China’s Ethnic Mongolians Hang on to Identity by a Thread

Tim Johnson of McClatchy Newspapers reports from Hohhot, on efforts by ethnic Mongolians to preserve their culture in the face of widespread assimilation:

Over the last six decades, China has kept an open-door policy on migration to the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and now only one out of five people in the region abutting Russia and Mongolia are ethnic Mongolian. Activists say the influx has overwhelmed them and imperiled their culture.

[…] What happens in Inner Mongolia might seem like a footnote in the story of social changes that are accompanying China’s economic rise and massive population boom. The issue of preserving ethnic identity is weighted with politics, however. It resonates in restive Tibet in the southwest and in Xinjiang to the far west, where minority Tibetans and Muslim Uighurs use the example of Inner Mongolia to explain why they resist migration by China’s majority Han ethnicity.

[…] A setback to Mongol ethnic identity has unfolded since 2001 with the forced relocation of some 650,000 nomads and herders from their ancestral pastures to urban areas. Mandated by the government, the “ecological migration” is aimed at reducing overgrazing, which has increased sandstorms. Much of the overgrazing was caused in the 1990s by an inflow of Han farmers who were rushing to raise goats in Inner Mongolia to feed a global boom for cheap cashmere sweaters.


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