Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia

Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia

Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia

Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia

Synopsis

Uradyn Bulag presents a unique study of what it means to be Mongolian today. Mongolian nationalism, emerging from a Soviet-dominated past and facing a Chinese-threatened future, has led its adherents to stress purity in an effort to curb the outside influences on Mongolian culture and identity. This sort of nationalism views the Halh (the 'indigenous' Mongols) as 'pure' Mongols, and other Mongol groups as 'impure'. This Halh-centrism excites and exploits fears that Mongolia will be swallowed by China; it stands in opposition to pan-Mongolism, the view that links between Mongols of all kinds should be strengthened. Bulag draws on an abundance of illuminating research findings to argue that Mongols are facing a choice between a purist, racialized nationalism, inherited from Soviet discourses of nationalism, and a more open, adaptive nationalism which accepts diversity, hybridity, and multiculturalism. He calls into question the idea of Mongolia as a homogeneous place and people, and urges that unity should be sought through acknowledgement of diversity.

Excerpt

Caroline Humphrey Reader in Asian Anthropology, University of Cambridge

For the past fifty years studies of Mongolian society and culture have been dominated by three paradigms. This is not the place to describe them in detail, but to put Bulag's work in context let me characterize them briefly. One strand has been dominated by the historical geographical work of Owen Lattimore and his theory of the frontier zone. Mongolia and Manchuria were such zones, where over thousands of years waves of Russian and Chinese settlers created and re-created their own economic ways of life in a constantly changing relation with native pastoralists. A completely different view has been provided by orientalist scholars, predominantly German, Russian, Japanese, and British. Here the interest was in Mongolian culture and political history, which was approached almost entirely through manuscripts. The focus was on accurate recording and there was a tendency to abstain from overt theorization of any kind. The third, Marxist, perspective has been almost diametrically opposed to the second, since it brought in general theories of social evolution and class relations, setting aside the cultural insights to be obtained from Mongolian manuscripts as relevant only to the aristocracy and religious élite. In the context of these scholarly traditions, Bulag's book is a highly original achievement. It is the first monograph to investigate in a coherent way a series of a questions addressed separately earlier, and to attempt to go beyond what, with no disrespect, we can see as the scattered, haphazard offerings of 'Mongolian Studies'. Bulag addresses the political place occupied by Mongolia and Mongolians among the other peoples of Inner Asia, the relation to this of historically changing Mongolian culture, and the issues of class and ethnic categorization addressed by the Marxists.

It has been extraordinarily difficult to create an anthropology of Mongolia in the twentieth century. One reason is quite simple. For decades anthropologists and ethnographers were allowed only limited access to 'the field', and short visits outside the major cities were always carried out under conditions of supervision. This was the case in all three . . .

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