Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

“Modernizing” Mongolians

Chinese settlers carried out on the Mongolians the same process that Japanese colonists enacted on Chinese populations in the northeast. The Japanese adapted their colonialism from previous examples in the United States of the removal of indigenous populations. In each case—white pioneers in the US, Japanese colonists in Hokkaidō and subsequently the Asian mainland, and Chinese military officers taking part in frontier reclamation—the incoming settlers portrayed themselves as bringing agricultural productivity and realizing the potential of lands the indigenous populations wasted. The similarity of the language used by bureaucrats overseeing frontier settlement resulted from an international infrastructure of knowledge created by the rise of the social sciences.

According to the Xing An Tunken Zone First Year Report:

The Mongolian people are one of our country’s five great ethnicities. Historically they have enjoyed periods of great glory. Unfortunately, their reliance on nomadism has delayed their evolution as a people in all aspects including in public hygiene, education, agriculture, and industry. They still subscribe to Lamaism. Their population has decreased and live in dire poverty no different from the barbarian tribes of the ancient times. We are all part of the same nation and seek to improve their material life, instill culture, and develop their ability to survive so that our Mongolian compatriots could also enjoy twentieth century civilization. It is in this spirit that we have developed the following aims:

  1. Change their lifestyle from nomadism to agriculture.
  2. Change their political system from a belief in superstition and kingship to democracy.
  3. Promote education and culture.
  4. Recover their warrior spirit.

With the above aims in mind, we have developed the following plans.

  1. Selection of a location to establish a reclamation bureau to promote land reclamation, develop handicrafts, and promote education.
  2. All Mongolian wasteland in the tunken zone will be issued new licenses.
  3. Establish a Mongolian committee at the tunken bureau as a consulting agency.
  4. Set a time each year for horse races and athletic events. Use this period to promote personal fitness and develop the warrior spirit.
  5. Establish various schools. Start with schools for citizens (Han-Chinese).
  6. Establish popular educational facility and museum.
  7. Organize traveling lectures, performances, and various exhibits.
  8. Establish places where handicraft skills may be passed down and various factories.
  9. Establish collective cooperative organizations.
  10. Build railroad and rural roads.
  11. Promote public hygiene.
  12. Reward agriculture and promote use of mechanized farm equipment.
  13. Improve animal husbandry.
  14. Establish police to enforce public safety.
  15. Organize groups for study trips to various places.

The language of modernization provided a cover for the harsher reality of Chinese occupation. The American scholar and Inner Asian specialist Owen Lattimore traveled to Xing An during an extended trip in 1929-30 and painted a considerably different picture, noting that “This colonization was brutally carried out: the Mongols were evicted at the point of a bayonet and Chinese colonists planted on their land. If any Mongols resisted, they were dealt with as ‘bandits’” (Lattimore 1982, 2).

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