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Statement of the SMHRIC at Human Rights In China (HRIC) --- Minority Rights Group (MRG) Workshop



Cultural and Religious State of the Mongols in China

New York, July 27-28, 2006



Ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Enhebatu Togochog. I represent the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center. I am honored to be here today to share with you information regarding the human rights situation of Mongols in China, My remarks will concentrate on the on-going threats to the cultural and religious identity of Mongols residing in the Southern Mongolia Autonomous Region of China.

The legal basis for religious and cultural freedom for minorities might be said to have been established with the promulgation in 1982 of the “Constitution of the People’s Republic of China.” Article 4 specifically guarantees protection and preservation of minority cultures in China. It states in part:

All nationalities in the People's Republic of China are equal. The state protects the lawful rights and interests of the minority nationalities and upholds and develops the relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all of China's nationalities. ….Regional autonomy is practiced in areas where people of minority nationalities live in compact communities; in these areas organs of self- government are established for the exercise of the right of autonomy. …. The people of all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their own ways and customs.

In addition, Article 36 of the constitution protects religious believers:

“… No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion…”

The “Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law of the  People’s Republic of China,” issued by the Second Session of the Sixth National People’s Congress in 1984 and amended in 2001, extends both protection and preservation. It states that minority nationalities living in compact communities are entitled to enjoy cultural and religious freedom without any interference by state organs or individuals. According to the Article 10, “autonomous agencies in ethnic autonomous areas guarantee the freedom of the nationalities in these areas to use and develop the own spoken and written languages and their freedom to preserve or reform their own folkways and customs.” Article 11 guarantees “freedom of religious belief to citizens of the various nationalities.”

China’s February 2005 white paper on ethnic minority issues, entitled “Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities in China,” reiterated the rights of minorities including their right to define their cultural and religious beliefs and practices.

Against this backdrop, I turn now to the reality of cultural and religious rights in Southern (Inner) Mongolia today.

Chinggis Khaan Mausoleum, a sacred worship place of the Mongols, is commercialized by a Chinese company named Dong Lian Group.



During the past 60 years, under the slogan of “development of the borderlands”, a massive population transfer has taken place in Southern Mongolia where the indigenous Mongols themselves have become an absolute minority. According to China’s National Census 2005, the Mongolian population comprises only 17.65% of the total population in Southern Mongolia. It is highly likely that the population transfer policy in Southern Mongolia served as a model for Han population transfer into East Turkystan and Tibet.

Equally important, the ecology of Southern Mongolia was seriously damaged by migrant farming of the region’s grasslands. Today’s frequent sandstorms and droughts are just one consequence of what turned out to be a non-sustainable way of earning a living.

Ironically, the Chinese government blames the ecological devastation caused by the millions of migrant farmers on the livestock practices of the nomadic Mongols. Under a policy of “ecological migration,” the government since 2001 has been forcing Mongol herders to give up their traditional nomadic way of life to adopt urban and agricultural life-styles.

Mongolian language education has steadily declined and in recent years, an increasing number of Mongolian language schools have been forced to either close or have been absorbed into the Chinese language school system. According to complaints from rural Mongolian communities, today almost all Mongolian elementary schools at the level of Gachaa (the second smallest administrative unit) are being eliminated, and most Mongolian middle schools at the Sum level (the third smallest administrative unit) are being merged into Chinese teaching schools. Mongolian students are therefore left with no choice but to learn Chinese.

Despite the fact that Mongolian language is the official language in Southern Mongolia, the Region’s postal authorities have been known to refuse delivery of mail and packages addressed in Mongolian script.

According to a communication from Southern Mongolia, a Mongolian language Internet chat-room called “Mongolian Net Communications” was shut down in April this year after being accused of “advocating for Southern Mongolian independence” because the chats were in Mongolian rather than Chinese. Many other Internet sites such as, and that promoted Mongolian language usage and preservation of Mongolian culture have been shutdown for “publishing separatist contents.”

Other examples of threats to cultural survival included a 2004 plan by the local government in Ordos, Southern Mongolia, to sell the mausoleum of Chinggis Khan to a private company. His shrine, revered by Mongols everywhere, was to be turned into a commercial theme park. In another case, a well-known Mongolian physician named Naguunbilig and his wife Daguulaa were arrested for practicing traditional Mongolian medicine. Their trial was started and is currently in recess., an Internet discussion forum of Mongolian intellectuals, was shut down in 2004 by the Chinese authorities for "violating state laws".



Some Mongols who seek to find some means to preserve Mongol culture are persecuted. Hada, a well-known intellectual, now in the 11th year of a 15-year sentence for establishing the “Southern Mongolian Democratic Alliance,” is one such individual. Human Rights in China and Amnesty International have reported that over the years he has been routinely tortured.

Regarding the state of religion in Southern Mongolia, I will focus mainly on Buddhism which is the traditional religion of the Mongolian people. Buddhism has been the predominant religion of Mongols and an integral part of Mongol cultural identity since the late 16th century. Buddhist temples served as centers of Mongolian intellectual life. Until the takeover of Southern Mongolia by the Chinese Communist Party in 1947, Buddhist traditions and practices remained largely intact.   

During the Cultural Revolution, almost all Buddhist temples in Mongol areas were destroyed, and lamas were dispersed, otherwise removed, or forced to give up their vows of monkhood. At present, only a handful of temples are operative; and lamas in Southern Mongolia are few and far between. The exact statistics are not known. One estimate suggests that some 40 percent of the Mongol population acknowledge their Buddhist beliefs. Under the pretext of “disturbing public order,” “organizing an illegal gathering,” or “advocating superstitious beliefs,” individuals may be persecuted for religious practice.

Two bureaucracies, the government’s Religious Affairs Bureau (zong jiao ju) and the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front (tong zhan bu), both with  branches at all administrative levels, tightly control all religious activities through the formulation of laws and regulations and through day to day management of Buddhist institutions.

Recruitment of prospective monks previously took place when boys were 8-10 years old. Today, recruiting young people under the age of 18 is strictly prohibited. The regulation has interfered with the traditional teacher-student relationship and with the transmission of teachings and doctrine. 

Publication of Buddhism materials is strictly controlled. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), it was a crime to publish Buddhist publications. In the1980s, Buddhist publications were permitted if the authorities were satisfied that a clear connection to a non-religious purpose, such as the promotion of culture or the study of history, existed. Since the 1990s, Buddhist publications are less regulated, but circulation is strictly controlled. Publications are offered only to temples and monks. Authorities consider all religious activities practiced outside a “designated place” as “illegal and superstitious [activities designed to] dupe the common public.” Government officials regularly go to temples to force lamas to participate in so-called “political study” indoctrination.

Ikh-zuu Temple of Huhhot City: more tourism, less Buddhism.



Because government authorities view large organized religious gatherings as having the potential to undermine the Party control, Mongolian Buddhist institutions are prohibited from communication with their Tibetan counterparts and laws and regulations forbid “inter-regional religious activities” (kua di qu xing zong jiao huo dong”).

Temples are expected to sustain themselves financially. But private fund raising is generally prohibited. If funds are collected, it is expected that they will be shared with the religious bureaucracy. Religious authorities, recognizing the potential revenues to be realized, have converted many temples into tourist attractions rather than sites for religious study and worship. Lamas are particularly disturbed by tourists and government officials who disrupt religious worship at will.

In addition, all temples must regularly report their activities to the relevant religious authorities. All lamas must sign a contract and pledge loyalty to the Party and government.

It is clear that authorities in Southern Mongolia discourage Buddhist belief and practice, that access to places of worship is limited and that individuals risk persecution for religious practice. Party members must be atheists.

Government and Party interference through bureaucratic means has irreversibly altered institutional and traditional practices and significantly altered traditional power centers within the religious hierarchy. The sum of the changes suggests that survival and relevance of Buddhism Southern Mongolia cannot be taken for granted.

In sum, the systematic erosion of cultural and religious rights for Mongols in China, suggests that that the laws and regulations promising autonomy have not been translated into meaningful state policy. Regional autonomy has not guaranteed the rights of Mongols to freely use their own language, to preserve and promote their traditional culture, to practice their religion without interference, in short, to preserve their cultural identity. The future looks bleak. 




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)
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