Mongols, culture of

Mongols, culture of
It is well known that the area occupied by ‘cultural Mongolia’ extends well beyond the borders of the PRC. In China, however, where there are almost three times as many Mongolians as in Outer Mongolia, most live in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) and in nearby provinces such as Xinjiang and Qinghai. However, wherever they live they constitute a minority, particularly in the IMAR itself, where they make up only a tenth of the population even though the territory bears their name, the vast majority being Han Chinese. This formerly nomadic and now semi-nomadic people share many features of nomadic pastoralists in general, but in unique ways. Their relationship to livestock is extremely important and they most often speak of the five animals in a set order: the horse, cattle, the camel, sheep and goats. The horse is the most valued and signifies mobility and status; horse-racing at the occasion of special holidays is a very important activity—young children are often used as riders to permit horses to race with a lighter load. Nevertheless, many younger Mongols are finding that the motorcycle can go just as fast, and in some cases is less trouble to maintain. Oxen are still used for seasonal migrations, but more often than not a truck is borrowed to move all the household goods, including the ger (yurt) that is so characteristic of this culture. Almost every rural Mongolian family herds sheep, and these are a major source for their meat-oriented diet. After a sheep is killed, everything but the bones is consumed with great pleasure. This could explain at least partially how Mongols seem to be healthy even though they eat almost no vegetables. It is recognized that goats are problematic for the environment, but in certain areas their presence is encouraged by the high market value of the Kashmir wool that they can produce.
The Mongolian yurt usually faces the southeast (winds come from the northwest). Its walls are made from thin birch willows that are formed into a collapsible lattice and are usually held together by pieces of leather. The entire surface is covered with felt and held in place by ropes.
The ceiling is an umbrella-like structure that is also easy to dismantie. In its centre is a hole through which passes a chimney from the inevitable cast-iron stove which burns dried dung. There are important customs relating to the use of this mobile dwelling. For example, one should never step on the threshold (this would symbolize stepping on the neck of the owner); one goes in towards the left and always leaves from the right side. In most places in Inner Mongolia there is a small bed placed opposite the entrance, a place to stack quilts, pillows and clothing. Often there is a shelf with a picture of a deceased parent as well as religious objects (see Buddhism in Inner Mongolia). On one side of the entrance are various tools used for the production of various milk products such as butter and a very hard cheese. Even when families move to an urban area they will often choose to live in a’yurt-suburb’ at the edge of town.
Bulag, Uradyn Erden (1998). Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
——(2002). The Mongols at China’s Edge: History and the Politics of National Unity. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Foggin, Peter M., Foggin, J.Marc and Shiirev-Adiya, C. (2000). ‘Animal and Human Health among Semi-Nomadic Herders of Central Mongolia’. Nomadic Peoples 4:148–68.
Pegg, Carole (2001). Mongolian Music, Dance and Oral Narrative: Performing Diverse Identities. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Sechin, Jagchid and Hyer, Paul (1979). Mongolia’s Culture and Society. Boulder: Westview Press.
Sneath, David (2000). Pastoral Mongolian Society and the Chinese State. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Williams, Dee Mach (2002). Beyond Great Walls: Environment, Identity and Development on Chinese Grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
It is well known that the area occupied by ‘cultural Mongolia’ extends well beyond the borders of the PRC. In China, however, where there are almost three times as many Mongolians as in Outer Mongolia, most live in the Inner Mongolia treatises in each town. Education and morality were seen as inseparable; the goal of studying classical texts was as much moral as practical. Since the end of imperial China the relationship between morality and politics—and education—has been by turns direct and indirect. One of the principal goals of the Communist Revolution was moral education, with its height in the Socialist Education Campaign (1963) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Campaigns pushing Chinese to be more selfless, to become better socialists, etc., employed moral exemplars, revolutionary heroes with peasants’ practicality and simplicity.
Not all morality is explicitly encoded: there is a moral dimension to the idea of progress, with history teleologically moving toward a better, more civilized world in which individual ‘quality’ (suzhi) is ever higher. (This is aided by eugenic campaigns for ‘fewer births, later births, better births’.) Sometimes morality is used to serve political ends, eliciting performative affirmation of willingness to say the proper words (biaoxian) and acknowledge authority.
Since Mao’s death, distrust of and cynicism about simple moral messages have grown, though the government has nonetheless embarked periodically on such campaigns (anti-spiritual pollution, 1983; anti-bourgeois liberalization, 1987).
With the Reforms, a unitary moral line has failed to emerge, though many more personal moral lines, including those of various religions, have been pursued privately. Burning moral questions now involve Guanxi and reciprocity (who owes what to whom for what), rectitude and corruption, the nature of money, the role of the individual vis-à-vis the family and society, and sexual practices. Cynical mockery of the earlier exhortation, ‘Serve the People’ (Wei renmin fuwu), is visible in the variant ‘Serve the People’s Money’ (Wei renminbi fuwu), acknowledging the common motive of commerce which had been forbidden during the first years of the People’s Republic. Nevertheless, in some films and literature, tension between modern cynicism and traditional morality is depicted, often with peasants and minorities playing the role of the moral agent. Television dramas often situate the moral world in the past. Indeed, tradition plays the role of morality, despite fifty years of treating the past as ‘feudal’ and to be discarded. Nostalgia for the simple moral messages of the Cultural Revolution can also be observed. A kind of post-morality is visible in the works of some authors, such as Wang Shuo, who lampoon all moral postures. Tensions between capitalism and socialism, urban and rural life, modernity and tradition, the foreign and the domestic, male and female, old and young, collective and private good, honesty and cleverness, kin and strangers, egalitarianism and hierarchy are all evident in contests that dare not quite call themselves moral.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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