The Bound Steppe: Slavery, State, and Family in Qing Mongolia

The Bound Steppe: Slavery, State, and Family in Qing Mongolia
The Bound Steppe: Slavery, State, and Family in Qing Mongolia shows how the reactions and adaptations of Mongol families to the Qing state’s efforts to regulate slavery generated new types of households and altered gender roles in Mongolian society. Slavery in eighteenth-century Mongolia was a juristic category that included war captives, impoverished children and women sold by their families, orphans, and their descendants. Enslaved people played a dynamic role in Mongolian society – in addition to performing pastoral and domestic labor, slaveholding families adopted enslaved people as kin, slaveholders sent slaves as substitutes to perform state-mandated labor or corvée, and enslaved women in particular were used for reproductive labor, their children sometimes carrying on in servitude in the households that bonded their mothers and sometimes adopted into the family. Thus, when Qing administrators sought to regulate the definition of slavery and distinguish it from other categories of personal dependency, they also changed the constitution of households. I relate this process through Mongolian-language archives including wills and testaments, court records, and registers; Mongolian literary sources including Buddhist didactic works and prose essays; Manchu archives of criminal investigations; Manchu and Chinese administrative handbooks; Chinese and Russian travelogues and ethnographic writings. The book challenges previously accepted notions of this period in Mongolian history as a century of “economic and social drift” by demonstrating the dynamics of social change and local adaptation: Mongols responded to the state’s regulation of slavery by changing what counted as a family.


Sam H. Bass

Defended in

1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2021

PhD defended at

Indiana University, Department of Central Eurasian Studies and Department of History