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Reflections of a Visiting Scholar


Cholmon spent the 2014-2015 Academic Year as a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies. (CEUS) The IAUNRC was able to sit down with her for an interview about her time here at Indiana University before she returned to Inner Mongolia last month.

How long have you been a Visiting Scholar at Indiana University? Can you tell us a little about the program that brought you here?

I have been at Indiana University since August 21st, 2014 and stayed for the 2014-2015 academic year. I was awarded funding by the China Scholarship Council, an organization sponsored by the Chinese government. Many Chinese universities that already have exchange programs established with other U.S. universities, so CSC scholarship students simply go to the partnering institution. For me it was different. I had to find my own foreign supervisor, so I found Professor Christopher Atwood.

Professor Atwood with Cholmon


How did you set that up by yourself? What was that process like for you?

Indiana University is the center for Mongolian Studies in America. Dr. John Gombojab Hangin was a researcher here at IU who founded the Mongolia Society in 1961 with his colleagues. He was originally from my hometown area and was a Chahar Mongol like me. Professor Christopher Atwood is one of the most famous researchers in Mongolian Studies. He is the most influential- not just one of - really the most influential researcher in my research area, which is the People’s Revolutionary Party of Inner Mongolia (PRPIM) during the 1920’s-1940’s. He is the main reason I chose to come to this university.

In 2011 I was attending a conference in Ulaanbaatar and Professor Atwood was there. He gave an interesting presentation in Mongolian on a paper about the dughuilangs and Shine Lam. At that time I was just a master’s student. My English was weak, but I remember thinking, “wow this is something new and interesting to me.” That was the first time I met him. After that I bought his book Young Mongols and Vigilantes in Inner Mongolia’s Interregnum Decades, 1911-1931. I could not find this book in any bookstore, so a professor from Inner Mongolia University got a copy for me during a research trip.

 I used this book for my Master’s Thesis which was a basic introduction to the People's Revolutionary Party of Inner Mongolia. In this work I focused on illustrating the multilateral interactions between the People's Revolutionary Party of Inner Mongolia (PRPIM) with (Outer) Mongolia, as well as the Communist International, the Soviet Union, the Kuomintang, the Chinese Communist Party, and the Chinese warlords as well. I tried to show how the PRPIM navigated the complexity of these relationships to carry on an autonomous movement of Inner Mongolia from 1925-1931. I also went to the Mongolian Archives in Ulaanbaatar in 2011 and used the documents from there in my dissertation. Very few people have read Professor Atwood’s book in Inner Mongolia and China, and also many people overlook this period of PRPIM history where the party is trying to build an Inner Mongolian region. At that time Mongolia was divided into banners which were really separate independent communities despite being Mongolian; Professor Atwood refers to them as ‘appanage communities’, identity was tied to the banner, and each banner was ruled by its own prince.  The PRPIM had to unite these banners and identities into an Inner Mongolian region with one central government.


The first volume of Professor Atwood's Book which was influential for Cholmon's research.


With all of this in mind, I contacted Professor Atwood in the winter of 2013 to see whether he would be interested in working with me. I sent him a tentative study plan. He helped me a lot with the invitation letter and all of the paperwork that we had to submit to the China Scholarship Council, as well as to Inner Mongolia University, and for the visa application.


Can you tell us a little about your time at IU?

In the fall semester I audited Professor Atwood’s class, “Modern Mongolia”. I spent my first semester further developing my English speaking skills for research and presentations.  During the spring semester I took another class with Professor Atwood called “Ordos Documents” which looked at the various documents collected by Scheut missionaries in Inner Mongolia to analyze pre-revolutionary Mongolian society.

In the spring semester I presented at the 22nd Annual ACES Conference (Association of Central Eurasian Students), so I spent much of my time preparing for that. I was on the panel “Constructing Modern Mongolian Identity”, chaired by Professor Kate Graber.  My presentation was "The Fragmentation of the Mongols and the Creation of a New Version of 'Inner Mongolia' by the People's Revolutionary Party of Inner Mongolia". The ACES Conference was helpful for me because of the low pressure environment, but the comments made by the Professors and other scholars were really useful. In fact, I am using those comments I received from the ACES Conference to develop a new paper.

In April, I attended the Workshop on New Directions in the History of Central and Inner Asia at Harvard University. The workshop is for graduate students interested in receiving feedback on my paper "The Dilemma of Hulunbuir Mongol Nationalists:  the Bargu Revolution of 1928 in Transnational Context". Professor Atwood was very supportive of this decision and let me present this paper in his spring semester class in preparation for the workshop. Later in May I handed in my final paper "The Encounter of the Mongol Herders and Chinese Farmers: Ecological Deterioration in Ordos". This whole year has involved a lot of writing.


What is your doctoral research on?

I would like to continue the work I started with my Master’s Thesis about Inner Mongolia’s Autonomous Movement from 1925-1931, looking at the PRPIM’s as well as other actors’ involvement. This period of history is fascinating and complicated for all Mongolians: Japan was invading, Russia had become the Soviet Union, China was torn between nationalists, communists, and war lords; there were missionaries, princes, and vigilante groups in the countryside. The borders between China, Mongolia, and Russia were drastically different from today, movement was less restrained so there was greater freedom of mobility making it easier for people to exchange ideas.


What do you plan to do when you return?

I have finished my coursework, so now I will turn my attention to archival research. I would like to look at archives in Hohhot, Hulunbuir, Khinggan League, maybe Ordos. I would really like to go to Buryatia and explore archives there. However, my Russian is not that good- I have only studied it for two months so I can read it, but I cannot understand what they are saying. So I will study Russian before I go.


What were some resources that were helpful at IU?

There were two main things that I found useful here.

1.) I was exposed to different historical research theory and methods. This opened up a new world for me and ways to approach research.

2.) Indiana University has an impressive library collection. I spent most of my time in the Sinor Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies (SRIFIAS) and the Wells Library.

The SRIFIAS contained Mongolian, Chinese, English, and Russian materials that were of interest for my research. There were books and documents about Inner Mongolia, Outer Mongolia, Buryatia, Kalmyks, Tibet, and really the whole of Central Eurasia. There were materials that I could not find at Inner Mongolia University, either I do not have access or we do not have a copies of these materials- so that’s really helpful. One of the more unexpected things I found was a copy of the New Testament that was translated into Mongolian near my hometown. Apparently there was a Swedish missionary there...


Would you ever want to come back?

I would love to return again, maybe after I finish my dissertation. I will be using many of the materials I collected from here from the SRIFIAS, Wells Library, and the Ordos Documents; combine them with Mongolian and Chinese archival documents to write my dissertation.