A Missing Stanza from Natsagdorj’s Poem, ‘My Native Land’

By W. Juna.

There has been a lot of recent discussion over the Chinese government’s new ‘bilingual’ education policy in Inner Mongolia. This new policy has  reduced Mongolian language instruction in favour of instruction in Chinese (Also see a post by Prof. Christopher Atwood).

From September 2020, first year Mongolian school children are now required to learn in Chinese, along with their mother tongue. Mongolian textbooks of Morality and Law as well as History will also be replaced with textbooks written in Chinese from 2021 and 2022. The reform not only reduces Mongolian as a medium for teaching and learning, replacing social science subject textbooks, but will also alter the content of Mongolian textbooks. A quick perusal of the new Mongolian language and literacy textbooks reveal that well-known Mongolian authors’ works have been replaced with translated works of Chinese authors. The historical story of Chinggis Khan’s youth, ‘Temüjin’s Childhood’, for example, was replaced by Mao Zedong’s ‘Serve the People’, while the poem ‘Mongolian Language’, written by famous Mongolian writer and scholar B. Rinchin has been replaced by a translation of Chinese writer Weiwei`s ‘Who is the Dearest Person’, an essay paying homage to the Chinese Voluntary Army during the Korean War in the early 1950s. If such changes are conspicuous upon comparing the new textbooks with the old ones, other changes are not as immediately evident, such as the disappearance of the last stanza from Natsagdorj’s most famous poem ‘My Native Land’ (see poem below).

Borjgin Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj (1906-1937). Source: Wikipedia.

Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj was a Mongolian poet, writer, playwright, and one of the founders of Mongolian modern literature. Within his short lifespan of 31 years, he produced a copious body of works. The poem ‘My Native Land’ was published in the early 1930s and is one of the classics of Mongolian literature. In this poem, the author praises the pristine nature of Mongolia and infuses the lines with pride in the heroic history of the past, the enjoyment of the present and hope for the future. Originally it consisted of 12 stanzas, but is known to Mongols with 13 stanzas. The last stanza reads:

The mother tongue we learn from childhood is a legacy we cannot forget

The homeland we live eternally is a place we cannot depart from

The name Mongol has glory in world history

The heart of all Mongols beats with our homeland Mongolia

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful.

 

According to Professor Kazuyuki Okada in 1955, the 13th stanza, or last stanza, was added to the poem, which was taken from one of his later poems on history by the compilers of the collection of Natsagdorj’s work after his death. This expanded version has become well known across the Mongolian plateau, taught within schools both in Mongolia, as well as Inner Mongolia for decades. In Inner Mongolia, the poem has been included in the Mongolian high school Language and Literature textbook. Thus, hardly anyone remembers that the last stanza was from a different poem.

Natsagdorj’s beautiful rhymes delicately capture the nature of the Mongolian plateau and the Mongols love for their magnificent home and hence pulled at the heart strings of all Mongols. In particular, the 13th or the last stanza of the poem, has been recontextualized in a variety of contexts, ranging from the cultural revitalization movement, to a calligraphy competition, to an online advertisement of Mongolian-themed products (see Figure 1 below). The last stanza, which centers on the mother tongue and a connection to the homeland, evokes pride in Mongolians’ and a love for their language, culture and nomadic pastoral lifestyle.

The last stanza of My Native Land with the image of Genghis Khan (Source: WeChat post.)

Not surprisingly the deletion of this part from the poem in the recently revised textbook caused resentment among Mongols. The editors of the new textbooks may have been unaware of the fact that the last stanza was not in the original part of the poem. Even if they were aware, however, removing this emotionally-loaded stanza, in the context of a highly controversial education reform, makes it an intellectual and political issue. Put in context of the removal of other pieces of Mongolian history and culture from other textbooks, it is clear that the editors of the textbooks aimed to discourage young Mongols’ from an attachment to their language and cultural heritage. This unscrupulous removal of text has further fuelled Mongolians’ dissatisfaction and anger with the proposed new model of education. By tampering with the poem, reformers, who seek to depoliticize ethnic culture and identity, perhaps unwittingly politicized the famous poetry text.

 

My Native Land (Translation by John Gombojab Hangin)

Magnificent are the ridges of the Khentei, Khangai and Sayan.

Forest-covered mountains are the beauty of the north

Vast are the Gobis of Menen, Sharga and Nomin

Seas of sand dunes, supreme in the south

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Crystal-clear are the rivers of Kherlen, Onon and Tola

Health-giving fountains and hot springs abound

Deep-blue lakes of Kubsgul, Ubsa and Buir

Brooks and freshets quench the thirst of man and beast

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Splendid are the rivers of Orkhon, Selenge and Khokhul

Abundant are the mountain passes rich in minerals

Ancient monuments, ruined cities galore

Broad are the highways that vanish into the distance

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Snow-capped mountains gleam from afar

Clear blue skies over steppe, plain and field

Majestic glacial peaks are visible far off

Vast airy valleys which calm the mind of man

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Between Khangai and Altai lies the Khalkha land

Where we galloped to and fro since childhood

The long low foothills where we hunted deer and game

The beautiful valleys and hollows we raced our swift steeds

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Undulating sea of grass, when touched by the gentle breeze

Enchanting are the mirages of the wide open plains

Land with severe terrain that produces the best of men

Here are the sacred heights, worshipped since times of yore

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Luxuriant pasturelands full of fine grass

Here is wide open country criss-crossed by our tracks

A land to move as we like in all the four seasons

Where the soil is rich for the five kinds of grains

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

The sacred mountains where our forefathers rest

The land where our children grew, and rear their children

The meadow and valleys filled with the five kinds of stock

Here is the land which entrances all us Mongols

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

In the winter’s tingly cold-a blanket of ice and snow

The land shines like a crystal mirror

In the warmth of summer season- flowers and leaves unfold

Land where distant birds come to sing their songs

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

The fertile virgin lands between Altai and Khangai

Land of our eternal destiny where ancestors lie

Land grown mellow under the golden rays of the sun

Land grown eternal under the silver moon

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Homeland of our ancestors since the days of the Hsiung-nu

Land of great might in the days of the blue Mongols

Land we become more accustomed to with every passing year

Land where now the crimson flags flutter

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

Beloved country of us all who were born and die here

The enemy who dares invade our soil shall perish

Let us build our revolutionary state on the land ordained

Then let us march head high towards the brave future new world

This is my native land

Mongolia the beautiful

 

References:

Kazuyuki Okada, ‘D. Natshagdorjiin “Minii nutag“ ba “Tüühiin shüleg”-iin xarichaa’, in B. Mönhbayar eds, IIh Zoholch D. Natsagdorj Shine Sudalgaa II (Ulaanbaatar, 2017), pp.40-54.

John Gombojab Hangin, ‘Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj (1906-1937)’, in The Mongolia Socieity Bulletin Vol 6. No. 1(11), 1967, pp. 15-22.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Changing Face of Mongolia

The Changing Face of Mongolia: Maintaining cultural traditions in a globalized world

By Joseph Fernandez

Figure 1. Naran Tuul Market Entrance.

 

Over half the population of Mongolia was born after 1991, meaning the median age is just 28-years-old. This young demographic plays an important role in shaping the culture and identity of Mongolia but is at times at odds with the traditions of older generations. During my time in Mongolia, as part of an intensive field-based course, this generational divide was clearly apparent.

In Ulaanbaatar, it is almost impossible to miss the signs of westernisation amongst Mongolia’s youth. As we walked past teenagers in vans and through the countless stores selling fake Louis Vuitton in the famous Naran Tuul Market, or Black Market, it became obvious how pervasive American style and culture had become amongst young Mongolians. Our tour guide, a 20-year-old university student who studied at the National University of Mongolia, talked about his favourite hip-hop stars and NBA players. Basketball has become one of the most widely watched sports in Mongolia, despite the national team not being ranked in the FIBA World Cup. The longer we spent in Mongolia the clearer it became that Americanisation had increased exponentially in the last couple of decades, driven primarily by the country’s young people.

Out in the country, there is a far greater level of connectedness to the traditional Mongolian culture and lifestyle. Nomadic kids wear the traditional clothing, or deel, as they play together outside their yurt (ger), whilst a few older teenagers and young adults speed around on motorbikes herding livestock. Here, many people are using technology to help keep the nomadic way of life thriving. Mobile solar panels are set up next to gers and trucks help to ease the seasonal movements of gers throughout the year. An interesting observation that we made was the lack of people our own age out in the countryside. Despite being there in the height of summer, there were hardly any university-age students. It became apparent through talking with local people that many young people had moved to Ulaanbaatar, a move that many older people struggle to come to terms with. Giving up the nomadic lifestyle is, for older Mongolians, turning your back on an ancient and central part of the Mongolian way of life.

Many young Mongolians have moved to Ulaanbaatar in search of a different future and better work or study prospects. Many also move in search of a community bigger than those that exist in small towns or more rural provinces (aimag). With families who desire a retention of a pastoral way of life, young people’s relationships with their parents can become strained. A network of youth centres have opened up around Ulaanbaaatar in recent years, offering a place to meet and create communities. These centres also provide essential information about important issues that are particularly relevant for young people, such as reproductive and sexual health. With sex education rarely taught in high school, these centres and services are vital in helping to educate young Mongolians in preventing STIs and unplanned pregnancies.

Another aspect of the generational divide in Mongolia is the treatment of LGBTQI+ people. Homosexuality was illegal in Mongolia until 2002, and it was only in 2014 that a law was passed to include attacks against queer people as a hate crime. However, members of the community have continued to be victimised, with 80% of people who identified is LGBT having experienced some form of human rights abuse or discrimination in the past three years. This wasn’t always the case. Before the communist revolution in 1921, society largely accepted LGBTQI+ people. Many queer people became shamans, who were gender diverse. With the advent of urbanisation and the breakdown of nomadic family microcosms, the idea of ‘otherness’ emerged, and the criminalisation of homosexuality soon followed. Now, these ideas still permeate many communities, even amongst young people. A UN report found that nearly 87% of queer people in Mongolia hide their sexual or gender identity from their friends and family. However, in recent years there has been a growing tolerance amongst young people, which can be attributed to both the work of NGO’s and activists in Mongolia, increasing exposure in popular culture and ease of access to the Internet.

The connectivity created by new technology in recent decades has enabled young people to interact easily and create communities online. Whilst this has led to a dramatic increase in non-Mongolian media and culture coming into the country and being consumed by youth, there has also been successful efforts to partake in and spread aspects of Mongolian culture. Mongolian fashion, photography and art has flourished on platforms such as Instagram and opened up Mongolia to a global audience. Musicians such as The Hu and Magnolian have incorporated Mongolian melodies and instruments into their music to widespread success with both bands garnering millions of streams on Spotify. It is clear that some young Mongolians are using their platforms online to spread and actively partake in Mongolian culture in the face of globalisation.

Mongolia’s youth are becoming increasingly urbanised, drifting away from the traditions of older generations. Some efforts are being made to blend the old and the new, but it remains to be seen how Mongolian culture will change and hopefully flourish in a globalised world.

 

Joseph Fernandez is currently studying for a Bachelor of Law (Hons) and International Relations at The Australian National University.

http://www.fiba.basketball/rankingmen

https://www.unfpa.org/news/young-people-mongolia-finding-places-where-secrets-are-safe

http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/mongolia_human_devlopment_report_2016_english_full_report_2016_06_28.pdf

https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/long-reads/article/2103383/lgbti-mongolia-fighting-rights-and-recognition

https://medium.com/@WorldLearning/embracing-the-lgbt-community-in-mongolia-563f230d0f37