon (Orhon), which flows into Lake Baykal in Russia; and the Kerulen. Navigability is limited—the rivers are swift and rough; they freeze in the winter, and many dry up during droughts.
The country's climate is dry continental, with little rain or snow and great extremes in temperature. Winters are severe, with low temperatures and high winds that blow away the light snow cover, causing the ground to freeze deeply; summers can be very hot.
The population is predominantly Khalkha Mongol. Minorities include Oirat Mongols, Kazakhs, Chinese, and Russians. Khalkha Mongolian, the official language, was until the 1940s written in the old Uigur Turkic script; it now uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Turkic, Russian, and Chinese are also spoken by some. The dominant religion has long been Lamaist Buddhism, but it was harshly repressed under the Communist regime. It was not until the waning of Communist power in the early 1990s that religious freedom reemerged. There are also small Muslim and Christian minorities.
The paucity of snow in Mongolia permits year-round grazing, and nomadic herding has been the major occupation for centuries. Although the number of such herders is gradually declining, animal husbandry is still the mainstay of the Mongolian economy, and Mongolia has the world's highest number of livestock per person. Sheep and goats constitute most of the livestock, followed by cattle and horses; yaks are raised in the higher altitudes, and camels are extremely important in the desert and semidesert areas. Agriculture is limited since only 1% of the land is arable. Wheat is the chief crop, followed by barley, oats, corn, millet, rye, legumes, and potatoes.
Hunting is a source of revenue; the country abounds in wildlife, and sable, fox, lynx, marmot, snow leopard, squirrel, and wolf are all trapped for their furs. Mongolia has valuable timberlands, especially in the northern mountainous area; logs are shipped down the Selenga, Orkhon, and Kerulen rivers. Mineral resources are abundant. The extensive coal deposits have been exploited since 1913. Copper, molybdenum, tin, tungsten, gold, iron ore, fluorspar, uranium, zinc, lead, silver, and salt are also mined.
Industry, which was developed with Soviet aid, is centered chiefly in Ulaanbaatar. It is based largely on the country's livestock resources, with dairy products, packed meats, leather and leather goods, and woolen textiles and related items (clothing, blankets, carpets) the chief manufactures. The building-material, copper-smelting, lumber, and oil industries are also important. Choybalsan and Darhan near the Russian border have become industrial centers.
The country has one railroad line running north and south from the Russian border through Ulaanbaatar to the Chinese frontier, with a few spur lines to mining or industrial points. Although the number of motor vehicles is increasing, there are few paved roads and beasts of burden are still used, notably in the south, where camel caravans are common. There are also numerous airports.
Mongolia's main exports are copper, apparel, livestock, animal products, cashmere, wool, hides, fluorspar, and nonferrous metals; imports include machinery and equipment, cars, fuel, foodstuffs, consumer goods, chemicals, building materials, sugar, and tea. Most of its foreign trade is with China, Russia, the United States, Canada, and South Korea.
Mongolia is governed under the constitution of 1992. The president, who is head of state, is popularly elected for a four-year term and is eligible for a second term. The government is headed by the prime minister. The unicameral legislature consists of the 76-seat State Great Hural, whose members are popularly elected for four-year terms. Following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or majority coalition is usually elected prime minister by the legislature. Administratively, the country is divided into 21 provinces and the capital district.
For the early history of Mongolia, see Mongols. The area was under Chinese control from 1691 until the collapse of the Manchu dynasty in China in 1911, when a group of Mongol princes ousted the Manchu governor and proclaimed an autonomous Mongolia with Jebtsun Damba Khutukhtu (the Living Buddha of Urga) as ruler. The new state was reoccupied by the Chinese in 1919. The Chinese were driven out by White Russian forces under Baron von Ungern-Sternberg in early 1921, and the Whites in turn were ousted by Red Army troops and Mongolian units under the Mongolian Communist leaders Sukhe-Bator and Khorloin Choibalsan.
Mongolia was proclaimed an independent state in July, 1921, and remained a monarchy until the Living Buddha died in 1924. The establishment (Nov., 1924) of the Communist-led Mongolian People's Republic was followed by a struggle to divest the old privileged classes of their capital (largely in the form of land and livestock) and persecution of the Lama priests; this in turn led to the Lama Rebellion of 1932, when priests led thousands of people, with some 7 million head of livestock, across the border to Inner Mongolia.
In 1936 the USSR signed a mutual aid pact with the republic, thus formalizing the existing close relations between the two countries. A constitution adopted in 1940 consolidated the power of the Communist regime. During World War II the Mongolian army joined the USSR in Manchuria in the last, brief stage of the war against Japan. In 1945 a plebiscite was held under a Sino-Soviet agreement, and the republic overwhelmingly voted for continued independence. Khorloin Choibalsan, the prime minister from 1938 until his death in 1952, was succeeded by Yumzhaggiin Tsedenbal. A new constitution came into force in 1960, and Mongolia was admitted to the United Nations in 1961.
In the ideological dispute between the Soviet Union and China, Mongolia traditionally supported the Soviet Union. Mongolia's position shifted during the 1980s, however, and it established diplomatic relations with China in 1986 and with the United States a year later. After a series of demonstrations in the late 1980s calling for freedom and human rights, the Communist party voted to relinquish its constitutional power, which led to the election by the parliament of Punsalmaagiin Ochirbat as president in 1990. In the same year a multiparty political system was also instituted, and in 1991 the country was renamed the State of Mongolia.
In 1992, Mongolia opened its first stock exchange and adopted a new democratic constitution; the Mongolian People's Revolutionary party (MPRP—the former Communists) overwhelmingly retained control of parliament in elections that year. However, Ochirbat, running as a non-Communist, won Mongolia's first free presidential election in 1993. In the first half of 1996, Mongolia was beset by wildfires that raged for more than three months and scorched 41,000 sq mi (106,000 sq km) of forest and rangeland. In the 1996 parliamentary elections the opposition Democratic Union Coalition won a stunning upset, gaining nearly two thirds of the seats. Following a downturn in the economy, Natsagiyn Bagabandi, the candidate of the MPRP, won a decisive victory against Ochirbat in the 1997 presidential elections.
Parliamentary elections in 2000 resulted in a nearly total win for the MPRP, which won 95% of the seats; Natsagiyn Enkhbayar became prime minister. Bagabandi was reelected in May, 2001. In the 2004 parliamentary elections the opposition alliance, now called the Motherland Democratic Coalition, won two fewer seats than the MPRP, but also claimed two seats that MPRP contested in court. The unexpected turnabout led to weeks of wrangling and a delay in inaugurating parliament. In August, however, the MPRP and the opposition agreed to form a unity government, and Democrat Tsakhiagiyn Elbegdorj became prime minister. Elbegdorj had previously held the office for seven months in 1998.
In the 2005 presidential elections, MPRP candidate Nambaryn Enkhbayar won; Enkhbayar had served as prime minister in the early 1990s. In Jan., 2006, the unity government collapsed when the MPRP withdrew. The MPRP formed a new government with support from minor parties and some Democrats; Miyeegombo Enkhbold, the former mayor of Ulaanbaatar, was named prime minister. Enkhbold resigned in Nov., 2007, and was succeeded by fellow MPRP member Sanjaagin Bayar. Parliamentary elections in June, 2008, resulted in a majority for the MPRP. Although international observers called the vote free and fair, the opposition alleged that there had been electoral fraud, and a riot in the capital led to a brief state of emergency. In the May, 2009, presidential election, former prime minister Elbegdorj defeated Enkhbayar. Bayar resigned as prime minister in Oct., 2009, and was succeeded in the post by Sukhbaatar Batbold, the foreign minister and a wealthy businessman.
See O. Lattimore, Nomads and Commissars: Mongolia Revisited (1962); R. A. Rupen, The Mongolian People's Republic (1966); A. M. Pozdneev, Mongolia and the Mongols (Vol. I tr. 1971); S. Akiner, ed., Mongolia Today (1989); C. R. Bawden, The Modern History of Mongolia (1989).
Learn more about Mongolia with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Mongolia is a landlocked country in East and Central Asia. It borders Russia to the north and People's Republic of China to the south, east and west. Although Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakhstan, its western most point is a de minimis distance from Kazakhstan's eastern tip. Ulan Bator, the capital and largest city, is home to about 38% of the population. Mongolia's political system is a parliamentary republic.
The area of what is now Mongolia has been ruled by various nomadic empires, including the Xiongnu, the Rouran, the Xianbei, the Gökturks, and others. The Mongol Empire was founded by Genghis Khan in 1206. After the collapse of the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongols returned to their earlier patterns. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Mongolia came under the influence of Tibetan Buddhism. At the end of the 17th century, most of Mongolia had been incorporated into China which was ruled by the Qing Dynasty. During the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, Mongolia declared independence, but had to struggle until 1921 to firmly establish de-facto independence, and until 1945 to gain international recognition. As a consequence, it came under strong Russian and Soviet influence: In 1924, the Mongolian People's Republic was declared, and Mongolian politics began to follow the same patterns as Soviet politics of the time. After the breakdown of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in late 1989, Mongolia saw its own Democratic Revolution in early 1990, which led to a multi-party system, a new constitution in 1992, and the - rather rough - transition to a market economy.
At 1,564,116 square kilometres, Mongolia is the nineteenth largest, and the most sparsely populated independent country in the world with a population of around 2.9 million people. It is also the world's second-largest landlocked country after Kazakhstan. The country contains very little arable land, as much of its area is covered by arid and unproductive steppes, with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south. Approximately 30% of the country's 2.9 million people are nomadic or semi-nomadic. The predominant religion in Mongolia is Tibetan Buddhism, and the majority of the state's citizens are of the Mongol ethnicity, though Kazakhs, Tuvans and other minorities also live in the country, especially in the west.
In the chaos of the late twelfth century, a chieftain named Temüjin finally succeeded in uniting the Mongol tribes between Manchuria and the Altai Mountains. In 1206, he took the title Genghis Khaan, and waged a series of military campaigns - renowned for their brutality and ferocity - sweeping through much of Asia, and forming the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous land empire in world history. Under his successors it stretched from present-day Poland in the west to Korea in the east, and from Siberia in the north to the Gulf of Oman and Vietnam in the south, covering some 33,000,000 km² (12,741,000 sq mi), (22% of Earth's total land area) and having a population of over 100 million people.
After Genghis Khaan's death, the empire had been subdivided into four kingdoms or Khanates which eventually split-up after Möngke's death in 1259. One of the khanates, the "Great Khaanate", consisting of the Mongol homeland and China, became the Yuan Dynasty under Kublai Khaan, grandson of Genghis Khaan. He set up his capital in present day Beijing but after more than a century of power, the Yuan was replaced by the Ming Dynasty in 1368, with the Mongol court fleeing to the north. As the Ming armies pursued the Mongols into their homeland, they successfully sacked and destroyed the Mongol capital Karakorum among other cities, wiping out the cultural progress that was achieved during the imperial period and thus throwing Mongolia back to anarchy.
The next centuries were marked by violent power struggles between various factions, notably the Genghisids and the non-Genghisid Oirads and numerous Chinese invasions (like the five expeditions led by the Yongle Emperor). In the early 15th century, the Oirads under Esen Tayisi gained the upper hand, and even raided China in 1449 in a conflict over Esen's right to pay tribute, capturing the Chinese emperor in the process. However, Esen was murdered in 1454, and the Genghisids recovered. In the mid-16th century, Altan Khan of the Tümed, a grandson of Batumöngke - but no legitimate Khaan himself - became powerful. He founded Hohhot in 1557 and his meeting with the Dalai Lama in 1578 sparked the second introduction of Tibetan Buddhism to Mongolia. Abtai Khan of the Khalkha converted to buddhism in 1585 and founded the Erdene Zuu monastery in 1586. His grandson Zanabazar became the first Jebtsundamba Khutughtu in 1640.
The last Mongol Khaan was Ligden Khaan in the early 17th century. He got into conflicts with the Manchu over the looting of Chinese cities, and managed to alienate most Mongol tribes. He died in 1634 on his way to Tibet, in an attempt to evade the Manchu and destroy the Yellow Church. By 1636, most Inner Mongolian tribes had submitted to the Manchu. The Khalkha eventually submitted to the Qing in 1691, thus bringing all but the west of today's Mongolia under Beijing's rule. After several wars, the Dzungars were virtually annihilated in 1757. Until 1911, the Manchu maintained control of Mongolia with a series of alliances and intermarriages, as well as military and economic measures. Ambans, Manchu "high officials", were installed in Khüree, Uliastai, and Khovd, and the country was subdivided into ever more feudal and ecclesiastical fiefdoms. Over the course of the 19th century, the feudal lords attached more importance to representation and less importance to the responsibilities towards their subjects. In addition the usurous practices of the Chinese traders, along with the collection of imperial taxes in silver instead of animals, resulted in poverty becoming rampant.
With the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Mongolia declared independence in 1911. The new country's territory was approximately that of the former Outer Mongolia. The 49 hoshuns of Inner Mongolia as well as the Mongolians of the Alashan and Qinghai regions expressed their willingness to join the nascent state, to no avail. In 1919, after the October Revolution in Russia, Chinese troops led by Xu Shuzheng occupied the capital but their dominance was short-lived. The notorious Russian adventurer "Bloody" Baron Ungern who had fought with the "Whites" against the Red Army in Siberia, led his troops into Mongolia, triumphing over Chinese in Niislel Khüree. He ruled briefly, under the blessing of religious leader Boghda Khaan before he was captured and executed by the Red Army assisted by Mongolian units led by Damdin Sükhbaatar. These events led to abolition of the feudal system and ensured the country's political alignment with Bolshevik Russia.
In 1924, after the death of the religious leader and king Boghda Khaan, a Mongolian People's Republic was proclaimed with support from the Soviets.
In 1928, Khorloogiin Choibalsan rose to power. He instituted collectivisation of livestock, the destruction of Buddhist monasteries and the Mongolia's enemies of the people persecution resulting in the murder of monks and other people. The Stalinist purges beginning in 1937, affected the Republic as it left more than 30,000 people dead. Japanese imperialism became even more alarming after the invasion of neighboring Manchuria in 1931. During the Soviet-Japanese Border War of 1939, the USSR successfully defended Mongolia against Japanese expansionism. In August 1945 Mongolian forces also took part in the Soviet Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation in Inner Mongolia. The Soviet threat of seizing parts of Inner Mongolia induced the Republic of China to recognize Outer Mongolia's independence, provided that a referendum was held. The referendum took place on October 20 1945, with (according to official numbers) 100% of the electorate voting for independence. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, both countries recognized each other again on October 6, 1949.
In January 26, 1952, Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal took power. In 1956 and again in 1962, Choibalsan's personality cult was condemned. Mongolia continued to align itself closely with the Soviet Union, especially after the Sino-Soviet split of the late 1950s. While Tsedenbal was visiting Moscow in August 1984, his severe illness prompted the parliament to announce his retirement and replace him with Jambyn Batmönkh.
Mongolia is a parliamentary republic. The parliament is elected by the people and in turn elects the government. The president is elected directly. Mongolia's constitution guarantees full freedom of expression, religion, and others. Mongolia has a number of political parties, the biggest ones being the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) and the Democratic Party (DP).
The MPRP formed the government of the country from 1921 to 1996 (until 1990 in a one-party system) and from 2000 to 2004. From 2004 to 2006, it was part of a coalition with the DP and two other parties, and since 2006 it has been the dominant party in two other coalitions. Both changes of government after 2004 were initiated by the MPRP. The DP was the dominant force in the ruling coalition between 1996 and 2000, and also an approximately equal partner with the MPRP in the 2004-2006 coalition. The next parliamentary elections are set for June 2008.
Mongolia's president has a symbolic role, but can block the parliament's decisions, who can then overrule the veto by a 2/3 majority. Mongolia's Constitution provides three requirements for taking office as President: the individual must be a native-born Mongolian, be at least 45 years of age, and have resided in Mongolia for five years prior to taking office. The current President is Nambaryn Enkhbayar.
Mongolia maintains positive relations and has diplomatic missions with many countries such as the United States, Russia, North and South Korea, Japan, and the People's Republic of China. The government has focused a great deal on encouraging foreign investments and trade. Mongolia supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and has sent several successive contingents of 103 to 180 troops each to Iraq. Smaller contingents were also sent to Afghanistan. 200 Mongolian troops are serving in Sierra Leone on a UN mandate to protect the UN's special court set up there. From 2005 to 2006, about 40 troops were deployed with the Belgian and Luxembourgish contingent in Kosovo. On November 21, 2005, George W. Bush became the first-ever sitting U.S. President to visit Mongolia. In 2004, under the Bulgarian chairmanship, The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), invited Mongolia as its newest Asian Partner.
Mongolia has embassies in Almaty, Ankara, Bangkok, Berlin, Beijing, Brussels, Budapest, Cairo, Warsaw, Washington, D.C., Vienna, Vientiane, Havana, Delhi, London, Moscow, Ottawa, Paris, Prague, Pyongyang, Seoul, Sofia, Tokyo, Hanoi, and Singapore, a consulate in Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude, and a diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York City and to the European Union in Geneva.
At 1,564,116 km² (603,909 mi²), Mongolia is the world's nineteenth-largest country (after Iran). It is significantly larger than the next-largest country, Peru. It is more than two times larger than the U.S. state of Texas and slightly larger than Spain, France and Germany combined.
The geography of Mongolia is varied with the Gobi Desert to the south and with cold and mountainous regions to the north and west. Much of Mongolia consists of steppes. The highest point in Mongolia is the Khüiten Peak in the Tavan bogd massif in the far west at 4,374 m (14,350 ft). The basin of the lake Uvs Nuur, shared with Tuva Republic in Russia, is a natural World Heritage Site. Most of the country is hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter, with January averages dropping as low as -30°C (-22°F). The country is also subject to occasional harsh climatic conditions known as zud. Ulan Bator has the lowest average temperature of any national capital in the world. Mongolia is high, cold, and windy. It has an extreme continental climate with long, cold winters and short summers, during which most of its annual precipitation falls. The country averages 257 cloudless days a year, and it is usually at the center of a region of high atmospheric pressure. Precipitation is highest in the north (average of 20 to 35 centimeters per year) and lowest in the south, which receives 10 to 20 centimeters annually. The extreme south is the Gobi, some regions of which receive no precipitation at all in most years.
The name "Gobi" is a Mongol term for a desert steppe, which usually refers to a category of arid rangeland with insufficient vegetation to support marmots but with enough to support camels. Mongols distinguish Gobi from desert proper, although the distinction is not always apparent to outsiders unfamiliar with the Mongolian landscape. Gobi rangelands are fragile and are easily destroyed by overgrazing, which results in expansion of the true desert, a stony waste where not even Bactrian camels can survive.
Mongolia is divided into 21 aimags (provinces), which are in turn divided into 315 sums (districts). The capital Ulan Bator is administrated separately as a khot (municipality) with provincial status. The aimags are: :
There are currently over 30,000 independent businesses in Mongolia, chiefly centered around the capital city . The majority of the population outside urban areas participate in subsistence herding; livestock typically consists of sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and Bactrian camels. Agricultural crops include wheat, barley, potato, vegetables, tomato, watermelon, sea-buckthorn and fodder crops. GDP per capita in 2006 was $2,100. Although GDP has risen steadily since 2002 at the rate of 7.5% in an official 2006 estimate, the state is still working to overcome a sizable trade deficit. A massive ($11 billion) foreign debt to Russia was settled by the Mongolian government in 2004 with a $250 million payment. Despite growth, the proportion of the population below the poverty line is estimated to be 35.6% in 1998, 36.1% in 2002–2003, 32.2% in 2006, and both the unemployment rate and inflation rate are relatively high at 3.2% and 6.0%, respectively (in 2006) Mongolia's largest trading partner is China. As of 2006, 68.4% of Mongolia's exports went to China, and China supplied 29.8% of Mongolia's imports.
After the transition shocks of the early 1990s, Mongolian domestic production has picked up again. According to the CIA World Factbook, in 2003, the service sector accounted for 58% of the GDP, with 29% of the labor force of 1.488 million involved.
Foreign investment from other countries (including China, Japan, South Korea, Germany and Russia) has helped to add more paved roads. The most important is a 1000 km north-south road leading from the Russian border at Sükhbaatar to the Chinese border at Zamyn-Üüd. There are several air transport companies in Mongolia, including MIAT, Aero Mongolia, and Eznis Airways.
Petroleum products are mainly (80%) imported from Russia, which makes Mongolia vulnerable to supply side shocks. This is one strong example of the influence of Mongolia's neighbors on its economy.
Mongolia's total population as of July 2007 is estimated by U.S. Census Bureau at 2,951,786 people ranking at around 138th in the world in terms of population. But the U.S. Department of State Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs uses the U.N. estimations instead of the U.S. Census Bureau estimations. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division estimates Mongolia's total population (mid. 2007) as 2,629,000 (11% less then U.S. Census Bureau). But UN estimations are very close to those made by Mongolian National Statistical Office - 2,612,900 (end of June 2007).
It has a very small population relative to its two border neighbors, Russia and the People's Republic of China. Though the majority of Mongolian citizens are of Mongol descent there are small populations of Kazakh, Tuvan, and Tungus peoples. Mongolia's population growth rate is estimated at 1.2% (2007 est.). About 59% of the total population is under age 30, 27% of whom are under 14. This relatively young and growing population has, as in many developing countries, placed strains on Mongolia's economy.
Since the end of socialism, Mongolia has experienced a decline of total fertility rate (children per woman) that is steeper than in any other country in the world, according to recent UN estimations: in 1970-1975, fertility was estimated to be 7.33 children per woman, but 2005-2010 prospects are 1.87 (4 times less).
Mongolia has become more urbanized. About 40 percent of the population live in Ulaanbaatar alone, and in 2002 a further 23% lived in Darkhan, Erdenet, the aimag centers and sum-level permanent settlements. Another share of the population lives in the sum centers. In 2002, about 30 percent of all households in Mongolia lived from breeding lifestock. Most herders in Mongolia follow a pattern of nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralism.
Ethnic Mongols account for about 85% of the population and consist of Khalkha and other groups, all distinguished primarily by dialects of the Mongol language. The Khalkha make up 90% of the ethnic Mongol population. The remaining 10% include Buryats, Durbet Mongols and others in the north and Dariganga Mongols in the east. Turkic peoples (Kazakhs, Tuvans, and Chantuu (Uzbek) constitute 7% of Mongolia's population, and the rest are Tungusic peoples, Chinese, and Russians. Most, but not all, Russians left the country following the withdrawal of economic aid and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Mongolian is one of the Mongolic languages. Mongolic is frequently included in the Altaic languages, a group of languages named after the Altay Mountains that also includes the Turkic and Tungusic languages.
But according to the other latest sources from U.S. Department of State, 94% practice Tibetan Buddhism, followed by Islam (6%), and Shamanism.
The differences between the CIA World Factbook and the U.S. Department of States estimates for religion are mostly that the nonreligious in the CIA World Factbook estimate are in the Tibetan Buddhism category in the U.S. Department of State estimate. A possible explanation for this is that the flexibility of Buddhism makes it difficult to discern what constitutes a Buddhist, since Buddhism can be embraced in varying degrees, unlike some other religions which clearly demarcate their followers.
Various forms of Tengriism and Shamanism have been widely practiced throughout the history of what is now modern day Mongolia, as such beliefs were common among nomadic people in Asian history. Such beliefs mostly gradually gave way to Tibetan Buddhism, but Shamanism has left a mark on Mongolian religious culture. Indeed, it continues to be practised.
Throughout much of the twentieth century, the communist government ensured that the religious practices of the Mongolian people were largely repressed. Khorloogiin Choibalsan complied with the orders of Joseph Stalin, destroying almost all of Mongolia's over 700 Buddhist monasteries and killing thousands of monks.
The fall of communism in 1991 restored the legality of public religious practice, and Tibetan Buddhism, which had been the predominant religion in the region before the rise of Communism, again rose to become the most widely practiced religion in Mongolia. The end of religious repression in the 1990s also allowed for other religions, such as Islam and Christianity, to spread in the country. According to the Christian missionary group, Barnabas Fund, the number of Christians grew from just 4 in 1989 to around 40,000 as of 2008.
During the state socialist period, education was one of the areas of significant achievement in Mongolia. Illiteracy was virtually eliminated, in part through the use of seasonal boarding schools for children of nomadic families. Funding to these boarding schools was cut in the 1990s, contributing to slightly increased illiteracy.
Primary and secondary education formerly lasted ten years, but was expanded to eleven years. Since the 2008-2009 school year, new first graders are using the twelve year system. As such, full transition to the twelve year system will no happen until the 2019-2020 school year, when the current first graders graduate.
The broad liberalization of the 1990s led to a boom in private institutions of higher education, although many of these establishments have difficulty living up to their name of "college" or "university".
The health sector comprises 17 specialized hospitals and centers, 4 regional diagnostic and treatment centers, 9 district and 21 aimag general hospitals, 323 soum hospitals, 18 feldsher posts, 233 family group practices, and 536 private hospitals and 57 drug supply companies/pharmacies. In 2002 the total number of health workers was 33273, of which 6823 were doctors, 788 pharmacists, 7802-nurses and 14091 mid-level personnel. At present, there are 27.7 physicians and 75.7 hospital beds per 10,000 inhabitants.
The main festival is Naadam, which has been organised for centuries, consists of three Mongolian traditional sports, archery, horse-racing (over long stretches of open country, not the short racing around a track practiced in the West), and wrestling. Nowadays it is held on July 11 to July 13 in the honour of the anniversaries of the National Democratic Revolution and foundation of the Great Mongol State. Another very popular activity called Shagaa is the "flicking" of sheep ankle bones at a target several feet away, using a flicking motion of the finger to send the small bone flying at targets and trying to knock the target bones off the platform. This contest at Naadam is very popular and develops a serious audience among older Mongolians. In Mongolia, the khoomii, or throat singing, style of music is popular, particularly in parts of Western Mongolia.
The ornate symbol in the leftmost bar of the national flag is a Buddhist icon called soyombo. It represents the sun, moon, stars, and heavens per standard cosmological symbology abstracted from that seen in traditional thangka paintings.
Horse riding is especially central to Mongolian culture. The long-distance races that are showcased during Naadam festivals are one aspect of this, as is the popularity of trick riding. One example of trick riding is the legend that the Mongolian military hero Damdin Sükhbaatar scattered coins on the ground and then picked them up while riding a horse at full gallop.
Other sports such as table tennis, basketball, and soccer are increasingly getting popular. More Mongolian table tennis players are competing internationally.
Wrestling is the most popular of all Mongol sports. It is the highlight of the Three Manly Games of Naadam. Historians claim that Mongol-style wrestling originated some seven thousand years ago. Hundreds of wrestlers from different cities and aimags around the country take part in the national wrestling competition.
There are no weight categories or age limits. Each wrestler has his own attendant herald. The aim of the sport is to knock one's opponent off balance and throw him down, making him touch the ground with his elbow and knee.
The winners are honored with ancient titles: the winner of the fifth round gets the honorary title of nachin (falcon), of the seventh and eighth rounds zaan (elephant), and of the tenth and eleventh rounds arslan (lion). The wrestler who becomes the absolute champion is awarded the title of avarga (Titan). Every subsequent victory at the national Naadam-festival will add an epithet to the avarga title, like "Invincible Titan to be remembered by all".
Beginning in 2003, the Mongolian parliament adopted a new law on Naadam, making amendments to some of the wrestling titles. The titles of iarudi and Khartsaga (Hawk) were added to the existing above-mentioned rules.
The traditional wrestling costume includes an open-fronted jacket, tied around the waist with a string. This is said to have come into use after the champion of a wrestling competition many years ago was discovered to be a woman. The jacket was introduced to ensure that only men could compete.
Naidangiin Tüvshinbayar won Mongolia's first ever Olympic gold medal in the men's 100-kilogram class of judo.
Football is also played in Mongolia. The Mongolia national football team began playing again in the 1990s; it has yet to qualify for a major tournament. The Mongolia Premier League is the top domestic competition.
Several Mongolian women have excelled in pistol shooting: Otryadyn Gündegmaa is a silver medalist of the 2008 Olympic Games, Munkhbayar Dorjsuren is a double world champion and Olympic bronze medal winner (now representing Germany), while Tsogbadrakhyn Mönkhzul is, as of May 2007, ranked third in the world in the 25 m Pistol event.
The traditional Mongolian dwelling is known as a yurt (Mongolian: ger). According to Mongolian artist and art critic N. Chultem, yurts and tents were the basis for development of the traditional Mongolian architecture. In the 16th ad 17th centuries, lamaseries were built throughout the country. Many of them started as yurt-temples. When they needed to be enlarged to accommodate the growing number of worshippers, the Mongolian architects used structures with 6 and 12 angles with pyramidal roofs to approximate to the round shape of a yurt. Further enlargement led to a quadratic shape of the temples. The roofs were made in the shape of marquees. The trellis walls, roof poles and layers of felt were replaced by stone, brick, beams and planks, and became permanent.
Chultem distinguished three styles in traditional Mongolian architecture: Mongolian, Tibetan and Chinese as well as combinations of the three. Among the first quadratic temples was Batu-Tsagaan (1654) designed by Zanabazar. An example of the yurt-style architecture is the lamasery Dashi-Choiling in Ulan Bator. The temple Lavrin (XVIII century) in the Erdene Zuu lamasery was built in the Tibetan tradition. An example of a temple built in the Chinese tradition is the lamasery Choijing Lamiin Sume (1904), which is a museum today. The quadratic temple Tsogchin in lamasery Gandan in Ulan Bator is a combination of the Mongolian and Chinese tradition. The temple of Maitreya (disassembled in 1938) is an example of the Tibeto-Mongolian architecture. Dashi-Choiling monastery has commenced a project to restore the temple and the sculpture of Maitreya.
The music of Mongolia is strongly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism and nomadism. The natives dance the "tsam" to keep away evil spirits and it was seen the reminiscences of shamaning. The traditional music includes a variety of instruments and songs, including the song "koomi": delicately trained male voices, from the most serious tone to the highest, which are combined in full harmony.
The first rock band of Mongolia was Soyol-Erdene, founded in the 1960s. Their Beatles-like manner was severely criticised by the Communist censorship. It was followed by Mungunhurhree, Ineemseglel, Urgoo, etc., carving out the path for the genre in the harsh environment of Communist ideology. Mungunhurhree and Haranga were to become the pioneers in the Mongolia's heavy rock music. Haranga approached its zenith in the late 1980s and 1990s.
The leader of Haranga, famous guitarist Enh-Manlai, generously helped the growth of their following generations of rockers. Among the followers of Haranga was the band Hurd. In the early 1990s group Har-Chono put the beginning for Mongolia's folk-rock merging the elements of the Mongolian tenuto song (poorly described as "long" song) into the genre.
By that time, the environment for development of artistic thought had become largely liberal thanks to the new democratic society in the country. The 1990s saw development of rap, techno, hip-hop and also boy bands and girl bands flourish at the turn of the millennium.