What Is The Relationship Between Mongolia And Tibet?

The Relationship Between Mongolia and Tibet

I have traveled to both Mongolia and Tibet. Even though these countries are far apart, they have still many similarities. Both Tibet and Mongolia practice the same form of Buddhism.

The relationship between Mongolia and Tibet started in the mid-1200s when the Genghis Khan army invaded Tibet. The Tibetans taught their capturers Buddhism and later went to Mongolia to convert many Mongolians to Tibetan Buddhism.  In 1913 Mongolia and Tibet signed a treaty. 

Mongolian Herder With His Camels
Mongolian Herder With His Camels

The Relationship Between Mongolia and Tibet

Mongolia and Tibet’s relationship started in the mid-1200s, and their close cultural and economic relationship continued for many centuries. In 1913 a treaty of friendship and alliance was signed between the government of Mongolia and Tibet.

Even though there have been some doubts about the Tibetan signature’s authority on the 1913 treaty, it still is considered a valid international treaty. In 1982 and again in 2007, the original copy of this Tibetan document was published in Mongolia.

The relationship between Mongolia and Tibet started way before the 1913 treaty. Tibet and Mongolia declared their independence from China; they felt more of an alliance to each other than to their common neighbor of China.

The Tibet and Mongolian alliance was a normal evolution in that both countries, though in completely different regions, have very similar lifestyles. Both the Tibetans and Mongolians have a nomadic lifestyle.

I have been to both Tibet and Mongolia; when you travel to each place, one of the things you stand out for is in the countryside of both places Yurts (Gers) dot the land. Even today, both countries have many nomadic herders.

In Tibet, one of the most important animals for the nomadic herds is the Yaks, but some nomads also have sheep and goats. The horse is also important for the Tibetan herders.

Mongolia is also very similar. The Nomads will have horses, camels, sheep, and goats. Some will also have yaks.

Mongolian Buddhist Prayer Flags
Mongolian Buddhist Prayer Flags

In both places, Buddhist prayer flags dot the land. In Tibet, the prayer flags are flying in the wind. In Mongolia, most of the prayer flags I saw were on a larger prayer flag pole.

From what I observed, the Tibetan and Mongolian lifestyles had many similarities. This is because the two countries are joined together by the same predominant religion.

Nomad's Horses in Tibet
Nomad’s Horses in Tibet

Genghis Khan Invades Mongolia

The powerful army of the Mongolian ruler Genghis Khan invaded Mongolia in the 1200s. Some say the first invasion was in 1206 and others in 1240; scholars differ exactly when the invasion happened.

If you are interested to learn more about Genghis Khan you can read Mongolia’s Genghis Khan Statue: Mongolia’s Love for Genghis Khan by clicking here.

In the 1206 invasion story, the Tibetans pledged alliance to the Mongolian forces. In the 1240 account, the Mongol forces were commanded by the Mongol Prince Koton.

About 1244, the Tibetan Buddhist Master Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen, together with his nephew Phagpa, went to the camp where Prince Koton was. During this time, they discussed Buddhism with the Mongolian authorities to persuade the Mongolian authorities to have a favorable view of Buddhism.

Master Sayka and his nephew Phagpa were outstanding missionaries, as they were able to convert the Mongol nobility to Tibetan Buddhism. From this time on, the Tibetan Buddhist thought began to influence many of the Mongol nobility.

In speaking of this Mongolian Crown Prince Ayurshridara is said to have said this about the Chinese Confucian teachings and Tibetan Buddhism:

“A Chinese scholar taught me the Confucian classics for years but the meaning is still not too clear to me. Now I am hearing the Law of the Buddha from Hsifan (Tibetan) monk, and I am enlightened after only one night.”

Sechin Jagchid

This shows how quickly the Mongolians were able to accept Tibetan Buddhism. Many scholars believe that this is because they were able to relate to the nomadic Tibetan lifestyle that was so similar to their own.

Mongolian Ger (Yurt)
Mongolian Ger (Yurt)

Mongolia and Tibet Buddhism

We are not really sure why the Mongolians took so quickly to Tibetan Buddhism, but Tibetan Buddhism is powerful in Mongolia, even today. We know that both Tibet and Mongolia have many cultural and l lifestyle similarities, especially the nomadic lifestyle.

In writing about the Tibetan and Mongolian similarities, Sechin Jagchid wrote this about their mutual choice of religion:

“The Mongolian Khan’s choice of this religion seems to have been based on cultural similarities between the Mongols and the Tibetans, and their mutual distance-geographical and cultural–from the Chinese. Both Mongolia and Tibet are high plateaus of Inner Asia, and their open steppes and cold, arid climate make them well-suited to nomadism. On account of similarities in their geographic circumstances, both Tibet and Mongolia developed a similar cultural style: Nomadic pastoralism. It was thus, easier for the Mongols to mingle with seminomadic Tibetans than with purely agricultural Chinese, who were far different in their social and cultural institutions.”

Sechin Jagchid

The Tibetan Buddhist missionary work in Mongolia lasted for hundreds of years, with many Tibetan scholars coming to Mongolia; they converted many Mongolians to Tibetan Buddhism. This religious alliance lasted for many years, with the Mongolians playing a role in establishing the Dalai Lama.

This preaching of Tibetan Buddhists spread all over Mongolia and even into Manchurian parts, with many of the Manchu people also converting to Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetan Buddhism Religion has greatly influenced both Mongolia and Tibet for many centuries.

The relationship between Tibet and Mongolia started with the Mongolians going to Tibet to conquer Tibet. Their relationship continued with many Tibetans going to Mongolia to convert the Mongolians to Tibetan Buddhism.

Related Questions

Mongolia Vs Inner Mongolia: What Is The Difference?

Mongolia is an independent country that gained its full independence when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1990. Inner Mongolia, also known as the Autonomous Region of Mongolia, is part of China. The people who live in Inner Mongolia are considered Chinese citizens. In contrast, the people who live in Mongolia are considered Mongolian citizens. Even if they may speak the same language and have a similar culture, they are two different countries.

You can learn more by reading Mongolia Vs Inner Mongolia: What Is The Difference? by clicking here.

How Long Has Mongolia Been A Country?

In 1911 Mongolia broke from Chinese rule; in 1921, the socialist People’s Republic of Mongolia was formed. The Peoples Republic of Mongolia was a satellite state of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union broke apart in 1989, Mongolia’s fate again changed. In 1990, Mongolia, an independent and democratic country, was formed; its official name is Mongol Uls.

You can discover more by reading How Long Has Mongolia Been A Country? by clicking here.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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The Relationship Between Mongolia and Tibet