Tannu Uriankhai

Tannu Uriankhai (Tuvan: Таңды Урянхай, [taŋˈdɤ urʲanˈχaj]; Mongolian: Тагна Урианхай, romanized: Tagna Urianhai, [ˈtʰaɢəɴ ʊrʲæŋˈχæɪ̯];[1] simplified Chinese: 唐努乌梁海; traditional Chinese: 唐努烏梁海; pinyin: Tángnǔ Wūliánghǎi) was a historical region of the Mongol Empire (and its principal successor, the Yuan dynasty) and, later, the Qing dynasty. The territory of Tannu Uriankhai largely corresponds to the modern-day Tuva Republic of the Russian Federation, neighboring areas in Russia, and a small part of the modern state of Mongolia.

Tannu Uriankhai
Таңды Урянхай (Tuvan)
唐努烏梁海 (Chinese)
Flag of Tannu Uriankhai
Flag (1889–1912)
Tannu Uriankhai within Qing China
Tannu Uriankhai within Qing China
StatusUnorganized autonomous Outer Mongolia region of the Qing dynasty
Common languagesTuvan, Mongolian, Chinese, Russian
Tibetan Buddhism, Shamanism
GovernmentFeudal state
Amban Noyan 
• 1762–1769 (first)
• 1899–1911 (last)
Oyun Ölzey-Ochur oglu Kombu-Dorzhu
• Established
• Disestablished
December 1911
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Khotgoid Khanate
Dzungar Khanate
Uryankhay Republic
Today part ofRussia

Tannu designates the Tannu-ola Mountains in the region. Uriankhai was the Mongolian name for the Tuvans (and accordingly their realm), which meant "the people living in the woods" (Chinese: 林中百姓; pinyin: Línzhōng Bǎixìng).

After Outer Mongolia declared independence from the Qing dynasty and Republic of China in the early 20th century, the region of Tannu Uriankhai increasingly came under Russian influence and finally became an independent communist state, the Tuvan People's Republic, which was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944.

Sovereignty over the area has not been officially renounced by the Republic of China, based on the island of Taiwan since 1949.

Referring to the 2001 Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship, the People's Republic of China (PRC), which controls Mainland China, has not officially renounced its sovereignty over the area, but just "have no remaining territorial claims" for two countries.[2] But the PRC has official contacts with Tuva and regards it as part of Russia.[3][4]


With the fall of the Yuan dynasty in China (1279–1368), Tannu Uriankhai was controlled by the Oirots (western Mongols, also known as Zungars)[citation needed] until the end of the 16th and early 17th centuries.[5] Thereafter, the history of western Mongolia, and by extension Tannu Uriankhai (more as a spectator than as a participant), is a story of the complex military relations between the Altan Khanate (Khotogoit tribe) and the Oirots, both competing for supremacy in western Mongolia.[6]

The Qing dynasty established its dominion over Mongolia as a result of intervening in a war between the Oirots and the Khalkhas, the dominant tribe in the eastern half of Mongolia. In 1691 the Kangxi Emperor accepted the submission of the Khalkhas at Dolon Nor in Inner Mongolia, and then personally led an army into Mongolia, defeating the Oirots near Ulaanbaatar (the capital of present-day Mongolia) in 1696. Mongolia was now part of the Qing state. Qing rule over Tuva came more peacefully, not by conquest but by threat: In 1726 the Yongzheng Emperor ordered the Khotogoit Khan Buuvei Beise to accompany a high Qing official ("amban") to "inform the Uriankhais of [Qing] edicts" in order to prevent "something untoward from happening".[7] The Uriankhais appear to have accepted this arrangement without dispute, at least none is recorded. Qing subjugation of the Altai Uriankhai and the Altainor Uriankhai occurred later, in 1754, as part of a broader military offensive against the Oirots.

Qing administrationEdit

Tannu Uriankhai map under the rule of Qing China, in Mongolian and Chinese

The Tannu Uriankhai were reorganized into an administrative system similar to that of Mongolia, with five banners ("khoshun", 旗) and 46 or 47 arrows ("sum", 佐領) (Chinese and Russian sources differ on the number of khoshuns and sumuns). Each khoshun was governed by a magistrate (not hereditary) nominally appointed by the Qing military governor at Uliastai. In the latter half of the 18th century, the magistrate of Tannu Banner was placed in charge of the others as governor ("amban-noyon", 四旗總管) in recognition of his military service to the dynasty, until 1872.

  • Tannu Banner (唐努旗)
  • Salajik Banner (薩拉吉克旗)
  • Tojin Banner (托錦旗)
  • Khövsgöl Nuur Banner (庫布蘇庫勒諾爾旗、庫蘇古爾旗)
  • Khemchik Banner (克穆齊克旗)
  • Uliastai General (Amban) 25 sums (烏里雅蘇臺將軍所屬烏梁海二十五佐領)
  • Zasagtu Khan 5 sums (札薩克圖汗部所屬烏梁海五佐領)
  • Sain Noyan Hošo Prince 13 sums (賽音諾顏部額魯特前旗所屬十三佐領)
  • Jebtsundamba Khutugtu's Shabinar 3 sums (哲布尊丹巴呼圖克圖所屬沙比納爾三佐領)

Tannu Uriankhai (as well as Altai and Altainor Uriankhai) occupied a unique position in the Qing dynasty's frontier administration system. If Qing statutes rigorously defined procedures to be followed by the nobles of Outer and Inner Mongolia, Zungaria, and Qinghai for rendering tribute, receiving government stipends, and participating in imperial audiences, they are silent regarding Tannu Uriankhai.[8] After the demarcation of the Sino-Russian border by the Treaty of Kyakhta (1727), the Qing inexplicably placed border guards ("yurt pickets," Mongolian: ger kharuul) south of the Tannu-ola Mountains separating Tannu Uriankai from Outer Mongolia, not along the Sayan Mountains separating the region from Russia. (This fact was used by 19th-century Russian polemicists, and later Soviet writers, to prove that Tuva had historically been "disputed" territory between Russia and China.) The Qing military governor at Uliastiai, on his triennial inspection tours of the 24 pickets under his direct supervision, never crossed the Tannu-ola mountains to visit Uriankhai. When problems occurred meriting official attention, the military governor would send a Mongol from his staff rather than attend to the matter himself.[8]

Indeed, there is no evidence that Tannu Uriankhai was ever visited by a senior Qing official (except perhaps in 1726). Chinese merchants were forbidden to cross the pickets, a law not lifted until the turn of the 20th century. Instead, a few days were set aside for trade at Uliastai when Uriankhai nobles delivered their annual fur tribute to the military governor and received their salaries and other imperial gifts (primarily bolts of satin and cotton cloth) from the emperor.[9] Thus, Tannu Uriankhai enjoyed a degree of political and cultural autonomy unequalled on the Chinese frontier.[8]

Russian settlementEdit

Russian settlement of the region began in 1839 with the opening of two gold mines in the Sayan Mountains; in the following decades, other areas were exploited for mining, mainly in the northern part of Uriankhai. By 1883 the total number of Russian miners there reached 485.[10]

Russian merchants from Minusinsk followed, especially after the Treaty of Peking[11] in 1860, which opened China to foreign trade. They were lured by the "wild prices," as one 19th-century Russian writer described them, that Uriankhais were willing to pay for Russian manufactured goods—cloth, haberdashery, samovars, knives, tobacco, etc. By the end of the 1860s there were already sixteen commercial "establishments" (zavedenie) in Tannu Uriankhai.[12] The Uriankhais paid for these goods in livestock-on-the-hoof, furs, and animal skins (sheep, goat, horse, and cattle). But crossing the Sayan Mountains was a journey not without hardships, and even peril; thus, by 1880-85 there were perhaps no more than 50 (or fewer) Russian traders operating in Tannu Uriankhai during the summer, when trade was most active.[8]

Russian colonization followed. It started in 1856 with a sect of Old Believers called the "Seekers of White Waters," a place which according to their tradition was isolated from the rest of the world by impassable mountains and forests, where they could obtain refuge from government authorities and where the Nikon rites of the Russian Orthodox Church were not practiced.[13] In the 1860s a different kind of refugee arrived, those fleeing from penal servitude in Siberia. More Russians came. Small settlements were formed in the northern and central parts of Tuva.

The formal beginning of Russian colonization in Tannu Uriankhai occurred in 1885 when a merchant received permission from the Governor-General of Irkutsk to farm at present-day Turan. Other settlements were formed, and by the first decade of the 20th century there were perhaps 2,000 merchants and colonists.[14]

By the late 1870s and in the 1880s the Russian presence had acquired a political content. In 1878 Russians discovered gold in eastern Uriankhai. There were rumors of fabulous wealth to be gained from this area, and the Russian provincial authorities at Yeniseisk were deluged with petitions from gold miners to mine (permission was granted). Merchants and miners petitioned Russian authorities for military and police protection.[10] In 1886 the Usinsk Frontier Superintendent was established, its primary function was to represent Russian interests in Tannu-Uriankhai with Uriankhai nobles (not Qing officials) and to issue passports to Russians traveling in Uriankhai. Over the years this office was to quietly but steadily claim the power of government over at least the Russians in the region—taxation, policing, administration, and justice—powers that should have belonged to but were effectively relinquished by, the Qing.[13] Shortly after the office of Superintendent was created, the "Sibirskaya gazeta" brought out a special edition, congratulating the government on its creation, and predicting that all Tannu Uriankhai would someday become part of the Russian state.[10]

As a general observation, the Tsarist government had been reluctant to act precipitously in Uriankhai for fear of arousing the Qing. It generally preferred a less obvious approach, one that depended on colonization (encouraged quietly) rather than military action. And it is this that fundamentally distinguished ultimate Russian dominion over Tannu Uriankhai from that of Outer Mongolia, with which it has often been compared. In the former, the Russians were essentially colonists; in the latter, they were traders. The Russians built permanent farmhouses in Uriankhai, opened the land for cultivation, erected fences, and raised livestock. They were there to stay. What gave the Russian presence added durability was its concentration in the northern and central parts of Tannu Uriankhai, areas sparsely populated by the natives themselves. It was Russian colonization, therefore, rather than purposeful Tsarist aggression, that resulted in Tannu Uriankhai ultimately becoming part of Russia in the following century.

Qing reactionEdit

The Qing government was not oblivious to the Russian presence. In the 1860s and 1870s the Uliastai military governor on a number of occasions reported to Peking on the movement of Russians into Uriankhai.[15] Its suspicions were further aroused by other events. At negotiations between it and Russia resulting in the Tarbagatai Protocol of 1864, which defined a part of the Sino-Russian border, the Russian representative insisted that all territory to the north of the Qing frontier pickets fall to Russia. Moreover, the Uliastai military governor obtained a Russian map showing the Tannu-ola Mountains as the Sino-Russian border.[16]

But in the second half of the 19th century the Qing government was far too distracted by internal problems to deal with this. Instead, it was left to local officials on the frontier to manage the Russians as best they could, an impossible task without funds or troops. The military governors at Uliastai had to be content with limp protests and inconclusive investigations.

End of Qing ruleEdit

Map of Mongolia including Tannu Uriankhai in 1917

By the early 20th century the Uriankhai economy had seriously deteriorated, resulting in the increasing poverty of its people. The causes were varied: the declining number of fur-bearing animals probably due to over-hunting by both Uriankhais and Russians; the declining number of livestock as a result of the export market to Siberia; and periodic natural disasters (especially droughts and plagues), which took a fearful toll on livestock herds.

There was another reason. Uriankhai trade with Russians was conducted on credit using a complex system of valuation principally pegged to squirrel skins. As the number of squirrels declined because of over-hunting, the price of goods increased. The Russians also manipulated the trade by encouraging credit purchases at usurious rates of interest. If repayment were not forthcoming, Russian merchants would drive off the livestock either of the debtor or of his relatives or friends. This resulted in retaliatory raids by the Uriankhai.

The situation worsened when the Han people arrived from China proper. Although the Qing had successfully kept Han traders out of Uriankhai (unlike in other parts of Outer Mongolia and other parts of the frontier), in 1902 they were allowed to cross the border to counter Russian domination of the Uriankhai economy. By 1910 there were 30 or so shops, all branches of Han-owned firms operating in Uliastai. For a host of reasons—more aggressive selling, easier credit terms, cheaper and more popular goods for sale—the Han people soon dominated commerce just as they had in Outer Mongolia. Soon, the Uriankhais, commoners and princes alike, had accumulated large debts to the Han.[17]

The end of Qing rule in Tannu Uriankhai came quickly. On October 10, 1911, the Xinhai Revolution broke out, and soon afterwards Chinese provinces followed one another in declaring their independence. Outer Mongolia declared its own independence from China on December 1, and expelled the Qing viceroy four days later.[18] In the second half of December bands of Uriankhai began plundering and burning Han-owned shops.

Uriankhai nobles were divided on their course of political action. The Uriankhai governor (amban-noyon), Gombo-Dorzhu, advocated becoming a protectorate of Russia, hoping that the Russians in turn would appoint him governor of Uriankhai. But the princes of two other banners preferred to submit to the new Bogd Khanate of Mongolia under the theocratic rule of the Jebstundamba Khutukhtu of Urga.[19]

Undeterred, Gombu-Dorzhu sent a petition to the Frontier Superintendent at Usinsk stating that he had been chosen as leader of an independent Tannu Uriankhai state. He asked for protection and proposed that Russian troops be sent immediately into the state to prevent China from restoring its rule over the region. There was no reply—three months earlier the Tsarist Council of Ministers had already decided on a policy of gradual, cautious absorption of Uriankhai by encouraging Russian colonization. Precipitous action by Russia, the Council feared, might provoke China.[20]

This position changed, however, as a result of pressure from commercial circles in Russia for a more activist approach, and a Russian sponsored 'petition' from two Uriankhai khoshuns in the fall of 1913 requesting to be accepted as a part of Russia. Other Uriankhai khoshuns soon followed suit. In April 1914 Tannu Uriankhai was formally accepted as a protectorate of Russia.[21]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ц.Цэрэндорж. "Тагна Урианхай". Монголын түүх.
  2. ^ "The Unlikely Prospect of Long-Term Sino-Russian Cooperation: Points of Divergence in the Emerging Security Environment". Over the Horizon (OTH). 2019. Article 6 of the 2001 Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship states that the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation have no remaining territorial claims.
  3. ^ "中华人民共和国版图". 中国政府网. 2017. Archived from the original on 2020-01-28.
  4. ^ "外交部部长助理李惠来会见俄罗斯图瓦共和国行政长官绍尔班". 中国外交部. 2021-05-02. Archived from the original on 2021-05-07.
  5. ^ Iakinf (Bichurin), Sobranie svedenii o narodakh obitgavsikh v srednei Asii v drevniya vremena [Collected Information on the Peoples of Central Asia] (St. Petersburg, 1851), v. 1, p. 439; M.G. Levin and L.P. Potapov, The Peoples of Siberia (Chicago and London, 1961), pp. 382-83.
  6. ^ For a history of this period, see Ewing, The Forgotten Frontier, pp. 176-184.
  7. ^ Chi Yunshi, comp., Huangchao fanbu yaolue [Essential Information Regarding the Imperial Dependencies on the Frontier], (1845; rpr. Taipei 1966), v. 1, p. 213.
  8. ^ a b c d Thomas E. Ewing, The Forgotten Frontier: South Siberia (Tuva) in Chinese and Russian History, 1600-1920, Central Asiatic Journal (1981), v. XXV, p. 176.
  9. ^ Yang Jialo, ed., Zhongguo jingchi shiliao [Sources on the Economic History of China] (Taipei, 1977), p. 447.
  10. ^ a b c V.I. Dulov, Russko-tuvinskie ekonomicheskie svyazi v. XIX stoletii, [Russian-Tuvin economic relations in the 19th century] in Uchenye zapiski tuvinskogo nauchno-issledovatel’skogo instituta yazyka, literatury I istorii (Kyzyl, 1954), no. 2, p. 104.
  11. ^ "What is Peking Opera?". www.answers.com. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  12. ^ V.M. Rodevich, Ocherki Uriankhaiskogo kraya [Essays on the Uriankhai Region] (St. Petersburg, 1910), p. 104.
  13. ^ a b F.Ya. Kon, Usinskii krai [Usinsk Region] (Krasnoyarsk 1914) pp. 29-38.
  14. ^ V.L. Popov, "Vtoroe puteshestvie v Mongoliyu, [Two Travels to Mongolia], (Irkutsk 1910) p. 12.
  15. ^ Qingdai chouban iwu shimo [Complete Records of the Management of Barbarian Affairs] (Peiping, 1930), Xienfeng 5:30b.
  16. ^ Liu Jinzao, ed., Qingchao xu wenxien tongkao [Encyclopedia of the Historical Records of the Qing Dynasty, Continued] (Shanghai, 1935; repr. Taipei, 1966), pp. 10, 828-30.
  17. ^ M.I. Bogolepov, M.N. Sobolev, Ocherki russko-mongol’skoi torgovli [Essays on Russian-Mongolian Commerce] (Tomsk 1911), p. 42.
  18. ^ Thomas E. Ewing, Revolution on the Chinese Frontier: Outer Mongolia in 1911, Journal of Asian History (1978), v. 12., pp. 101-19.
  19. ^ L. Dendev, Mongolyn tovch tüükh [Brief History of Mongolia] (Ulan Bator, 1934), p. 55.
  20. ^ N.P. Leonov, Tannu Tuva (Moscow, 1927), p. 42.
  21. ^ Istoriya Tuvy [History of Tuva], v. 1, pp. 354-55.