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Home > Advanced Meditation > Ka°| lachakra > Exploitation of the Shambhala Legend for Control of Mong°| olia

Exploitation of the Shambhala Legend for Control of Mong°| olia

April 2003
Alexander Berzin

The Division of Mong°| olia by Foreign Conquerors

The Manchus, Chi°| nese, Russians, and Japanese have long competed for control of Northeast Asia, particularly of the Mong°| ol regions. Since the days of Chinggis Khan and the Mong°| ol Empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, all the nearby regional powers saw the Mong°| ols as a potentially dangerous military force. It needed to be either neutralized by preventing Mong°| ol un°| ification or harnessed by promoting that un°| ification.

The Manchus created the division of Mong°| olia into Outer and Inner portions in 1636, when they captured Inner Mong°| olia and used it as a base for their conquest of Chi°| na and establishment of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). After winning control of Outer Mong°| olia in 1691, the Manchus maintained the artificial division of Outer and Inner to prevent the Mong°| ols from uniting against them. In 1729, Russia conquered and annexed Buryatia, the Mong°| ol region north of Outer Mong°| olia, near Lake Baikal, further weakening Mong°| ol un°| ification.

The Start of Chi°| nese-Russian-Japanese Rivalry in Northeast Asia

With the progressive decline of the Qing Dynasty in the second half of the nineteenth century, various powers sought to take advantage and expand their poli°| tical and commercial empires. They included not only European nations such as Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal, but also Asian powers. Let us look at the struggle between Russia and Japan over Manchuria, Mong°| olia's neighbor to the east. Manchuria occupied a strategic position not only because of its ice-free ports on its southern coast along the Bohai Gulf, but also because it served the Qing emperors as a base for controlling Mong°| olia.

[ View Map.]

The Japanese gained the Liaodong Peninsula of southern Manchuria, with Port Arthur (Dalian, Darien) at its tip, with their victory in the Sino-Japanese W°| ar of 1894-1895. In 1896, Czar Nicholas II forged an alliance with Chi°| na against Japan and won the right to extend the Trans-Siberian railway through northern Manchuria to connect with the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok. In so doing, Russia gained nominal control of northern Manchuria. Subsequently, through intense pressure from Russia and Chi°| na, the Japanese withdrew from southern Manchuria.

At the other side of the mouth of the Bohai Gulf, opposite Port Arthur, lay the Shandong Peninsula. After Germany seized its major port, Qingdao (Tsingtao), in 1897, Russia demanded further concessions from the Chi°| nese Government. She was given control of Port Arthur and its Manchurian hinterland in 1898, and promptly connected it by rail to Vladivostok. Japan looked on uneasily, anxious to reestablish a power base on the Asian mainland.

The Russo-Japanese W°| ar broke out over Manchuria in 1904. When the Japanese won in 1905, the Treaty of Portsmouth granted to them a long-term lease to Port Arthur, similar to what Britain had secured over Hong Kong and the New Territories with the Second Convention of Peking in 1898. The Japanese and Russians both agreed to restore Manchuria to Chi°| nese control, but looked on for any opportunity to take it once more. In 1910, Japan seized and annexed Korea, which bordered the Liaodong Peninsula to the east.

The Start of Mong°| olian-Japanese Friendship

In 1911, on the eve of the Chi°| nese Nationalist Revo°| lution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty, the Eighth Jebtsundamba declared the inde°| pendence of Outer Mong°| olia from Chi°| na. The Jebtsundambas (Bogdo Khans) were the traditional Bu°| ddhist s°| piritual and poli°| tical leaders of Mong°| olia, found through re°| incarnation in the same manner as the {D.} La°| mas of Ti°| bet. Pressure from Russia and Chi°| na, however, forced the Jebtsundamba to accept autonomy under the new Chi°| nese Nationalist Government in 1912, with Russian assistance to maintain that status.

Taking advantage of the new situation in Chi°| na, the Japanese soon extended its control of Port Arthur and Korea to southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mong°| olia. In 1914, Russia allied with England against Germany and Turkey in the First World W°| ar. Preoccupied in Europe, Russia signed the Khiakta Treaty of 1914-1915 with Chi°| na, reaffirming Chi°| nese suzerainty over Outer Mong°| olia, and acquiesced to Japan's expansion on the Asian mainland.

Meanwhile, Japan joined the w°| ar on the Allied side and seized the German holdings on the Shandong Peninsula. In the Twenty-one Demands signed between Japan and Chi°| na in 1915, Chi°| na acknowledged Japan's takeover of Shandong and recognized Japanese authority over southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mong°| olia.

After the 1917 Russian Revo°| lution, Lenin tore up the noninterference treaties concerning Mong°| olia that the Czar had previously signed with Chi°| na. He hoped to spread Co°| mmunism throughout Asia. The continuing world w°| ar and the outbreak of civil w°| ar in Russia, particularly in Siberia, prevented his immediate move.

The Jebtsundamba disliked both the Chi°| nese and the Russians. He wished, instead, to establish a Greater Mong°| olia that would extend from Buryatia in Siberia to Inner Mong°| olia and northwestern Manchuria. Of the military powers in the region, the Jebtsundamba preferred Japan as the patron and protector of his envisioned state. Japan, after all, was a Bu°| ddhist country. The Japanese, in turn, were anxious to extend their sphere of influence in Northeast Asia to all of Mong°| olia. Thus, in 1918, the Japanese founded a Japanese-Mong°| ol Bu°| ddhist Association and supported the plan for a Greater Mong°| olia.

The Establishment of Co°| mmunism in Mong°| olia

At the end of 1919, several Mong°| ol princes, under intense pressure from the Chi°| nese and without the consent of the Jebtsundamba, renounced the autonomous status of Outer Mong°| olia and submitted themselves to Chi°| nese rule. Subsequently, Chi°| nese intervention increased in Mong°| olia, on the pretext of protecting it from Soviet aggression and from the Japanese-supported pan-Mong°| olia movement.

Two Mong°| ol groups asked for Soviet help in ousting the Chi°| nese and establishing some form of Mong°| olian autonomy. One was the Mong°| olian People's Party led by Sukhe Batur. It wanted to establish a Co°| mmunist government in full alliance with the Soviet Union. The other was the conservative faction of the Jebtsundamba. Korea had just recently proclaimed its inde°| pendence from Japan. Since the Japanese military was preoccupied with repressing the Korean inde°| pendence movement, the Jebtsundamba could not turn to Japan for help. Eventually, the two Mong°| olian groups compromised, with Sukhe Batur accepting the Jebtsundamba as a constitutional monarch.

Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, a German nobleman whose family had settled in Russia, had interest in Bu°| ddhism from his youth. He was also notoriously cruel and a fanatic anti-Bolshevist. In late 1920, after fighting the Bolsheviks in Siberia, he invaded Outer Mong°| olia with a White Russian (Czarist) army, with the encouragement of the Japanese. The Chi°| nese had imprisoned the Jebtsundamba in the Mong°| olian capital, Urga (Ulaan Baatar), and Ungern went on a holy mission to free him.

Ungern supported the idea of a Greater Mong°| olia, backed by the Japanese. Thus, after taking Urga in early 1921, he restored the Jebtsundamba to the throne. The Mong°| ol ruler declared his liberator the incarnation of the wrathful protector Jamsarang (Jamsing). Ungern then proceeded to slaughter all Chi°| nese, collaborator Mong°| ols, Bolshevik Russians, and Jews he could find. He believed that all Jews were Bolsheviks.

Sukhe Batur established the Mong°| olian Co°| mmunist Provisional Government while still in Buryatia and led a Mong°| ol army against the so-called "White Baron," also known as the "Mad Baron." Exploiting the Mong°| ols' fa°| ith in Ka°| lachakra, the co°| mmunist commanders rallied their troops by twisting its teachings and telling them that by fighting to free Mong°| olia from op°| pression, they would be reb°| orn in the army of Shambhala. With the help of the Soviet Red Army, Sukhe Batur took Urga in late 1921 and severely limited the authority of the Jebtsundamba. Subsequently, Soviet troops stayed in Urga until 1924. The Japanese were forced to keep their distance, but only for the moment.

Ungern was killed by his own troops in 1922. Sukhe Batur died in 1923, Lenin early in 1924, and the Jebtsundamba later in 1924. The declaration of the People's Republic of Mong°| olia followed shortly thereafter. The regime continued its policy of exploiting the Shambhala legend for eliminating any rivals for power. Thus, the Mong°| olian Co°| mmunist Party Congress of 1925 announced that the Jebtsundamba would not incarnate again with the same rel°| igious and poli°| tical status as before. Rather, he would be reb°| orn as General Hanumant in Shambhala. For verification of their claim, they said they would consult with the {D.} La°| ma, though it is doubtful that they ever did.

The Shambhala W°| ar

At first, the Mong°| olian Co°| mmunist regime tolerated Bu°| ddhism, since m°| onasic leaders such as Darva Bandida advocated a return to early Bu°| ddhist principles of simplicity. Similar to the Revival of Fa°| ith Movement led by the Buryats in the Soviet Union, the Mong°| ol mon°| k tried to reconcile Bu°| ddhism with Co°| mmunist theory. The Buryat scholar Jamsaranov supported the Bandida (Pandit) in his efforts and, from 1926, the Pure Bu°| ddhism and Renewal Movements gained impetus in Mong°| olia.

Stalin took control of the Soviet Union in 1928. When he began his collectivization and anti-rel°| igion campaigns in 1929, the Mong°| ol Co°| mmunist regime followed suit. In 1929, the Seventh Party Congress condemned the Bu°| ddhist reconciliation movements and formally forbade the installation of a ninth Jebtsundamba, although the re°| incarnation had been found in Ti°| bet. Inspired by Stalin's example, the Party went even further and, from 1930 to 1932, enforced a policy of fanatic collectivization and persecution of rel°| igion. Many mon°| ks, supported by Buryat intellectuals who had fled to Mong°| olia to avoid Stalin's policies, reb°| elled. Some sought the help of the Pan°| chen La°| ma.

Since 1924, the Ninth Pan°| chen La°| ma had been in Chi°| na because of a dispute with the Thirteenth {D.} La°| ma. The Pan°| chen La°| ma was insisting on relative autonomy from Lhasa, exemption from taxes, and the right to have his own armed forces. The Chi°| nese Nationalist Government had provided him with soldiers, but the {D.} La°| ma would not let him return to Ti°| bet, suspicious of Chi°| nese intentions. The Mong°| ol rebels asked the Pan°| chen La°| ma to invade Mong°| olia with his Chi°| nese army, liberate their people from Co°| mmunism, secure their northern border against the Soviets, and, under Chi°| nese suzerainty, install the Ninth Jebtsundamba. They likened the Pan°| chen La°| ma and his Chi°| nese troops to the King of Shambhala and his brave army, who would defeat the barbarian forces. Although the Pan°| chen La°| ma sent a letter approving the revolt, he never went to Mong°| olia or sent military support. Nevertheless, the reb°| ellion and ensuing savage battles took the name "The Shambhala War."

Meanwhile, Japan attacked northern Chi°| na in 1931 and, in 1932, established Manchukuo from the territory it had been controlling in Manchuria and eastern Inner Mong°| olia for many years. Stalin was paranoid that Japan would use Bu°| ddhism to penetrate further in Asia by making a common cause with the Bu°| ddhists in Buryatia and Outer Mong°| olia. Thus, he dispatched the Soviet army to Mong°| olia in 1932, not only to quash the reb°| ellion and end the Shambhala W°| ar, but also to correct the "leftist deviation" of the Mong°| olian Co°| mmunist Party. Under Soviet direction, the Party enacted a New Turn Policy from 1932 to 1934, easing off on its persecution of Bu°| ddhism. They even allowed the reopening of a number of m°| onaseries. Stalin felt that if he alienated the Bu°| ddhists too much, they would turn more readily to Japan. Bu°| ddhism in Mong°| olia, however, did not recover.

Japanese Efforts to Woo Mong°| olia

In 1934, Kirov, Stalin's second-in-command, was murdered. His assassination led to the Great Purges of 1934-1938 to eliminate all anti-Stalin elements. The purges extended to Mong°| olia and to the Bu°| ddhists there. When border skirmishes broke out in 1935 between the Japanese forces in Manchukuo and the Soviet troops in Mong°| olia, Stalin accused the high la°| mas in Buryatia and Mong°| olia of collaborating with the Japanese.

To win the support of the Mong°| ols, the Japanese were using the time-proven method of claiming that Japan was Shambhala. They proposed to reinstate the Ninth Jebtsundamba in Urga, with sanction from Lhasa, so that he could act as a rallying point for a pan-Mong°| ol movement that would include Buryatia. In 1937, Japan captured the rest of Inner Mong°| olia and northern Chi°| na. Stalin accused the Buryat and Mong°| ol high la°| mas of spreading the Japanese propaganda about Shambhala and carried out even further-reaching purges and destruction of m°| onaseries.

In 1939, the Japanese invaded Outer Mong°| olia, but suffered defeat by the combined Soviet and Mong°| olian armies. From that time onward, the Japanese turned their attention southward to Indochi°| na and the Pacific. Stalin was now unchallenged in completing the repression of Bu°| ddhism in the Soviet Union and Outer Mong°| olia. When the Soviet forces "liberated" Manchukuo from the Japanese in 1945, Stalin extended his persecution of Bu°| ddhism there as well. Thus, long before Co°| mmunist Chi°| nese rule, Stalin already had destroyed most of the Bu°| ddhist m°| onaseries of Manchuria and eastern Inner Mong°| olia. Bu°| ddhism never recovered in the area.