Introduction by Caroline Humphrey
This has been a year of momentous dates. First of all we should mark the passing of three of the most eminent contributors to Mongolian studies: Igor de Rachewiltz (1929–2016), authoritative translator, editor and commentator on the Secret History of the Mongols and author of many foundational works on Inner Asian history and Buddhism; Charles R. Bawden (1924–2016), professor of Mongolian language at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London University) and author of numerous scholarly works, from a translation of Altan Tobchi, through a study of shamans, lamas and Christian evangelical missionaries in Buryatia, to his magisterial The Modern History of Mongolia (1968) and his Mongolian–English modern dictionary; and Urgunge Onon (1919–2015), who taught Mongolian for many years at Leeds University, made a fresh translation with annotations of the Secret History of the Mongols, and authored My Mongolian World (2006) and, with Caroline Humphrey, Shamans and Elders: Experience Knowledge and Power among the Daur Mongols (1996). The editors of Inner Asia celebrate the enormous contribution of these three scholars and their long and productive lives.
Urgunge Onon was one of the founders of the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge. This year, 2016, is a momentous date for the Unit, as it is the 30th anniversary of our founding. We held a conference in celebration on 7 October 2016, with contributions from former and present members of the Unit (see the Report on the Conference in this issue by Joe Ellis). But we also wanted to acknowledge Urgunge’s foundational role in a more permanent way, and so the Unit decided to initiate an annual Onon Prize, to be awarded for excellence in Mongolian and Inner Asian studies. The first recipient of the prize, presented by Dr Temujin Onon, son of Urgunge, was Professor Roberte Hamayon of the University of Paris, for her stellar lifetime contribution.
The present issue of Inner Asia spans the interests of the Unit both historically and geographically. It starts with Pochekaev’s account of Törü, a key early Turkic and later Mongol political concept with a broad span of meanings including ‘law’, ‘principle’ and later ‘state’. Törü has been the subject of numerous scholarly debates and it is a central theme for analysis of the Mongol empire and Mongolian political thought. The article provides a new interpretation of the history of this idea and the way it was used by Chinggis Khan and his successors.
After this historical beginning, the issue moves smartly forward to Mongolia in the present day, with two studies of the capital city Ulaanbaatar, in particular its ‘ger districts’ (the large areas on the outskirts made up of informal settlements with gers—Mongolian felt dwellings—and small self-built houses). The population of these districts has grown enormously over the last two decades and there is much scholarly and policy interest in the problems they present. Anatoliy Breslavsky’s article is a comparison of the ger districts with the growth of informal housing around Ulan-Ude in Buryatia, Russia. His analysis looks at the phenomenon in relation to broader patterns of urban developments in post-Socialist cities and indeed to global forms, such as squatter settlements in Latin America. Breslavsky’s careful and comprehensive study categorises the forms of all types of suburban development in the two cities, clarifies the different rates of increase or decrease of each type, and explains the reasons behind the exponential growth of the most informal and disadvantaged sector. His argument stresses the importance of rural to urban migration, and the different nature of this migration in the two cities. The article by Renato D’Alençon Castrillón, Olivia Kummel and Purev-Erdene Ershuu, also about the ger areas, provides an excellent complement to Breslavsky’s paper. It focuses on one district, Yarmag, and the changing forms and character of social life in this place over the last few years. The article stresses the importance of infrastructure and urban services (or lack of them), such as roads for access, water supplies, sewage and waste disposal, and public spaces where people might congregate and socialise. In conditions of social dislocation, where households arriving in the city have little knowledge of, or contact with, their new neighbours, places where people might make friendly contact, such as those by water sources, are at a premium and deserve more attention from the authorities. The article includes an analysis of the annual naadam festival races as a crucial occasion both for ‘community making’ and for economic opportunities that enable the inhabitants of Yarmag to make a living in their own area. The next paper, by Ariell Ahearn, provides new research on the herding communities from which many of the new residents of Ulaanbaatar are drawn. The focus here, however, is on the mobile pastoralist households who continue life in the countryside under new and changing political-economic conditions. Amid new legislation about land rights, the herders’ claims for winter pasture ownership have become a crucial arena for contestation. The article provides an ethnographically rich explanation of how people do negotiate territorial rights, building on an interpretation of kinship as a ‘technique of power’, above all in relation to local government administration.
The issue’s next contribution moves geographically to the Kalmyks, a people of western Mongolian origin now living in Russia. Valeriya Gazizova’s article begins with a description of Kalmyk history and its Buddhist traditions; but it is mainly devoted to a discussion of contemporary Kalmyk healers and their extraordinary combination of folk images found elsewhere in Mongolia, such as Tsagaan Aav [‘White Father’] and Ökin Tenggri [‘Sky Maiden’], with standard Buddhist deities, along with reinterpreted and new objects of reverence, such as historical personages, ‘black side’ deities and ‘bio-energies’. A tour-de-force of fresh ethnography, the article covers the full range of relevant topics: rituals, vocabularies, life-histories, personalities, and it also contains a valuable analysis of the place of this kind of religious knowledge amid other intellectual currents of the present day.
The last two articles in this issue return to historical topics, both dealing with early twentieth-century politics. Ryosuke Kobayashi’s paper provides intriguing new information on the 13th Dalai Lama’s correspondence with King George v and Queen Mary of Great Britain about the status of Tibet. Sergius Kuzmin and Jürgen von Ungern-Sternberg contribute a paper on an equally important theme of international politics, Baron Roman von Unger-Sternberg’s plans with regard to the unification of the Mongolian population and their merger with the Buryats, Kyrgyz, Manchus and Tibetans—broadly the ‘pan-Mongolian’ idea. These two papers are valuable in that they fill in gaps in our knowledge of events that are already well studied, while the other articles in the issue make contributions of fresh information and analysis.