Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information CenterSouthern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center
HomeAbout UsCampaignsSouthern Mongolian WatchChineseJapaneseNewsLInksContact Us


   Urbanization threatens the traditions of minority groups

By Borjigin Burensain,

a visiting research fellow at the institute of Mongolian studies

March 1, 2004

--- Views by Asian and Western analysts on current events in Asia

China is a multiethnic country where 90 percent of the people are Han Chinese and the rest consists of 55 minority groups. This ethnic diversity charms people but danger is now creeping up on the diversity.

There has been the so-called ''urbanization boom''. This is not the boom in coastal areas where urbanization has occurred due to economic development but that of the administrative policy of renaming what were previously agriculturally focused districts as cities. Under this, farmers and nomads are labeled as city people.

The districts under spotlight are administrative units which are sized between those of provinces and prefectures. In these areas, there are just the local offices of provincial governments and most of the areas are pastoral land.

The districts seem like old-fashioned places and are out of line with the age of reform and opening up as far as officials, obsessed with economic development, are concerned.

Officials feel that it would be easier to attract investment by renaming country areas with an urban title. To them, a city is a sophisticated urbanized name.

They think that changes in naming make their "cities" look better and they want to flash the name changes at people. Against such a background, officials in many places tend to compete with one another in changing the names of districts. Of concern is that this movement has been expanding uniformly within the autonomous areas of minority groups. "Aimag" (meng or league) is a lower level administrative unit in Inner Mongolia. However, in recent years, Mongolian officials have started calling for changing "aimag" to "cities". Six out of the nine "aimag" in the autonomous region have been designated as "cities." Hulun Buir aimag is a vast grassland where nomads live but that area has now been designated as a city.

There are places where one can no longer recognize whether or not an area is the autonomous district of a minority group because Mongolian names have been replaced with different ones. A good example is the case where Jirim aimag has changed its name to Tongliao city.

The Qing dynasty governed Mongolia under a system different from that of mainland China. In order to govern Mongolians, the dynasty established social institutions which were a mixture of Mongolian tribe traditions and Manchuria's military, administrative and social system called ''Baji'' (eight flags system).

The administrative unit of ''aimag'' was born out of such an historical background.

The Republic of China, which destroyed the Qing dynasty, maintained the aimag system in order to appease Mongolian lords. The Chinese Communist Party also retained the aimag system. The communist government secured Mongolian trust by calling for a greater degree of autonomy be given to them. The government allowed Mongolians to establish the inner Mongolian autonomous government two years before the foundation of the People's Republic of China.

However, this autonomous institution, which can be regarded as a prototype of the national self-determination system, is now on the way out under ongoing sinicization.

Many Japanese are afraid that they may lose the history and tradition of their hometowns if their provinces are reorganized into bigger administrative units under the Heisei grand design of remolding the nationwide administrative system. As minority groups in China may lose their traditions and autonomy simultaneously, their concerns are greater than those of the Japanese.

The sinicization of autonomous areas of minority groups is not a new phenomenon. A large number of Chinese have been colonized in the areas of minority groups since the 19th century. Whenever major socio-political changes take place in China, the minority groups' culture and autonomy are weakened.  

Under the name of the "reform and opening up policy,'' Inner Mongolia's autonomy could now be denied and the region simply reborn as a Chinese province.



From Yeke-juu League to Ordos Municipality: settler colonialism and alter/native urbanization in Inner Mongolia

Close to Eden (Urga): France, Soviet Union, directed by Nikita Mikhilkov

Beyond Great WallsBeyond Great Walls: Environment, Identity, and Development on the Chinese Grasslands of Inner Mongolia

The Mongols at China's EdgeThe Mongols at China's Edge: History and the Politics of National Unity

China's Pastoral RegionChina's Pastoral Region: Sheep and Wool, Minority Nationalities, Rangeland Degradation and Sustainable Development

Changing Inner MongoliaChanging Inner Mongolia: Pastoral Mongolian Society and the Chinese State (Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology)

Grasslands and Grassland Science in Northern ChinaGrasslands and Grassland Science in Northern China: A Report of the Committee on Scholarly Communication With the People's Republic of China

The Ordos Plateau of ChinaThe Ordos Plateau of China: An Endangered Environment (Unu Studies on Critical Environmental Regions)
 ©2002 SMHRIC. All rights reserved. Home | About Us | Campaigns | Southern Mongolian Watch | News | Links | Contact Us