Category Archives: Inner Mongolia

“China: The environmental and cultural harm to Inner Mongolia’s grasslands”

Guardian writer Jonathan Watts recently took a trip to Inner Mongolia; he blogs about some of what he saw here.

Chinese riot police were reportedly dragging off protesting herders while I was blithely listening to karaoke on the Inner Mongolian grasslands this week.

I was unaware of the trouble, though I was on a family holiday in the same northern region. This is not entirely surprising given the vastness of an area that covers more than a million square kilometres and the ruthlessness of a censorship regime that blocks websites and locks up individuals for emailing images of protests. But even from the perspective of a holidaymaker, I could see why the changes in the region – particularly to the environment – might spark unrest.

I chose Manzhouli – close to China’s border with Mongolia (the country) and Russia – for a summer break because its grasslands are supposed to be tranquil, cool, sparsely populated and extremely beautiful. I should have realised, though, it would not turn out as expected.

Instead of a secluded Mongolian camp, we ended up in a complex of concrete yurts with a karaoke machine, firework display and bonfire disco that blasted out techno music across the starlit steppe. I was at first dismayed, then resigned. On the bright side, it was funny in a not-at-all-like-the-brochure sort of way. Not so amusing was the reduction of Mongolia culture to a series of song-and-dance shows and the evident deterioration of the environment.

At this time of year, locals said the grass was usually lush green and knee high. But amid a severe drought, the blades were yellowing and barely reached my ankles. Some areas had already turned to desert and several nearby lakes had dried up so completely that their beds were cracked and white with salt deposits. One herder told me he would soon have to buy fodder – unthinkable in past summers. His concerns appeared unlikely to make ripples; Timber yards and open cast pits suggested the local economy is now dependent on mining and the processing of logs imported from Siberia.

It is a similar story across much of Inner Mongolia. In recent years, the region has become China’s leading producer of coal and rare earths as well as the doorway to Russia (and the biggest timber trade in the world). This has attracted an influx of Han businessmen. Meanwhile, the traditional nomadic lifestyle has come under multiple assault from open-cast mining, over-grazing, enclosed farming, migration and global warming.

It would be nice if Communist Party leaders could make a trip to Inner Mongolia themselves- maybe then they would see that the problems there aren’t actually being caused by “foreign enemies,” but rather by much more domestic factors.

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Filed under China, environment, ethnic conflict, Inner Mongolia

“Many Detained, Some Fled After Protests in Southern Mongolia”

It’s been a while since the last update from Inner Mongolia. As predicted, the authorities are using every tool at their disposal to disappear some people and intimidate the rest- essentially a punitive campaign to make the Mongols pay for the protests. SMHRIC has more:

Many Mongolians have been arrested, detained and beaten during and after the large-scale region-wide protest sparked by the brutal killing of a Mongolian herder named Mergen in Southern (Inner) Mongolia’s Shiliin-gol League.

Even though the tension between the Mongolians and the Chinese authorities has eased, martial law is still in effect in most parts of Shiliin-gol League and other major cities including the regional capital Hohhot.

“The authorities are still on high alert here,” a resident of Hohhot, the regional capital, told SMHRIC through an email message, “in some places presence of paramilitary and riot police is even heavier than before.”

“The situation is still tense here, and police and paramilitary forces are patrolling the streets,” a herder in Shuluun Huh Banner told SMHRIC over the phone yesterday, “at least 31 people are still being held in our Shuluun Huh Banner alone for trying to break the barricade to let high school students join the protest.”

“These young Mongolians will most probably be given harsh punishments because the authorities are accusing them of engaging in sabotage,” the herder added.

According to eyewitnesses and family members of the detainees in Huveet Shar Banner, the detained herders are still been held in detention and have been severely beaten by riot police and military forces.

The latest information the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) has received confirms that a hundred or more protesters including students, high school teachers, college professors, herders and ordinary residents have been arrested, detained and beaten by the Chinese authorities in connection with the large-scale demonstration. Most of them are still being held in detention.

They also have pictures from a Mongolian Buddhist religious ceremony that took place- take a look:

This is the kind of ‘religion at the point of a gun’ that I’ve heard people complaining about a lot. Arjia Rinpoche related that during the ceremony to ‘pick’ the Chinese-backed Panchen Lama, the Jhokhang Temple in Lhasa was filled with heavily-armed policemen, some of whom were wearing red monks robes. Note to Beijing: you can talk about freedom of religion all you want, but until you can have religious ceremonies without that many armed police or soldiers there to intimidate the monks, people are still going to be very skeptical.

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Filed under China, enforced disappearance, ethnic conflict, Inner Mongolia, intimidation

An Interview between Arjia Rinpoche and The China Hotline: “Why Inner Mongolia? Why now?”

As protests spread across Inner Mongolia, I wondered about who might be able to answer some questions on the subject. One consequence of the lower visibility of Inner Mongolian issues is that there are far fewer activists in the spotlight than there are for Tibet or even Xinjiang. I reached out to Arjia Rinpoche, and was delighted to find that the Rinpoche himself and his staff were willing to give me some of their time.

Arjia Rinpoche was born in 1950 to an ethnically Mongolian nomadic family in Qinghai province. At a young age he was identified as the reincarnation of the former abbot of Kumbum Monastery, a major monastery near Xining that is renowned as one of the six great Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhist institutions. This privileged position made him a natural target during the tumultuous Mao years, however, and he would spend 16 years in a labor camp before being released in the 1980s. He returned to find Kumbum in ruins and dedicated years to rebuilding it before finally choosing to escape to the United States and live in exile. Since then he has run the Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana, and released an autobiography entitled ‘Surviving the Dragon’ two years ago.

TCH: Inner Mongolia has generally been much less restive than Tibet and Xinjiang for the last few decades. Why do you think these protests are happening now?

Arjia Rinpoche:  The situations in Tibet and Inner Mongolia have much in common. In the 50s, there were many conflicts and confrontations. The Inner Mongolian People’s Party at that time aggressively sought for independence. However, the Communists really cracked down then and accused them of being “Counter Revolutionaries.” They managed to sabotage the movement by taking some of the leaders of the protesters and promoting them to Chinese leadership.

After this turbulent period, things seem to have quieted down, but Inner Mongolians were still restive. Then two things heated up the pot: a) the resettlement plan whereby 20 million (I think that’s the number) Han Chinese settled in Mongolia and caused Mongols to be a minority and b) the Mongolian Autonomous Region was carved up into 7 prefectures that were controlled by the Chinese, thereby making Mongols unable to hold any power. Their energies were reduced and they seemingly became quiet.

Now with [the killing of Mongolian herdsman] Mergen, the pot has boiled over. Long-held grievances have come out in the open and caused the protests to become very active. The Mongols want to protect their culture and their environment.

TCH:  You called for Mongolians to refrain from further protests- what is the best way for them to move forward?

Arjia Rinpoche:  I am not against protests, but they have to be planned very carefully in advance. The spontaneous ones usually don’t succeed. It is important to have a non-violent protest that is not around the time of sensitive dates such as June 4 (Tiananmen Square) and other Chinese holidays

TCH:  In your life you have seen China go through many changes. How hopeful are you that conditions in China will improve over the coming years?

Arjia Rinpoche:  China is definitely changing because of the economic transformation; however, the control of the communist regime is stronger than ever. Even though there are many improvements, there is no freedom and crackdowns are harsh and violent and very common. The central government wants to control everything, particularly the minorities and especially with issues dealing with the Muslims and His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] and Christianity. However, even the “regular” Chinese people are becoming very dissatisfied with this measure of control. All we can do is wait and hope.

TCH:  Your staff informed me that you are traveling through Mongolia- how close are the bonds between Mongolians in China and in Mongolia? Is there much interaction between the two groups?

Arjia Rinpoche:  There is little or no interaction. Mongolians in the free republic find the situation to be too sensitive and try their best to avoid any political issues. I, myself, will be aware of this sensitivity during my present trip and will concentrate my efforts solely on charitable and religious matters.

TCH:  Is there anything else you think foreigners should know about the situation in Inner Mongolia today?

Arjia Rinpoche:  They should know the history and they should be well aware of the complexity of the issues and particularly of the intent of the Chinese Communists to maintain total control.

I would like to thank Rinpoche and his staff for their cooperation. I hope readers and the internet at large find his answers enlightening.

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Filed under China, Inner Mongolia, interview

“Chinese truck driver swiftly executed for killing Mongolian herder”

Well, that was fast.  Shanghaiist reports:

The Han Chinese truck driver responsible for the killing of an ethnic Mongol herdsman in Inner Mongolia that sparked the worst riots in the region in 20 years was sentenced to death yesterday.

Li Lindong was given the death penalty for running over an ethnic Mongol herdsman named Mergen (Mongols often use just one name) on May 10. Mergen was there with several others blocking the road to protest coal trucks driving through causing pollution in their grasslands. According to official police reports, Li ran over the herder and dragged his body for 145m before Mergen died.

Obviously an attempt to appease Mongolians- but I suspect it’s too little too late. The genie is out of the bottle now, and other long-held grievances ranging from unchecked Han immigration to Mongolian language preservation are being aired. Mergen’s death might have sparked the protests, but now they have a life of their own. Does the execution of a truck driver spell an end to grassland degradation, or will it revive Mongolian culture? The consequences of the last few weeks will live on, long after the riot police have left town.

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Filed under China, Inner Mongolia, mining

“Same Tears, Same Lives, Same People…”

High Peaks Pure Earth has another translation, this one of an older post by Tibetan writer Woeser. As they say in their foreword: “Although this article was written two years ago, many of the issues of ethnic tension and unrest within PRC still resonate today. Since 2008, protests have flared up in Tibet, Xinjiang and, most recently, in Inner Mongolia.” Quite right. Her post begins:

During the night of July 5, text messages that were sent nonstop only contained a few words: “Something has happened in Urumqi”. My heart felt really heavy because I knew what those words meant. News coming from the scene of the events appeared on the internet and was removed, again and again; action was taken quickly. Real-time blogs such as Twitter or Fanfou* followed the same pattern: news of the events became scarcer and scarcer. Some said that media used for communication such as internet or the phone were not functioning as usual in Urumqi. Here we are again, the voices coming from the people have been silenced. Here we are again, authorities have been quick to put a name on the events, and have announced: “this is violent and organised crime, it was premeditated, it was instigated and orchestrated from outside, and carried out on the mainland by special groups.”

I say “here we are again” because this is all too familiar, especially for Tibetans. All the excuses used are the same. Only names have changed: the Dalai Lama has been replaced by Rebiya, Lhasa has been converted into Urumqi, and March 14 into July 5. Both events were painstakingly planned crackdowns. Later, the ruthless repression carried out by authorities became the natural way of doing things. To make the crackdown look more rational, authorities were also quick in the use of their propaganda tools. All the reports released by the media were really similar to the documentary that was meticulously made last year in March about March 14, even comments could be reproduced.

I suspect that in Urumqi, it started with a peaceful demonstration, but ended up with beatings. This has to do with the dark role played by authorities in the event. Peaceful Uyghur demonstrators could not be as foolish as to make a mistake that could be used against them, that is follow their impulse, and act disorderly because of previous beatings. If they did that, then the same thing that happened on March 14 last year on the streets of Lhasa would be reproduced: numerous policemen undercover and secret agents mixed with protesters, took the lead in beating up, and deliberately offended demonstrators. At the same time, state media followed up, meticulously collected evidence, and then the army carried out a bloody crackdown. Such high-skilled practices are already mastered by authorities.

Again, this is the exact same strategy they are using right now in Inner Mongolia. Switch out Lhasa or Urumqi for Hohhot, the Dalai Lama or Rebiya for Hada or whichever Mongolian they want to use as a bogeyman, and print the story. They really should take pause, though: in the last 4 years, every autonomous region in western China has experienced historic levels of discontent. The status quo isn’t working, no matter how many press conferences Beijing throws blaming ‘overseas hostile forces.’

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Filed under China, ethnic conflict, Inner Mongolia, protests, Tibet, Xinjiang

“Witch-hunts Starts as Military Control Tightens in Southern Mongolia”

Inner Mongolia is under complete lockdown now.  Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center has the latest on the arrival of yet more riot police and the beginning of Beijing’s search for scapegoats:

Sources said that more paramilitary forces and riot police have been dispatched to the region’s critical places to prevent any mass protest or unrest. Eyewitnesses confirmed the increasingly heavy presence of military troops and police in the region are causing the public fear, especially in the regional capital Hohhot and Ulaanhad.

The US-based Radio Free Asia quoted an eyewitness, “as I got on the train at Hohhot, the place looked like it was preparing for war… there were special police everywhere wearing bulletproof vests. They were carrying automatic weapons and pointing them at the passengers in the Hohhot railway station.”

According to an article by Tian Ren, Chinese Infantry Group Army No.38, No.65, and No.27 stationed in Hebei Province and several divisions of Beijing Military Zone entered Southern Mongolia to quash the protests.

As the wide spread Mongolian protests were somewhat temporarily controlled through military in the restive Mongolian region, the Chinese authorities quickly launched a region-wide witch-hunt.

At least 40 Mongolian students and herders were arrested in Shiliin-gol League including Right Ujumchin Banner, Left Ujumchin Banner, Shuluun-huh Banner, Huveed Shar Banner, and the league capital Shiliin-hot City during the week-long protests.

Expect to hear a lot about ‘foreign hostile forces’ and the disappearances of prominent Mongolian teachers, writers, and leaders in the weeks to come.

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Filed under China, ethnic conflict, Inner Mongolia

“China Extends Hand and Fist to Protesters”

The New York Times has a good piece up with some quotes from Mongolian locals. In line with what I said yesterday about how the current Chinese strategy is focused on the short-term, while actively sacrificing their long-term prospects:

Although news about the turmoil has been scrubbed from the Web, local Communist Party officials and the police have been painting the protesters as subversives intent on fanning ethnic disunity. Asked about the demonstrations on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu echoed that theme, blaming unnamed overseas forces for stirring up the trouble. “Their attempts are doomed to failure,” she said during a regular news briefing.

In interviews, some of which took place through the wrought-iron fences surrounding their campuses, several students objected to such characterizations, saying they were driven to protest by news of the death of Mergen, the shepherd killed by a coal-filled truck on May 15, and by stories about the ecological destruction wrought by Chinese-owned mines.

But their passion quickly turned to more esoteric matters: the disappearance of the region’s ancient grazing culture and pride in an identity that has been diluted by decades of migration from other parts of China.

“I’m tired of seeing my language disappear while all these banners at school shout about promoting the Mongolian tongue,” said Naranbaatar, a history student at Hohhot Nationality University who like many Mongolians uses one name.

Another student, speaking by cellphone, said students were becoming increasingly agitated. “We are not sheep or cows,” said the student, who described himself as Xiao Ming, a Chinese name. “The longer they keep us locked away, the angrier we will become.”

“Uh… maybe a foreigner did it?” is pretty played out as excuses go here.  But more importantly: sure, the public square is clear today.  Protest averted, harmony restored.  But how many of these same protesters will be even angrier when this ends?  How many Mongolians have come to understand exactly how their relationship with Beijing works?  How many apolitical students are being forced to consider their place in China while their dormitory room doubles as a detention cell?  I don’t think Zhongnanhai is doing itself any favors with this one.

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Filed under China, ethnic conflict, Inner Mongolia, protests