This page includes information that may not reflect the current views and values of the Penn Museum.

Mongolia Through Time
From the Paleolithic to Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan and the Great Mongolian Empire
Mongolia Under Foreign Domination
The Road to Independence
The Communist Period
From Communism to Democracy
Back to Main
Mongolia Under Foreign Domination
Three centuries of feud, division of the land into four princedoms, and struggle for power to rule the original Mongolian kingdom followed the collapse of the Mongolian Empire. In the middle of the 17th century, the Manchu's, a nomadic people from northeast China, wrested power from the Ming Dynasty of China and established the Qing Dynasty (1636). In 1691 the Manchu Dynasty officially took over the Halh (major Mongolian ethnic group) princedoms of Mongolia. By 1755, all Mongolian kingdoms fell under Manchu rule. *
The Manchu encouraged the spread of Tibetan Buddhism across Mongolia, using it as a tool against the Mongolian ruling class. The Manchurian ministries exploited the Mongolian population by imposing harsh military and civil services as well as agricultural taxes. They also terrorized the population with punishments in cases of disobedience. Meanwhile, from the capital city of Ih Huree, the Buddhist leader of Mongolia imposed his religious rule by recruiting young males for his monasteries and levying numerous taxes for religious ceremonies. Thus, the Mongolian nomads toiled under the dual oppression of foreign and domestic religious rules. Mongolian (Halh) princesses photographed in an Ih Huree studio ca. 1910, courtesy of the National Museum of Mongolian History.

"The Mongolians often rebelled against their Manchu rulers."

By the early 1900s, Mongolian society was divided into a strict hierarchy of social classes:

· At the top were the Manchu emperor and his administrators, located in Mongolia and China.
· Genghis Khan's descendants, the princes (noyon) and noblemen (taij) formed the Mongolian class of overlords, about 6% of the male population.
· Serfs, 17% of Mongolian males, served various masters - Manchu rulers, Mongolian overlords, and Buddhist lamas. Serfs paid taxes and provided free labor for one or more of these overlords. These services ranged from military duty to farming, herding, or housekeeping.
· Between the overlords and serfs was the commoner, or free class - herders, merchants, and public servants who ranged from poor to wealthy. Representing 27% of the male population, they owed fealty to no one but they did pay taxes.

The lamas were also organized into a hierarchy from the chief lama in Ih Huree, the Javzandamba, and high reincarnated lamas who owned many serfs to poor lamas who worked as clerks for the lamas of higher rank.


The high lama Manchir of Tusheet Khan Aimag. He later protested against the Chinese occupation of Mongolia (1919-21). Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Mongolian History.
While those at the top levels of society (religious and secular) lived very well, the commoners and serfs were impoverished by double or even triple taxation. The serfs also had to take time from their own work to perform free labor for their overlords.

The Mongolians often rebelled against their Manchu rulers. The largest revolt prior to the 20th century was led by Princes Amarsanaa and Chingunjav (1755-1758). * In the beginning of the 20th century, Ayuush led multiple revolts in the western province of Hovd.
back to main back to top