"Back then we were not under pressure from China," Dalai explains. (Most Mongolians have no family name.) "Of course, we won't revive his empire -- we can't -- although I do think it would be better if Inner Mongolia could unite with us."
Those are fighting words for Chinese officials, who have held conferences on the threat of pan-Mongolian nationalism and recently started a massive roundup of Mongolian activists and intellectuals in Inner Mongolia.
Some strong Chinese sentiment holds that Mongolia is Chinese. Teachers at universities mention the loss of Mongolia as an example of the humiliations China has suffered this century.
As a matter of pride, Mongolians shun Chinese products, but joint ventures to process cashmere and timber continue apace.
If Mongolians feel helpless to stop the Chinese economic surge, they try to draw the line at cultural matters.
Mongolians repeat with great pride an episode from the 1950s when China was allied with the Soviet Union and began building a 300-mile irrigation system around the ruins of Karakorum, the ancient Mongolian capital.
With the ditches only half-dug, the Mongolians halted the project, suspecting that their arch-enemy really wanted to dig up the city and steal artifacts. To this day ancient Karakorum lies under pasture land, waiting for the archaeologists who will help explain the sudden rise and fall of the Mongolian empire.
"Sure the ditches have helped the local agriculture," Bateljar, a Mongolian trader in the area, said with a dismissive wave of the hand. "But we're horsemen, and we don't need the help of Chinese farmers to discover our own history.
"We'll dig it up when we have the resources and are able to do it ourselves. Mongolia will be strong again -- soon."
Pub Date: 7/09/96