Reins of Liberation: An Entangled History of Mongolian Independence, Chinese Territoriality, and Great Power Hegemony, 1911-1950, by Xiaoyuan Liu. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2006. xxxii + 474 pp. US$65.00 (hardcover).
This book and a number of recent studies have attempted to give a more central role to the history of areas and peoples previously regarded as marginal. Its author, an historian at Iowa State University, explicitly assigns Mongolia and the Mongols a role at the centre of the "grand historic enterprise" (p. xviii) that has made up the modern history of China and northern Asia, rather than leaving them in an insignificant place at the margins of the Chinese and Soviet revolutions. Although the outline history of Mongolia and its place between the Soviet Union and China are well known, this book breaks new ground regarding the role of Mongolian independence in the power relations between the Soviet Union, China and others.
Xiaoyuan Liu has been thorough and innovative in his use of sources. Not only is there extensive use of scholarly and "reminiscent" material in English and Chinese, but the author has consulted archival and unpublished government sources from Russia, Taiwan, the People's Republic of China (PRC), the United Kingdom and the United States. The reminiscent sources include memories and comments from people who actually took part in the events as well as those observing from the side.
Some three-quarters of the book deal with the years from 1945 to 1950, just before and after the PRC was set up in October 1949. Several meetings took place between the new PRC and Soviet leaders that were to exercise a profound effect on the status of Mongolia. Of course, the best-known and possibly most important of these meetings were those between Mao Zedong and Stalin when Mao visited Moscow on his first trip outside China from midDecember 1949 to the beginning of March 1950.
For Mongolia four outcomes were possible. One was to retain the status quo, with the Mongolian People's Republic (MPR, Northern Mongolia) independent and Inner (or Southern) Mongolia part of China; a second was for both parts of Mongolia to unite as a single independent country; a third was for the MPR to become part of China, as it had been under the Qing; and finally it could become part of the Soviet Union. Under the Sino-Soviet Treaty, which Stalin reached with Chiang Kai-shek at the end of World War II, the Chinese government recognized MPR independence, subject to a referendum. As expected, the referendum of 1945 confirmed that independence enjoyed unanimous support among the Mongolian people.
During the Sino-Soviet negotiations, Mao raised the possibility that the MPR might join China, but never pushed it, eventually coming down firmly on the side of recognizing Mongolian independence, because that was what the Mongols wanted. In August 1949, the Mongolian leader Choibalsan, who died in 1952, suggested that the MPR might join the Soviet Union, but again did not push the idea. …