“Ethnic Mongolians in China concerned about cultural threat”

Eunice Yoon and Chi Chi Zhang at CNN have a story about Inner Mongolia, which had been relatively quiet this year until the protest last week:

“As a kid, everyone rode horses to herd sheep, but now we only see motorcycles” the 68-year old says, as he lights a cigarette. He reveals a toothy smile that carves even deeper wrinkles into his weathered skin. “We learned to ride when we could walk.”

Baocheng, who like most Mongolians goes by one name, has witnessed many changes around the street where he runs an antiques shop. This was once a trading area for livestock in downtown Hohhot, capital of China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous region.

But ethnic Mongolians complain their nomadic lifestyle is being threatened. Though some have been handed government subsidies, others have reported being forced to move from grasslands into brick apartments in cities like Hohhot.

The threat to traditional Mongolian culture, which includes allegations of illegal land seizures, has led to an uptick in protests in recent years. According to the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, repeated appeals have been made to the government to protect the nomadic culture from activities such as mining in this resource-rich country.

The group said at least 22 ethnic Mongolians were detained earlier this month after hundreds clashed with police during a protest against land seizures.

“Mongolians have peacefully led a nomadic lifestyle for centuries so we need to ask why it’s being threatened now?” says Nars, the lead singer of Anda Union, a Mongolian throat-singing band. “It’s important to prevent desertification, but at what cost? Why is this happening now and what other solutions are there?”

Rapid development and the spread of China’s dominant Han population to minority regions, has meant that ethnic Mongolians only make up about 17% of the region’s 24 million population, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Like Tibetans and Uighurs from the restive of Xinjiang region, experts say an underlying tension exists between ethnic Mongolians and Han people.

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Filed under ethnic conflict, Inner Mongolia

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