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   The "hair-weed dream" of the Chinese

By Ningbat

May 21, 2004


“Hair Weed”, a type of herbal grass that uniquely exists on Mongolian grasslands, grows intertwined with roots of other grasses. The herb looks so much alike human hair, hence the name. The Chinese name of the herb, “fa cai”, is homonymic to the Chinese word for “earning a fortune” – also “fa cai”. Because the Chinese commonly believe that using hair-weed would bring “good fortune”, the herb became largely popular among the Chinese, most notably in relatively rich and developed coastal province of Canton (Guangdong). In some areas, the market price for hair-weed is up to hundreds of dollars in Chinese currency, renminbi. So going to Mongolian grassland to dig out hair-weeds became an extremely popular way of making fortune among the Chinese peasants from Gansu and Ningxia provinces.

Due to the fact that hair-weed grows tightly connected to the roots of other grasses, digging of each piece of the herb would ruin a bunch of forage grasses altogether and consequently destroys the grassland. The worst victim of these activities, Alashan Banner of western Inner Mongolia, witnesses every spring the arrival of a lot of Chinese peasants from Gansu, Ningxia and other provinces of China Proper with no required documents. The “hair-weed army” of the Chinese peasants, from arriving in groups of a handful during the 1980s, expanded to the size of thousands coming on trucks and tractors, and even with the protection of armed personnel during the 1990s.

After arriving in the grassland in pursuant of their “hair-weed dreams”, these Chinese peasants not only ruthlessly dig and destroy the grassland, often time they also rob the Mongolian herders of their livestock to kill and eat, in addition to stealing properties of the Mongols. These lead to serious clashes between the Mongol herders and the intruding Chinese peasants from time to time. According to incomplete statistics, between 1990 and 1998, number of Chinese peasants entering Inner Mongolian grassland yearly is nearly 10,000; size of destroyed grassland 3,000 mu (about 495 acres or 20,000 ares); number of killed, robbed and stolen livestock 2,000 head; and the total loss is beyond estimation.

The struggle of the Mongols protecting their ancestral pastoral grassland remains helpless in front of the fully armed troops of “hair-weed army” of Chinese peasants. Grassland continues to lose her shape, being left with holes and bruises on her face, increasingly turns to desert day by day.

The Chinese “hair-weed army” gets the reward in building of stories of houses using its profit from the hair-weed sale. “Hair-weed dream” gets fulfilled!



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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)
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