Wednesday, December 17, 2008

ACMS gearing up for a busy 2009

As 2008 comes to a close, we at the ACMS are gearing up for a busy 2009. In the coming year the center will offer three different kinds of fellowships (dissertation research, field research, and language), host 2 study seminar groups, unveil a new online language resource website, conduct a intensive summer language program, and hire a new Resident Director for the office, just to name a few of the bigger items on our work plan.

It is still not clear whether the cost cutting and fiscal measures being taken at universities in the United States as a result of the financial crisis will affect the number of US scholars coming to Mongolia in 2009. Mongolia remains an expensive place to travel to but relatively inexpensive place to conduct research or study, so time will tell whether the lure of this fascinating country will overcome financial obstacles.

The center will close for a brief period from December 31-January 5th, and then everyone will back to work to get started on the list of "to-dos" for 2009.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Anod Bank under Mongol Bank control

The big news in Mongolia is that Mongol Bank has taken control of Anod Bank because it has surfaced that the bank is insolvent. Anod is one of the more prominent mid-tier national banks, and its fall may be a harbinger for other banks like it.

As reported in the UB Post, the accounting reports Anod Bank submitted to Mongol Bank over the last few years appear to have been "cooked" as they say in accounting parlance. The government is now working to ensure that customers with deposits in the bank recover their money. Recently parliament passed a resolution authorizing the government to back all banking deposits in the country with state assets, creating an FDIC like safety net for depositors. Anod will put the validity of this resolution to the test.

The extent to which the global financial crisis has affected the Mongolian economy is still difficult to gauge. The steep decline in copper prices has been a complete game changer for the Mongolian government as huge deficits have appeared in the state budgets and revenue from Erdenet mine has been cut in half. Construction has stopped on many buildings, and it is rumored that this is due to the fact that people simply cannot get mortgage loans to purchase apartments already on the market. Prices on consumer goods appear to be declining, but the last report I saw still showed a very high inflation rate. And, inexplicably the tugrik has depreciated against the dollar by more than 100 tugriks, causing wide speculation about the cause.

The three major Mongolian banks Khan Bank, Xac Bank, and Trade and Development Bank appear to be weathering the storm so far. Most credit has apparently dried up, and loans that are still available are at very high interest rates. According to Khan Bank's PR department these banks hold no international paper, so they are not affected by the subprime mortgage losses directly. However, the overall credit crunch means that it is difficult for them to secure new financing for loans in Mongolia, making it difficult for them to secure new income through interest payments.

Only time will tell if the global economic crisis will claim more financial victims in Mongolia.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Job Opening Starting June 2009 - ACMS Resident Director

The ACMS is currently seeking a Resident Director to take over the management of the UB office starting sometime after June 2009. I will continue to be involved in the ACMS in other capacities after the new Resident Director takes the reins.

My wife and I are tentatively planning to move to Madison, WI to begin academic programs in fall 2009. There are not many places you can move from and look a Badger in the eye saying "Your winters are downright tropical." But, Mongolia happens to be one of those places. I look forward to saying that often in Wisconsin.

At any rate, those interested in applying for the Resident Director position should take a look at the full announcement on the ACMS website. Also, please send on the announcement to people you think might be qualified for the position.

Cold has Arrived

A few weeks ago I wrote on this blog that it was unusually warm for Mongolia in November. This week the weather seems to be making up for lost time. On Tuesday the temperature dropped to -26 F (-32 C) for a nighttime low, and it only made it up to -9 F (-22 C) for a daytime high on Wednesday. Brrrr! It's currently -20 F (-29 C) and snowing.

This level of cold does funny stuff, mostly in terms of freezing things to other things. Metal glasses freeze to noses, tear drops freeze to eyelids, and, the old classic, beards become frosty on walks to work.

Either you love the cold or hate it. I am one of those people who loves the cold, so entering my fifth winter in Mongolia I am not altogether disappointed with the change in weather.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Intensive Mongolian Language Program

The American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS) invites applications from students and scholars wishing to participate in an eight week Intensive Mongolian Language Program from June 15 to August 14, 2009 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The program is designed to develop intermediate to advanced language skills, and all applicants must have the equivalent of at least one year of Mongolian language study experience by the time the program begins. Fellowship opportunities are available. The program is open to students and faculty from all countries, but certain conditions do apply for fellowships. More information about the program at

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Technological Advances

This week the ACMS made several technological leaps forward in terms of its computer network. First, we replaced an old windows server that was truly on its last leg with a smaller, faster router. Second, we purchased a new server and loaded it with a Linux operating system (Ubuntu 8.10) for better functionality and security. The new server will perform many functions, but as of right now it is acting as a reliable way for the office computers to share files. Third, we replaced our old Canon photocopier with a newer, sleeker model. It has network printing with the works in terms of finishing documents, so now all computers in the reading room and office can print double-sided and collated if the desire should strike anyone.

All of these changes are due to a grant from the US Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, and we are grateful for the support, as well as the ability to provide our patrons with much better service. Incidentally, we donated the old photocopier to the School of Foreign Service Library at the National University of Mongolia, so they are also able to provide their patrons better service, too.

Earlier in the year the ACMS purchased new computers for the office with funds from the Council for American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC). At that time, we installed special software that resets the operating systems of the reading room computers to their default settings each time a patron logs off. This means that all files, good or malicious, are purged from each system each time they reboot, which further means that the risk of viruses is practically zero on the ACMS computers. It makes the reading room and office computers some of the safest public computers in Mongolia.

Next on the agenda is figuring out how to fix the very slow internet connection speed problem. More information on that as it develops.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

ACMS Field Research Fellowship Program

The American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS), with funding support from the Council for American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), is pleased to announce the fourth year of the ACMS US-Mongolia Field Research Fellowship Program to support student field research in Mongolia in summer or fall 2009. The program will provide $500-$3000 grants to approximately 5-10 students from US or Mongolian universities to conduct academic field research in Mongolia between May and October 2009. Student applicants can be at an advanced undergraduate, masters or pre-dissertation doctoral level, and all fields of study are eligible. Applicants must be either US or Mongolian citizens or permanent residents currently enrolled full-time in a university or college in the United States or Mongolia. Students graduating in spring 2009 are eligible to apply.

More information at

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Political Data and Surveys

I was reminded this week that not everyone knows about the Sant Maral Foundation in Mongolia. This is a non-profit organization that collects political data and conducts surveys of the Mongolian population. Its most well known survey is the POLITBAROMETER which surveys approximately 1200 randomly selected individuals in Ulaanbaatar and the countryside on a series of questions related to politics and social conditions in the country. One example question is "How you evaluate your nearest future?" to which a 75% of respondents chose "Optimistic" in the most recent survey. Another question is "Do you support the creation of coalition government?" to which almost 60% of respondents answered "Yes." This survey, as well as the many others Sant Maral produces, provide a very interesting glimpse into the social and political opinions of ordinary people.

Sant Maral has a website at which is arguably a bit spartan in terms of information. The foundation has not taken to publishing its survey results online, but there seems to be every indication that they will provide survey results if requested by e-mail or in-person. The ACMS receives regular survey results via e-mail because it is a member of the Business Council of Mongolia.

Many of their surveys date back to the early 1990s, so they represent an important wealth of data about attitudes since the dissolution of the Communist government. If a researcher is doing work on politics or perceptions of social change in Mongolia, then that researcher should definitely contact Sant Maral.

Friday, November 7, 2008

October Revolution

Today is October 25th on the Julian Calendar, which was the calendar in use in Russia when the Bolshevik Revolution occurred. It is still a national holiday of sorts in Mongolia. It once was more important as a holiday, but today it is probably more akin to Armed Forces Day in the United States--very easy to forget about if someone doesn't remind you about it on the day. The ACMS staff observed the holiday by eating a kilo of mandarins, which I suspect is not the traditional method of observance. To each his own in the new Mongolia.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Historical Election

As an expatriate US citizen it is still not clear how the outcome of the US elections will affect my life. Mongolia has had exceptional affection for the United States for two decades, and President Bush's visit to Mongolia in 2005 ensured that Mongolians continue to have a better opinion of the president than most Americans. I first came to Mongolia in 2002, and it has always been a place where there has been no fear or shame in being an American, which I have heard from others is not often the case in other countries. This is partly due to the fact that Americans and Mongolians seem to understand each other at a visceral level. I often remark that the only things separating the average Ohioan from the average Bayankhongorian is a language and 10,000 miles. Although different, Mongolian culture and American culture are very compatible. If you understand what makes an Ohioan tick, then you probably can also figure out what makes a Bayakhongorian tick, or vise-versa.

From a political stand point, the acceptance speech that President-Elect Obama gave last night could potentially have special significance for Mongolians as well. Mongolians have a much more optimistic view of things than one might suspect at first blush. The riot of the summer provides a good case in point. Instead of that event being the beginning of a decline in Mongolian politics, thus far it has proven to be a watershed in emphasizing the need for politicians to move towards broader purpose in their work. This is not to say things have been rosy, just that incremental progress continues to be made. I could hear President-Elect Obama's words echoing in some of the things that have occurred since July--the argument that when you give people a chance to surprise you in a positive way, they will. Of course, it is not so simple, but the ingredients for positive surprise are just as much entrenched in the ethos of Mongolian society as it is in the US, and the democratic process is an integral part of making this manifest itself in tangible ways.

One can never predict the future, but it is affirming that the United States potentially will lead the world again by positive example, and that maybe, just maybe this idea that anything is possible if you work for it will have a positive influence on the politics of Mongolia, too.

It's November, and it's not cold!

It's November, and it's not cold--by Mongolia standards anyway. This is will be my fifth winter in Mongolia, and the autumn is indicating this will be the mildest winter yet. It is amazing how warm it is outside. It is supposed to be close to 8 degrees C (46 degrees F) by the end of this weekend. That's astonishing for November. Of course, November isn't traditionally considered a winter month in most of the world, so above freezing temperatures might not seem that astonishing to someone who has not experienced winter in Mongolia. In a country where -40 degree temperatures in the dead of winter are not unusual, however, getting to that point requires the autumn months to be somewhat colder than the rest of the world. If it is not, then it's not out of the question to assume that January is probably going to be mild, too. We'll see.

To check out the forecast for Ulaanbaatar in the coming days, click on the forecast widget in the right-hand margin of this blog.

Monday, November 3, 2008

US Elections

It's already November 4th in Mongolia, and polls should begin opening in the United States sometime this evening. As a political junkie who cannot seem to get enough of the twists and turns this campaign season has brought, I will be anxious over the next 24 hours as everyone waits for the first results to come in.

Some might ask if the ACMS has done anything over the last year to raise awareness among Mongolians about how the political process works in the United States, especially in light of the historic nature of this year's election. The short answer is no. The longer answer is given the mission of the ACMS (i.e. Promoting scholarship in Mongolia), it would make far more sense to focus energy on raising awareness among international observers about the political process in Mongolia, which to some extent we have done over the year. But, in general, the ACMS only gets involved in politics when a researcher comes to the center investigating a political issue, which again more often than not involves understanding the political issues of the day in Mongolia.

Nevertheless there have been a few opportunities to discuss the US political system at the ACMS. In 2007 we actually had two Speaker Series lectures in a row that dealt with the political process and campaigning in the United States. Bob Betty of Washburn University gave a lecture on the use of tv advertisements in US politics with special emphasis on the state of Kansas. Then a week later Dale Lawton, who earned his PhD in government at the University of Virginia and was a Foreign Service Officer at the US Embassy in Ulaanbaatar at the time, gave a lecture on ethics and social responsibility (or lack thereof) in campaigns in US presidential races. Both lectures were based on academic research each had done, and they provided a very interesting look into the mechanics of campaigns in the US system.

To do my part in engaging in the American democratic process, I will take Nov. 5th off to participate in the election day gathering for US citizens and Mongolians being sponsored and organized by the US Embassy. It turns out that the polls will begin closing about 9 in the morning here, so everyone attending will be able to see the different states and races being called in real time. It should be a very interesting day, and a rare opportunity to discuss the US political system.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Title VI 50th Anniversary Conference

Title VI of the Higher Education Act is congressional authority intended to encourage and promote international programs, foreign language acquisition, and cultural exchange at institutions of higher learning in the United States. If you have an international program at your institution, chances are some or all of its public funding comes from this piece of legislation. The ACMS is a recipient of Title VI funds through the US Department of Education. Every four years the ACMS competes with other centers around the world for a grant to cover core administrative funds through the American Overseas Research Centers (AORC) program. The ACMS was selected for funding in 2002 which allowed for the Center in Ulaanbaatar to be opened in 2004, and it was selected again in 2006 which has allowed the center to begin expanding its programs.

Title VI covers the Fulbright-Hays program which is most familiar to people for its Fulbright Fellowship. However, Fulbright-Hays covers numerous international programs which include overseas seminars, lectureships, and foreign language learning. The ACMS will host its first Fulbright-Hays seminar abroad in the summer of 2009. This seminar will bring sixteen k-12 educators to Mongolia for three weeks to learn about life in the country.

As a recipient of Title VI funding, the ACMS will also participate in the 50th anniversary conference celebrating Title VI programs. The conference is scheduled for March 19-21, 2009 in Washington, DC. Title VI is an extremely important part of the US educational system, and it is good to know that effort is being made to mark the 50th year of its existence. For more information about the conference visit

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

CIEE Seminar 2009

As noted in a previous post on this blog, the ACMS will host another faculty abroad seminar organized and administered by CIEE during the summer of 2009. The ACMS hosted a group of 12 US faculty members in June 2008, and the seminar offered numerous opportunities to learn about historical and contemporary aspects of Mongolian society firsthand. Below are a couple of photos from the 2008 seminar. For more information about the 2009 seminar and how to apply, please visit

Thursday, October 23, 2008

ACMS Research Fellowship Program

The American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS), with funding support from the Henry Luce Foundation, is pleased to announce the second year of the American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS) Research Fellowship Program. The ACMS Research Fellowship Program annually supports three fellows to conduct up to 12-months of doctoral dissertation or post-doctoral research in Mongolia on topics in the Social Sciences or Humanities. Previous Mongolian Studies experience is not required, but projects should enhance knowledge of Mongolia and the Mongols within relevant academic disciplines or fields of study. Projects that link research conducted in Mongolia to research in other parts of Asia or across academic fields are especially encouraged.

Fellowship awards will include travel expenses to and from Mongolia, an accommodation and food allowance, and a stipend to cover research expenses. Fellows will also have the opportunity to take intensive Mongolian language courses, select resources for inclusion in the ACMS Library, and participate in an annual academic seminar in Mongolia that will bring together international, regional and local scholars and students.

Research work under this program must begin between September 2009 and March 2010, and last for a continuous 6-12 months. Fellowship recipients will be based in Mongolia for the duration of their fellowship, but research travel in the broader region is encouraged. Dissertation fellows must have an approved dissertation proposal prior to the start of their research work under the fellowship, and Post-Doctoral fellows must begin their fellowship work within seven years of the granting of their doctoral degree. Fellowship recipients must be US or Canadian citizens attending or recently graduated from a university in the US or Canada.

For more information on the program, including an Application Package and the General Terms and Conditions of the awards, visit the ACMS website at:

Deadline for receipt of complete application packages is February 15, 2009.
Awards will be announced in April 2009.

Questions about the program should be directed to, to phone (360) 356-1020, or to the ACMS office in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Funding support for the ACMS Research Fellowship Program is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation. For more information on the Henry Luce Foundation, please visit:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Xiongnu Archaeology Conference

October 17th and 18th the leading international scholars in Xiongnu archaeology and other related fields of research came together for a rare opportunity to exchange research findings and discuss ideas about the future development of Xiongnu archaeology in Mongolia and related sites in China, Russia, and the Korean peninsula. Over thirty Scholars from China, France, Germany, Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Switzerland, and the United States gave 20 minute presentations on a variety of topics from exotic materials in Xiongnu burial sites to isotope analysis of animal teeth to measure livestock mobility.

Discussants summarized each presentation session, offering new perspectives on where research findings confirmed and contradicted each other. Each session brought interesting revelations, underscoring the past communication difficulties caused by language barriers among numerous scholars from different countries working on related research questions. The conference was intended to create a baseline of knowledge across all international scholars working in the field, and it seemed to achieve this objective numerous times over the two days.

The conference packet is available on the ACMS website at The conference organizers plan to publish a volume of the conference proceedings in the summer of 2009. Below are a few pictures from the conference.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Search for Chinggis' Tomb Continues

A colleague at University of Redlands brought an article at Science Daily to my attention over the weekend about a new attempt to locate Chinggis Khan's tomb using the latest in "non-invasive techniques" which include ground penetrating radar. The most interesting aspect of the article for me is a line which reads, "Lin says he's hoping to collaborate with the Mongolian government and national universities, through the help of Amaraa and Bayarsihan Baljinnayam — siblings from what he endearingly calls his 'Mongolian family.'" I may be misinterpreting this line, but it suggests to me that the researchers may be mistakenly assuming that involving a couple of Mongolians in the research team who will rationally and logically explain the project to people in Mongolia is the same thing as involving the nation of Mongolia in the project.

There is a significant number of people in Mongolia who do not want the tomb to be found, and each expedition has been wrought with political rows over whether anyone should be given permission to make the search. For some the tomb is a sacred place that Chinggis' followers went to great lengths to hide. They believe no one has a right to find it, least of all non-Mongolians. To others, the whole search smacks of tomb raiding premised on the flimsiest of scientific pretenses. Would finding the tomb provide enough scientific and historical illumination to justify the cost of desecrating a sacred place and alienating a large swath of the Mongol population? This is a question very much open to debate, especially and ironically without knowing what is contained in the tomb.

The methods employed by the researchers as described in the article should raise some new controversies. After all, they do not need to come Mongolia to conduct their search, which means that the Mongolian government and Mongolian people are somewhat limited in what they can do to influence the search. In a situation like this I can see where the politics involved could potentially become even more intense than seen in the past as the methods might seem to some as completely side stepping the sovereign rights of Mongolians to decide who searches for what buried in Mongolian soil. I hope for Dr. Lin's benefit that his "Mongolian family" is astute at the fine art of politics, because I could foresee this project angering many more people than it pleases, especially if they reach their goal of identifying a possible location for Chinggis' tomb without ever stepping foot on Mongolian soil.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

NUM's First Endowed Chair

On Friday morning the Asia Foundation held a ceremony to sign the first agreement to create an endowed chair position for a faculty member at the National University of Mongolia. The official name of the chair position is the "Taylor Family-Asia Foundation Endowed Chair in Ecology and Conservation Biology," and the Asia Foundation awarded University of Pennsylvania alumnus Dr. Boldgiv as the first holder of the position. The endowment is valued at approximately $100,000, and Dr. Boldgiv will receive research support throughout the year through interest income generated from the endowment.

This endowed chair is an important development in higher education and research in Mongolia, and I am excited by the Asia Foundation's achievement and the Taylor family's generosity. It sets a precedent that I hope other organizations and donors (the ACMS included) can build upon and expand. Dr. Boldgiv represents a new generation of young scholars who have received PhDs from prestigious universities and have returned to assist in the further development of higher education and scholarship in Mongolia. Privately endowed chairs and fellowships have historically provided outstanding US scholars invaluable opportunities to expand the frontier of knowledge, because private funding opportunities have freed scholars from the vagaries of institutional politics and intrigue that can often inhibit important academic inquiry. Dr. Boldgiv, no less than US scholars, has now been given the same academic freedom with this endowed chair. I hope to see more Mongolian scholars earn this same freedom in the future.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

ACMS Hosts Rice University Interns

Over the summer the ACMS hosted two interns from Rice University. Their experiences are described in a recent press release from the Rice University News and Media Relations Office. ACMS Executive Director Charles Krusekopf is a Rice University Alumnus, and Rice University is an Institutional Member of the ACMS. Mongolia is an amazing place to participate in an internship, and the ACMS works hard to facilitate opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.

For more information about the Rice students' experiences visit, and for more information about the ACMS Internship Program visit the Internship Program section on the ACMS website.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Visa-less Transfers Were Never Gone

A correction from an earlier post on this blog: Visas are not required to make transfers in China within 24 hours of arriving, which is contrary to the information I posted a few weeks ago. I was misinformed then, and a very nice, smiling immigration officer at Beijing international airport informed me of this last week when I tried to use my Chinese visa to transfer from terminal 3 to terminal 2 where MIAT flights depart. Thanks a lot Chinese Embassy for the bad information...and taking $130 for the effort.

It turns out, however, that the new transfer system--that is, transferring from the new international terminal (terminal 3) to the old international terminal (terminal 2)--is not much different than before when one was transferring from a MIAT flight to a flight to the US. One still goes through the diplomat passports line and receives a temporary 24 hour visa stamp, and then exits immigration. Transfer to terminal 2 via bus, and then reenter customs and immigration to check-in at the MIAT counter. If all this takes less than 24 hours to do, then one does not need a visa to transfer in China.

As always, though, don't take my word for it. Check with your nearest consulate for up-to-date rules and regulations regarding transfers through China.

ACMS Library – Collection Increases by 400

The ACMS library recently received a donation of approximately 400 books, journals, and pamphlets from the family of Dr. Larry Moses who passed away during the summer. The materials were part of Dr. Moses’ personal research collection used during his career at Indiana University. These materials are currently being shipped to Mongolia, and they should be available for research in the late spring of 2009. The ACMS Board of Directors and Executive Staff would like to express their condolences for Dr. Moses’ passing and sincerest thanks for this generous contribution to the ACMS collection to the Moses family.

Xiongnu Archaeology Conference, Ulaanbaatar, Oct. 15-18

This international conference endeavors to bring together all scholars, from Asia to America, actively researching in the field of Xiongnu archaeology in order to discuss old and new research questions in a focused group of both specialists and related scholars. As this event will be structured around the exchange of ideas and constructive discussion, the format will be different from most conferences. Brief lectures of 20 minutes will be organized into thematic sessions, and each session will close with discussant commentary and open discussion. We thus aim to foster new ideas and approaches for the research which has been presented by specialists in this field.

The conference will be held at the Open Society Forum conference room from 8am to 6pm each day, with tea and lunch breaks. The Open Society Forum is located adjacent to the Silk Road and Veranda restaurant building across from the Chojin Lama Monastery. For more information please contact the American Center for Mongolian Studies at (+976) 11-350-486 or

Conference Organizers:
Dr. Ursula Brosseder (Bonn University, Germany)
Bryan K. Miller, PhD Candidate (University of Pennsylvania, USA)

This event is sponsored by the Silkroad Foundation in cooperation with University of Bonn, University of Pennsylvania, Institute of Archaeology, Mongolia, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, National Museum of Mongolia, and American Center for Mongolian Studies.

Registration at Conference Website:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Yili Milk Products Contaminated

An e-mail is circulating here in Mongolia about a BBC story related to the recent milk contamination in China. The company implicated in the contamination allegedly is Yili milk, which is a common milk product in Mongolia. More on the story can be found at the BBC News website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Traveling Through China

Post-Olympics China appears to be a more closed China than pre-Olympics China. I just spent two hours this morning standing in line to apply for a Chinese visa that will allow me to transfer from one plane to another on my way to the US. The days of visa-less transfers through China to or from Mongolia seem to be over for now. In order to transit through China, when applying for a visa in Mongolia, you need to bring your passport, visa application with passport sized photo, copy of your passport, and copy of your itinerary. If you plan to actually stay in China, I think you need bank statements and hotel reservations, too. US citizens pay $130 for a visa for regular slow service. Everyone else pays much, much less.

My natural inclination is to whine and complain about the process and the price. But, I am too aware of the world to take that too far. After all, what if I were Chinese trying to transit through the US? Would I even get a visa? I know I would have to pay $130 for the interview, and I suspect that is why US citizens, unlike everyone else, has to pay that amount for a Chinese visa. I will probably have a visa waiting for me next week, which makes complaining a bit hard given the current state of US immigration policy, which, for those of you unaware, is a complete mess. I think a Chinese citizen trying to get a visa to the US is playing game of roulette with a $130 bet on black. That is a much worse prospect than I face, which is mostly the inconvenience of standing in line for several hours (you can no longer send other people on your behalf to apply at the PRC Embassy in Mongolia).

The process for attaining a Chinese visa could change at any time, so don't take my word for it. Be sure to check with the nearest consulate or embassy website for the most up-to-date visa information. And, happy transiting.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Don't Forget to Renew Your Membership

It's about that time a year in which ACMS members will begin receiving notices to renew their memberships. The ACMS bylaws state that membership runs from September 1-August 30 of each year (for you rule junkies check out Article I Section 1.05 of the bylaws). Members are an integral part of the continued success of the ACMS, and I am proud to inform you that membership reached a peak of 320 individuals just before August 30. Of course, some of those members we will lose in the coming year, but we are optimistic that by December we should be solidly at 250 or more members in good standing. This is excellent, and I hope it impresses members and non-members alike that there is such a large community of researchers and scholars committed to supporting the ACMS mission of promoting scholarship in Mongolia.

There is also a very important individual reason to renew your membership. The ACMS regularly sends out announcements to its members about conferences, fellowships, and other program opportunities. This winter members should receive information about several ACMS programs including summer field research fellowships, dissertation and post-doc fellowships, language training fellowships, and several other opportunities currently in their planning stages. Whenever I hear someone say, "I didn't realize the ACMS had such a program," I usually know that is someone who either needs to become a member or renew their membership.

To join or renew your membership online visit Thanks to all our members and their continued support of the ACMS mission.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

CIEE Faculty Abroad Seminar

Mongolia: Empire and Democracy
June 21 - July 1, 2009

The Council for International Educational Exchange (CIEE) in cooperation with the American Center for Mongolian Studies will offer a faculty development seminar in Mongolia during the summer of 2009. This 11-day seminar begins and ends in Ulaanbaatar. Included is a study tour to Khentii province, birthplace of Chinggis Khaan, where participants will spend two nights at a traditional ger camp, the circular felt tents that the Mongolians have traditionally lived in for centuries. This is a unique opportunity to travel off-the-beaten-track for on site lectures in places of historic significance and witness the traditional Mongolian nomadic lifestyle. For more information about the program and how to apply, please visit

Monday, September 1, 2008

Myth Confirmed

When it comes to Mongolian-Chinese relations, it often seems there is more myth than fact at work. Mongolians are notoriously suspicious of all things Chinese, from foreign policy intentions to packages of instant ramen. And, from what I can gather, the Chinese are notoriously dismissive of all things Mongolian, forever holding on to the belief that nothing praiseworthy or important has ever happened in the north. I so often hear rumors of Chinese machinations and extreme, almost ludicrous, conspiracies directed towards Mongolia from Beijing that I am prone to be just as dismissive as the southern naysayers at times. Yet, I am also shocked how often sino-centric visitors to Mongolia take the equally extreme but opposite position that Mongolia is hardly an important concern of the government in Beijing. As an observer, I am always trying to ascertain where the truth lies in these extreme and opposing views.

Related to this is a common rumor in Mongolia that some Chinese maps include Mongolia as part of China. I recently saw notes from a speech Owen Lattimore gave in Paris in 1976 where he relayed a similar rumor that Premier Tsedenbal had expressed to him during one of their meetings, which came as a surprise to me because of the persistence and prevalence of the rumor. Well, this myth is somewhat confirmed by a recent post I read on another blog called Asian Gypsy. He refers to a map on a Chinese website that shows no country called Mongolia, just an uninterrupted border between Russia and China. The map is available at This, of course, does not prove a conspiracy in Chinese foreign policy, but it does confirm that such maps do exist. It is surprising to say the least. What other rumors are true, I wonder?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ACMS Library Continues to Grow

Thanks to numerous donations and a robust acquisitions policy supported by the ACMS Library Development Fund, the ACMS Library collection continues to grow at an impressive rate. In August the collection added approximately 75 new books focused on topics relevant to Inner Asian Studies. The library acquired books to complete its set of books written by Owen Lattimore (19 total), and it acquired dozens more such as:
  • The Silent Steppe: the Memoir of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov
  • Russia's Steppe Frontier: the Making of a Colonial Empire 1500-1800 by Michael Khodarkovsky
  • Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong
  • The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century Vol 1 & Vol 2 Translated and Commented by Igor de Rachewiltz
  • Reins of Liberation: An Entangled History of Mongolian Independence, Chinese Territoriality, and the Great Power Hegemony, 1911-1950 by Xiaoyuan Liu
For more information about the ACMS collection, visit our website at

Sunday, August 24, 2008

ACMS Speaker Series

The ACMS Speaker Series starts up again for the fall semester August 28th. For more information about the upcoming lecture, please visit Currently October 9th, November 6th, and December 4th are open for speakers. If you are interested in giving a lecture on one of these dates, please contact

Mongolian Second Gold Medal

A Mongolian athlete earned the country's second gold medal yesterday evening in a decisive bantamweight bout against a Cuban boxer. The celebrations Sunday evening were somewhat muted in comparison to the first gold medal, but thousands of people still made the most of the celebratory mood in Ulaanbaatar. Another Mongolian boxer also earned Mongolia's second silver medal yesterday. The total count for Mongolia during the 2008 Olympics was 2 golds and 2 silvers. Not bad. And, the icing on the cake was the Mongolian national anthem being played twice in Beijing, something one never tires of seeing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What season is it?

The other day at the center our Deputy Director (Enkhbaatar) mentioned that he had greeted someone recently by asking "saikhan zusaj baina uu?" (Are you summering well?), to which the person responded that it was no longer summer so he should have been asking "Are you autumning well?" This was on a day it was about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Could it already be autumn in Mongolia?

Mongolian weather is fairly stable within seasons, but it becomes a capricious prankster in the transition between seasons. Autumn and spring in particular are times when one will invariably pick to wear long underwear on a day that starts out freezing and ends at 90 degrees or to leave the house without a jacket on a day that starts out mild and ends with two inches of snow.

This week has marked the first signs of the seasonal transition. It was so hot Tuesday in the ACMS that it was actually difficult to concentrate on work. By Friday it was a very brisk cold, and looking like it might dip below freezing over the weekend at night. It is truly Autumn. It feels and smells like it outside. It is not even September. At some point next month, I expect Enkhbaatar will ask someone if they are autumning well, and the person will respond, "Don't you mean am I 'wintering well'?" So it goes on the high Asian steppe...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mongolian Gold

It was impossible to not get swept up in the emotion of Mongolia winning its first gold medal at the Olympics last night. Around nine in the evening the sky erupted in fireworks over Sukhbaatar square as thousand of people cheered and sang the national anthem in honor of N. Tuvshinbayar, Judo Olympic Champion, and now the most popular man in Mongolia. It was amazing to see how many people were openly weeping tears of joy over the accomplishment, and I confess that even I am still a bit emotional about it, too. It was more than a medal and more than a victory on the international stage. It was a catharsis, too. An opportunity for everyone to let out the emotion that has built up in the last month due to the political crisis and to remember the greatness of Mongolia, something that has seemed somewhat in doubt at times. N. Tuvshinbayar won a medal for a whole nation yearning to be proud once again--a point exemplified by Bayar (MPRP) and Elbegdorj (DP) holding each other's hands above their heads on the steps of the parliament building screaming in joy as loudly as the thousands of people gathered before them on Sukhbaatar square . Some of the tears shed last night were brought about by renewed faith in Mongolia, I have no doubt.

Congratulations, Mongolia! Bayar khurge, Mongolchuudaa!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lattimore Colllection Grows

As part of preparing for the upcoming Lattimore conference, the ACMS Library made an attempt to purchase all of Lattimore's books to include in the library collection. Previously the collection contained only about 4 of Lattimore's 19 books (at least that's how many we've counted so far). With support from the ACMS Library Development Fund, 0ur library was able to purchase 18 books and several other materials related to Lattimore. We were unable to find one book titled "The Diluv Khutagt: Memoirs and autobiography of a Mongol Buddhist reincarnation in religion and revolution." If you know of an available copy somewhere in the world, please let us know at so we can complete the collection.

The missing book notwithstanding, the ACMS Library may be able to claim, unsubstantiated with any real evidence, only a gut feeling, that it is the most comprehensive public collection of Lattimore's work available in Mongolia. As an exciting bonus, the Lattimore Family has also donated digital copies of all of Owen Lattimore's photos housed at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University and photos from David Lattimore's visit to Mongolia in 1964 to the ACMS Library collection. In terms of photographic history, this is also arguably the best collection of materials related to Owen Lattimore in Mongolia.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Mongolian Press

A free press and freedom of expression are cornerstones of a healthy democratic political process. This is an idea that is so often repeated that I think sometimes we have a tendency to accept it uncritically without exception. The current political row in Mongolia has made me reevaluate this idea because increasingly I observe a democratic process being tainted by a seemingly unprofessional and irresponsible press.

Several news outlets seem to have taken the idea of press freedom and freedom of expression to the same logical but immoral conclusion that a prankster in a crowded theater might use to justify shouting "Fire!" That is, freedom of expression is the right to say whatever, whenever one feels the need to express oneself regardless of the consequences of saying it. Several online news outlets and print news agencies, as well as a couple of television stations, in Mongolia seem to apply this reasoning to their reporting. Whether factual or not, the press has the right to print or broadcast whatever, whenever it wants--so the argument seems to go based on the behavior of some of these media outlets.

When someone chooses to express oneself, one always runs the risk of saying something controversial that may produce adverse consequences. It is a fact of political life, and often this is the defense used by the press when unseemly information about the government is printed and politicians or bureaucrats try to silence legitimate reporting on the basis of libel or character assassination. In such cases, the argument goes that the right for the public to know and the need to inform for the public good supersedes any claim of libel. In other words, people generally have a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to the reporter reporting the information rather than the government officials claiming the information to be a lie, as to do otherwise puts society at risk of being unable to root out serious political malfeasance. It's probably not a bad assumption to make most of the time that claims of libel are intended to silence the reporter rather than set the record straight, at least in circumstances where the reporter has much greater credibility than the government officials. And, maybe that is a key point. The idea of credibility.

Freedom of expression comes with certain responsibilities. It is not totally free. We cannot shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater because we have a responsibility to help maintain the peace in society at the expense of a childish desire to play a prank. And, media outlets should not report false or unsubstantiated information, because they have a responsibility, too, to support a healthy democratic political process at the expense of their own desire to meet a deadline or sell more papers. Freedom without responsibility is simply anarchy. I wonder how often media outlets in Mongolia can participate in reporting that is closer to anarchy than legitimate freedom of expression before they lose all credibility to confront legitimate cases of political malfeasance? How many times can one shout "Fire!" before people stop listening?

I have come across numerous articles ( and the UB Post are two print examples) of information being reported with little evidence to substantiate claims or without caveats such as "it is alleged" or "evidence of this claim was not forthcoming." Instead, articles contain claims without caveats or important supporting information, and many times they are presented as fact as opposed to speculation. Readers of the newspapers should look for these sorts of omissions, because they signal at best sloppiness and lack of journalistic integrity and at worst deliberate efforts to complicate the political process by misinforming the public.

Democracies cannot function without freedom of expression. But, they also cannot function without people respecting the responsibilities that go along with that right. The Mongolian media has a lot of work to do as an industry before it can rightfully claim that it has a substantially positive impact on the political process. Without integrity and trust, the industry is a purveyor of rumors and misinformation that potentially are dangerous tools for deliberately derailing the political process and harming the public.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lattimore Conference Web Pages

The ACMS Library has created a dedicated section of the library website to showcase information and digital materials related to the ACMS conference entitled “Owen Lattimore: the Past, Present, and Future of Inner Asian Studies.” To see these web pages please visit

Register Today – ACMS Conference

“Owen Lattimore: the Past, Present, and Future of Inner Asian Studies”
August 20-21, 2008, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS), International Association of Mongol Studies (IAMS), and National University of Mongolia School of Foreign Service (SFS) invites members of the public to participate in a two day conference on the theme of Owen Lattimore (1900-1989), the renowned scholar of Inner Asia and China. The conference will feature keynote speeches from Lattimore’s grandson Evan on behalf of the Lattimore family and Professor Ch. Dalai, a close personal friend and colleague of Owen Lattimore during the opening day’s lunch.

The conference will also feature presentations of academic papers, an exhibit of Lattimore’s work, and two special film presentations about life in Mongolia in the 1970s.

More information about the conference is available at Participation is open and free to the public; however, participants must register by August 15th, 2008 by sending an e-mail to, visiting the ACMS at National University of Mongolia Building No. 5 Room 304, or calling the ACMS at 11-350-486.

Mongolian Statistical Yearbook

As a superb example of information about Mongolia being available but not practically accessible, one of our interns this summer has come across the URL for an electronic version of the Mongolian Statistical Yearbook at the National Statistics Office. You'll note that the URL has no domain name but rather an IP address. It has not been indexed by Google, so although the document is on the Web, you have to know where it is to find and use it. Makes me wonder how many other useful documents are just floating out there at http://randomIPaddress/?

Check out the yearbook at

Thursday, July 24, 2008

E-Government Portal

Yesterday I heard about an e-government portal on the web designed for the Mongolian government. Although it is live, the developers and the Mongolian government have not begun advertising it widely yet. It has Mongolian and English interfaces. It is nicely designed, but I have not had a chance to see if it also contains useful content. Have a look for yourself at

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Headless State by David Sneath

In April David Sneath of the Inner Asian Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge gave a lecture at the ACMS that drew from his then forthcoming book "The Headless State: Aristocratic Orders, Kinship Society, and Misrepresentations of Nomadic Inner Asia" (Columbia University Press). Over the Naadam holiday I had an opportunity to read the book.

This is hardly an academic review of the book, but rather one lay person's impression of the work. Overall I was quite intrigued by the main argument Dr. Sneath builds throughout the book supported by evidence in many instances that debunks what he considers long held but inaccurate interpretations of society
at the aggregate levels of community or within distinguishable polities in Inner Asia. The traditional Anthropological descriptions of Inner Asian Society, according to Dr. Sneath, have been used to support theoretical models which describe "pre-state" polities as clan or kin based tribal systems.

Within these models, the tribal society creeps towards non-kin based forms of administrative organization that is indicative of the modern state. These are theories of political evolution in which tribal society is an inferior precursor to the more evolved and resilient nation state. As a consequence, the historical interpretations of societies in Inner Asia have often been framed in terms of underdevelopment and approaching but ultimately receding from being a state-like entity back towards an ideal form of nomadic and pastoral society which is suited for the harsh environment of the steppe. These models, however outmoded or possibility discredited in certain areas of social science, seem to continue to find their way into historical and popular understanding of Inner Asian society. What Dr. Sneath argues, convincingly to me, is that the political and social order on the steppe has and continues to be far more complex than the perennial perception of egalitarian nomads living freely and rather haphazardly on the plains, only occasionally organizing themselves under a charismatic leader into a state-like entity of marauding hordes.

The book is interesting on many levels, but one of the points that resonated with me was his description of the Great Mongol Empire not as a singularly unique event or a revolution on the steppe under the charismatic leadership of Chinggis Khaan, but rather as an exceptional form of many of the administrative and state like systems in use before the Mongol Empire and even after its decline. The reason for this resonating with me was a comment a faculty member from the University of Missouri's School of Journalism made on a recent tour of sites related to the Mongol Empire. He said that the history of Inner Asia he learned in school often gave the impression that people such as Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan sprang from nowhere and after a time their empires receded back to nowhere. But, standing where Temujiin was crowned as Chinggis Khaan, the son of a great Khan himself, it became clear to this faculty member that at the very least an aristocratic order existed.

Dr. Sneath drives this very point home throughout the latter half of his book, presenting historical evidence to demonstrate that steppe society has been marked by a complex aristocratic order and political intrigue that has been generally reserved for historical treatments of Western civilizations before modern nation states formed. The evidence presented in the book points to a highly administrative social structure with fluid movement of aristocratic groups at the top of these societies. In other words, the history of Inner Asia has not been the supplanting of one tribe by another, but rather the supplanting of one aristocratic order by another with the rest of society, and more importantly the administrative structures used to control the society, remaining relatively unchanged.

Overall the book is an interesting read, and Dr. Sneath offers a compelling argument supported by historical evidence, logic, and instances of proof by contradiction with numerous points of accepted wisdom. I recommend the book if you have any interest in Mongolian history or nomadic societies.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

ACMS Digital Book Collection

The ACMS is pleased to announce its newest online digital collection: Selected Mongolian Laws and Regulations 1917-1940. The collection contains nearly 1,600 digital scans of laws and regulations written in Mongol script, and it covers an interesting array of topics from the Mongolian People's Republic constitution to regulations about harvesting pine cone seeds. The project received support from the US Department of Education TICFIA program under the Local Archives and Libraries at Overseas Research Centers (LALORC) project. To view the collection, visit

Saturday, July 5, 2008

President Gives Public Statement

President Enkhbayar gave a public statement on MNB just before the state of emergency was set to expire last night. It was a conciliatory statement aimed at appealing to people's sense of duty to do what is right for the common good of the country. He asked in a very Kennedy-esque style for people to think about how they can serve Mongolia and not how Mongolia can serve them personally in this time of crisis. He also stressed that Mongolia, especially its leaders, needs "sharp intellects" and not "sharp rocks" to solve the problems of the country. He also stated that the current government would investigate alleged irregularities in the election and work to ensure that the final results are accepted and legitimate. He called on everyone to learn how to make a fair and equitable culture at all levels of society. In general he asked that Mongolia move forward and learn from this experience.

The full transcript is on the website in Mongolian: President Enkhbayar's Statement.

State of Emergency Set to Expire

The state of emergency is set to expire this evening at 11:30pm. From the look and feel of things, however, you would think it ended Thursday morning. Since then the soldiers have been off the streets, and all the major roads have reopened. Some of the larger restaurants have remained closed because of the ban against public gatherings, and there is still a general prohibition on alcohol sales. However, other than these inconveniences the state of emergency has been a laid back affair, more reassuring than oppressive.

An article on indicated that experts have advised razing the MPRP building and constructing a new headquarters. It's strange enough to see that building gutted by fire, and I think it will be stranger still for it to be gone. I think this will have a significant psychological effect on Mongolian politics. Only time will tell whether this effect will be positive or negative.

The political fall out from the riot is just beginning, I am sure. This is in many ways like Mongolia's Hurricane Katrina. It exposed the social and economic injustice and the perennial failure of leadership in Mongolia, and it also jolted people, especially the politicians, into realizing that failed policies can have frightening indirect consequences when a perfect storm of events forms. The irony is that this election was probably the fairest and most transparent in Mongolia's democratic history, but the government has failed in its responsibilities. It is not difficult to convince some people that incompetence is an insidious form of political corruption, as opposed to an absence of leadership and vision. I am an optimist about Mongolia. It takes three steps forward for each step back, and I am confident that the vast majority of people will make the right decisions to turn this tragedy into an opportunity to take ever more steps forward.

Friday, July 4, 2008


I just came across two very different portraits in leadership. They are interviews with Democratic Party leader Elbegdorj and Democratic Party ranking member Bat-Uul. The contrast between the two is striking. One has to wonder if this contrast will have an effect on people in general. See for yourself and compare.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day Two of the State of Emergency

Last night was sort of a key test to see if the events on July 1 were an perfect storm of events not likely to occur again or just the beginning of more civil unrest to come. The night seems to have passed without event, or at least I cannot detect anything from the local and international media or my colleagues. It is raining this morning, and it does provide the redemptive mood that so many ham fisted film directors use to metaphorically tell the audience that the protagonist's soul has been cleansed.

Parliament held an emergency meeting as prescribed in the rules governing declarations of state emergencies last night. The first 10 minutes of the meeting were broadcast live on MNB, but a motion was made to close the meeting to the public. This was seconded and passed with a vote of 48 to 14, if my memory is correct. Although some international media outlets refer to MNB as "state television," it is technically a national public television station. The word state just makes it seem more ominous than it really is. The point of mentioning this is that the broadcasts from MNB so far have seemed to provide equal time to all parties, and it has not shied away from reporting on what happened on July 1. Whether they are being objectively critical, I cannot say, but they are certainly not trying to whitewash or ignore the situation.

The Election Committee announced the near final results (?) of the election yesterday. MPRP took 44 seats, the Democratic Party 27 seats, Civil Will Party 1 seat, Civil Coalition Party 1 seat, and an independent candidate 1 seat. The list of winners and their vote percentages are at By the numbers you can see that 2 seats are still not decided. I have yet to see evidence that provides a reasonable doubt that fraud was perpetrated on a mass level in the election. I keep hearing rumors from people regarding instances of fraud and some politicians are also talking about proof, but it all seems to start with "I know someone, who heard from someone, that someone..."

It is an exaggeration to say Ulaanbaatar is in lock-down. Life yesterday seemed to go about as normal, but I think people are tense and on edge. I can only speak for myself, however. It's more of the "unknown, unknowns" that Rumsfeld once referred to for me. There is really a sense of confusion about what will happen next, and there is a failure of leadership on the part of the government and the leaders of the political parties to put people at ease with reassuring actions and to quell irresponsible rumor mongering. This may be to due to the fact that even they are confused about what is going on and the extent of the unknown, unknowns the country faces. Although it sounds terrible, the state of emergency declaration was a good move on the part of the President, and I hope that he continues to show leadership by lifting the emergency in the next 48 hours after everyone has had a chance to calm down and gain some much needed perspective. The party leaders also need to work towards some sort of reconciliation within the law. I am hopeful this will occur, because I think the vast majority of people (including the politicians), regardless of who they want to place the blame on, were horrified by what occurred. It was completely antithetical to the way most people solve disputes.

Hopefully this will be one of my last entries on this topic, and I can return to informing you about library furniture and conferences.

What is Really Going On?

After reading some of the latest international news regarding the rioting yesterday evening, I am actually surprised by some of the distance between the words of the stories and the reality of the streets. The most striking thing to note is the number of people who were supposedly protesting. It appeared to me from the television feed of the event that at most several hundred people were actually protesting and ultimately turned to acts of vandalism. The vast majority of people appeared to be bystanders who had come out to watch a truly unprecedented event in Mongolia's democratic history. I have seen estimates of 8,000 to 20,000 protesters out in the streets, but that just seems absurd to me based on what I saw. But, then again, I was watching from the television, and I could not hear what every person in the crowd was saying. So, as with all things in Mongolia, where accurate information is concerned, people may argue for years about who was doing what and where the blame lies.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Photos of the Day After

The streets of Ulaanbaatar are quiet, but the fact that armored personnel carriers with soldiers armed with AK-47s are standing at major intersections around the center of town reminds one that something terrible happened here last night. At least one rumor I have seen in print can be debunked. The rioters did not set fires on Sukhbaatar Square or anywhere near the Chinggis Khaan monument, or least this morning there was no evidence of this. The Cultural Palace is indeed gutted, and the losses at the National Gallery and the philharmonic are allegedly significant.

The pictures below show some of the damage caused by the rioters. The MPRP building and the Cultural Palace can be seen burnt in one of the pictures, and there are several vehicles burned out as well.

Cultural Palace and Art Gallery Destruction

The Cultural Palace and National Art Gallery were set ablaze in addition to the MPRP headquarters. Numerous important works were damaged. However, students from the National University of Mongolia Art School and other individuals apparently rescued several works of art from the flames. [source:]

More Reports

The latest report from the General Police Agency Communications center is that over 400 officers and other personnel were injured in the riots. About 90 people from that were also injured enough to receive medical attention. Eleven officers were in serious condition. [source:]

Also according the BBC the riots spread to the Cultural Palace, National Art Gallery, and Opera Theatre.

It appears the damage is more extensive than what I could originally see on television. President Enkhbayar has declared a state of emergency for the next four days within the Baga Toiruu (Little Ring Road) and a curfew of 10pm to 8am. More of the presidential decree at

The Morning After

Even during a period of national crisis it seems the television news agencies do not deviate from their usual late morning start. About 7:30am MNB began broadcasting again about the situation. All is calm around the MPRP building, but it does appear 3 people died. The identities of the decreased were not clear to me.

The building itself was completely gutted by fire, and around the building lay burnt out vehicles and spent bonfires. Prime Minister Bayar appeared at one of the hospitals that was treating some of the more serious injuries around 5:00am this morning. The doctors seemed a bit overwhelmed.

Now the clean up begins. Several high level government meetings are planned over the next several days to discuss how to move forward. At this point outside the epicenter life in Ulaanbaatar is moving forward as usual.

International Coverage of the Situation

International coverage of the situation in Ulaabaatar is not in depth, but overall it appears fairly accurate based on what I have seen. BBC News is the only news agency to exaggerate the number of protesters, putting the number into the thousands. To be sure, more than a thousand people were standing around watching the events unfold, but I would put the number of actual "protesters" participating in the chaos at no more than several hundred. The vast majority of people appeared to be just watching, and there were no examples that I could see of the violence being directed at anything but the police and the MPRP building, which is bad enough in itself, but thankfully not so chaotic that innocent bystanders were also victims of the violence. Whether they may have been victims of rubber bullets or tear gas fired by the police is another story, of course. Eagle Television did show one teenage boy and an elderly man who had been hit in the head and neck, respectively, by rubber bullets, but the circumstances of them being hit were not clear.

Protest Turns Into a Riot

It has been a tense evening in Ulaanbaatar. A protest that began around 1:30pm this afternoon in front of the MPRP (ruling party) party headquarters descended into chaos by early evening. Currently it is 11:54pm and the MPRP building is almost completely engulfed in flames and smoke, and according to the live news feed of the scene the police have quit the area. It appears from the images on television that at most about 200 people are ransacking the building and otherwise participating in a unfettered demonstration of violence and vandalism. All the activity this evening has been focused on the MPRP Building.

What I have seen is a bit too amazing to believe. The protesters and police had pitched confrontations which included rubber bullets fired from shotguns and automatic rifles, tear gas, and batons. These had only temporary effects on the situation, and the protesters were able on several occasions to regroup and recharge the police, causing them to retreat to defensive positions. I actually saw just as many police officers throwing stones at the protesters as the protesters themselves due to the fact that the vast majority appeared under equipped. The saddest example of this was the fire hoses the police were using to disperse the crowd which had the water pressure of lawn sprinklers.

Eagle Broadcasting Company provided a live feed for the entire event from the roof of the Democratic Party headquarters which was just West of the scene. Although every channel showed at least some footage of what was going on. At one point the area appeared to have up to several thousand people, but only about 100 or less were actually committing acts of violence and vandalism.

The Director of the Communications Center for the General Police Agency reported about an hour ago that approximately 45 people had been injured and a couple dozen police officers. So far, thankfully, there have been no reported deaths.

President Enkhbayar called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, which included other major party leaders who participated in the elections, to discuss the situation. It was broadcast on television, and it did not appear to produce a resolution but rather served as a venue to air further grievances about the fairness of the election. The government looked hopelessly unprepared to handle the situation.

In addition to the MPRP building several cars in the parking lot were also set ablaze. At one point the protesters commandeered a tractor and drove it at the police, causing them to once again retreat. Later in the evening the tractor shovel was used to hold a large mass of burning material, and the protesters drove it around the parking lot while dancing on the tractor frame and body. Complete chaos could describe the scene within the protesters, yet hundreds, maybe thousands, more bystanders looked on like they were watching a theatrical performance. It looked like contained, and one might say almost restrained chaos. People were not dragged about and beaten. The vandalism appeared to not spread to other buildings near by.

The news reported that the majority of people that were arrested before the police quit the area were intoxicated. I heard other information that the violence and vandalism was kicked off by bystanders egging drunk protesters on to escalate the situation. From the images on the live feed, it appeared that many were drunk based on their behavior and body movements. There were numerous signs of looting from the businesses that rent space on the first floor of the MPRP building, and I even saw a situation in which young hoodlums told a television cameraman to shut off his camera while they looted an office.

It appears that everything is contained (voluntarily on the part of the vandals) around the MPRP building with no wider movement through the city. It remains to be seen what this city is going to be like in the morning. The MPRP building is completely destroyed, so it certainly will not be the same city, or country for that matter.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Owen Lattimore Conference

The ACMS, International Association for Mongol Studies, and the National University of Mongolia are organizing a conference on August 20th and 21st with the theme/title of "Owen Lattimore: the Past, Present, and Future of Inner Asian Studies." The conference is intended to be partly academic and partly an opportunity for Mongolian government officials, diplomats, and private citizens to reminisce on Mongolian foreign relations during the 20th century from the perspective of Owen Lattimore and his legacy. Many of the Mongolians who interacted with Owen Lattimore on a personal or professional level are slowly disappearing, and this conference will provide an opportunity to record an oral history of some of the smaller and not widely known events that occurred during the early years of the Socialist Revolution, the Cold War, and the post-1990 democratic transition.

The conference will be free and open to the public, and it will include two special film presentations of documentaries made in 1974-75 by a British film team and Owen Lattimore as commentator on life in Socialist Mongolia. These films were the first foreign documentaries sanctioned by the Mongolian government during the Socialist Era. These presentations will be offered as part of the ACMS's ongoing film series seminar program, which examines cinema related to Mongolia and Inner Asia and offers participants an opportunity to delve deeper into the films via guided discussions and activities. More information about this program is on the ACMS website at the Film Series Seminars page.

The ACMS library is also organizing an exhibit of Owen Lattimore's works which will be on display near the conference venue. The library has collected most of Owen Lattimore's written works for inclusion in the ACMS library, and it is currently working to acquire photographs as well. More information about the ACMS Library is at

The tentative conference schedule and description is now online at the Conference Schedule page. An updated schedule will be available in mid-July, and ACMS members will receive periodic updates about the schedule and events leading up to the conference dates. To become an ACMS member visit the Become a Member page on the ACMS website.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Rivers Have Water

The drought like conditions in Ulaanbaatar are over for the time being. It has been raining for 4 or 5 days now, and the soil is supersaturated with water. The hills are starting to look like they may actually turn green this summer, and the smaller rivers through town are flowing once again. I have even heard from a person who passed through Khentii over the weekend that it is now turning green there as well.

When the ACMS hosted a faculty development tour two weeks ago, the group stayed in a hotel near the Sky Center. Several times I was asked whether the river next to the Sky Center, also known as the Selbe River (Сэлбэ Гол), ever had water in it. The river had been completely dry for about a month, so my response to this question with a yes generally met with somewhat incredulous looks. The photo to the left shows for the record that the Selbe does in fact have water run through it occasionally. This is a day after the peak period of rain, so it is not nearly as full as it was the day before.

Monday, June 23, 2008

ACMS Language Program

The ACMS kicked off its first ever Mongolian language program yesterday. Over the next 7.5 weeks four students will take a semi-intensive intermediate course in colloquial Mongolian. Each student received a fellowship ranging in size of $1,000-$3,000 plus waived tuition to participate in the program, which is part of a much larger ACMS initiative to improve Mongolian language training and to provide (eventually) accredited immersion courses for universities students.

Concurrent with the classes over the summer is a project to put the materials developed for the program up on a dedicated publicly accessible website. The ACMS has adopted an open courseware approach to the program in order to ensure that the materials reach their widest potential audience. More information about this aspect of the project will most likely be available in the fall.

Overall the program has a strong emphasis on the intermediate to advanced levels of training. The ACMS, as well as numerous Mongolian learners, has noticed that the largest proportion of materials available for learning Mongolian focus on the novice to beginner levels. In addition, there is a tendency in books that do focus on higher levels to miss numerous spoken forms of the language that do not necessarily find their way into the written form but are nonetheless extremely relevant in many contexts of conservation. Students who study Mongolian exclusively from the print materials available on the market often find themselves unprepared to effectively communicate when an opportunity finally arises to visit Mongolia. This program is intended to develop well rounded language users.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ulaanbaatar: This Weekend Seattle with Soviet Architecture

It has been raining in Ulaabaatar all weekend, and the streets are beginning to show signs of flooding. It's nothing bad at this point, but the city has taken on a what-if-Seattle-were-a-Soviet-city sort of feel. For those of you unfamiliar with Seattle weather or the Soviet Union, what I am implying is it's dreary upon a backdrop of soulless architecture. But, it is dreary and soulless in a polished sense. Usually Ulaanbaatar projects a drab hue of industrial blackish yellow and concrete gray. It is not pleasant on the eyes. Wash it for several days, as has occurred this weekend, and it takes on a glossy industrial blackish yellow and glossy concrete gray like a wet stone. It looks like a Soviet Seattle. Dreary, yet glossy, and, honestly, still not all that pleasant on the eyes.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Facutly Development Seminar

The ACMS recently hosted a faculty development seminar under the auspices of the Council for International Education and Exchange (CIEE) which included a 4 day excursion to Khentii Aimag. The title of the program was "Mongolia: Empire and Democracy," and the group participated in a series of lectures and field trips to understand Mongolia in historical and contemporary contexts and how they are inextricably linked in many facets of modern Mongolian society.

In order to provide some of the historical perspective, the group did a pilgrimage of sorts through the myth and fact surrounding Temujiin (Chinggis Khaan) and his iconographic manifestations in popular culture. The group went to Khentii in order to visit some of the more important sites identified in the Mongolian Secret History, including the location Borte was kidnapped by the Merkid, Temujiin became Chinggis Khaan, and Temujiin was born (listed in order of visiting-not chronologically). It was truly amazing to stand at some of the sites and contemplate that from such remote and unassuming places the world's largest land empire was born. The ACMS produced a map of the trip using Google Maps API which is available at for those interested in learning more about the sites.

The map provides a good sense of the distances involved in experiencing just one part of the secret history. The group traveled over 800 miles in four days over jeep trail and open steppe. Again, this brought home the extraordinary moment in history the Mongol Empire represented. Travel is difficult enough today with Russian vans designed for off-road travel. Imagine what it was like in the 13th century with ox carts and horses. The vast distances the Mongols covered while at the same time conquering along the way is the pinnacle of human ingenuity, strength, and endurance that is difficult to fully appreciate until one has spent several days trying to travel through only a minute portion of what would eventually be the Great Mongol Empire.

Monday, June 16, 2008

School Year in Mongolia Comes to an End

The school year in Mongolia has finally come to an end. Most students have packed up and moved back home for the summer, and the corridors in the National University of Mongolia are empty and quiet. The ACMS is also quieting down as less and less students from the National University of Mongolia use the reading room to prepare term papers and study for exams. Yet, the number of international scholars visiting the center is on the rise. Summer, after all, is the peak season for international scholars to make excursions into the field. So, although there are fewer Mongolian students to serve, the ACMS staff will remain busy throughout the summer serving the influx of academic adventurers from abroad.

That is not necessarily so for other places on campus and around Ulaanbaatar. It's a good idea to remember that most institutions and the individuals that constitute them take every opportunity to enjoy the warm sun of summer. It is difficult to make appointments during this time of year, so be sure to plan accordingly if you are intending to do work in Mongolia during the summer.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Summer Hours

The Ulaanbaatar office will be closed July 10th to 21st for the Naadam holiday. The office will reopen on the 21st at 9am. Have a wonderful time enjoying the three manly sports.

Khentii Province

The last week of May there was a terrible sand and snow storm in Khentii Province which killed dozens of people and thousands of livestock. Two days ago I returned from a faculty development tour through Khentii in which our group visited some of the more important sites in the life of Temujiin/Chinggis Khaan and the founding of the Great Mongol State. What we found to our surprise was an ecological disaster. Most of the areas we visited looked more like the Gobi than northern Mongolia, a thought driven home by our visit to Khangal Nuur. This is a lake large lake, or at least it was a large lake, running along a narrow valley in the hills. It was completely dry. The picture shows the extent of the disaster. Check out the lake from a satellite image during a good year:
View Larger Map

It has been a relatively dry spring in the area around Ulaanbaatar and Khentii this year. I have heard from two sources, however, that the central part of Mongolia around Arkhangai province are much greener this year than the last few years. In fact, the area has been described as "normal." Traveling around Mongolia one quickly gets the sense how fragile the ecosystem is, and yet one also sees how quickly it can recover given the right conditions.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mongolia is Still Cold

This morning began with a snow, sleet, and freezing rain storm. Mongolia remains cold even in late May. It was actually 75 degrees and sunny last Sunday, which demonstrates how variable spring weather in Mongolia can be. Prepare well for your trip here this summer. The photo shows some of the snow that fell this morning in the late spring shower.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Stage Play - Children's Park

Children's Park
a new play by Michael Littig (Fulbright Scholar in Drama)
A Charity Fundraiser for VoiceBox

Date: Friday May 30th and Saturday May 31st
Place: Khan Bank Theatre (Seoul Street 25)
Time: 8:00 PM
Cost: 6,000 Tugriks

Set in a surreal landscape, Children's Park follows the story of Benny
and Ella as they discover what it means to be foreign.

"It's a place that's both near and distant at the same time.
Like the course of a boat across a lake.
Like the relations between a man and a woman.
Like paradise."
-Children's Park

With: Gabrielle Brady, Michael Littig, and Amraa
Music by: James Tallant
Design by: Todd Forsgren

Children's Park will run for 60 minutes without an intermission.

*Adult situations and language. PG-13 material*