Ethnic Protests in China Have Lengthy Roots

Discussion in 'China' started by SHASH2K2, Jun 11, 2011.

  1. SHASH2K2

    SHASH2K2 New Member

    Joined:
    May 10, 2010
    Messages:
    5,711
    Likes Received:
    723
    Location:
    Bihar, BanGalore , India

    DAMAO BANNER, China — The Mongol nomads who have ranged across these blustery grasslands for millenniums have long had a tempestuous relationship with their Han Chinese neighbors to the south. Genghis Khan’s horseback conquerors overran Beijing in 1215, and Qing dynasty armies returned the favor four centuries later.

    By the time Mao’s Communist rebels declared victory in 1949, the Mongolians who occupied what became the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China had been by and large pacified through Han immigration, intermarriage and old-fashioned repression.

    But the ethnic Mongolian protests that have swept a number of cities in recent weeks are a sobering reminder that government largess, assimilation or an iron fist cannot entirely extinguish the yearnings of some of China’s 55 ethnic minorities, who account for 8 percent of the country’s population.

    Even as an exemption from the nation’s one-child policy granted to minorities helped expand their numbers, Mongolians are still outnumbered by Han five to one in Inner Mongolia, a region twice the size of California that borders the independent nation of Mongolia.

    “We feel like we are being drowned by the Han,” said a 21-year-old computer science student, speaking through the fence of Hohhot Nationality University, where he and thousands of other Mongolian students were penned up for five days last week to prevent them from taking to the streets. “The government always talks about ethnic harmony, but why do we feel so oppressed?”

    Although the immediate trigger of the demonstrations was a hit-and-run accident in which a Han coal truck driver struck and killed a Mongolian herder in early May, the underlying enmity can be tied to longstanding grievances that spilled out during interviews with more than a dozen Mongolians last week: the ecological destruction wrought by an unprecedented mining boom, a perception that economic growth disproportionately benefits the Han and the rapid disappearance of Inner Mongolia’s pastoral tradition.

    In Xilinhot, a mining hub not far from where the herder was killed as he and others tried to block a convoy of coal trucks, as many as 2,000 people, many of them students, took to the streets on May 26. Five days later, about 150 protesters marched through the center of Hohhot, the regional capital, despite the presence of thousands of soldiers and paramilitary police officers who kept college students confined to their campuses.

    The government response has hewed closely to the recipe used to quell the far more violent ethnic turmoil that convulsed Tibet in 2008 and the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang a year later. Internet access has been severely restricted, with most Mongolian Web sites shut down, and scores of students, professors and herders have been taken into custody. Enhebatu Togochog, an exiled human rights advocate, has described the crackdown as a “witch hunt.”

    But officials have also sought to address some of the underlying drivers of the discontent. They have vowed to correct abuses of the coal industry, among them unregulated strip mining and trucks that career over the fragile steppe. The government has also committed to broader changes, promising hundreds of millions of dollars for education, environmental protection and the promotion of Mongolian culture.

    And in an unusually prompt trial — apparently a reflection of Chinese leaders’ fears of further unrest — a Xilinhot court on Wednesday handed down a death sentence to the Han driver convicted of running down Mergen, the Mongolian herdsman. The trial, which lasted six hours, according to the official Xinhua news agency, also yielded stiff sentences for three other men involved in the episode. The authorities said they planned to quickly try another Han driver accused of killing an activist with a forklift during a confrontation between the two groups at a coal mine several days later.

    But it is unclear if the swift action will still resentments that have simmered despite Inner Mongolia’s fast-expanding economy — the growth rate has topped that of all other provinces since 2002 — and affirmative action policies that have provided tens of thousands of government jobs to ethnic Mongolians.
    “The Mongolian situation is very worrying for the Chinese leadership because you can’t just throw money at an issue like ethnic identity,” said Minxin Pei, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College in California.
    Here in Damao Banner — banner being the Mongolian equivalent of a county — a decade-long effort to restore grasslands to health by moving thousands of shepherds into towns and cities has helped fuel antigovernment sentiment.

    The reasons for the land’s decline are a matter of some debate, although many environmentalists say the damming of waterways, coal mining and overgrazing all play a role. But the government’s most ambitious solution, known as ecological migration, focuses solely on the herdsmen, providing subsidies to them — but only after they have sold off their flocks.

    In Damao, those with money are encouraged to move into new apartment blocks on the outskirts of town. For now, they appear largely vacant, although a billboard near the entrance claims that 20,000 people have already moved into the 31 buildings.

    Those too poor to buy new homes rent cramped rooms in the town’s Mongolian quarter, a grim, densely packed cluster of brick buildings. On a recent afternoon, Suyaltu and Uyung, the husband-and-wife proprietors of a small canteen called Friend of the Grassland, explained how they were forced to sell their pasture and a herd of 300 cows, sheep and horses in 2004. There are perks to the program, they said: subsidized school fees for their college-age daughter, a $2,775 annual subsidy and the advantages of living near medical clinics, shops and schools.

    Still, Uyung, 50, who like many Mongolians goes by a single name, said that even when combined with the income from their restaurant, their soon-to-expire subsidy was not enough to sustain the family. Then there are other, less tangible downsides to the arrangement. “We feel lost without our herds and the grassland,” she said as her husband looked at his feet and dragged on a cigarette. “We discovered we are not suited to the city, but now we are stuck.”

    Chen Jiqun, director of Echoing Steppe, an organization that works to protect Inner Mongolia’s grasslands, said the benefits of ecological migration were questionable. For one, he said, a healthy pasture depends on the hooves of grazing animals to grind up manure. “Otherwise it just blows away and the land loses its fertility,” he said.

    In a report issued last December, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, criticized China’s nomad resettlement policies as overly coercive and said they led to “increased poverty, environmental degradation and social breakdown.”

    But Christopher P. Atwood, an expert on Inner Mongolia who has studied the disintegration of herding communities, said ecological migration was merely accelerating the inevitable demographic shift brought on by two decades of sagging livestock prices and the rural stagnation that drove young Mongolians to the region’s Han-dominated urban centers.

    “Rural communities are the stronghold of Mongolian culture and language, so breaking them up has a direct impact on ethnic identity,” said Mr. Atwood, chairman of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.

    The result has been a steady decline in the proportion of students who attend Mongolian-language schools, a figure that has dropped by nearly half, to 40 percent, since the 1980s. The shift has largely been propelled by former herders like Huang Liying, 38, a shop owner whose 13-year-old daughter studies at a Mandarin-language school in Baotou, an industrial city 500 miles away. “To be successful in the modern world you need to speak good Chinese,” Ms. Huang said. “I feel regret she doesn’t speak her mother tongue, but Mongolian is not very useful beyond the grassland.”

    Even if the government is not directly responsible for the ebb of Mongolian language and culture, many of those who joined the protests last week directed their ire at the Han officials who run the show in Inner Mongolia. They complained about increasing intermarriage, the heavy-handed censorship of local Web sites and the fact that Mongolian script on street signs is sometimes rendered smaller than the adjacent Chinese characters.

    Such sentiments are not confined to students. During one of several unwelcome confrontations with the police last week, a Mongolian officer in Damao sidled up to a stranger and made a startling confession. He said he wished he had been brave enough to join the protests. “The anger I feel,” he said with a conspiratorial grin, “is burning through my veins.”
     
  2.  
  3. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2009
    Messages:
    43,118
    Likes Received:
    23,545
    Location:
    Somewhere
    It is quite surprising that these chaps have not yet been Sinicised!
     

Share This Page