An assignment for school, one character (Odene, on the left) based on prominent aspects of Mongol shamanism/tengrism (with real horns made to resemble Khalkha hair/headdresses) and the other (Manya, on the right) based on Byzantine aspects of eastern orthodoxy (but the outfit is ultimately based on the architecture of Ulaanbaatar’s Holy Trinity Church.)  I’ve been doing research with the intent of drawing on particular and relevant details in order to pay proper respect.  (Some sources: x x x x x x x x x x x x x)

Tengger Cavalry is a Mongolian metal band, though they are actually from Inner Mongolia (a region of China with a large ethnic Mongolian minority), not Mongolia itself. Their songs feature horsehead fiddle and overtone singing along with lots of electric guitar.

There’s a great interview about music, politics, and culture with the lead singer Nature Ganganbaigal.

It started as a solo project in the beginning. There was Viking and Celtic metal, so why not have Mongolian metal?  We have our own stuff, we could totally combine it.

As a group, it’s easier to know that there’s other Asian metal bands. Like, we don’t just have sushi or sticky rice, we have metal too. We want people to know we’re metal, too. 

Their album Blood Shaman Sacrifice is coming out May 18th, the title track is available online now.

This ridiculous bird is an Altai Snowcock. They have tiny wings and they’re terrible at flying, it’s more like gliding. They start at the bottom of a hill and walk uphill looking for plants to eat. When they get to the top of the hill and run out of uphill to go, they glide down to the bottom of the next hill and start over.

Photo by Tumendelger Humbaa.

Communism-Socialism Week!

Khorloogiin Choibalsan / Хорлоогийн Чойбалсан
Mongolia (c. 1940s)

I haven’t done a post about any Asian Communist strongmen yet - folks like Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il-Sung who’ve left an indelible legacy not just on their countries, but on the entire consciousness of the world. After all, how could a single Tumblr post do any of them justice?

But there’s also the issue of them being pretty widely known in world history - I wanna dig up the more obscure bits of Asian history for everyone’s pleasure.

For that reason, I give you Khorloogiin Choibalsan (1895-1952), the youngest illegitimate son of an impoverished peasant woman who became the Communist leader of the Mongolian People’s Republic and Marshal of the Mongolian Armed Forces. He also happens to be the only modern dictator of Mongolia, which is a pretty good benchmark to have as developing countries go.

Often referred to as “the Stalin of Mongolia”, Choibalsan oversaw violent Soviet-ordered purges in the late 1930s that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 Mongolians. Most of the victims were Buddhist clergy, intelligentsia, political dissidents, ethnic Buryats and Kazakhs, and other “enemies of the revolution.” His intense persecution of Mongolia’s Buddhists brought about their near complete extinction in the country.

This is especially ironic considering how he actually entered a monastery at the age of 13 to become a lamaist monk and only got the chance to attend a Russian school because of a sympathetic Buryat teacher. (The Buryats are indigenous Siberians.)

The ruins of Manzushir Khiid, one of several hundred Buddhist monasteries destroyed during the purge.

Although Choibalsan’s devotion to Joseph Stalin helped preserve his country’s fledgling independence during the early years of the Mongolian People’s Republic (MPR), it also turned Mongolia into the first satellite state of the Soviet Union. Throughout his rule, Mongolia’s economic, political, and military ties to the USSR deepened, infrastructure and literacy rates improved, and international recognition of Mongolia’s independence expanded, especially after World War II.

Yeah… here’s the thing about dictators: no matter how evil you are, you inevitably end up doing some good, and vice versa, just ‘cos you’ve got that much power in your hands.

Interestingly, Mongolians don’t really want to view him as a powerful figure, ‘cos that’d entail shouldering some of the blame for supporting his terrible purges.

Public anger over the violence of the purges falls predominantly on the Soviet Union and the NKVD, with Choibalsan viewed sympathetically (if not pathetically) as a puppet with little choice but to follow Moscow’s instructions or else meet the fate of his predecessors Genden and Amar.

As such, although Stalin’s statue has been toppled, Choibalsan’s is still standing high in today’s capitalist Mongolia:

Photograph of Statue of Khorloogiin Choibalsan in front of The National University of Mongolia

Mongolia (2010)

In 2008, pieces of a 1500 year old stringed instrument made from wood and carved goat horn were found in a cave in the Altai mountains in Mongolia by someone chasing a lost sheep.

After several years of study and experimentation, Mongolian ethnomusicologist Ganpurev Dagvan has recreated the instrument. He is currently on a world tour with a folk music band to introduce the goat-horn harp to the world.