The Armed Forces
Mongol military power reached its apex in the thirteenth
century. Under the leadership of Chinggis Khan and two
generations of his descendants, the Mongol tribes and various
Inner Asian steppe people were united in an efficient and
formidable military state that briefly held sway from the Pacific
Ocean to Central Europe
(see The Era of Chinggis Khan, 1206-27
, ch. 1).
In an age when opposing armies were little more than feudal
levies around a nucleus of well-armed and well-trained, but
relatively immobile and inflexible, knights, the Mongol armies
were the dominant force on the battlefields of Asia and Europe.
Mongol forces, made up of skilled warriors well trained in
marksmanship and horsemanship, were characterized by absolute
discipline, a well-understood chain of command, an excellent
communications system, superior mobility, and a unified and
extremely effective tactical doctrine and organization.
As the control of the descendants of Chinggis weakened and as
old tribal divisions reemerged, internal dissension fragmented
the Mongol empire, and the Mongols' military power in Inner Asia
dwindled. The tactics and techniques of the Mongol warrior--who
could deliver shock action with lance and sword, or fire action
with the compound bow from horseback or on foot--continued in
use, nevertheless, through the end of the nineteenth century. The
mounted warrior's effectiveness decreased, however, with the
growing use of firearms by the Manchu armies beginning in the
late seventeenth century
(see Caught Between the Russians and the Manchus
, ch. 1).
Mongol leaders in the late sixteenth century, and later their
Manchu overlords, encouraged the spread of Tibetan Buddhism
Its passive religious doctrine gradually
diluted the warlike qualities of the Mongols and encouraged
between 30 and 50 percent of the male population to escape
military service by entering monasteries
, ch. 2).
To keep the Mongols militarily weak, the rulers of the Qing
Dynasty (1644-1911) downgraded the hereditary princes and
recognized theocracy as the local government of many Mongol
areas. The Mongols were divided further by intertribal warfare
fought with traditional means and by revolts against the Qing.
Nevertheless, the Qing continued to call up Mongolian levies to
help quell rebellions in actions against foreign invaders in
China in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Mongols
fought in the Taiping Rebellion (1851-65), in the Nianfei peasant
revolt in northern China in the 1850s and 1860s, against the
British and French in 1860, against Muslim rebels in the 1860s
and 1870s, in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), and in the Boxer
Uprising of 1900. They were employed as light cavalry and were
considered the best of the traditional troops. Their style of
fighting had become obsolete, however, because foreign troops and
increasing numbers of Chinese units used firearms and modern
tactics. Mongolia's nomadic economy could not produce guns, and
the Qing would not permit their acquisition.
The memory of Chinggis, his descendants, and their military
domination of Asia remains. Although little attention has been
paid to Mongol military exploits after that period, popular
legends are filled with accounts of violent opposition to foreign
oppressors, such as the usurious Chinese trader and his armed
guards, or the local Qing tax collector.
Data as of June 1989