When you compare the neon lights of Seoul to the starry, tranquil nights on the grassland of Mongolia, you would never expect those two countries to have anything in common. The inhabitants of the two countries, however, have a lot more in common than meets the eye. In this article we’ll delve deeper in the links of two of our favorite cultures at YPT: those of the Mongolians and the Koreans.
The history behind it
Since the Korean peninsula and the Republic of Mongolia do not share any land borders, one might not have expected the two to have historically interacted much. However, there have been many interactions between the ancestors of the Koreans and the Mongols.
In the glory days of the Golden Horde, Genghis Khan and his men swept through Asia, piling up conquest after conquest. The whole world was taken aback that a group of herders with only bows and horses managed to accomplish such a feat. In the 13th century, after conquering most of northern China, the Mongols set their eyes on Japan. After invading Korea and the whole peninsula, the Mongols established a base on Jeju Island, where they bided their time and planned their invasion of Japan. The Mongols would not be successful as the horsemen were not seafaring experts, and the elements beat them back on many occasions.
While the Mongol conquest was stopped and its empire slowly began collapsing, Genghis Khan’s people left their mark on the lands they conquered. This was perhaps no more evident than it was in Korea, where they ruled for 80 years before being driven out by the Goryeo Dynasty.
The Korean and Mongolian languages
While such languages as English, French and Chinese use a subject-verb-object structure, the Mongolian language and the Korean language use a subject-object-verb structure. So when we say, ‘I ate an apple’, Koreans and Mongolians will instead say, ‘I an apple ate’. This is also the case with the Japanese language, and there is some evidence that leads researchers to believe it originates from the Korean language in many aspects. For example, most of the Chinese vocabulary used or adapted in Japanese was actually transmitted to the archipelago by Korean intellectuals.
A surprising fact about the Mongolian population is that its biggest diaspora is found in South Korea where a little fewer than 40,000 Mongols live. Conversely, there are also Koreans living in Mongolia, albeit in a lower number. It is said that their integration is quite easy, as they can pick up each other’s respective languages quite quickly and they also share similar physical features, which are both traits that can help them blend in with the local population. Additionally there are many bilateral agreements between the Republic of Mongolia and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).
One sport that strikes by its resemblance in the two cultures is most definitely wrestling. The way Mongolians and Koreans traditionally wrestle is extremely similar and a visitor who has tried korean wrestling (known as Ssireum) in the Chilbosan homestay in North Korea will feel right at home in the Naadam festival in Mongolia, when wrestling comes up.
In both cultures, wrestling begins with the two competitors wrapping their hands around their opponent’s belt. Their arms are not allowed to leave the body and the fight happens mostly using one’s torso and legs.
On another note, horseracing is not completely unfamiliar to Koreans, and it is said that horses were imported to the country through the Mongols’ influence.
What about the other Korea?
It wouldn’t be a YPT article if we did not interest ourselves in the links between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Mongolia. Interestingly enough, Mongolia was the second state following the Soviet Union to recognize the DPRK. During the Korean War, Mongolia also provided indirect assistance to the country. It also aided with the reconstruction of the country during the aftermath of the war.
During the Sino-Soviet divide, relations between the DPRK and Mongolia cooled somewhat, as Mongolia was part of the Soviet Union while the DPRK allied itself more with China. Once relations between the Soviet Union and China improved, however, Mongolia and the DPRK resumed their historically warm relations.
Today, it is said that Mongolia provides an interesting model for DPRK; North Korea is currently experimenting with an open economy, just as Mongolia had to do following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Both South Korean and North Korea are economic partners of Mongolia, with many cosmetic and fashion brands directly exporting their products from South Korea to Mongolia without the need to change their fashion models. Ulan-Bator even has a Pyongyang Restaurant!
As you can see, Mongolia and Korea share many things, be it their culture, sports, language or physical appearances. The best way to understand the links between Mongolians and Koreans would certainly be to visit the countries. Luckily, Young Pioneer Tours regularly offers tours to Mongolia as well as North Korea!