In the 1990s the Mongolian state implemented a series of reforms designed to create a competitive market economy based on private property. These included the wholesale privatisation of the pastoral economy and the dissolution of the collective and state farms. The Asian Development Bank and other international development agencies advocated new legislation to allow the private ownership of land. This remains a highly controversial issue in Mongolia, particularly with respect to pasture land which remains a public-access resource.
The symposium was organised by the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit, University of Cambridge, with the support of the British Academy, the Sigrid Rausing Inner Asian Scholarly Exchange Programme, and the French Cultural Delegation in Cambridge. It was held on 18 and 19 March 2004 at Corpus Christi College, and was attended by many of the leading scholars of the history and culture of Inner Asia, including three Mongolian academicians.
This issue of Inner Asia includes papers of historical, geographical, and ethnographic interest, but all of them, in one way or another, touch upon the importance of the past for understanding the contemporary. The papers by Karl Ryavec and Johan Elverskog provide critical examinations of particular representations of the past, with reference to the geography of the Chinese State and the image of stasis in treatments of the Qing period of Mongol history respectively. The other two papers both deal with contemporary phenomena, but look to the past to explain the revival of shamanism among the Aga–Buryats in the case of Ippei Shimamura’s paper, and to explore the Mongolian conception of the zah zeel (‘market’) in Alan Wheeler’s. We also have a report on a symposium exploring the history of Inner Asian statecraft, and book reviews by Christopher Atwood, Edmund Waite, Christopher Kaplonski and David Gullette evaluating recent publications on themes as diverse as the legacy of Chinggis Khan, China’s multiethnic frontiers, Central Eurasian Studies and Xinjiang.
The contributions to this issue of Inner Asia are all concerned, in one way or another, with historical narratives and representations of the past. The first section includes two papers that deal in very different ways with the portrayal of Sufi Islam and its relationship with China. Edmund Waite explores the way in which the seventeenth century Sufi religious leader Apaq Khoja is represented very differently by various sections of the Uyghur public in Xinjiang today. The miracle-working Apaq Khoja was the most famous of a line of Naqshbandi Sufi ‘masters’ (khojas) who gained widespread religious devotion and, with the military support of the Zhungar Mongols, who came to control the entire Tarim region. After the Manchu conquest of the region Apaq Khoja’s descendants remained a focus for resistance to the Qing until the annexation of Xinjiang as a province of China in 1884.
Verdery has suggested exploring the parallels between post-socialist and postcolonial studies. Mongolia has, like many post-colonial states, experienced a series of almost simultaneous transformations in the twentieth century. After the advent of Soviet control in the 1920s Mongolia began to receive Leninist Modernisation and all the trappings of the Soviet version of the European nationstate. The imaginative project of Soviet order shaped the notion of the ‘nation’ and required an equivalent notion of the Russian Narod or ‘people’. The State Socialist ‘theatre state’ with its newly imagined (national) People as a compulsory audience, employed various ‘technologies of the imagination’ – parades, show trials, festivals, meetings and speeches etc. Relations between the Russian and Mongolian peoples were framed in terms of a fraternal metaphor – ah (elder brother). Today Mongolia finds itself in an economic and political position that is comparable to many post-colonial nations. It is now subject to the same discourse of development and the national and transnational institutions that shape conditions in the former colonies. The explicitly junior status of Mongolia with respect to a big Russian brother has been replaced with the implicit infantilisation of western-led Developmentalism, and the danger of a sensation of exclusion that Ferguson calls ‘abjection’.