YuanEmperorAlbumGenghisPortrait.jpg YuanEmperorAlbumOgedeiPortrait.jpg Sükhbaataryn Yanjmaa.jpg
Sharav dondogdulam.jpg Manduhai Poststamp.jpg Byambyn Rinchen.jpg
B. Rinchen
Undor Gongor.jpg YesheDorje.jpg TsendiinDamdinsuren1.jpg
Altan Khan.jpg Asashoryu Jan08.JPG Jügderdemidiin Gürragchaa.jpeg
Total population
~10 million
Regions with significant populations
Majority populations
 Mongolia 3,000,000 [1]
Minority populations
 China 5,810,000 [2]
 Russia 621,827 [3]
 South Korea 34,000 [4]
 United States 15,000–18,000 [5]
 Czech 7,515 [6]
 Japan 5,401 [7]
 Germany 3,852 [7]
 United Kingdom 3,701 [7]
 France 2,859 [7]
 Turkey 2,645 [7]
 Kazakhstan 2,523 [7]

Predominantly Mongolic languages, also Chinese and Russian


Predominantly Tibetan Buddhism, also Shamanism, formally Tengriism[2][8].
Small Christian and Muslim groups exist.

Related ethnic groups

Eastern Mongols, Oirats, Kalmyks, Buryats

Mongolians (Mongolian: About this sound Монгол )) are a Central-East Asian ethnic group that lives mainly in the countries of Mongolia, China, and Russia. In China, ethnic Mongolians can be found mainly in the central north region of China also called "Inner Mongolia", and in the Northwest province of China named "Xinjiang". The "Buryat" branch of the Mongolian ethnic group can be found directly north of the country of Mongolia in Russia, in the autonomous republic of Buryatia. What binds the Mongolian ethnic group together is a share common language and culture. They speak languages belonging to the Mongolic languages, Owing to wars and migrations, the Mongols are also found throughout Central Asia. There are approximately 10 million ethnic Mongol people.



A definition includes the Mongols proper, who can be approximately divided into the eastern Mongols (the Khalkha Mongols, the Inner Mongolians, the Buryats), and the Oirats. In a wider sense, the Mongol people includes all people who speak a Mongolic language, such as the Kalmyks of eastern Europe.

The name "Mongol", appeared first in eighth century records of the Chinese Tang dynasty; as a tribe of Shiwei, but then only resurfaced in the late eleventh century during the rule of the Khitan. After the fall of Liao Dynasty in 1125, the Mongols became a leading tribe on the steppe and also had power in Northern China. However, their wars with the Jin Dynasty and Tatars had weakened them. In the thirteenth century, the word Mongol grew into an umbrella term for a large group of Mongolic and Turkic tribes united under the rule of Genghis Khan.[9]


In various times Mongols have been equated with the Scythians, the Magog and the Turkic peoples. Based on Chinese historical texts the ancestry of the Mongol peoples can be traced back to the Donghu, a nomadic confederation occupying eastern Mongolia and Manchuria. The identity of the Xiongnu is still debated today. Although some scholars maintain that they were proto-Mongols, the fact that Chinese histories trace certain Turkic tribes from the Xiongnu complicates the issue.[10] The Donghu, however, can be much more easily labeled proto-Mongol since the Chinese histories trace all the subsequent Mongolic tribes and kingdoms (Xianbei and Wuhuan peoples) from them, although some historical texts claim a mixed Xiongnu-Donghu ancestry for some tribes (e.g. the Khitan).[11]

The Donghu are mentioned by Sima Qian as already existing in Inner Mongolia north of the state of Yan in 699-632 BC. Mentions in the Lost Book of Zhou (Yizhoushu) and the Shanhaijing indicate the Donghu were also active during the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BC). The Mongolic-speaking Xianbei originally formed a part of the Donghu confederation, but existed even before that time, as evidenced by a mention in the Guoyu ("晉語八" section) which states that during the reign of King Cheng of Zhou (reigned 1042-1021 BC) the Xianbei came to participate at a meeting of Zhou subject-lords at Qiyang (岐阳) (now Qishan County) but were only allowed to perform the fire ceremony under the supervision of Chu (楚), since they were not vassals by covenant (诸侯). After the Donghu were defeated by Modu Chanyu the Xianbei and Wuhuan survived as the main remnants of the confederation. Tadun Khan of the Wuhuan (died 207 AD) was the ancestor of the proto-Mongolic Kumo Xi.[12] In 49 AD the Mongolic Xianbei ruler Bianhe (Bayan Khan?) raided and defeated the Xiongnu, killing 2000, after having received generous gifts from Emperor Guangwu of Han. The Xianbei reached their peak under Tanshihuai Khan (reigned 156-181) who expanded the vast, but short lived, Xianbei state.

Location of the Xianbei and other steppe nations in 300 AD

Three prominent proto-Mongol groups split from the Xianbei, as recorded by the Chinese histories: the Nirun (claimed by some to be the Avars), the Khitan and the Shiwei (a sub-tribe called the "Shiwei Menggu" is held to be the origin of the Genghisid Mongols).[13] Besides these three Xianbei groups, there were other Xianbei groups with Mongolic affiliation such as the Murong, Duan and Tuoba. Their culture was nomadic, their religion Shamanism or Buddhism and their military strength formidable. There is still no direct evidence that the Nirun spoke a Mongolic language, although most scholars agree that they were proto-Mongolic.[14] The Khitan, however, had two scripts of their own and many Mongolic words are found in their half-deciphered writings that are usually found with a parallel Chinese text (for example, nair=sun, sair=moon, tau=five, jau=hundred, m.r=horse, im.a=goat, n.q=dog,, ju.un=summer,, u.ul=winter, heu.ur=spring, tau.l.a=rabbit, t.q.a=hen and m.g.o=snake).[15] There is no doubt regarding the Khitan being proto-Mongol.[16]

Asia in 500 AD, showing the Nirun Empire and its neighbors

Geographically the Tuoba Xianbei ruled Inner Mongolia and northern China, the Nirun (Yujiulu Shelun was the first to use the title Khagan in 402) ruled Outer Mongolia, the Khitan were concentrated in Southern Manchuria north of Korea and the Shiwei were located to the north of the Khitan. These tribes and kingdoms were soon overshadowed by the rise of the Gok-Turks in 555, the Uyghurs in 745 and the Yenisei Kirghizs in 840. The Tuoba were eventually absorbed into China. The Rouran fled west from the Gok-Turks and either disappeared into obscurity or, as some say, invaded Europe as the Avars under their Khan Bayan I. Some Rouran under Tatar Khan migrated east founding the Tatar tribes, who became part of the Shiwei. The Khitan, who were independent after their separation from the proto-Mongol Kumo Xi (of Wuhuan origin) in 388 AD, continued as a minor power in Manchuria until one of them, Abaoji (872-926), established the Khitan Liao Dynasty (907-1125). The Khitan fled west after their defeat by the Tungusic Jurchens (later known as Manchus) and founded the Kara-Khitan or Western Liao dynasty (1125–1218) in eastern Kazakhstan. In 1218 Genghis Khan destroyed the Kara-Khitan Kingdom after which the Khitan passed into obscurity. The modern-day minority of Mongolic-speaking Daurs in China are their direct descendants based on DNA evidence.[17][18]

The Shiwei included a tribe called the Shiwei Menggu.[19] Bodonchir Munkhag (c. 970) the founder of the House of Borjigin and the ancestor of Genghis Khan is held to be descended from the Shiwei Menggu. The early Shiwei paid tribute to the Tuoba Wei (386-534) and submitted to the Khitans. After the Khitans left Mongolia the Shiwei Mongols rose to prominence, when from the 1130s there were reciprocally hostile relations between the successive khans of the Khamag Mongol confederation (Khaidu, Khabul Khan and Ambaghai Khan) and the emperors of the Jin dynasty.

With the expansion of the Mongol Empire, the Mongols settled over almost all Eurasia and carried on military campaigns from the Adriatic Sea to Java and from Japan to Palestine. Mongols simultaneously became Padishahs of Persia, Emperors of China, Great Khans of Mongolia and one Mongol even became Sultan of Egypt (Al-Adil Kitbugha). The Mongols of the Golden Horde established themselves to govern Russia by 1240.[20] By 1279, the Mongols conquered the Song Dynasty and brought all of China under control of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty.[20] With the breakup of the Empire, the dispersed Mongols quickly adopted the mostly Turkic cultures surrounding them and were assimilated, forming parts of Tatars (not confused with a tribe in ancient Mongolia), Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Yugurs and Moghuls; linguistic and cultural Persianization also began to be prominent in these territories. However, most of the Mongols returned to Mongolia, retaining their language and culture. After the fall of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 the Mongols established their independent regime as Northern Yuan. However, the Oirads or Western Mongols began to challenge the Eastern Mongols under the Borjigin monarchs in the late 14th century.

Present-day Khalkha Mongols and Inner Mongolians are the most prominent of the remaining Eastern Mongols while the Kalmyks (formerly Oirats) in Europe are the main descendants of the Western Mongols. The Khalkha emerged during the reign of Dayan Khan (1464–1543) as one of the six tumens of the Eastern Mongols. They quickly became the dominant Mongol clan in Outer Mongolia.[21][22]


A Mongolian yurt

The specific origin of the Mongolic languages and associated tribes is unclear. Some researchers have proposed a link to languages like Tungusic and Turkic, which are often included alongside Mongolic in a group called Altaic languages, though this is controversial.


Silver coin with Christian cross and Mongolian and Arabic writing (1265-1282 AD). Struck under the Mongol Il-Khan Abaqa who was sympathetic towards Christianity.

The original religion of the Mongols from the time of the Donghu was Tengriism. The Xianbei came in contact with Confucianism and Daoism but eventually adopted Buddhism. In the 5th century the Buddhist monk Dharmapriya was proclaimed State Teacher of the Rouran Khaganate and given 3000 families. In 511 the Rouran Douluofubadoufa Khan sent Hong Xuan to the Tuoba court with a pearl-encrusted statue of the Buddha as a gift. The Tuoba Xianbei and Khitans were mostly Buddhists, although they still retained their original Tengriism. The Tuoba had a "sacrificial castle" to the west of their capital where ceremonies to Tengri and other spirits took place. Wooden statues of the spirits were erected on top of this sacrificial castle. One ritual involved seven princes with milk offerings who ascended the stairs with 20 female shamans and offered prayers, sprinkling the statues with the sacred milk. The Khitan had their holiest Tengriist shrine on Mount Muye where portraits of their earliest ancestor Qishou Khagan, his wife Kedun and eight sons were kept in two temples. Mongols were also exposed to Zoroastrianism (Qormusta Tengri is still worshipped), Manicheism, Nestorianism, Islam and Catholicism from the west. The Mongols, in particular the Borjigin, had their holiest Tengriist shrine on Mount Burkhan Khaldun where their ancestor Borte Chinua (Blue Wolf) and Goo Maral (Beautiful Doe) had given birth to them. Genghis Khan kept a close watch on the Mongol supreme shaman Kokochu Teb Tengri who sometimes conflicted with his authority. Later the imperial cult of Genghis Khan (centered on the eight white gers and nine white banners in Ordos) grew into a highly organized indigenous religion with Tengriist scriptures in the Mongolian script. Indigenous moral precepts of the Mongols were enshrined in oral wisdom sayings (now collected in several volumes), the anda (blood-brother) system and ancient texts such as the Chinggis-un Bilig (Wisdom of Genghis) and Oyun Tulkhuur (Key of Intelligence). These moral precepts were expressed in poetic form and mainly involved truthfulness, fidelity, help in hardship, unity, self-control, fortitude, veneration of nature, veneration of the state and veneration of parents.

In 1254 Mongke Khan organized a formal religious debate (in which William of Rubruck took part) between Christians, Muslims and Buddhists in Karakorum, a cosmopolitan city of many religions. The Mongol Empire was known for its religious tolerance, but had a special leaning towards Buddhism and was sympathetic towards Christianity. The Mongol leader Abaqa Khan sent a delegation of 13-16 Mongols to the Second Council of Lyon (1274), which created a great stir, particularly when their leader 'Zaganus' underwent a public baptism. Yahballaha III (1245–1317) and Rabban Bar Sauma (c. 1220-1294) were famous Mongol (part-Turkic) Nestorian Christians. The western Khanates, however, eventually adopted Islam (under Berke and Ghazan) and the Turkic languages (because of its commercial importance), although allegiance to the Great Khan and limited use of the Mongolian language can be seen even in 1330's. The Mongol nobility during the Yuan dynasty studied Confucianism but mainly followed the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. The general populace still practised Tengriism. Dongxiang and Bonan Mongols adopted Islam, as did Mongol-speaking peoples in Afghanistan. In the 16th century the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism became the state religion of the Mongols. The Red Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism coexisted with the Gelug Yellow Hat sect. Tengriism was absorbed into the newly formed state religion while being marginalized in its purer forms, later only surviving in far northern Mongolia. Monks were some of the leading intellectuals in Mongolia, responsible for much of the literature and art of the pre-modern period. Zanabazar (1635–1723), Zaya Pandita (1599–1662) and Danzanravjaa (1803–1856) are among the most famous Mongolian holy men. The 4th Dalai Lama Yonten Gyatso (1589–1617), a Mongolian, was the only non-Tibetan Dalai Lama. Many Buryat Mongols also became Christians due to the Russian expansion. During the socialist period religion was officially banned, although it was practiced in clandestine circles. Today, a sizable proportion of Mongols are atheist or agnostic. In the most recent census in Mongolia, almost forty percent of the population reported as being atheist, while the majority religion was Buddhism, with 53%.[23]

Physical characteristics

In terms of physical characteristics, Mongols exhibit a variety of features, with typical Mongoloid features being most noticeable. "Mongoloid" was first used in 1868 as a racial designation to distinguish Asians. People with Down's Syndrome were first called "Mongolian" in 1866. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially dropped references to "Mongolism" in 1965 after a request by the Mongolian delegate. Mongols are predominantly Tungid with Nordsinid and Turanid features observable occasionally. Mongolian folds of the eyelids exist on almost all Mongols along with relatively high and pronounced cheekbones. The Mongolian spot which is common among Mongols, is looked upon proudly as a distinguishing feature of the ethnic group. The vast majority of Mongols have black hair and brown eyes, although a certain number of Mongols, particularly in western Mongolia tend to exhibit lighter features such as fair skin, blue or green eyes, varying shades of brown hair, and sometimes even red or blonde hair.[24] The majority of Mongols today who exhibit some slight Caucasoid features most likely stem from historical intermixing with ancient Central Asian and Siberian Europoids, as opposed to recent intermixing with Russians and other Europeans.[24] [25] [26] [27] Genetic test have shown ethnic Mongolians in Xinjiang China to be 14.3% Eurasian.[28] The old distinction between Mongols with complete Mongoloid features and Mongols with semi-Caucasoid features is casually acknowledged by Mongols themselves, with the semi-Caucasoids being called "shar" (yellow) while the rest are called "bor" (brown). Both types of Mongols are fully accepted as Mongols. However the vast majority of mongols today have pure mongoloid phenotypes and even the ones that are mixed are predominately mongoloid.[citation needed]

Geographic distribution

This map shows the boundary of 13th century Mongol Empire and location of today's Mongols in modern Mongolia, Russia, Central Asian States and China.

Today, people of Mongol origin live in modern state of Mongolia, China (mainly Inner Mongolia), Russia, and a few other central Asian countries.

The differentiation between tribes and peoples (nationalities) is handled differently depending on the country. The Tumed, Chahar, Ordos, Bargut (or Barga), Altai Uriankhai, Buryats, Dörböd (Dörvöd, Dörbed), Torguud, Dariganga, Üzemchin (or Üzümchin), Bayid, Khoton, Myangad (Mingad), Zakhchin (Zakchin), Darkhad, and Oirats (or Öölds or Ölöts) are all counted as tribes of the Mongols.


The population of modern Mongolia consists of 94.9% Mongols, numbering approximately 2.8 million. From the middle ages to early modern period the Khalkha, Uriankhai and Buryats were counted as eastern Mongols while the Oirats, living mainly in the Altay region, belonged to the western Mongols.


The 2000 census of People's Republic of China counted 5.8 million Mongols, according to the narrow definition above. It should be noted that 1992 census of China counted only 3.6 million Mongols.[citation needed] Most of them live in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, followed by Liaoning province. Small numbers can also be found in provinces near those two.

Other peoples speaking Mongolic languages are the Daur, Monguor, Dongxiang, Bonan, and parts of the Yugur. Those do not officially count as part of the Mongol nationality, but are recognized as nationalities of their own.


In Russia, the Buryats belong to the eastern Mongols. The western Mongols include the Oirats in the Russian Altay and the Kalmyks at the northern side of the Caspian Sea, where they make up 53.3% of the population of Russia's autonomous province of Kalmykia.[29] The Tuva and the Altay people are culturally close to Mongols, but speak Turkic languages. Together they amount to approximately a million people.


Smaller numbers of Mongols exist in Western Europe and North America. Some of the more notable communities exist in the South Korea, the United States, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.


See also



  1. ^
  2. ^ a b The Mongolian Ethnic Group ( June 21, 2005)
  3. ^ 2,656 Mongols proper, 445,175 Buryats, 173,996 Kalmyks (Russian Census (2002))
  4. ^ "'Korean Dream' fills Korean classrooms in Mongolia", The Chosun Ilbo, 2008-04-24,, retrieved 2009-02-06 [dead link]
  5. ^ Bahrampour, Tara (2006-07-03). "Mongolians Meld Old, New In Making Arlington Home". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-09-05. 
  6. ^ "Latest numbers show 7,500 Mongolians working in Czech Republic", Mongolia Web, 2008-02-19,, retrieved 2008-10-04 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Mongolia National Census 2010 Provision Results. National Statistical Office of Mongolia (in Mongolian.)
  8. ^ China Mongolian, Mongol Ethnic Minority, Mongols History, Food
  9. ^ "Mongolia: Ethnography of Mongolia". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2007-07-22.. 
  10. ^ John Man-Attila: the barbarian king who challenged Rome, p.38
  11. ^ Frances Wood, The Silk Road: two thousand years in the heart of Asia, p.48
  12. ^ Xin Tangshu 219. 6173.
  13. ^ University of California, Berkeley. Project on Linguistic Analysis-Journal of Chinese linguistics, p.154
  14. ^ Thomas Hoppe-Die ethnischen Gruppen Xinjiangs: Kulturunterschiede und interethnische, p.66
  15. ^ Frederick W. Mote-Imperial China 900–1800, p.405
  16. ^ Herbert Franke, John King FairbankProxy-Connection: keep-alive Cache-Control: max-age=0 Denis Crispin Twitchett, Roderick MacFarquhar, Denis Twitchett, Albert Feuerwerker. vol.3-The Cambridge History of China, p.364
  17. ^ Uradyn Erden Bulag-The Mongols at China's edge: history and the politics of national unity‎, p.167
  18. ^ Ruofu Du, Vincent F. Yip-Ethnic groups in China‎, p.27
  19. ^ Paul Ratchnevsky, Thomas Nivison Haining-Genghis Khan: his life and legacy, p.7
  20. ^ a b Jerry Bentley, "Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchange in Pre-Modern Times (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 136.
  21. ^ Juha Janhunen-The Mongolic languages‎, p.177
  22. ^ Elizabeth E. Bacon-Obok: A Study of Social Structure in Eurasia, p.82
  23. ^ National Census 2010 Preliminary results (in Mongolian)]
  24. ^ a b
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Kalmyks". World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. 2005. Retrieved 2008-05-18. 

External links

  • Downloadable article: "Evidence that a West-East admixed population lived in the Tarim Basin as early as the early Bronze Age" Li et al. BMC Biology 2010, 8:15. [1]
  • Ethnic map of Mongolia

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