The Invention of the National Hero in Socialist Mongolia: Magsarzhav, Sükhbaatar, Choibalsan

Typhaine Cann

The Invention of the National Hero in Socialist Mongolia: Magsarzhav, Sükhbaatar, Choibalsan

(63rd Annual Meeting Ulaanbaatar, 2021)

The construction − and deconstruction− of “national heroes” as rallying points in the forging of national identities is a classical topic of humanities, which probably has acquired growing importance with the raise of post-colonial and post-socialist studies. The case of Mongolia has been explored by renowned academics. According to Chistopher Kaplonski who dedicated an entire chapter in his book Truth, History and Politics in Mongolia: The Memory of Heroes to the analysis of the cases of Genghis Khan and Sükhbaatar. Caroline Humphrey examined the case of the first Bogd Khaan in her article “Remembering an Enemy: the Bogd Khaan in Twentieth Century Mongolia”. As we will see, these authors focused on the potentially subversive character of such equivocal texts.

This paper, which stands as a part of our research on the expression of Mongolian patriotism under the socialist regime, shall propose a comparative study of a corpus of modern historical novels, all of them written during the period concerned. These novels, as a common point, stage historical figures − namely Khatanbaatar Magsarzhav, Sükhbaatar and Choibalsan− either as main characters (Ikh Khuvi Zayaa for Magsarzhav, Tsagiin Salkhi for Sükhbaatar) or playing a “second role”. At first sight, it could be considered that they only stand as historical figures whose virtues were emphasized by state propaganda. Our purpose, however, will be to show that they often play the role of “awakeners of consciousness”. Discussing these topics an intriguing question arises: can we go a bit further by attempting to show that they also endorse some more general moral virtues, rooted deeply in popular consciousness? If so, could not they act as “exemplars” (in the sense in which C. Humphrey uses the term), and hence serve as expressing a largely acknowledged representation of what it means to “be a Mongol”, transcending the State doxa?

This paper is an attempt to contribute to the reflection on the discourses of remembrance, their production, but perhaps moreover on their inescapable ambiguity.