Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Shadow Walker

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The Shadow Walker

by Michael Walters

The Shadow Walker by Michael Walters
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    Aug 2008, 352 pages

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Beth Hemke Shapiro

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A Short History of Mongolia

Mongolia (map) is located in Northern Asia between China and Russia. It should not be confused with the Mongol autonomous region of the People's Republic of China (known as Inner Mongolia), which is located in the north of China, bordering southern Mongolia.

The name 'Mongol' was first recorded by the Chinese during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD). Until the 12th century, the region consisted of loose confederations of rival clans, then a 20-year-old Mongol named Temujin (better known as Genghis Khan meaning "Universal King") united most of the tribes. By the time of his death in 1227, the Mongol empire extended from Beijing to the Caspian Sea. Genghis' grandson, Kublai Khan, completed the subjugation of China, ending the Song dynasty (960-1279) and becoming emperor of China's Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). At this, the height of the Mongols' glory: the empire stretched from Korea to Hungary and as far south as Vietnam, making it the largest contiguous empire the world has ever known.

After Kublai Khan's death in 1294, the Mongols became increasingly dependent on the people they ruled and were deeply resented by them. In less than a century, the Yuan dynasty collapsed and most of the Mongols returned to Mongolia, dissolving back into clan units frequently at war with each other. By the late 17th century, most of the Mongolian tribes had submitted to Chinese rule.

In the wake of the collapse of China's Qing dynasty in 1911, the area known to the Chinese as Outer Mongolia declared independence from China. Four years later, the Treaty of Kyakhta (signed by Russia, China and Mongolia) granted Mongolia limited autonomy. Full independence was achieved in 1924 when the Mongolian People's Republic, supported by Russia, became the world's second communist country.

Mongolian communism remained fairly independent of Moscow until Stalin gained absolute power in the late 1920s and the 'reign of terror' began. By 1939 it is estimated that 27,000 people, 3% of the Mongolian population, had been executed, including many thousands of monks.

Perestroika (the restructuring of the Soviet economy and bureaucracy) came to Mongolia in the late 1980s, and by 1989 full diplomatic relations with China were established. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, large pro-democracy protests began, resulting in the 1996 election of the Mongolian Democratic Coalition which ended 75 years of communist rule.

Since then, each Mongolian government has attempted to pursue Western-style policies of reform and privatization but, with government corruption rife, the gap between rich and poor has widened. Increasing economic hardship, combined with particularly harsh winters in 2000 and 2001, have forced many nomads to give up the old ways and move to the cities to join the ranks of the urban poor.

This article is from the November 12, 2008 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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