China: The environmental and cultural harm to Inner Mongolia's grasslands Temperatures and tensions are rising as miners - and tourists - move in to one of China's most remote and ecologically fragile regions Mongolian herders and students hold a banner which reads 'Defend our homeland' during a protest in Left Ujumchin county in northern China's Inner Mongolia province. 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. Many Mongolians - who make up only a fifth of the population in their homeland - are unhappy about these trends. Last month, I covered the wave of protests sparked by the killing of a Mongolian herder by a Han truck driver. This week, police are said to have beaten up and detained ethnic Mongolians who demonstrated against a lead mine in Bayannuur. According to the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre, the protesters shut down the mine's water pump when it expanded on to their grazing lands. Local police and the mine's owners, however, told The Guardian "nothing happened". The authorities might deny the social impact, but something is definitely happening to the environment in Inner Mongolia, just as it is happening in Tibet and Xinjiang. An indigenous population is being squeezed out by a more powerful ethnic group that wants to exploit the region's resources. It is an old story, similar to that seen in the US, Australia, New Zealand and many other parts of the world over the past few centuries, but with the added complications of climate change and globalisation. Earlier this week, Radio Free Asia reported that a protest song has been written by a Mongolian rapper. Downloadable here, the lyrics make a direct connection between environmental abuse and social unrest: "We have grazed animals here thousands of years...How many people are coming here to open mines and plunder our resources...Our home is being devastated..The green grasslands are turning yellow." I have not been able to verify how popular this rap has become in Inner Mongolia, but it is unlikely to ever appear on a karaoke machine here China: The environmental and cultural harm to Inner Mongolia's grasslands | Jonathan Watts | Environment | theguardian.com ***************************************** Inspite of the claimed greatness of the Chinese civilisations, the modern Han seems to be in a headlong rush to do anything so long it yields money. They have lost their values and their respect for the environment, traditions and customs, especially when it concerns the so called 'minorities'. Nothing surprising actually since in actuality as per their history, they have always labelled the non Han people as 'barbarians' and treated them with contempt, as they do for Uighurs in mainland China, who are taken to be rough, crude and petty thieves and are mocked roundly everywhere in China and looked at with utter contempts as if they were untermenschen. The Han must take the sensitivities of minorities or else they will have a huge problem on their hand as they are now facing in Xinijaing.