Mongolia, an independent country in east-central Asia. Until 1924, when its name was officially changed, Mongolia was called Outer Mongolia. It lies between China and Russia and is one of the few landlocked nations of Asia. Greatest distances are about 1,350 miles (2,170 km) east to west and 660 miles (1,060 km) north to south. The area is 604,250 square miles (1,565,000 km2).
Mongolia is largely a semiarid land with a wide variety of physical features. In northern, western, southwestern, and central Mongolia are mountains separated by broad basins, plains, and valleys. The highest elevations are in the Altai Mountains, where several peaks reach more than 14,000 feet (4,270 m). Most of southern and southeastern Mongolia is occupied by the Gobi desert and the Mongolian Plateau. Short grasses cover most of the country's land.
Virtually all of the rivers are in the northern half of the country and drain northward toward Russia. The Selenge River and its tributaries, chief of which is the Orhon, form the principal drainage system. Other rivers include the Kerulen and the Dzavhan; both empty into lakes having no outward drainage.
Mongolia has a continental climate, marked by much sunny weather and extreme seasonal variations of temperature. In many ways the climate resembles that of Siberia. Winters are bitterly cold and summers are warm to hot. At the capital city of Ulaanbaator, for example, temperatures range from a winter low of about - 14° F. ( -26° C.) to a summer high of about 75° F. (24° C.). Precipitation is scanty everywhere; it decreases from about 12 inches (300 mm) a year in the north to less than 2 inches (50 mm) in the south.
For centuries Mongolia's economy was extremely primitive, based almost entirely on the nomadic herding of livestock. This has changed during the 20th century, especially after 1948, when the government began a program to develop the economy through a series of five-year plans. Aid from the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, China was responsible for much of the economic development.
As in the past, livestock raising is the foundation of the economy. Sheep are most numerous, followed by goats, cattle, horses, and camels. Most of the animals are raised on large cooperatives and state farms, as are most of the crops, notably grains and fodder crops. Mongolia's chief exports are cattle and wool. Dairy products, meat, hides, and furs are also exported. The country's manufacturing industries, chiefly in Ulan Bator, Darhan, and Choybalsan, produce foods, clothing, household items, and other consumer goods. Cement, brick, and other construction materials are also produced. Mining has great potential. Of the various minerals mined, coal is the most important.
One railway crosses Mongolia. It passes through Ulan Bator and links Russia and China. A short line from Russia serves the Choybalsan area. Few of Mongolia's roads are paved. International and domestic air service is mainly through the airport at Ulan Bator.
Mongolia's basic currency unit is the tugrik.
About 90 per cent of the people are Mongols, the chief group being Khalkhas. The rest consist mainly of various Turkic- and Tungusic-speaking peoples. Many of the Mongols are expert horsemen and archers. Some are still nomadic and live in round, felt-covered tents called yurts.
Mongolia's population density is 3.4 persons per square mile (1.3 persons per km 2)—one of the world's lowest. Ulan Bator is the capital and largest city.
The official language is Khalkha Mongolian. The Cyrillic alphabet has been the official script since 1946, but in 1990 the indigenous Mongol script was reintroduced in the schools. The traditional religion is Lamaism, but after years of Communist suppression it has few adherents.
Primary school lasts four years; lower secondary, four years; and upper secondary, three years. The literacy rate is about 80 per cent. The national university and most other institutions of higher learning are in Ulan Bator.
Under the constitution of 1992, Mongolia is a republic. It is headed by a president (head of state), who is elected for a four-year term. The Mongolian national legislature is the State Great Hural, whose 76 members are elected for four-year terms. It appoints the prime minister (head of government) and cabinet. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body.