Mongolia | Facts and History

Mongolian riders at a festival
Mongolian horsemen. Jani Kajala on


Ulaan Baatar, population 1,300,000 (2014)

Mongolia takes pride in its nomadic roots; as befits this tradition, there are no other major cities in the country.

Mongolian Government

Since 1990, Mongolia has had a multiparty parliamentary democracy. All citizens over the age of 18 can vote.  The head of state is the President; executive power is shared with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister nominates the Cabinet, which is approved by the legislature.

The legislative body is called the Great Hural, made up of 76 deputies. Mongolia has a civil law system, based on the laws of Russia and continental Europe.  The highest court is the Constitutional Court, which hears primarily questions of constitutional law.

The current President is Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj. Chimediin Saikhanbileg is the Prime Minister.

Population of Mongolia

Mongolia's population is just under 3,042,500 (2014 estimate). An additional 4 million ethnic Mongols live in Inner Mongolia, which is now part of China.

94% of the population of Mongolia are ethnic Mongols, mainly from the Khalkha clan. About 9% of the ethnic Mongols come from the Durbet, Dariganga, and other clans.  5% of Mongolian citizens are members of Turkic peoples, primarily Kazakhs and Uzbeks. There are also tiny populations of other minorities, including Tuvans, Tungus, Chinese and Russians (less than 0.1% each).

Languages of Mongolia

Khalkha Mongol is the official language of Mongolia and the primary language of 90% of Mongolians. Others in common use include different dialects of Mongolian, Turkic languages (such as Kazakh, Tuvan, and Uzbek), and Russian.

Khalkha is written with the Cyrillic alphabet. Russian is the most commonly-used foreign language, although both English and Korean are gaining popularity.

Religion in Mongolia

The vast majority of Mongolians, 94% of the population, practice Tibetan Buddhism. The Gelugpa, or "Yellow Hat," school of Tibetan Buddhism gained prominence in Mongolia during the sixteenth century.

6% of the Mongolian population are Sunni Muslim, mainly members of the Turkic minorities.  2% of Mongolians are Shamanist, following the traditional belief system of the region. Mongolian Shamanists worship their ancestors and the clear blue sky. (The total is more than 100% because some Mongolians practice both Buddhism and Shamanism.)

Geography of Mongolia

Mongolia is a land-locked country sandwiched between Russia and China. It covers an area of about 1,564,000 square kilometers - roughly the size of Alaska.

Mongolia is known for its steppe lands, the dry, grassy plains that support the traditional Mongolian livestock-herding lifestyle. Some areas of Mongolia are mountainous, however, while others are desert.

The highest point in Mongolia is Nayramadlin Orgil, at 4,374 meters (14,350 feet). The lowest point is Hoh Nuur, at 518 meters (1,700 feet).

A tiny 0.76% of Mongolia is arable, with exactly 0% under permanent crop cover. Much of the land is used for grazing.

Climate of Mongolia

Mongolia has a harsh continental climate, with very little rainfall and wide seasonal temperature variations.

Winters are long and bitterly cold, with average temperatures in January hovering around -30 C (-22 F); in fact, Ulaan Bataar is the coldest and windiest nation capital on Earth. Summers are short and hot; most precipitation falls during the summer months.

Rain and snowfall totals are only 20-35 cm (8-14 inches) per year in the north and 10-20 cm (4-8 inches) in the south. Nevertheless, freak snowstorms sometimes drop more than a meter of snow, burying livestock.

Mongolian Economy

The economy of Mongolia depends upon mineral mining, livestock and animal products, and textiles. Minerals are a primary export, including copper, tin, gold, molybdenum, and tungsten.

Mongolia's per capita GDP in 2015 was estimated at $11,024 U.S. About 36% of the population lives below the poverty line.

The currency of Mongolia is the tugrik; $1 US = 2,030 tugriks. (April 2016)

History of Mongolia

Mongolia's nomadic people have at times hungered for goods from settled cultures - things like fine metal-work, silk cloth, and weapons. To get these items, the Mongols would unite and raid surrounding peoples.

The first great confederation was the Xiongnu, organized in 209 B.C. The Xiongnu were such a persistent threat to Qin Dynasty China that the Chinese began work on a massive fortification - the Great Wall of China.

In 89 A.D., the Chinese defeated the Northern Xiongnu at the Battle of Ikh Bayan; the Xiongnu fled west, eventually making their way to Europe. There, they became known as the Huns.

Other tribes soon took their place. First the Gokturks, then the Uighurs, the Khitans, and the Jurchens gained ascendancy in the region.

Mongolia's fractious tribes were united in 1206 A.D. by a warrior named Temujin, who became known as Genghis Khan. He and his successors conquered most of Asia, including the Middle East, and Russia.

The Mongol Empire's strength waned after the overthrow of their centerpiece, the Yuan Dynasty rulers of China, in 1368.

In 1691, the Manchus, founders of China's Qing Dynasty, conquered Mongolia. Although the Mongols of "Outer Mongolia" retained some autonomy, their leaders had to swear an oath of allegiance to the Chinese emperor.  Mongolia was a province of China between 1691 and 1911, and again from 1919 to 1921.

The present-day border between Inner (Chinese) Mongolia and Outer (independent) Mongolia was drawn in 1727 when Russia and China signed the Treaty of Khiakta.  As the Manchu Qing Dynasty grew weaker in China, Russia began to encourage Mongolian nationalism. Mongolia declared its independence from China in 1911 when the Qing Dynasty fell.

Chinese troops recaptured Outer Mongolia in 1919, while the Russians were distracted by their revolution. However, Moscow occupied Mongolia's capital at Urga in 1921, and Outer Mongolia became a People's Republic under Russian influence in 1924. Japan invaded Mongolia in 1939 but was thrown back by Soviet-Mongolian troops.

Mongolia joined the UN in 1961. At that time, relations between the Soviets and Chinese were souring rapidly. Caught in the middle, Mongolia tried to remain neutral. In 1966, the Soviet Union sent a large number of ground forces into Mongolia to face down the Chinese. Mongolia itself began to expel its ethnic Chinese citizens in 1983.

In 1987, Mongolia began to pull away from the USSR. It established diplomatic relations with the U.S., and saw large-scale pro-democracy protests in 1989-1990. The first democratic elections for the Great Hural were held in 1990, and the first presidential election in 1993.  In the two decades since Mongolia's peaceful transition to democracy began, the country has been developing slowly but steadily.