Trips and Tales (Part 93): Trans-Siberian Offshoots #4
Whichever way it is spelt, we should take pause first of all to differentiate between Inner and Outer Mongolia, otherwise Huhehot‘s title/designation will not make a lot of sense. Outer Mongolia is essentially Mongolia as we know it, with Inner being the part that China ultimately kept after controlling the country from the 17th century onwards and subsequently relinquishing the part they didn’t really need.
The favourable Inner region (from a Chinese perspective) was closer to Beijing and considered more civilised, developed and generally useful, whilst the comparative wilds were decidedly “Outer”. These became separate, designated, administrative regions – two distinct entities effectively.
Buoyed up by Russian support (a potentially explosive situation), Outer Mongolia would strive for its independence. This was achieved in practical (though not official) terms in 1911 at the end of the Qing Dynasty and later realised in 1924 after an ongoing tug-of-war between Russia and China ended with the creation of the Mongolian People’s Republic (in reality a satellite of the Soviet Union). China officially relinquished control of the “Outer” region after a referendum in 1949, so marking the Inner/Outer regions in hard lines, a concession that would prevent Russian advancement further into Inner Mongolia.
Sadly this would also open the door to the horrors of Stalinist purges, and bring Russia/Mongolia into border conflict with the advancing Japanese. However it would not be until 1992 under Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost initiatives that true independence would be achieved following Mongolia’s Peaceful Democratic Revolution.
OK, that is an extremely simplistic summary of the complexities that occurred, and a very circuitous preamble to saying that Huhehot has been the designated capital of Inner Mongolia from 1952 onwards!
As of the 2000 census Huhehot attained an Urban population approaching 2 million, just under 10% of whom were classified ethnic Mongolians with approximately 87% Han Chinese. Around 3% being derived from other nationalities.
Although Mongolian Buddhism, established here in the 17th century (from imported Tibetan) is the predominant faith, the Islamic Hui Chinese are the largest minority comprising around 2% of the population. As such you may see Halal food establishments, generally identified by green/yellow signage, in which it is an insult to even mention pork. Korean restaurants are readily available too, as are establishments offering cuisine from the various Chinese regions – unsurprisingly.
On the subject of food, the city is something of a “Milk Capital” – the term is even embodied physically with a sizeable sculpture in the form of a castellated block resting on organic – well – teats? perhaps? Great for conversations that start with: “I bet you can’t guess what this is…” Two giant milk companies are based in Huhehot; so in all, expect plenty of Mongolian dairy options on the various menus across town. Not a city for the lactose intolerant then or myself with a preference for soya. Vast potential for an international dairy-based incident I’m sure.
Oh yes, the city’s name literally translates as “Blue/Green City”. Blue is a Mongolian association with purity, eternity and the sky – there are those endless blue Mongolian skies after all. So I presume that green is similarly linked to the Mongolian steppe perhaps? We shall see.
[Photo by derikz]