Who is the Mongolian National President

People with Down syndrome parents and friends e.V.

Where does the term "Mongolism" come from

The term "Mongolism" goes back to the British doctor John Langdon Haydon Langdon-Down (1828-1896). J.L.H. Langdon Down was the medical director of a home for the mentally handicapped, the "Asylum for Idiots at Earlswood in Surrey".

He had noticed that some of his patients looked like other races of people. Therefore, in 1866, in his most famous publication "Observations on an ethnic classification of idiots" (London Hospital Clinical Lecture Reports, 3, 259-262), he divided mentally handicapped people into the "Caucasian family", the "Ethiopian" and the "Malay variety" , into "the people who ... originally inhabited the American continent" and into the "great Mongolian family", which he described in great detail.

Its ethnic classification goes back to the race theory (from 1775) of the Göttingen anatomist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840), who was one hundred years older and who differentiated mankind into these - arbitrary - races. The Blumenbach races classification clearly had racist traits - in contrast to Langdon Down's purely descriptive classification. Blumenbach regarded his own, the Caucasian race as the race that unites the supposedly most beautiful people and is to be regarded as the main race.

In the following decades, L. Down's term "mongoloid idiocy" was often used. In doing so, L. Down's remarks were later heavily misused: Down's syndrome was viewed as an atavism, a relapse into a border area between animal and human existence, corresponding to an assumed inferiority of the so-called Mongolian race.

Examples of improper use of the term "Mongolism"

In 1911, Weygandt, the leading medical author for "nonsense" in the late German Empire and the Weimar Republic, wrote in the encyclopaedic manual of curative education that "Mongolism" was more common among Mongols. He saw this as evidence that the Mongols had remained at a low level of development (lecture by Prof. Wolfgang Jantzen, University of Bremen, 1997, On the reassessment of Down syndrome "held at Lebenshilfe e.V. in Rotenburg / Wümme)

F.D. Crookshank (1924, The Mongol in our midst. New York: Dutton) claimed that people with Down syndrome were a relapse into a "pre-Mongol ancestor", the orangutan; the Asian breed was said to be the least developed.

In some cases up to the present day, as a result and continuation of authors such as Crookshank, people with Down syndrome have been stamped with “not having become fully human” (e.g. von Wunderlich, Engler et alii; quoted after Prof. Dr Werner Dittmann, 1999, Development perspectives in children with Down syndrome, Living with Down syndrome, volume 30, p. 7)

Why not talk more about Mongolism?

"Mongolism" is a racist denigration of the Mongols; Mongolism was (and is) used in a racist context; Representatives of the Mongolian People's Republic have repeatedly opposed the use of the term "Mongolism".

"Mongolism" is at the same time a denigration of people with Down syndrome by equating them with "Mongoloid nonsense" or by equating people with Down syndrome with allegedly inferior, not fully human beings.

In 1961, 19 signatories published an article in “The Lancet” calling for the term “Mongolism” to be discontinued: Among them was a descendant of J.L.H. Down, Mr. W. Langdon-Down and LS Penrose, who suggested that the term "Mongolism" should be dropped in favor of "Langdon-Down anomaly", "Down syndrome" or "Down anomaly", or "congenital acromics" .

It was not until 1965, when the Mongolian delegation at the 18th General Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) opposed the term "Mongolism", which was also used by the then WHO President, that it was avoided in the publications. The background for this decision was (see Medical History, 1979, 23: 102 - 104): In 1965 the 18th General Assembly awarded L.S. Penrose received an award for his contribution to the understanding of mental subnormality - primarily "Mongolism" and the "Klinefelter Mongols", as the President of the WHO General Assembly said.

Meanwhile, the Mongolian People's Republic had been a member of the WHO for three years and the Mongolian delegation informally asked the Director General of the WHO to avoid these reprehensible designations in the future: "The name of our breed should no longer be used in connection with this disability". The motion was unanimously accepted by all member states, including Germany.

In 1969, Batchelor pointed out that the resemblance of so-called "Mongoloid" to ethnic Mongolians was superficial and that the "physiognomy of the Mongoloid could be recognized even if the individual was of the Mongolian race", as was previously the case with the 19th century Signatories of the 1961 letter (see above).

Thus it is in no way justified to continue to cling to the expression "Mongolism".


An excellent source of literature on this subject, to which the above overview essentially refers and from which the photo by Mr. Langdon Down comes from: Dr. Norbert J. Pies (1996): John Langdon Haydon Langdon-Down. A pioneer in social pediatrics. Karlsruhe: G. Braun Verlag

Original publication by Mr. Langdon-Down: "Observations on an ethnic classification of idiots" (London Hospital Clinical Lecture Reports, 3, 259-262) "

Reprint of this original work (PDF): "Observations on an ethnic classification of idiots", Mental Retardation, 33 (1): 54-56, 199


More information about Langdon Down can be found here, including the fact that one of his grandsons had Down syndrome, was a good pool player and was very old for the time at the age of 68. This grandson with trisomy 21 was the child of the eldest son of John Langdon Down, who continued his father's life's work.

PD Dr. Dr. Birgit Zirn, Down syndrome ...