Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists

Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists

Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists

Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists


Land-locked between its giant neighbors, Russia and China, Mongolia was the first Asian country to adopt communism and the first to abandon it. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, Mongolia turned to international financial agencies--including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank--for help in compensating for the economic changes caused by disruptions in the communist world. Modern Mongolia is the best-informed and most thorough account to date of the political economy of Mongolia during the past decade. In it, Morris Rossabi explores the effects of the withdrawal of Soviet assistance, the role of international financial agencies in supporting a pure market economy, and the ways that new policies have led to greater political freedom but also to unemployment, poverty, increasingly inequitable distribution of income, and deterioration in the education, health, and well-being of Mongolian society.

Rossabi demonstrates that the agencies providing grants and loans insisted on Mongolia's adherence to a set of policies that did not generally take into account the country's unique heritage and society. Though the sale of state assets, minimalist government, liberalization of trade and prices, a balanced budget, and austerity were supposed to yield marked economic growth, Mongolia--the world's fifth-largest per capita recipient of foreign aid--did not recover as expected. As he details this painful transition from a collective to a capitalist economy, Rossabi also analyzes the cultural effects of the sudden opening of Mongolia to democracy. He looks at the broader implications of Mongolia's international situation and considers its future, particularly in relation to China.


This book has turned out to be the most challenging and most personally involving of all my writings. It is based in part on interviews and on-site observations: I visited slaughterhouses and cashmere processing factories, attended rock, folk, and classical music concerts, was guided by Mongolian herdsmen on a horse-riding journey through pristine, beautiful, and sparsely populated terrain, sat in on meetings of herders’ cooperatives and women’s ngos, ate at pseudo-Italian, French, and Japanese restaurants in Ulaanbaatar, and, after terrifying jeep rides through the Mongolian steppelands and deserts, drank swamp water and milk vodka and ate fried bread, noodle soup, and boiled mutton.

I also interviewed stalwart officials from the communist era, herdsmen, members of the Khural, or parliament, and the president of Mongolia, film directors, surveyors of public opinion, scientists, politicians, students, health care workers, teachers, journalists, and Western advisors and consultants. Most of the interviewees could be classified as members of the elite, or at least those who have generally prospered as a result of the postcommunist transition. I talked with unemployed workers and professionals and poor herdsmen as well, but not as frequently as with the elite. Nor were they generally as articulate as the latter. Interviews are, moreover, often principally anecdotal, and interviewees may exaggerate or either intentionally or unintentionally falsify information, and I have sought to correct for the resulting biases by referring to written sources and statistical data and cross-checking among interviews.

My research and publications have, until recently, centered on traditional China and Central Asia and on the Mongolian Empire. the most . . .

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