I am sure that if you’re reading this article you must be familiar with a certain Mongol man named Chinggis (or if you don’t like to honor foreign cultures, “Genghis”) Khan, who happened to basically conquer most of Asia a few hundred years back. Yes? Ok. Well, his Mongol Empire didn’t disappear into thin air with his death. In fact, it was split into several pieces by his grandsons. Over time, the Chinggisids lost control of most of their territory. In Mongolia, centuries after losing control of China, the Borjigin Clan of Chinggis Khan was effectively vassalized by the Manchu-Chinese Qing Empire.
Turning the pages of post-Yuan Dynasty Mongol history at a surface-level, one may even forget about the Borjigin Clan’s continued importance and survival. This once-imperial clan’s members continued to influence the Mongol people, and no other individual hailing from the Borjigin Clan contributed more to the Mongol race than Prince Demchugdongrub of Chahar, the true Heir to the Great Khan.
Demchugdongrub was born on February 6, 1902 to Namjil Wangchuk, a noble whose lineage belonged to the Chahar Mongols and controlled the Shiliin Gol region for generations. In 1908, Namjil died, and Demchugdongrub, then a young boy of six years, inherited his father’s title, becoming an influential noble in his own right (well maybe not just yet). In 1912, Demchugdongrub, who by then had learned to speak Mongolian, Manchu, and Mandarin Chinese, was promoted in rank by Yuan Shikai, a powerful Chinese official who would soon become the self-proclaimed ruler of the new Empire of China by dissolving the Republic which had overthrew the Qing Dynasty in 1912.
Therefore, by 1912, Demchugdongrub was a ten-year old Mongol noble of decent rank and power. Yet, the event that would set him on the path of Genghis Khan’s footsteps was the collapse of the Chinese Empire. In 1916, Emperor Yuan Shikai died, and China, including its territories of South (Inner) Mongolia, Tibet, and East Turkestan, descended into chaos. Dozens of militant factions, known as “cliques,” fought for control over China, each pursuing its own vision for the nation. In the midst of this chaos, the Bogd Khan declared the tribes of Outer Mongolia furthest from the Chinese coreland independent. Chinese attempts to reintegrate these lands failed as a result of the endeavors of a particular Russo-Mongolian warlord. However, in 1921, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, with the aid of the Red Army, overthrew the Khanate, founding a communist state in Mongolia. The new regime systematically massacred Mongol nobles, including the Borjigin Clan of Chinggis Khan to which Demchugdongrub himself belonged.
Yet, the condition of Inner Mongolia, consisting of the Mongolian banners that could not escape Chinese domination, starkly diverged from that of Outer Mongolia. All Inner Mongol banners recognized the Bogd Khan as the supreme leader. However, internal disagreements divided the nobles of Inner Mongolia, which failed to unify and centralize under a single individual or ideology. Some leaders even outright opposed the Bogd Khan’s rule and supported a Qing revival to promote modernization. As a result of these divisions, southern Mongols were unable to resist Chinese and other foreign incursions. All of the region, with the exception of the Manchukuo-occupied Hulunbuir, Jirim, Juu Uda, and Josutu, were incorporated into Chinese provinces.
Presumably using his noble status and charismatic ambition, Demchugdongrub rose up the ranks of the Chahar Provincial Committee and broader Inner Mongolian politics. In 1933, Demchugdongrub gathered the nobles of Chahar and Suiyuan (the Chinese name for the region of Inner Mongolia west of Chahar) with the purpose of forming an Inner Mongol confederation to expel Chinese influence. Amidst the traditional distrust that plagued the Mongol princes, Demchugdongrub managed to unite them for the greater good of the southern Mongol people, a feat worthy of the Chinggis Khan’s descendant.
Demchugdongrub’s new Pan-Mongolian independence movement proceeded to declare their independence from the Republic of China government in Nanjing and warned that they would cooperate with Japan if China intervened. Fearful of Japanese intervention, China backed off from Inner Mongolia. Therefore, with a decade of tireless hard work and a few fine strokes of diplomacy, Demchugdongrub liberated a substantial portion of Inner Mongolia and put an end to the princes’ endless squabbling. Yet, this initial taste of freedom was only the beginning of what was to come. Whether the upcoming storm would bring what Prince Demchugdongrub dreamed of or his greatest fears remained up in the air as the world moved towards global conflict.