Blog Post 2: Controversial Topics in Inner Mongolia

 

  Last weekend, our study abroad program took a trip to Inner Mongolia to tour Hohhot and the grassland. While in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia’s capitol, we had the opportunity to visit two museums, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Museum and the Governor’s residence. Although both museums, like many others, tended to avoid the sort of politically controversial issues that I hoped to address, each museum offered a single insight into my research topic.

  In the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Museum, tucked between an exhibit advertising China’s space program and Mongolian folk medicine was an exhibit largely dedicated to criticizing Japanese occupation and imperialism, presented in a pointedly critical way clearly in line with the Communist Party’s opinions. From the second I stepped into the exhibit, I was greeted by a statue of three Mongolian soldiers charging on horses, presumably towards their Japanese enemies, establishing a tone of violent resistance against imperialism. The exhibit focused on the Japanese occupation in Manchuria, displaying Japanese firearms and swords next to a scene of a Mongolian girl serving as a healer, a contrast clearly intended to demonize the Japanese, perhaps justifiably given the Mongolian people’s transition from conqueror to conquered over the course of history. The imagery throughout this exhibit, namely horseback sword charges and traditional clothing incorporated into modern uniforms, deliberately evoked their proud history of the mongol empire, which could be interpreted as subtle claim to a national identity distinct from the Communist image of the “Ideal Cadre”.

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A reenactment of Mongolian Horsemen in the time of Ghengis Khan, Especially 0:00 and 0:26; Compare to the museum’s statue

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  In the other museum, the Manchurian General’s residence, the Qing Dynasty was presented much more neutrally, despite the museum being the seat from which the Manchurians controlled Hohhot. The museum did provide a unique perspective on the Communist Party, as our group’s tour guide was the only source I found in a museum to mention the destruction of cultural artifacts during the Cultural Revolution. In addition, the Governor’s palace emphasized the Nationalist Party’s role in incorporating Inner Mongolia into China, instead of largely ignoring them as is typical of Chinese museums. To me, this symbolized a subtle resentment towards Chinese control, much more subdued than their unconcealed anger at the Japanese, but still present throughout their culture. Although Mandarin Chinese is still widely spoken, both the Governor’s palace and almost every street sign displayed at least two languages, demonstrating the Inner Mongolian people’s refusal to let go of their culture even under the control of yet another foreign power.

Pictured to the right: A statue of a young dragon, the head destroyed during the cultural revolution

  Although the Mongolian museums were still largely in line with party ideology, both their cultural and geographic distance encouraged a certain rebellious streak that belies a strong cultural identity, unshakable in the face of Manchurian and Communist control. This trend in turn suggests that the role of the museum as propaganda mouthpiece is not constant throughout China, and that these two Mongolian museums demonstrate the role of local identity in generating, reacting to, and accepting propaganda. However, it is equally important to consider that Beijing’s museums are targeted just as much at foreign tourists and Chinese from other provinces as at local Beijingers, which leads me to believe that Beijing’s museums are a sort of baseline for Chinese political viewpoints as expressed through museums, a standard against which Mongolia’s museums could be proved to express the unique attributes specific to Mongolian culture.

 

Bibliography:

BBC Ghengis Khan documentary – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgYYUZGNSO8