The autonomous region of Inner Mongolia lies between 97°12'-126°04'E and 37°24'-53°23'N in the north of China along the borders with Russia and Mongolia. The vast majority of the population is Han-Chinese, only about 13 per cent being Mongols.
This region consists largely of steppeland and desert and takes in part of the Mongolian plateau, which has an average height of 1000m/3280ft, the desert area of the Ordos Plateau, around which the Huanghe flows, and in the northeast the Great Chingan.
The extreme continental climate brings long, bitterly cold winters (the average temperature in January is -10°C (14°F)) and only three to five months in summer are free of frost. Rainfall is scarce, with only 150-500mm/6-20in falling each year. The warmest and at the same time wettest months are July, with an average temperature of 21°C (70°F), and August. 60 per cent of the annual rainfall occurs in these two months.
As early as the 10th C BC the area of Xiongnu was settled. From the 5th C the Chinese started to build the Great Wall as a defense against the tribes from the steppes. Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) occupied parts of Inner Mongolia as a way of protecting trade routes with the west.
In the 5th C Turkish peoples brought the land under their rule. Under Genghis Khan the Mongols defeated the Jin kingdom in the 13th C and founded the Yuan dynasty. But as early as 1368 the last emperor of this dynasty had to flee back to Mongolia from Beijing.
At the beginning of the Manchurian Qing dynasty (1644-1911) the region was annexed to the empire. During this period there was an increase in Han Chinese coming here to settle and this led to uprisings and a struggle for independence.
In 1911 the Mongol freedom fighters succeeded, with Russian support, to achieve independence for Outer Mongolia.
The invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese in 1931 brought Inner Mongolia into that country's sphere of influence. Underground groups fought for the region's independence with help from the Chinese communists.
The autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was established on May 1st 1947, thus before all the other regions which eventually gained autonomy Inner Mongolia status (Xinjiang, Ningxia, Guangxi and Tibet). In 1949, when Mongolia again came under Chinese rule, as well as on several other occasions during the last 50 years, the region was enlarged. In 1979, after the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), which had led to the territory being reduced in size by almost a third as a result of the Chinese dictators' fears of separatist aspirations, the boundaries were restored to what they had been in 1956.