(The following is a post by Susan Meinheit, Mongolian and Tibetan Reference Specialist, Asian Division)
The Asian Division recently welcomed over 80 Mongolian scholars for the keynote session of the 11th Annual International Mongolian Studies Conference. The conference is a yearly two-day event hosted by the Mongolian Cultural Association located in Falls Church, VA, and the Embassy of Mongolia in Washington, D.C., including visits to the Asian Division to learn about the Mongolian collection. This year it was held on January 27 – 28 to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-Mongolia relations, with the theme “Mongolia-U.S. Relations: Past, Present and Future.” Scholars from Mongolia, U.S., Canada, Buryatia and Inner Mongolia presented papers on U.S.- Mongolia relations, history, philology, “Greater Mongolia,” and the Mongolian community in the U.S.
On the afternoon of the 27th, the Asian Division hosted the keynote session in the Whittall Pavilion. The session began with a presentation by H.E. Altangerel Bulgaa, Ambassador of Mongolia to the U.S., on the history of U.S.-Mongolia relations and the current situation in areas of political, trade, economic, defense, education, cultural and international cooperation, as well as on people to people ties.
Dr. John W. Williams, Professor of Political Science, Principia College (Elsa, Illinois) then gave the keynote talk, titled,“The First Draft of History has a Poor Memory: The Dilowa Khutughtu in American Journalism.” The Dilowa Khutughtu (1884 – 1964), the Mongolian Buddhist reincarnation of the great Mahasiddha Tilopa (ca. 988 -1069), immigrated to the U.S. in 1964 to assist Owen Lattimore in researching and teaching at one of the first Mongolian studies programs in the U.S at Johns Hopkins University. Despite the Dilowa Khutughtu’s unique religious and political background, most news coverage focused only on his affiliation with Lattimore, one of America’s foremost experts on Mongolia, whom he had befriended in 1930. Professor Williams used this example of news coverage to illustrate the important role played by historians in going beyond the “first draft” (journalism) to document important events.
To highlight the Library’s role in preserving history, Susan Meinheit, the Library’s Mongolian Specialist, presented an overview of the Mongolian Collection and brought the guests to the Asian Reading Room to view a special display on “Early American Contacts with Mongolia.” Featured in the display was a copy of the political memoirs and autobiography of the Dilowa Khutughtu (aka Diluv Khutagt), which was published in 1982. The copy contains the original Mongolian text by the Dilowa Khutughtu, along with Lattimore’s translation, and the Dilowa Khutughtu’s personal autobiography as dictated to Lattimore. The Dilowa Khutughtu begins his fascinating story with this statement: “This is the story of how I became a human being…” He proceeds to describe reincarnation, his previous lives, and the history of his Buddhist monastery in Mongolia, Narobanchin.
Among the rare treasures shown were the first Mongolian books in the Library’s collection, three classical texts donated by William W. Rockhill between 1893 and 1901: “White Lotus of Great Compassion Sutra,” “Clear Mirror of Royal Genealogies” and “Sutra of the Great Liberation.”
William Rockhill (1854 – 1914) was an American diplomat who served as American Minister to China, and Ambassador to Russia and Turkey. His biography, “William Woodville Rockhill: Scholar-diplomat of the Tibetan Highlands” and his diary, “Diary of a Journey through Mongolia and Tibet in 1891 and 1892,” were also displayed.
The display featured a hand copied manuscript from the National Archives of Mongolia of the travel documents for the first American visitor to Mongolia in 1862, transcribed as Mr. Filosi. The document was presented to the Library on the 25th anniversary of U.S.-Mongolian relations by former U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia, Jonathan S. Addleton.
Early American travels in Mongolia were represented by a 1918 volume of “Asia, Journal of the American Asiatic Association,” showing this charming frontispiece by Luther Anderson, a correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, and a volume from Roy Chapman Andrews (1884–1960), describing the joy of camping on the shores of Tsagaan Nur in the 1920’s.
Finally, a page from the diary of Franz August Larson was displayed. Larson was the author of a 1930’s travel book, “Duke of Mongolia” and a missionary affiliated with the China Inland Mission. He also played a crucial role in influencing U.S. policy regarding Mongolia from 1915 to 1919. His diary reveals many previously unknown details about his adventurous life and the complicated political events in early 20th century Mongolia. In it he expresses his initial concerns about getting the Mongols to see the value of making “new friends from far away America”:
“But all Americans without exception liked the Mongols and it was two sided, the Mongols liked Americans, and I believe now that those months & years in Mongolia made a loving, lasting impression on us all.”
Perhaps this is a fitting tribute to the early contacts between the two countries, and the eventual establishment of U.S.-Mongolian diplomatic relations being celebrated this year.