Mongolian People’s Republic

Flag of Mongolian People’s Republic
Flag of Mongolian People’s Republic

During the Q'ing (Ching) dynasty in China (1644–1911) Mongolia had been a part of the Chinese Empire under a theocratic government, with the ruler, the Jebtzun Damba (Living Buddha), acknowledged as the Bogd Khan (Holy King). During the Chinese revolution of 1911, the status of Mongolia was briefly in doubt until in May 1915 the Treaty of Kyakhta, signed by Chinese, Russian, and Mongolian officials, granted Mongolia limited autonomy.

During the Russian Revolution in October 1917 and the subsequent Russian Civil War, Xu Shucheng (Hsü Shu-Cheng), a Chinese warlord, sent his soldiers into the area and captured Urga (modern-day Ulan Bator) in 1919. Two years later the White Russians were decisively defeated in western Russia, retreated to Siberia, and took over Mongolia, occupying Urga on February 4.

Seeing the White Russians as a potential long-term army of occupation, some Mongolians contacted the Bolsheviks. This allowed the Mongolians under Damdin Sükhbaatar to take over Urga with the aid of Russian Communists.


Soon afterward the White Russian leader, Baron von Ungern-Sternberg, who claimed to be a reincarnation of Genghis Khan, was shot, and Sükhbaatar helped form the Mongolian People's Party, the first political party in the country, with Soliyn Danzan as the first chairman of the party's central committee.

Sükhbaatar met Vladimir Lenin in November 1921, and in January 1922 serfdom was abolished throughout Mongolia. These moves gave great impetus to the proclamation of the Mongolian People's Republic on November 26, 1924, making it the second Communist nation in the world. The capital was then renamed Ulan Bator (Red Hero).

Map of Mongolia
Map of Mongolia

After the death of Lenin, Joseph Stalin was initially more anxious to assert his control over the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, allowing Mongolia some independence. However, by the late 1920s Stalin began to assert some control over the country through the renamed Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party. Stalin eventually found a willing ally in Khorloogiin Choibalsan (or Choybalsan).

Born in 1895 at Tsetsenkhan Aimak, a village near a town that bears his name, Choibalsan was a monk who turned to politics. He had been a leader in a pro-Communist Mongolian revolutionary group as early as October 1919 and had supported Sükhbaatar's formation of the Mongolian People's Party. When the Bogd Khan died in May 1924, Choibalsan did not allow the discovery of his new reincarnation to take place.

In that year Choibalsan became commander in chief of the Mongolian army, a post he held until 1928, and he was appointed chairman of the presidium of the state little hural (the parliament) in January 1929. In 1930 Choibalsan became the minister of foreign affairs. Choibalsan helped introduce land reform, and land seized from landlords was handed over to peasants or turned into cooperatives.

Mongolia national dress
Mongolia national dress

On December 27, 1933, the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo officially claimed sovereignty over Mongolia. The Japanese were anxious to expand their control in the region, and several Mongolian princes had been persuaded to move to Japan many years earlier.

One of them, Prince Kanjurab, had been married to Yoshiko Kawashima, a member of the Qing (Ch'ing) imperial family and a Japanese agent who was rapidly emerging as one of the most powerful people in Manchukuo.

In November 1934 the chairman of the council of people's commissars, Peljidiyn Genden, negotiated a military alliance between Mongolia and the Soviet Union. Soon afterward Genden was executed, suspected of being a Japanese spy.

Mongolian camp
Mongolian camp

Choibalsan became marshal in 1936 and in 1939 took Genden's position as the chairman of the council of people's commissars, which became the council of ministers in 1946.

In 1939 Choibalsan signed a Soviet-Mongolian mutual assistance treaty, sending Mongolian soldiers to help the Red Army when they faced the Japanese in several engagements along the Soviet Union's border with Japanese-occupied China.

It was the stiff resistance that the Japanese faced at the Battle of Halhyn-gol that convinced the Japanese high command not to attack the Soviet Union but to proceed with plans to invade Southeast Asia.

steppes of mongolia
steppes of mongolia

In 1944 the small autonomous state of Tannu Tuva decided to officially become a part of the Soviet Union. Most of its people were Mongolian. Salchack Toka, the nominal leader of Tannu Tuva, met Choibalsan to try to persuade him to bring Mongolia into the Soviet Union.

However, Choibalsan refused. He even sent 80,000 Mongolian soldiers into Inner Mongolia hoping to exploit the Japanese military weaknesses toward the end of the Pacific war but was forced to withdraw them after demands from the Soviet Union on behalf of its Chinese Communist allies.

At Yalta in February 1945, the United States and Great Britain agreed that Mongolia should belong to the Soviet sphere of influence—in the previous year U.S. vice president Henry Wallace had visited Ulan Bator. A plebiscite was held on October 20, 1946, in which nearly all the people voted for Mongolian "independence."

Nationalist China was forced to waive any claims to Mongolia and recognized the Mongolian People's Republic on January 5, 1946. Choibalsan died on January 26, 1952. Choibalsan is commemorated by a town in eastern Mongolia built during his rule in his honor, and also Choibalsan State University, founded in Ulan Bator in 1942.