Mongolia is situated, Central Asian nation bounded by Russia and China. It has a total area of 1,566,500 sq. km (604,830-sq. mi). The capital and largest city is Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia is an arid plateau region with mountains in the north and the Gobi dominates west, its center and southeast. Temperatures are very cold in winter and warm to hot in summer. Annual rainfall seldom exceeds 380 mm (15 in) in the mountains and 125 mm (5 in) in the desert. Mongolia's primary resources are its stock-raising prairies, its fur trade, and its mostly unexploited minerals.
Mongolia's climate is harsh, with temperatures ranging in winter from a high of -21° C (-5° F) to a low of -30° C (-22° F) and in summer between 10° and 27° C (50° and 80° F). Winters are dry, and summer rainfall seldom exceeds 380 mm (15 in) in the mountains and 125 mm (5 in) in the desert.
The population of Mongolia (1997 estimate) is 2,538,211, 75 percent of whom are Khalkha Mongols. Other groups are Buryat Mongols and Kazaks. Many people speak Mongolian, an Altaic language, although Russian was formerly taught in the schools.
Mongolian ancient history reaches back to the 12th century. Tibetan Buddhist theocracy and secular Mongol aristocracy ruled the country from 1696 until the 20th century, under the suzerainty of the Qing (Manchu) dynasty of China. Mongolia declared independence from China after the Chinese revolution of 1911.
Russian-backed Mongolian Communists established a Provisional People's Government in 1921. The Mongolian People's Republic was set up after the death of the last Buddhist ruler in 1924 but was not recognized by China until 1946. Mongolia maintained close ties with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Trade and cultural relations with Communist China, established in 1949, were curtailed by the Sino-Soviet split in the late 1950s.
Mongolia's first president of the post-Soviet era was Punsalmaagiyn Ochirbat. In 1993 President Ochirbat and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation. In 1996 a democratic coalition won a majority in parliamentary elections, toppling Mongolia's Communist-era government and ending 75 years of Communist control.
Mongolia did not achieve a cohesive culture until the 20th century, when it became an independent nation. Only a few remnants of ancient cultures exist, including Stone Age campsites, and much of Mongolia's traditional folklore has been lost with succeeding generations. The Republic of Mongolia has tried to establish a national culture and has sponsored drama, art schools, and a state theater of music and drama. Mongolian literature is rich and epic in form.
The Mongolian language is one of the Altaic languages. Khalkha Mongolian is the official language. Kazak is spoken by 5% of the population. There are also many Mongolian dialects.
Mongolia is divided into 18 provinces, which are subdivided into districts, and the city of Ulanbaatar. Local governments consist of hurals (assemblies) of representatives elected to four-year terms. The president is head of state and is also elected to a four-year term. Voting is universal beginning at age 18.
The traditional faith in Mongolia is Lamaist Buddhism, which the Communist government began suppressing in 1929. In 1992 the country adopted a democratic constitution that established the separation of church and state. Some monasteries have since reopened, and Buddhists are again openly practicing their faith. As a result of the years of government suppression of religion, however, many Mongolians are now thought to be nonreligious or atheistic.