Sun, Nov 02, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Seeing how Mongolia looks from Taiwan

`Country of the Boundless Pasture -- Mongolia in the 20th century' is an odd little exhibition but costs only NT$20 to see

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Now on exhibit at the National Museum of History (國立歷史博物館) the Country of the Boundless Pasture -- Mongolia in the 20th Century offers visitors a glimpse at 300 items both from Mongolia's National Museum of History and from Taiwan's own Academia Historica. What it doesn't offer is a greater understanding of the nation, giving us a trove of trivia in place of a comprehensive narrative.

That the national history museum would want to put up an exhibition of Mongolia is not surprising. Mongolia's modern history is closely tied to the Republic of China and, in many ways, offers insight into Taiwan's own political situation.

Mongolia gained formal independence from China in 1921 with the help of Soviet backing. The communist Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) was installed in 1924 and, like the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), ruled with an iron fist for many decades. Starting in the early 1990s and due to growing opposition to the MPRP, the government yielded its power to the Democratic Union Coalition (DUC), which defeated the MPRP in a 1996 national election. The DUC implemented a number of key reforms to modernize the economy and to democratize the political system, but the former ex-communist MPRP was a strong opposition and stalled additional restructuring efforts. In 2000, the same year the KMT lost its 50-year grip on Taiwan, the MPRP won an overwhelming victory in the legislature, earning 72 of the 76 seats. With its victory, it completely reshuffled the government and, while it continues to slowly implement some reforms, the MPRP has chosen to primarily focus on social welfare and public order in the nation of herders.

Sound like a premonition of things to come for Taiwan? The curators of the national history museum's Mongolia exhibit would seem to think so. A significant portion of the exhibit has been given over to arcane telegraphs between Republic of China officials and their Mongolian counterparts. A 1996 fax from the chief of Hualien County to a member of the DUC offering congratulations on their election victory doesn't tell us much about the culture, people or even politics of Mongolia. Also absent is any real explanation of the curious relationship between Mongolia and the Republic of China, whose constitution still claims Mongolia as its own. But perhaps there is no real explanation for that.

Where we are given a look at the culture and people, the exhibit often creates more questions than it answers. A life-sized ger, or round Mongolian tent, set up in the exhibit's main area is a temptation which busloads of school are forbidden from entering, but is also a source of frustration for those wanting to know the hows and whys of the gur's design and the use of the various implements lying inside it.

Too little information is given on the many placards stuck here and there (most of which, in fairness, do offer a sentence of English-language information), but what is missing is a narrative that leads visitors through the exhibit, filling the gaps between the placards, and introducing Mongolia in a way that would provide a more in-depth understanding of it.  

Country of the Boundless Pasture -- Mongolia in the 20th Century is open to the public now through Nov. 19. The Museum of National History is located at 49 Nanhai Rd in Taipei (北市南海路49). Admission to the museum is NT$20 for adults and NT$10 for students.

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