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Mongolia: Pastoralism as a Cultural System
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Society > Pastoral Nomadism > Pastoralism as a Cultural System


Mongolian society and culture developed in interaction with, and in conscious opposition to, that of settled agriculturalists, most of them Chinese. Along the ill-defined Inner Asian frontier between the lands with sufficient rainfall and warm weather to support agriculture and the grasslands most effectively exploited by pastoralists, people and cultural elements for centuries have moved in both directions, with some agriculturalists abandoning their marginal farms and becoming herders, and with some herders settling down either as dominant overlords or as laborers. Superimposed on the gradation and shading that are characteristic of frontier cultural and biological systems is a cultural system of ethnic groups that exaggerates distinctions and denies commonalities.

Much of Mongolian traditional culture thus goes beyond the objective, technical demands of pastoral life to a conscious glorification of the values of nomadism and a disparagement of practices associated with settlement in general and with Chinese culture in particular. Traditionally, Mongols not only preferred a diet of meat and milk, but they despised, and refused to eat, vegetables, justifying this with a proverb, "Meat for men, leaves for animals." Although Mongolian lakes and rivers are full of fish, traditionally Mongols did not eat fish. Mongols disdained the sort of regular, patient toil practiced by Chinese farmers or traders, and scorned any work that could not be performed from horseback. Such values and attitudes have presented severe obstacles to efforts to modernize Mongolian society.

Data as of June 1989

Last Updated: June 1989

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mongolia was first published in 1989. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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