Modern Mongolia:
From Khans To Commissars to Capitalists

Morris Rossabi

University of California Press 2005
A book review by Danny Yee © 2005
A solid but approachable study, Modern Mongolia is an excellent read for anyone with a serious interest in Mongolia, whether as a tourist or expatriate or through more direct involvement in its political and economic life.

Rossabi begins with the transition to democracy, starting with the demonstration on International Human Rights Day, December 10th, 1989; he offers just a few pages of essential background on earlier history. This is followed by a brief account of the abrupt decline of Russian influence (and subsidies) and the arrival of international agencies and Western organisations. Two chapters then present a chronological account of political and economic developments from 1990 to 2004, ending with the June 2004 elections which forced the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party and the Democratic Party coalition to share power.

This account covers some of the personalities and political wrangling, but is largely focused on the application of free market "shock therapy" to the Mongolian economy. This is an often depressing story of decisions driven by ideology, with support from some Mongolians but largely under pressure from multilateral bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank and US-based lobby groups such as the International Republican Institute. Perhaps most telling is the long failure to produce economic growth, despite Mongolia being one of the highest per capita recipients of foreign aid in the world.

Rossabi goes on to consider the effects of the drastic reduction in the role of the state: on herders and rural society; on poverty, education and health; and on the environment, arts, religion, and the media. And he finishes with a look at Mongolia's relationships with other countries: Russia, Japan, South Korea, the United States, the other central Asian nations, and above all China (with an entire chapter on Sino-Mongolian relations).

Particular informants — notably Khural members Tserendash Namkhainyamuu and Sanjaas├╝rengiin Oyun — clearly had a major influence on Rossabi, but he is open about that. And though his unhappiness about blinkered approaches to development is patent, his fundamental interest remains description rather than advocacy. Modern Mongolia makes a fascinating case study in application of "Washington consensus" economic policies, even for those without a specific interest in Mongolia.

September 2005

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%T Modern Mongolia
%S From Khans To Commissars to Capitalists
%A Rossabi, Morris
%I University of California Press
%D 2005
%O paperback, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0520244192
%P 397pp