First half of twenty first century was Mongolian arduous struggle for independence. After declaration of independence in 1911 from Manchu Qing dynasty, Mongolia had faced forced treaties from Beiyang government of China and Tsarist Russia in 1915 at Khiagta, and subsequent temporary occupation in 1919. However, these Chinese forces had been defeated by White Russians, who in turn was ousted by Red Army of Russia.
In 1924, the country promulgated new constitution, and country name is adopted People’s Republic Mongolia [Bügd Nairamdakh Mongol Ard Uls]. In this wording, republic was translated into Bügd Nairamdakh Uls. But what does bügd nairamdakh mean? Does this convey the message of republic? If not what wording should we use? These issues would be addressed in this small article.
Image 1. Flag of Republic of China. (1912-28)
Republic is translated directly from Chinese characters 共和国 which stands literally “all, harmonious country”. This is exactly word by word “bügd nairamdakh uls” in Mongolian. First question is whom is harmonious with whom? Mongolia at that time was one ethnic group with different dialectics. Therefore, there was virtually no need of forming federal republic. However, for China it has different meaning. Under new government founded by Sun Yat-sen in 1912, China was trying to embrace all small ethnic groups within previous Manchu-Qing dynasty. In this sense, republic means Mongols, Tibetians, Chinese, Manchus and Uyghurs all harmoniously united as one country.
This was the beginning the aggressive and expansionist policy of China. The flag of republic China (1912-1949) has five colors: red for Chinese, yellow for Manchus, blue for Mongols, white for Uyghurs and finally black for Tibetans (Figure 1).
For Chinese to have one government, all harmonious existence of different ethnic groups was necessary. However, it was not the case of Mongolia as mentioned before Mongols are one ethnic group. So how should the translation republic in Mongolian?
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a republic is a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law. From this definition, I propose the “republic” should be translated as “country of citizens” or irgent uls similar to a kingdom, often translated as khaant uls.
A kingdom is ruled by kings or queens whereas country of citizens is ruled by its people. In Mongolian history of 20th, irgen uls generally notifies Republic of China (Dundad Irgen Uls), thus many people are hesitant to use irgen uls as for republic. However, I again argue that term irgen was not recent one.
The term was coined in Stele of Genghis Khagan which was erected around 1220s for commemorating the success of Yesunkei for his accuracy on archery. In this engraving “Chinggis khagan-i, sartagul irgen daguliju baguju khamug monggol ulus-un noyod-i..”. In this text we clearly see that “irgen” terminology was used.
Image 2. Stele of Genghis Khagan
Thus, even this simple translation of country name, there is deep reason to be cautious. Tracking the origin of the word is arduous journey where one could have done faced myriads of perils and confusion.