Category Archives: Mongolia

9th Bogd Khan Passes Away

In a way, the death of a lama who barely spent any time in Mongolia and is almost unknown globally is a small story even in Mongolia, and has relatively little relevance to China. In another way, this story is a continuation of the centuries-old power struggles between Tibet, Mongolia, and China- a struggle which is coming to have more and more relevance as Mongolia seeks to find a balance with China, and as China continues to try to eliminate the power of the Dalai Lama and other senior Tibetan leadership.

First, via Phayul, the obituary:

His Eminence the Ninth Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Dorjee Chang Jampel Namdrol Choekyi Gyaltsen, the spiritual head of the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and the spiritual head of Mongolia, passed away earlier today at 5.58am (IST) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. He was 80.

The Central Tibetan Administration expressed deep sadness at the demise of Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa and convened a special prayer service to pray for his speedy reincarnation. As a mark of respect, offices of the CTA remained closed following the prayer service.

At seven, the Late Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa entered Gomang college of Drepung Monastery in Tibet and received Rabjung vows from Reting Rinpoche, following which he studied philosophy for the next fourteen years.

At the age of 21, the Late Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa left Gomang to engage in a series of Chod meditations, living the life of a yogi, while on pilgrimage to the holy sites of Tibet.

After the Chinese armed occupation of Tibet in 1959, the Late Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa left Tibet and escaped into exile in India.

After the collapse of Soviet Union and the new-found religious freedom in Mongolia, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave an official recognition and acknowledgement to the Ninth Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa as the spiritual head of Buddhism in Mongolia through the Department of Religious Affairs (now the Department of Religion and Culture), CTA in 1991.

Only last fall did he return to Mongolia, which is certainly an interesting timing. Did he go specifically so that there’s a recent precedent for the Bogd Khan to live in Ulaan Baatar, so that his successor will go straight there and serve to strengthen ties between Mongolia and Tibet, much to China’s displeasure?

Alicia Campi has a story in The Jamestown Foundation about the bigger picture:

The mid-November 2011 surprise four-day visit to Mongolia of the 14th Dalai Lama reignited simmering Chinese worries about how the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader is using and is being used by its northern neighbor and important mineral trade partner. From China’s perspective, the Dalai Lama’s Mongolian visit, appearing in the guise of a purely private matter to promote his teachings, actually is intertwined with Northeast Asian mineral resources politics as well as interference in Tibetan affairs—thus a deliberate ratcheting up of anti-Chinese sentiment along its borders. From the Dalai Lama’s perspective, who has made eight trips to Mongolia (the last in 2006), that nation increasingly is seen as an answer to how to handle the sticky question of his own succession and how to wrest it from the control of the Chinese government.

Last year saw a quiet series of chess moves involving the Dalai Lama and Mongolia leading up to his November visit. First, there were many months of speculation in the Mongolian popular press—which were never officially denied by the Mongolian Government—that the Dalai Lama would be visiting the country to discuss his permanent move there upon his retirement from public office in March of last year. Next, His Holiness appeared surrounded by some 30 Mongolian lamas, who had specially flown in from Ulaanbaatar, at his July 6, 2011 birthday celebration at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC and at his July 9th public talk about world peace on the West Capitol Lawn.

The gamesmanship surrounding the Mongolian visit is obvious. The Office of the Mongolian President secretly drafted the invitation to the Dalai Lama and authorized the issuance of his visa by its Delhi Embassy. The Mongolian trip, however, was not announced publicly by the Dalai Lama Office’s spokesman until November 6th, on the eve of his arrival. It is clear that the Japanese Government was involved in maintaining the secrecy by facilitating the air travel of the Tibetan religious leader on a special Mongolian Airlines (MIAT) plane from Tokyo to Ulaanbaatar. The Chinese learned about the visit only after His Holiness’ November 7th arrival in Mongolia was carried by the Mongolian TV channels and welcoming billboards in Mongolian and English had sprung up in the capital.

At a concluding press conference, it was stressed that the visit was purely religious and without any political agenda. The head abbot of Gandan monastery Demberel Choijamtsa said, “Mongols revered and worshiped His Holiness for a long time. Buddhist believers and monks and nuns were waiting for his arrival… Faith and religion in democratic society is free, this is why His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, has been invited to visit our country two-three months earlier.”

With the end of Mongolia’s communist era in 1990, the 9th Bogd returned several times to the country, but only obtained Mongolian citizenship and the right to live in Mongolia in 2010, because of the support of Mongolian President Elbegdorj, a committed Buddhist. His enthronement prompted wide public attention and controversy in Mongolia, resulting in a lawsuit against Gandan monastery in the Supreme Court. The Dalai Lama’s presence in Ulaanbaatar so soon after the enthronement was a clear indication of his religious approval for the 9th Bogd, whose primary duties are to act as the spiritual head of Mongolian Buddhism and to continue with the preservation and revival of Mongolian customs and traditions. The 9th Bogd’s position also was openly supported by the Mongolian Government.

With China now the main foreign investor for Mongolia’s booming, mining-dependent economy and some 90 percent of its exports going to China in 2011, some expected that Ulaanbaatar would be an even riper target for Chinese retaliation this time.

The Mongolian political and national security establishment calculated that the economics of the issue was not so simple, since the majority of bilateral trade now involves Mongolian rich mineral deposits in copper, coal and gold that flow to northern Chinese factories for refining and use in the booming Chinese economy. When deliberating the risks involved in allowing the Dalai Lama’s visit, Mongolia guessed correctly that any disruption to the flow of these raw materials would be considered more destructive to China than to Mongolia and so, in all likelihood, would not happen. Mongolian mining companies based near the Chinese border in fact did not report any disruptions to border transport connected with the visit.

If the Dalai Lama decides to “retire” to Mongolia for long religious retreats as he has suggested he might, or if his next reincarnation is discovered on Mongolian soil, the Mongols may now believe their booming mineral-based economy will continue to protect them from serious Chinese retaliation. Concurrently, the Dalai Lama himself has been able to use his relationship with the Mongols to promote confusion and concern in Beijing over how to manage the situation without causing major self-inflicting wounds.

The entire thing is intriguing, and I’m sure this isn’t going to be the last we hear of Sino-Tibetan-Mongolian relations. We’ll probably start to hear about the beginning of efforts to identify the next Bogd Khan in a few months, and a child will likely be chosen within two or so years.

It’s also nice to see that the government of Mongolia, a country dwarfed in nearly every way by neighboring China, is less afraid to embrace the Dalai Lama than nearly every Western country, despite their greater clout and distance.

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“Mongolia Enthrones 9th Bogd Khan”

The original title of this article from was a little misleading- the Bogd Khan isn’t the Dalai Lama of Mongolia, the Dalai Lama himself is the Dalai Lama of Mongolia. The Bogd Khan, rather, is the highest Tibetan Buddhist lama in the traditionally Tibetan Buddhist country of Mongolia. They have functioned as political and spiritual leaders of Mongolia in the past, and the long break in their lineage, caused by Soviet-era politics, is finally over:

Mongolia has confirmed the ninth Bogd Jebttsundamba Khutughtus in a ceremony at the Gandantegchinlin Monastery in Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolia’s Bogd Khans date back to the 1600s, when the first Bogd, the renowned artist monk Zanabazar, was recognized as such by the then-Panchen Lama and Dalai Lama of Tibet. Zanabazar remains a highly regarded figure in Mongolia, with an entire museum dedicated to his works. He was a superb craftsman, creating many priceless bronze carvings of Buddhas, and also invented (taking the form of written Uyghur script as the base) the first version of modern Mongolian written language – much of which is still in use today.

The Bogd Khans operated as defacto kings of Mongolia as well as the most senior cleric up until 1924, when the eighth Bogd Khan passed away. By then, Mongolia had become under the control of the Soviet Union, who promptly banned any further reincarnations of the lineage.

However, in 1936, the Tibetan regent Reting Rinpoche, acting during the gap between reincarnations of Dalai Lama’s in Tibet, recognized a four-year-old boy, Jampal Namdol Choiji Jantsan as the reincarnation of the eight Bogd, near to Lhasa. Due the complicated political situation at the time, his discovery was kept a secret, although the boy was educated as a Monk in the Potala Palace. When the current Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, the boy travelled with him and has been based with him in Dharamsala ever since.

However, with the withdrawal of Russian troops from Mongolia in 1987, and the emergence of a democratic Mongolia, the political tide began to turn in favor of the return of the Bogd Khan to Mongolia. After agreements to separate politics from religion (unlike the situation in China), the Bogd Khan was able to travel to Mongolia for the first time in 1999, and eventually obtained Mongolian citizenship last year. He is now permanently based in the Gandantegchinlin Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, with a new center of Buddhism and a new Palace having been under construction for the past two years. The Bogd Khans official duties are to act as the spiritual head of Mongolian Buddhism and to continue with the preservation and revival of Mongolian customs and traditions.

The ceremony to reinstall the Bogd Khan as the ninth incumbent was carried out last month, and he was presented with the ancient and traditional golden seal of religion and confirmation papers. Although now aged 79, his return marks the end of an 87-year-old gap of Bogd Khans residing in Mongolia, and the new Bogd Khan has already suggested his reincarnation will be discovered in the country.

The enthronement of the ninth Bogd Khan is in direct contradiction to the position taken by China towards the Dalai Lama, who the Communist Party regard as “splittist” and do not manage to be able to separate as being the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism from involvement in political affairs.

It seems likely that Tibetan Buddhist clergy will continue to try and restore their influence in Mongolia, both as a religion and to potentially recover an historically important ally in the region.

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“Group Charges Cover-Up”

Via RFA we have a take on a story from yesterday- it looks like another ethnic Mongolian has been killed in Inner Mongolia. I’m torn on whether or not this’ll spark more protests there, because although the wounds from this summer will still be fresh, so too will the paramilitary police presence still be elevated:

A human rights group on Monday accused the Chinese authorities of trying to cover up the death of an ethnic Mongolian herdsman hit by an oil truck as he was protesting the destruction of traditional grazing land in Inner Mongolia.

“With apparent nervousness, the Chinese authorities are attempting to control public opinion through their Internet police system,” the U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), which closely monitors the human rights situation in China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia.

It identified the man who died on Thursday as Zorigt, saying the herder was an active part of a community trying to protect their grasslands—the heartland of Mongol culture—in Huhtolgoi Gachaa in Uushin (in Chinese, Uxin) Banner (county).

The herdsmen “have been struggling to protect their land and livestock from unregulated Chinese oil and gas transport trucks that drive roughshod through their grazing lands and kill livestock,” the SMHRIC said.

“During a number of confrontations between the local Mongolian herders and the Shuurhei Oil-Gas Field transporters, Zorigt and others were beaten and hospitalized several times previously,” it alleged.

China’s official news agency Xinhua said Zorigt’s death on Thursday was caused by a “traffic accident,” saying the truck driver, named Li Youliang, saw a man, whose name was given in Chinese as Zhaorigetu, blocking the road.

But the SMHRIC charged that Xinhua tried “to prevent possible unrest by the Mongolians” and “preemptively reported on the event, calling it a ‘traffic accident.'”

But it said that the same report, in an apparent contradiction, also revealed that “the driver has already been taken into custody by the Uushin Banner Public Security Bureau in accordance with the law for his involvement in a ‘crime of traffic disturbance’”.

The report, it said, has “disappeared” from other major domestic Chinese language Internet news sites, where it had been republished.

Citing unconfirmed reports, the SMHRIC also said that the case is being handled “swiftly and quietly” by a special task force dispatched from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security in a bid to prevent new unrest among Mongolians.

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“The Xinhai Revolution and Counter Revolution on the Frontiers of Republican China”

Awesome historian Tsering Shakya on the significance of the Xinhai Revolution for minorities on the edge of Qing China:

The Xinhai Revolution of 1911 and the subsequent founding of the republic sought to remould China as being composed of five nationalities: Han, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan, and Uyghur. This vision of a multi-ethnic nation had no appeal to Tibetans and Mongols. In divergent ways, the Xinhai Revolution created an opportunity for China, Tibet, and Mongolia to create a modern nation state.

The revolution profoundly impacted China’s frontier regions. China’s authority disappeared, particularly from Tibet and Mongolia. Tibetans and Mongolians saw the overthrow of Manchu rule as an opportunity to free themselves from Qing colonialism. In the aftermath of the 1911 revolution, Tibet and Mongolia declared independence and became de facto independent states, remaining so until the mid-20th century. But only Mongolia achieved full recognition as a separate state while Tibet failed.

Independence from China brought Jazandamba, the Bodg Khan (spiritual and secular ruler), to power in a theocratic Mongolian government in the 1910s. Mongolian leaders shared the modernist goal of the Chinese revolutionaries and viewed traditional social structure as an impediment to modern nation status. Later Mongolian revolutionaries embraced the idea of the radical transformation of society and in 1921 became the first Asian country to declare a Communist revolution. Mongolia turned towards the Soviet Union in a strategic and ideological alliance.

Tibet, after expelling all vestiges of Manchu rule, became isolationist and any demand for social change was aggressively resisted. The death of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1933 left Tibet without leadership and plunged its ruling class into a power struggle, which further blinded them from developments occurring in China.

Between 1911 and 1949, the new regime in China was preoccupied with internal politics and faced resistance from Tibetans and Mongols. China was unable to reassert power in these two regions. Mongolia’s Communist revolution afforded Mongolians the protection of the Soviet Union and ensured its independence. Tibet remained independent of China’s rule between 1911 and 1950, although it never achieved de jure recognition.

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On the Mongolian Dalai Lama Rumor

We still haven’t heard any confirmation of the report published in a Mongolian newspaper claiming that a Mongolian boy has been identified as the 15th Dalai Lama. Right now I’d like to get some thoughts out, though. If confirmed, this will be pretty big news.

First, a Mongolian Dalai Lama wouldn’t be strange at all, despite how it appears. Mongolia was traditionally a stronghold of Tibetan Buddhism, which flourished there after the conversion of Altan Khan in the 1570’s. Prior to the decades spent as a Soviet satellite state huge monasteries contained a large percentage of the overall Mongolian population. The title ‘Dalai Lama’ itself was first bestowed by Altan Khan himself, and the fourth Dalai Lama (1601-1617) was ethnically Mongolian. Other historical Mongolian high lamas include a close advisor of the 13th Dalai Lama and the debate master at Drepung Monastery who administered the first of the present Dalai Lama’s final exams.

Second, how about the issue of selecting the next Dalai Lama while the current one is still alive? Traditionally they wait until the current Dalai has passed away and then begin preparations for finding his successor, and even then it would normally take a few years before one candidate was selected and confirmed. I’m sure some Buddhist theological justification will be presented if this turns out to be true, but off-hand I’d liken this to some lineages in Bhutan, whose version of Buddhism is extremely closely related to Tibetan Buddhism. There you can have multiple people counted as incarnations of the same Buddha, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that has been done in some Tibetan lineages as well. It might be unusual for a Dalai Lama, but certainly still possible.

Third, this would fit with hints the Dalai Lama has dropped over the years, and with what we know of Dharamsala’s overall strategy for Tibetan Buddhism. In a number of interviews from the last two or three years he’s mused out loud about the possibility of finding a successor while he’s still alive, and said that the child would almost certainly have been born outside of China (and Chinese-controlled Tibet). We’ve also seen some indication that the Dalai Lama and his advisors would like to restore Tibetan Buddhist practice in countries where it has suffered over the last century, and the selection of a Mongolian child would likely garner a lot of interest in Mongolia- and draw Mongolia closer to the Tibetan cause. Historically Mongolia was a major partner in Sino-Tibetan relations, and a treaty of mutual recognition between Tibet and Mongolia was one of the few instances of Tibetan diplomacy with the outside world following the 13th Dalai Lama’s declaration of independence from China. Perhaps Dharamsala would like to see Ulan Batar restored as an ally again.

Finally, there’s China. Obviously the real reason any of this is even being considered is because Beijing has made it clear that they intend to interfere with the selection of the 15th Dalai Lama. From the Panchen Lama affair we can see how they’ll do it- disappear any child identified by legitimate Tibetan Buddhist leaders, and install their own at a ceremony in the Jokhang using all the trappings of Buddhism they can muster. Their Panchen Lama will be the linchpin of the entire thing, the ‘proof’ they provide of the validity of their choice. That he himself is viewed as a ‘fake’ Panchen by the Tibetan public is immaterial because Beijing could care less about what they think- meddling with the selection of these senior lamas is just a way to deprive the Tibet movement of leadership.

This move could take a lot of wind out of their sails. They’ll complain about it loudly at the time, and have their puppets in the media and Tibet provincial government do so as well in the strongest terms. But when the Dalai Lama does eventually pass away and the Chinese government selects their fake Dalai, they won’t get much out of it if Tibetans and the rest of the world have all been settled on the identity of the next one for years. The loss of the 14th will certainly be a blow to the movement- but with elected leadership like Mr. Sangay, charismatic religious figures like the Karmapa, and a young Dalai Lama already working together it’ll be impossible for Beijing to declare victory on that day.

The unconventional selection method might not win everyone over, but if it’s true this might be a pretty shrewd play by Dharamsala. Presumably we’ll know for sure some time soon.

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