Inner Mongolian Artists Speak Up as Mining and Logging Encroach on Traditional Grazing Lands

Protests over land have occurred in several herding communities in Inner Mongolia during May and early June, according to RFA (Grassland Protests Spread). Ethnic Mongolian herders say access to traditional grazing land is increasingly being curtailed or permanently denied in favor of mining and logging projects, or highway construction. Inadequate or total lack of compensation for the land is also an issue.

Among the communities where protests have taken place are Tulee Gachaa, Mingren Som Township, Zaruud Banner and Ar-Horchin Banner. Arrests have been made, cell phones used by onlookers to shoot videos of police actions have been confiscated, and in one instance in Zaruud Banner, one herder was reportedly beaten unconscious by police and is “still receiving emergency medical treatment in the Zaruud Banner People’s Hospital,” according to the RFA report.

Unrest due to government-supported exploitation of Inner Mongolian natural resources is not a new phenomenon. Back in June 2011, a Han truck driver was found guilty of running over a Mongolian herder who was “blocking a road to protest environmental damage by trucks hauling coal,” and — in a move that shows how seriously the authorities viewed the large-scale protests at the time — the driver was sentenced to death (Truck Driver).

Angered by the news blackout that followed the herder’s violent death, and the way official propaganda has long sought to blame desertification of the grasslands on the Mongol’s traditional way of life, a young Mongolian rapper composed an emotional song in memory of the unfortunate herder — in Chinese — that went viral before it was deleted and/or firewalled by the authorities (献给草原英雄莫日根的歌):

Yo, I am a Mongol even if I sing my rap in Chinese
No matter what you say I am a Mongol
Mongol blood flows in my veins

The vast Mongolian steppe is my homeland
Once green Mongolian plateau turned to yellow
Beautiful grasslands turning to desert
The government says it is the herders’ fault

Have you ever thought about it carefully?
Whose fault is it really?
Overgrazing is a myth and a lie
We have grazed animals here thousands of years
Why has the desertification started since only a few decades ago?

See Controversial Rap Song for fuller lyrics in English translation, and background about the incident.

More recently, Mongolian writer Guo Xuebo (郭雪波, backgrounder en français) published a semi-autobiographical novel, 蒙古里亚 (lit. “Mongolia”), which includes a scene in which a frustrated herder threatens to self-immolate unless he is compensated for three sheep run over by . . . a coal truck. I’ll soon be working on translating an excerpt — deliciously humorous in its own peculiar way — that recounts the herder’s interrogation by a cast of characters during a brief stay in the local jail. If you’d like to read the except, write me here .

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