The Administrative-Political Chronology of Inner Mongolia
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (aka Inner Mongolia), which lies south of present-day Mongolia (aka Outer Mongolia), got its name because of the presence of large numbers of Monan ("Southern") Mongols in the area at the time the region became a part of the People's Republic of China. Before that, the territory corresponding to present-day Inner Mongolia became a part of the Republic of China after the fall of the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty (all of Mongolia had become a part of China by the close of the Qing Dynasty). But Inner Mongolia had not always been "Mongolian".
It was first during the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty that a large Mongol tribe appeared in the area. Earlier, i.e., from the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty down to the arrival of Genghis Khan (see a short profile of Genghis Khan below) and his Mongol hordes, the territory called Inner Mongolia was inhabited primarily by Turkic tribes. With the rise of the Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasty, the area came under strong central government rule, which in fact was Mongolian rule (the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, it will be remembered, was Kublia Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan), and the numbers of Mongols in present-day Inner Mongolia increased.
Under the Han Chinese Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty, which had overthrown the Mongol Chinese Yuan Dynasty, Inner Mongolia itself was divided into two separate adminsitrative regions, Dada and Wala. "Northern" and "southern" Mongolia, corresponding to present-day Outer and Inner Mongolia, respectively, were always somewhat divided, as the Monan designation indicates, due to the presence the Gobi Desert, a natural barrier which roughly divides the two areas (it overlaps both areas), thus weakening any bond which might exist even on an ethnic basis. During the Manchu Qing Dynasty, Inner Mongolia was re-unified (the Dada and Wala administrative regions were disbanded), though the areas corresponding to present-day Inner and Outer Mongolia remained separate - both administratively and to some extent culturally - with Inner Mongolia becoming more etnically mixed than Outer Mongolia.
This tendency would only increase, such that when the Qing Dynasty fell - leaving the newly-formed Republic of China, on the one hand, and Mongolia on the other hand, to emerge from the ashes of Imperial China - the Republic of China would have its own reasons to retain that portion of Mongolia with which it had closest ties, namely, "southern" Mongolia, which, at the time, was under the administration of three separate provinces: Rehe, Chahaer, and Suiyuan (the name "Inner Mongolia" had not yet been conceived).
When the Republic of China gave way to the People's Republic of China, the territory corresponding to "southern" Mongolia had become such an integral part of China that it was unthinkable to relinquish it, though, in response to the territory's primary ethnic minority make-up (the Han Chinese were already the ethnic majority), it was designated as Inner Mongolia and was soon thereafter - on May 1st, 1947 - made into an autonomous region, the first such ethnic region within the PRC.
The Cultural History of Present-Day Inner Mongolia
As early as the Old Stone Age, humans had inhabited the area of present-day Inner Mongolia. A number of historical sources has borne out this claim. For example, excavations at the site of Dayao show that the area was an ancient stone-producing site for early humans. A large quantity of stone artifacts were unearthed in this area, such as hammers as well as chopping and cutting tools. The archeological site of Dayao provides strong evidence that suggests that Inner Mongolia was a cradle of ancient Chinese civilization*, namely, via the Hongshan Culture, which is centered around the city of Chifeng and south of the city of Tongliao. These two cities lie in the Xilamulun River area and the Laoha River area, respectively. Hongshan Culture is famous for its painted potteries. The large number of artifacts - and their high degree of sophistication - discovered in the Hongshan area has provided a good basis for continued archeological and anthropological research.
Ever since the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty, Central China has controlled, or tried to control, the area corresponding to Inner Mongolia. Han Chinese prefectures with names such as Shuofang, Wuyuan, Yunzhong, Dingxiang, Yanmen, Dai, Shanggu, Youbeiping and Liaoxi were set up and Chinese peoples of all nationalities were encouraged to relocate there, with some ethnic preference present, depending upon which ethnic group was ruling the country at the time. Cultural cooperation is not a new invention - ethnic intermarriage, even at the highest levels, was common in ancient China, just as were other forms of cultural exchange, especially exchange involving trade; the merchants of byegone eras played the ambassadorial role that sports teams play in international cultural exchanges today.
A large number of historical relics unearthed in the region in places such as the ancient cities of Tuoketuo, Heicheng, Sandingzhang, Heichengzi, Yuan Shangdu, Guihau, and Duolun suggest that there were very close economic, political and cultural ties between Central China and the region that corresponded to present-day Inner Mongolia.
Famous Historical Personages
Genghis Khan, whose personal name was Temüjin, was born a "noble" into the Borjigin clan of Mongols in CE 1162, though his name, Temüjin, is borrowed from the Tatar (Temüin's father had just captured a Tatar soldier of that name - the Tatars being the mortal enemies of the Mongols at the time - and liked the name enough to give it to his son). Temüjin would later unite the Mongols, becoming their leader, or Khan, having received the title of "Genghis" posthumously (and indeed, he, and all the Mongol rulers from Genghis Khan down to Kublai Khan were posthumously given the title of emperor by Kublai Khan, the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty - Genghis Khan posthumously became the Taizu Emperor).
When Temüjin was only nine years old, his father was killed by a rival. The difficulties and hardships that he faced in his early years steeled Temüjin, making him a wiser and more decisive man. At the time, warring, both among Mongols and between Mongols and other ethnic groups, was the order of the day on the grasslands where Genghis Khan grew up. In organizing an army, Temüjin depended on the allegiance of his father's old friends. They had fought alongside many other Mongol chieftains and had won many victories, while chalking up few defeats.
At a kurultai, or council of Mongol chiefs, on the banks of the Onon River, Temüjin founded his Mongol nation. Genghis Khan divided his nation into 95 administrative divisions, or Qianhu, and founded the Qiexue Army, albeit a decidedly Mongolian army which was less oriented towards traditional discipline and more oriented towards personal bravery - Genghis Khan's soldiers were also more adept at "thinking out of the box", as one might say today. Genghis Khan further united the various ethnic groups under his rule by making Mongolian the official language throughout the empire. He encouraged loyalty and unity - and fitness; the "Three Manly Sports" of modern-day Mongolia's Naadam Festival (it is also celebrated in Inner Mongolia, though with less of a macho tinge) - wrestling, riding horseback, and archery - were developed during the rule of Genghis Khan.
Commanding tremendous personal loyalty, Genghis Khan fought campaigns all across Asia and into Europe, having established the largest contiguous empire in the world by the time of his death. He bagan by conquering territory near at hand, then quickly consolidated his rule before turning to territories farther away, which, once conquered, were also quickly consolidated into the empire. Part of Genghis Khan's success in consolidating his power so quickly is that once territories were conquered, they were put under the administration of a native, not under the administration of a "foreigner" (i.e., not under a fellow Mongol), which clever tactic engendered cooperation. Genghis Khan was not only a brilliant military strategist, he also proved himself an astute politician. For good and for worse, the legacy of Genghis Khan has on balance benefitted China, helping to put China on the map, as it were.
Kublai Khan, whose personal name was Temür and whose life spanned CE 1215-1294, was the founder of the Yuan (CE 1260-1294) Dynasty. As the first actual emperor of the Yuan Dynasty (he had conferred, posthumously, the title of emperor on all of the Mongol rulers before him, going all the way back to his grandfather, Genghis Khan), Kublai Khan styled himself the Shizu Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. He rose to power gradually, however. In the first year of the reign of his brother, Möngke Khan (later referred to as the Xianzong Emperor), Temür was sent to the Monan area of Mongolia (present-day Inner Mongolia) to rule as Möngke Khan's lieutenant.
In Monan, Temür applied himself well, and, being far from the protection of his brother, he decided that the best strategy would be to learn the customs of the local Han Chinese who dominated the region (his grandfather would have approved of such a concilliatory strategy), though not losing focus on his mission. In the 3rd year of his brother, Möngke Khan's reign (in CE 1253), Temür conquered Dali, a small state in ancient China. In CE 1258, Temür fought at Ezhou (the present-day city of Wuhan in Hubei Province).
When his brother Möngke Khan suddenly died in Sichuan Province in CE 1259 during a military campaign (the exact cause of his death is not known, the theories range from regular death in battle to death by dysetery or cholera), Temür negotiated with the war-weary Southern Song Dynasty with whom his brother had been doing battle in Sichuan Province, and was allowed to return to his hometown to replace his brother as the new Mongolian Khan. The next year, in CE 1260, Temür was declared the King of Mongolia in the city of Shangdu (later known as Yuan Shangdu), aka Kaiping Prefecture, in present-day Inner Mongolia.
The King of Mongolia would face several more internal Mongolian power struggles as well as external struggles before he founded the Yuan Dynasty in CE 1271, moving his capital to the city of Dadu (present-day Beijing - his summer residence, or summer capital, was Shangdu, near the present-day city of Dolon Nor ("Seven Lakes") in Inner Mongolia), and it was first in CE 1279 that the "king" of the Yuan Dynasty finally conquered the Southern Song Dynasty, thus unifying the whole of China and becoming Emperor Shizu of the Yuan Dynasty.
After founding the Yuan Dynasty, Emperor Shizu waged war against his neighbors but without much success. However, China, under the rule of Emperor Shizu, consolidated its power both politically and economically. Emperor Shizu ruled China for 35 years and was, on balance, considered a good emperor, neither given to corruption nor personal debauchery – unlike many other rulers of Imperial China – although he apparently developed a taste for over-eating in later life, having died, most historians believe, as the direct result of a fatty diet. Kublai Khan and his summer residence of Shangdu are the subject of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's romantic poem, Kubla Khan, wherein the author portrays Shangdu ("Xanadu") as a symbol of mystery as well as splendor.
* Indeed one of the "out of Africa" migration arms that gradually brought homo sapiens to China is believed to have arrived via a route that went north from India, then crossed eastward into present-day northern China, and not necessarily over a scorching desert – nature, it must be remembered, is constantly changing: many arid regions of today were formerly humid and fertile.