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Dreams of a Pan-Mongolian state by Alexandre Andreyev

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The beginning of the 20th century, as is known, was the time of great political and social upheavals in Europe and Asia which dramatically changed the course of the world history. The Great War and the revolutions in China (1911-1913) and Russia (1917) resulted in the collapse of these two largest Asian empires, ruled by the Manchu Qing dynasty and the tsars. Moreover, the Bolshevik revolution triggered an atrocious civil war which raged across the whole of Russia for four years (1918-1922). At the bottom of this conflict lay a severe ideological struggle of the two major political forces in the country – the Bolsheviks and their opponents, leaders of the White Guard movement. Basically it was a confrontation of two opposing ideologies or projects for the future political reconstruction of Russia, namely the Bolshevik totalitarian “socialist project” and the democratic one supported by the Whites. Concurrent with this Red and White massacre, other significant forces were at work at the outskirts of the collapsed empire, in Transbaikalia (Buryatia). In the early post-revolutionary years this Buddhist frontier of Russia was in a strong social ferment that gave rise to two separate movements, a theocratic and a Pan-Mongolian.

In this paper I would like to briefly overview these alternative political schemes, such as were put forward by two prominent Buryat lamas, Sandan Tsydenov and Agwan Dorjiev, and two Russian intellectuals, a White Guard general Baron Ungern von Shternberg and an émigré artist Nicholas Roerich. Each of them had his own vision and a concrete plan for building a new state in Central Asia, along Buddhist theocratic or/and Pan-Mongolian lines.

Lubsan Sandan Tsydenov

Lubsan Sandan Tsydenov (1850-1922) was a lama from the Kizhinga (Kudun) Datsan in southern Transbaikalia.[1] He was known among his countrymen as a Buddhist scholar, writer and poet[2] but, more importantly, as a great ascetic for his two-decade long practice of austerities in a secluded spot in the Kudun Valley. As a result he acquired great spiritual authority among Buryats who saw him as a saintly Buddha-like creature. His religious name was Sugada, being one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s nicknames, which means in Sanskrit “The happily gone (to Nirvana)”. Sandan Tsydenov formulated his theocratic doctrine in the early 20th century, under the influence of his Tibetan teachers, the incarnate lamas, Jayag (Jayagsy)-gegen, abbot of one of the datsans in Kumbum, and Agpa-gegen. This doctrine had two principal objects – to establish a lay Buddhist sangha in Buryatia, outside and independent of the traditional monastic community, and to revive with its help some of the old Tantric practices. Such a lay sangha, in Tsydenov’s thinking, would be more efficient in the preservation and further dissemination of the Buddhist teachings in times of trouble.

In February 1919 Tsydenov-Sugada established a Buddhist theocratic state, actually an enclave within the Buryat territory, then under the rule of the white Ataman Semionov, by proclaiming himself Dharmaraja, “the King of the Dharma in the Three Worlds”. This was when the Buryat People’s Duma (Burnatsduma), an organ of self-rule in Buryatia, announced the mobilization of the Buryats and Tungus into the people’s tsagda (army). It was an extremely unpopular measure and a large number of Buryats tried to avoid conscription by turning to the lama-ascetic. The latter is said to have addressed his countrymen with the words: “He who does not want to fight, since fighting is against the Buddha’s teachings, let him come unto me and be subject of my rule”.

This was the beginning of the Balagat theocratic movement which united mainly the Kizhinga Buryats who broke off with the official Buddhist (lamaist) church and were commonly referred to as Balagats.[3] The superior dharmic state, Erheje Balgahan ulas (Righfully Detached State), founded by Tsydenov however lasted for only one week before its ruler was arrested by Semionov, together with his nine ministers. The Dharmaraja was soon released though, having formally agreed to collaborate with the white ataman.

In this way the theocratic movement continued for a while with a strong backing of the Buryat believers. It was finally crushed by the Red Army in the early 1920s when the Soviet rule was established in Transbaikalia. Tsydenov was arrested by the Cheka, the notorious Bolshevik political police, in the Irkutsk Province in 1922, put in jail and deported to Novonikolaevsk (today’s Novosibirsk) where he died in a hospital on 16 May 1922.[4]

Tsydenov’s project was certainly a bold undertaking, but practically it had no chance of survival under the tough and uncompromising Soviet regime. His was an idealistic attempt to create a non-violent form of government on the lofty Dharma principles, such as never existed before, a kind of a mystical BuddhistPure Land” that would have no military force, or army, so that its subjects would not engage in killing. Politics was seen by him as inseparable from religion and religious ethics, yet Tsydenov’s theocracy was something very different from the traditional Mongolian and Tibetan types of theocracy. Tsydenov adopted a constitution which established the Great Suglan, an assembly of people’s deputies who were to elect, by secret voting, the president, vice-president and ministers of his theocratic government. Still the supreme political and religious authority was to remain in the hands of the Dharmaraja. As the Buryat scholar N.V. Tsyrempilov points out, by making this provision Tsydenov clearly followed European democratic standards. Thus his project was ultimately a “kind of fusion of the Buddhist theocratic model with Europeans models of state”.[5]

In the same year 1919 another self-proclaimed government of a very exotic nature came into being in Buryatia, a pan-Mongolian one. On 25 February a conference of representatives of the Mongolian speaking peoples in China and Russia (Buryatia, Inner Mongolia and Barga) held in Chita, under the auspices of Ataman Semionov and a Japanese emissary Major Suzuki, resolved to create a federated Mongolian state, Great Mongolia. This was to include Inner and Outer Mongolias (the latter already being a theocratic state, under the Grand Lama of Urga, Jebtzundamba Khutuktu), Barga and Buryat-Mongolia. These four regions or aimaks were to be ruled by their autonomous rulers under one centralized government which was to include four ministers – of war, interior, finance and foreign affairs (headed consequently by Norompil, E. Rinchino, B. Vampilon and Ts. Tsamtsarano). The head of the Great Mongolian state elected at the same conference was Nichi Toin Mendebair from Inner Mongolia, better known as Neise-gegen[6]. He was to have his residence in Khailar, however, since Khailar was then occupied by the troops of a Chinese warlord Chang Tso-ling, Neise-gegen together with his government had to reside temporarily at Dauria, a Transbaikal railway station (near Chita). Hence the entity came to be known as Dauria Government.

What Pan-Mongolists wanted primarily was to recreate the Great Mongolian state which had once existed under Chinggis Khan, an idea prompted by Woodrow Wilson’s 14-point declaration of national self-determination. As to the form of the state, the opinions split: the Barga and Inner Mongolians who actually launched the movement voiced for a monarchy, in particular for the restoration of the Manchu Qing dynasty. On the other hand, the Buryats claimed that Mongolia must become “an independent federative-democratic republic”. Mongolia, they argued, had nothing to do with the Manchu dynasty and the Mongols should not spill their blood for the cause which was alien to them.[7] The latter view prevailed at the Chita conference, still the monarchy-oriented Pan-Mongolists held fast to their scheme. This eventually led to a military confrontation between these two factions which resulted in the crush of the Mongolian monarchists in October 1919.

Oddly enough, the already existent theocratic government of Autonomous Outer Mongolia under the Bogdo-Gegen (Jebtzundamba Khutuktu) hesitated to openly give their support to the Pan-Mongolian movement so as not to interfere in the interior politics of their neighbours, Russia and China. The Dauria government made several attempts to win the Bogdo-Gegen over to their side. The Pan-Mongolist leaders even offered him to take up the throne of the All Mongolian Ruler, but he did not accept the offer. Meanwhile Outer Mongolia was occupied by the Chinese republican troops, the so-called gamins, a measure by which Beijing wanted to reestablish its control over its former “vassal” territory. Hence the autonomy of Outer Mongolia was liquidated, though the Bogdo-Gegen and the Mongolian princes were allowed to retain their feudal rights and privileges.

Roman ungern von stenberg.jpg

It was at this crucial point that a new powerful figure emerged on the Mongolian political scene – a Russian White General, Baron Roman Feodorovitch Ungern von Shternberg (1886-1921). The “White Baron”, as Ungern was commonly referred to by the Bolsheviks, came to the rescue of the Mongolian theocratic ruler, having driven, in early 1921, the Chinese military units out of the territory of Outer Mongolia. The autonomy of the country was thus restored and Ungern instantly turned into a popular hero, the liberator of the Bogdo-Khan and the savior of Mongols. The Mongolian lamas proclaimed him a saintly incarnation of the wrathful Mahakala, a BuddhistProtector of Faith”, and treated him accordingly. In recognition of his great feat the Bogdo awarded Ungern with the princely title of Darhan-hoshoi-chin-van. Owing to his troops, the Asiatic Cavalry division stationed in Urga (Hüree), the Baron became a de facto ruler of Mongolia, although for a short time, before he was defeated by the joint Soviet – Red Mongolian force in July of the same year.

As soon as Ungern seized the Mongolian capital (which occurred on 4 February 1921), he articulated his grand Pan-Asiatic program for the creation of a Middle Mongolian Empire (^ Sredinnoe Mongol’skoe Tsarstvo) on Chinggis Khan’s model, one that would unite within its borders all the Mongolian tribes inhabiting Outer, Inner and Barga Mongolias.[8] This was to be a voluntary union under the auspices of the Bogdo Khan. Ungern also planned to bring back to power the deposed Manchu rulers of China, with a view to revive the Chinese Empire, and he himself even wanted to become the emperor of China, for which purpose he had married a Manchu princess.

Now that the Bogdo-Gegen was back on his throne, a new Mongolian government was formed by Ungern which consisted of five ministers (the prime minister and the ministers of interior, foreign affairs and war). This new government then sent a declaration to foreign countries seeking their recognition for Mongolia’s autonomy. In particular, messages were sent to the Chinese President, the Soviet Commissariat for Foreign Affairs and the military commander of Northern China, General Chang Tsoi-lin.[9]

The revived Great Mongolia and China, according to Ungern, were to become the dominant powers in Asia and they were to form a kind of bulwark against the “degraded and immoralWestern civilization, “bearer of the ideas of world revolution and socialism”. Moreover, the Asiatic “horsemen peoples” (narody-konniki), such as the Kazakhs, Buryats, Tatars, Kirghiz and Kalmucks, were to assault the European nations and destroy their present culture which “went the wrong way”. By doing so they would improve the European moral and cultural standards and bring about the “revival of Europe” (ozdorovlenie Evropy). Ungern’s primary target however was the Bolshevik Red Russia. He assigned himself a truly messianic role of a great warlord, who would rescue the humanity from communist danger. His ideal of social order was medieval Europe, with its guild system, knighthood and feudal lords, which reminded him so much the theocratic Mongolia, a country of monasteries and primitive pastoral economy.

Ungern’s long cherished dream of a Great Mongolian Empire was not to come true. His attempts to place his social project in Realpolitik were ultimately doomed to failure. The Mongols en masse hated the Chinese and were not willing to subordinate themselves to the revived Manchu rule in China.

Agwan Dorjiev

After Ungern’s crush by Bolsheviks and his execution (he was shot in Novonikolaevsk on 15 September 1921) another Pan-Mongolian project popped up. This was put forward by a Buryat lama Agwan Dorjiev (1854-1938). A staunch Russophil and a religious reformist, Dorjiev was known until then mainly for his diplomatic work on behalf of the 13th Dalai Lama with a view to bringing the theocratic Tibet and Mongolia under the protectorate of the tsars. After the revolution he agreed, under duress, to collaborate with the Soviet Foreign Ministry, Narkomindel, and he helped Bolsheviks to dispatch several secret missions to Lhasa, the earliest taking place in September of the same year (1921). Shortly after that, on 28 October, he, posing as a “representative of the Tibetan Government in the RSFSR”, forwarded a petition to the diplomatic office. In this he proposed the Soviet leaders to “broaden the territory of the People’s Revolutionary Government of Mongolia by adding to it the regions inhabited by Torguts and other Oirat tribes, namely the Altai, Ili and Tarbagatai regions. Such a unification of the West Mongolian tribes, extending up to Kukunor, Tsaidam and the Tibetan Highlands, with their eastern kinsmen, the Khalka Mongols, he argued, would lead to a creation of an “expanded Mongolian State, friendly to Russia”, one that would safeguard Russia’s frontier between Tian-Shan Mountains and Manchuria.[10]

Dorjiev actually voiced a proposal for constructing a Mongolian federated state, a geopolitical buffer that would facilitate Moscow’s penetration deep into Central Asia, towards Tibet. In his earlier memorandum to Narkomindel of July 1921 he emphasized the fact that the Mongolian tribes, along with those of Tibet, made “a huge [[Wikipedia:Central Asian|Central Asian]] buffer”, insulating Russia from China, Japan “as well as Britain”, and this buffer “has become presently one of the central axes of world politics”.[11] Dorjiev’s project, basically Pan-Mongolian, rather than Pan-Buddhist, however was shelved by Soviet leaders who feared that the annexation of the Oirat territory (Djungaria) would surely antagonize the Chinese government which regarded Outer Mongolia and other Mongol-inhabited areas as inseparable parts of China.

Nicholas Roerich

The most grandiose of all projects for a [[Wikipedia:Central Asian|Central Asian]] Pan-Mongolian theocracy ever made was that of Nikolai (Nicholas) Konstantinovitch Roerich (1874-1947). A painter, mystic and visionary, he emigrated from Russia shortly after the Bolshevik revolution and later (1920) settled with his family, including his two sons, Yuri (George) and Sviatoslav, and wife Helen (Elena), in New York. There he engaged in active artistic and educational work, having founded several art institutions in New York City in 1921-23. In the same years Nicholas and his wife entered into a mystical communication with the mahatmas, the “world’s spiritual teachers” who, they believed, belonged to a secret school of wisdom, the White Brotherhood, located somewhere in Tibet and the Himalayas, an idea they borrowed from H. Blavatsky’s theosophical writings. The contact was established in the course of spiritualistic séances, through Helen Roerich, following the example of HPB. As a result, the Roerich couple voluntarily placed themselves under a supreme guidance of these suprahuman creatures and received from them something which they perceived as “the Great Plan” for building a new world order, i.e. the “sixth human race”, as was predicted by Blavatsky. This was a rather fragmentary spiritual and geopolitical scheme which provided inter alia the creation of a Pan-Mongolian confederacy in Central Asia, “the Eastern Peoples’ Union”, extending from the Altai to the Himalayas. It was here that Nicholas anticipated the advent of the Messiah, the Future Buddha Maitreya, alias Jesus Christ and Mahatma Morya, invisible guru and protector of the Roerich family. This was to be a theocratic state built after the model of the mythical Northern Shambhala and ruled by a charismatic religious (spiritual) and political leader chosen by the mahatmas, most probably N. Roerich himself. Its heart and capital was to be the Altai, with its sacred Mount Beluha, a territory which Roerich associated with the legendary Belovodie, a Russian equivalent for Shambhala.[12]

Roerich’s plan was clearly a utopia, a mixture of occult (theosophical) and Buddhist beliefs and some crude communist ideology, since the new state, according to him, was to be affiliated with Soviet Russia. Nonetheless, he, together with a small group of his followers in New York, made some initial steps, in 1925-1928, towards putting this scheme into practice. For example, he purchased a mining concession in the Altai (near Beluha) from the Soviet Government and concurrently made plans for starting an agricultural cooperative in the same area. Moreover, during his brief visit to Moscow in 1926 Roerich offered the Soviet leaders a blueprint for a “Buddhist revolution” (i.e. the War of Shambhala) in Central Asia. This, he told them, could be easily stirred up by mahatmas, if only the Soviets agreed to accept their teachings and guidance. But they did not. Roerich’s project looked too venturesome and he himself a suspicious person, especially because of his obscure American connections.

Some concluding remarks.

The projects for a new Mongolian (Buryat-Mongolian) state in Central Asia as have been discussed in this paper grew out of the chaos of the revolution and civil war in Russia. Ideologically, they were very different as the individuals who made them belonged to different social strata and therefore had different visions of the current political reality in and outside Russia as well as of the future.

Only two of these schemes turned out to be workable, albeit for a short time, – the one put forward by Tsedenov whose ideal was a theocraticdharmic state” and that of the Pan-Mongolists who dreamt of the reunited Great Mongolia. What made these projects so attractive in the eyes of the Buryats and Mongols, both rank-and-file and tribal aristocracy (noyons), was that they reflected some of their deep-seated aspirations – a desire to preserve their ethnic identity and religion, Buddhism, and to acquire a genuine national autonomy, which the Buryats had never enjoyed before and the Mongols only briefly (in 1911-1919).

As regards Ungern’s plans for a revival of the medieval nomadic empire to stamp out communism and other “evils” of modern Western civilization, these were completely idealistic and impracticable. But so were Roerich’s endeavours to re-create the earthly Shambhala. These schemes were no more than mental constructs or dreams of the two Russian mystics and visionaries.


  1. On S. Tsydenov see: V.M. Montlevich, ^ Materialy k zhizneopisaniiu Lubsana Sandana Tsydenova, in Garuda, St.-Petersburg, 1993 (2); K.M. Gerasimova. Ob istorizme v istoricheskikh issledovaniach: teokraticheskoe i balagatskoe dvizhenie v Khorinskom aimake (1917-1926), in Regionalnye Muzei: nastoiastchee i budustchee, Ulan-Ude, 2003; B.D. Dandaron. Izbrannye Stat’i, Chornaia Tetrad’, Materialy k biografii, “Istoriia Kukunora” Sumpy Kenpo (ed. V.M. Montlevich), St.-Petersburg, 2006, pp. 255-276 (chapter: Lubsan Sandan Tsydenov – uchitel’ Dandarona); Ts.-Kh.V. Ochirova, N.V. Tsyrempilov, Istoricheskaia interpetatsia idei Buddiiskoi teokratii Lubsana Samdana Tsydenova (po materialam novykh isztochnikov, (awaiting publication in journal Vostok, Moscow).
  2. Tsydenov’s best known poetical work was written in Tibetan and entitled: A new song inspired by a great joy occasioned by the final ascension to the indestructible diamond throne of a powerful Chakravartin , a heavenly-established deity, the by the Tsar Nicholas”. Tsydenov was a member of the Buryat delegation which attended the ceremony of enthronement in Moscow in1896. It is recounted that Tsydenov during the delegation’s later audience with the emperor in St.-Petersburg was the only one who did not bow to the Russian tsar, which produced a scandal. He had to explain his misconduct by saying that gelongs were not obliged to bow to the Christian monarch and besides this was a violation of the Vinaya code. Still later on he apparently changed his views by proclaiming the tsar a Chakravartin (World Ruler), see: N. Tsyrempilov, op. cit.
  3. Balagat is an obscure term used by Tsydenov and other participants in the movement. According to a Buryat scholar N.V. Tsyrempolov, it could mean “a person who detached himself” from the traditional community, a “schismatic”.
  4. Archive of the Ministery of Security, Republic of Buryatia, D. 5565 (S. Tsydenov’s file), l. 21 (quoted in B.D. Dandaron, Izbrannye Stat’i … , pp. 271-274).
  5. N.V. Tsyrempilov. Samdan Tsydenov and his Buddhist theocratic project in Siberia. Unpublished manuscript.
  6. See: B.B. Bazarov. Neizvestnoe iz istorii panmongolizma.Ulan-Ude, 2002. P. 34-35.
  7. See: V. Tsybikov. Daurskoe panmongolskoe pravitelstvo i buryati, in: Mongolica, An international annual of Mongol studies, vol. 10 (31), 2000, p. 348.
  8. On Ungern’s political program see: L. Yuzefovitch, Samoderzhets Pustyni: Fenomen sud’by Barona R.F. Ungern-Shternberga, Moscow, 1993, pp. 134-137; Legendarnyi Baron: Neizvestnye stranitsy grazhdanskoi voiny (ed. By S.L. Kuz’min), Moscow, 2004, pp. 28-30.
  9. Baabar (Bat-Erdene Batbayar). Twentieth Century Mongolia. Cambridge, 1999, pp. 208-209.
  10. National Archive of the Buryat Republic (NARB), f. 643, d. 5, ll. 5-6.
  11. Ibid, l. 1.
  12. On Roerich'sGreat Plan” see: V.A. Rosov. Rerikh – Vestnik Zvenigoroda. Ekspeditsii N.K. Rerikha po okrainam pustyni Gobi. Vol. 1-2. St-Petersburg – Moscow, 2002-2004; A.I. Andreyev. Gimalaiskoe Bratstvo. Teosofskii mif i ego tvortsy. [The Himalayan Brotherhood: A theosophical myth and its makers, St.-Petersburg, 2008]. A fairly good discussion of Roerich’s mysticism and his attempts to create a Buddhist theocracy in Central Asia can be found in John McCannon’s By the shores of white waters: the Altai and its place in the spiritual geopolitics of Nicholas Roerich, in: Sibirica (Journal of Siberian Studies, UK), Vol. 2 (2), 2002, pp. 166-169.