- Reins of Liberation: An Entangled History of Mongolian Independence, Chinese Territoriality, and Great Power Hegemony, 1911–1950
This massive volume is a study of the political and diplomatic history of Chinese relations with Mongolia and Inner Mongolia in the first half of the twentieth century. Because of the area’s geographic location between China and Russia (later the USSR), it drew the attention of other countries as well. The book covers not only China and the Mongolias but also Russia (and the USSR), Japan, and the United States, not to mention the Manchu rulers of the declining Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Xiaoyan Liu offers [End Page 164] considerable detail about the period from 1911, the year the Qing dynasty collapsed, to 1950, the year that Mao Zedong and Josif Stalin negotiated a Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance, which had a significant impact on Mongolia.
The years right before and after the collapse of the Qing dynasty offered the Mongols an opportunity to affirm their autonomy and even push for independence after more than two centuries of Manchu and Chinese domination, but they did not capitalize on China’s instability. Disunity among the Mongol leaders, the self-interest of Inner Mongolia’s princes, and the maneuverings of the last Bogdo Gegen, the head of the Buddhist establishment in Mongolia, left Inner Mongolia and Mongolia vulnerable. After a decade of Tsarist, Chinese warlord, and White Russian transgression on Mongolia, Mongol nationalists eventually turned to the USSR for assistance in expelling all other foreign troops. In 1921, Soviet forces occupied the Mongol capital, Ulaanbaatar, and by 1924 the Mongolian Peoples’s Republic, the world’s second Communist state, was established. Meanwhile, from 1911 to 1947, the Guomindang (the Nationalist Party led by Jiang Jieshi), the Chinese Communists, Inner Mongolian nationalists, and Mongol collaborators with the Japanese fought over Inner Mongolia. After the Chinese Communists emerged victorious, they set up the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region within China. The Chinese Communists diverged from the principle of national self-determination and instead devised a system of regional autonomy for the Mongols of Inner Mongolia. Liu shows the links between the political and diplomatic fates of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, which he believes precluded unification of the Mongolias. However, other scholars have argued that even without the intrusion of great foreign powers, the goal of unity and a single state might still have eluded the Mongols.
Liu offers a detailed description of the intentions and events that led to these results, including the bifurcation of Mongolia into an independent country and a region within China. His depiction of the politics and diplomacy is comprehensive, but he does not tackle economic issues as fully or explain the economic factors other than geographic location that prompted the remarkable interest in the Mongolias. A disquisition on the economic significance of these vast domains (including their potential ability to absorb larger populations) would have been useful. Also of use would have been less speculation about the motivations of the Chinese Communists and the Soviet Union, which Liu almost always casts in a negative light. Their points of view and strategic interests should have been addressed even-handedly and perhaps given more credence. Their fears and possible paranoia in relation to their border areas need to be considered in understanding their policies and actions.
In sum, this book is a detailed study of twentieth-century Sino-Mongol relations that offers a useful though not complete perspective on the subject. [End Page 165]