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  An Open Letter to The New York Times

April 12, 2003

Dear sir,

David Barboza’s article entitled “The Wisconsin of China: Got Milk, but Hold the Cheese”(April 8 Business Section) reports the improving economic conditions of Chinese dairy farmers. Although the report is an interesting description of this phenomenon, it fails to take note of one of the great ironies of modern Chinese history, one which most likely would be lost on the typical reader of the ‘Times’.

When the Communists emerged victorious following the chaos of World War 2, the new government of China encouraged an enormous population transfer of Han Chinese farmers from other provinces of China to Inner Mongolia. At the same time, the Chinese government increasingly (and forcibly) limited the traditional nomadic herding lifestyle of the indigenous Mongols. Hundreds of thousands of Mongol households lost their lands, houses and livestock as a result of the government’s "Ecological Immigration" policy ("sheng tai yi min" in Chinese) in Inner Mongolia. The Han Chinese farmers proceeded to plow up vast tracts of the grasslands and steppes, lands which were perfectly suited for the  herding lifestyle of the Mongols. Over the ensuing half century, the farming practices of millions of Han Chinese farmers caused enormous environmental damage and transformed the lush grasslands into desert, intensifying the dust storms which periodically cover much of the Asian region including Beijing, storms which are now international events. The government blamed the increasing severity of the duststorms on overgrazing due to the Mongols’ 'backward and primitive' traditional nomadic lifestyle" which justified further limitations on Inner Mongolia’s ever dwindling nomads, but the real culprit ultimately was their misguided population transfer policy. A policy which had a fundamental political aim to make the Mongols a minority in their own lands, which they achieved, but at what a cost, the environmental destruction of Inner Mongolia and consequent effects.

So now we read in Barboza’s report that "…after decades of tilling the soil to produce food for their families and local communities, farmers throughout this region are starting to abandon traditional crops like corn and wheat in favor of dairy cows."  After they have turned the lands barren, the transplanted farmers are coming around to embracing the Mongols’ 'backward and primitive' herding lifestyle. Will the government of China take due notice and acknowledge their role in the environmental devastation of Inner Mongolia.   


Sanj Altan

1917 Arlington Ave

North Brunwick NJ

Tel (732)297-1140         


Enhebatu Togochog

Southern Mongolian Human

RightsInformation Center

37-40 79 St

Jackson Heights

NY 11372

Tel: (718)899-8391


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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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