Nomads and Commissars: Mongolia Revisited

By Owen Lattimore | Go to book overview
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3
Nomads and Their History

THE DATA in the last chapter make it clear why farming has always been much less important in Mongolia than pastoral nomadism. But this raises the question: "Just what is nomadism?" Many people still think of nomads as loosely organized tribes wandering about indefinitely, guided by the luck of the year's rain or lack of rain in their search for pastures, and from time to time gathering together in "hordes" when a succession of bad years forces them to try to conquer the pastures of other nomads, or to invade the lands of settled peoples. This notion is bolstered by tags and phrases that have become conventional, and stand in the way of fresh thinking. Gibbon, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote of nomads in general that "The connection between the people and their territory is of so frail a texture that it may be broken by the slightest accident. The camp, and not the soil, is the native country of the genuine Tartar"; and the Chinese for centuries have described the nomads of Mongolia as "following grass

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