detained by the Chinese authorities for
expressing her dissent at the court during
the trial of a Mongolian couple, Mr.
Naguunbilig who was sentenced to 10 years in
jail, and Ms. Daguulaa who was sentenced to
5 years in jail for "engaging in evil cult".
Xinna speaks with the aggrieved yet defiant air of
someone who has told her story a hundred times without
results. Sitting at a table on a Hohhot footpath sipping
Mongolian milk tea, she at first tries to ignore the
secret police who watch her meeting with a visitor. Then
she takes a more cynical approach and waves at them,
have nothing to hide. Let them watch," said Ms Xinna,
emphatic that what the government appears to be
increasingly afraid of is unlikely to happen.
While there are simmering ethnic tensions between Han
Chinese and the native Mongol population over the
latter's loss of culture and influence, Mongols are
nearly unanimous in saying they have little desire to
see a Tibet-style uprising or any active protest. The
Olympic torch will be in Inner
Mongolia between July 11 and 13.
"People have suggested to me that something could be
planned [a protest during the Olympic torch relay] but I
have refrained so far. Not many people are willing to
take those risks," Ms Xinna said. "Although sport has
nothing to do with politics, the Olympics do have
something to do with human rights. China promised better
human rights when they got the Olympics, but they have
not done that."
Xinna's husband, Hada, a Mongol intellectual and
teacher, has been in jail since 1995. He is serving a
15-year sentence for founding the Southern Mongolian
Democratic Alliance to defend Mongol rights. Human
Rights in China and Amnesty International say Hada has
been tortured in prison.
This has made Ms Xinna, who, like most Mongols, uses
only one name, a minor local celebrity, and her small
book and music shop near the Inner
Mongolia University has become a warehouse of
Mongol culture and a well-known reference point among
intellectuals. She said that although she has never done
more than peddle Mongol books and traditional music,
police surveillance of her increased dramatically after
the ethnic riots broke out in Tibet.
"In the last few weeks I've been under 24-hour
surveillance. If I go out at one o'clock in the morning
to walk my dog, there's someone sitting outside my
building," Ms Xinna said, adding that she knew of people
in the Mongol community who had been arrested in recent
After seeing the violent backlash in Tibetan-populated
regions, it appears the government became worried that
other ethnic minorities such as the Mongols or
Xinjiang's Uygur population would also use the Olympics
to get their cause on the global stage.
am understanding of what happened in Tibet because
Inner Mongolia has some
similarities," Ms Xinna said. "It [the Tibet uprising]
has been good and bad for us. After this, everyone is
talking about these problems. Some of us are proud that
the Tibetans stood up like that. They're tough."
But similar protests are unlikely in
Inner Mongolia because it lacks the critical mass
of monks that led the way in Tibet. Not only is Buddhism
central to Tibetan culture, but the monks, who have
taken the brunt of the forced cultural changes, live
together, creating a core group of protesters.
Also, there are far fewer Mongols in
Inner Mongolia than there are Tibetans in Tibet.
Mongols make up about 17 per cent of the Inner Mongolian
population compared with 79 per cent Han Chinese, while
Tibetans made up 95.3 per cent of of Tibet's officially
registered population last year.
That does not mean Mongols are content with their lot.
The government has been rapidly populating
Inner Mongolia's grasslands
with Han Chinese moved from other provinces, and the
Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre, a
US-based group, says the ratio of Mongols to Han Chinese
has shifted from five to one in 1949 to one to six
Also central to their complaints is the government
policy of moving nomadic sheep herders - who also
include some Han - off the grasslands and into villages
and cities. Han immigrants introduced a more agrarian
society which helped to speed up the degradation of the
land, resulting in erosion problems, although the
government blames the loss of grasslands on overgrazing
by nomadic sheep herders.
Inner Mongolia sits on the
historic border between agrarian and nomadic cultures,
and this can be seen clearly when driving north from
Hohhot across the Yin Mountains, which form the southern
border of the eastern Gobi Desert. While tilled fields
were once rare on the north side of the range, the
landscape is now a patchwork of corn, oat and potato
Water is so scarce that farmers dig small holes in their
fields to catch what little rain does fall. Chronic
erosion has left hillsides slumping into ravines and
steep canyons snaking across the landscape, scars left
by summer rains.
The government has in recent years begun forcing
herdsmen to give up their nomadic lifestyle and take up
farming or work in towns and villages, in what it says
is an attempt to save the landscape.
"It is a change of identity. They are no longer
herdsmen, they are urban residents who can be affected
by modern culture and better education," said Ren Yaping,
executive deputy governor of Inner
Mongolia. "The government provides TV programmes
in the Mongolian language, books, magazines, all in
The gleaming new glass and steel Inner
Mongolia Museum on the eastern edge of Hohhot
would support the government's argument that it is
providing tools to keep the culture alive, and the
museum is popular with residents.
Presented last year as a gift to celebrate the 60th
anniversary of the Inner Mongolia
Autonomous Region's formation, hall after hall of
exhibits celebrate the Mongol culture and life on the
grasslands. There is no mention, however, of how
Inner Mongolia is now a
predominantly Han Chinese region.
Any Inner Mongolian meeting, be it casual or official,
begins with Han Chinese proudly pointing out which of
those in the group are "real Mongolians". Many Han have
adopted more Mongol culture than they realise.
"The role of Mongols has changed a lot. In China's
5,000-year history the Han have not always been the most
powerful. Sometimes they were the minority and other
groups were in control," said Gangbatu, a Mongol middle
school teacher in Hohhot.
"Now we live here together, and the Chinese who live in
Inner Mongolia start to use
some Mongolian words without thinking of it. I have many
Chinese friends and they drink and eat with me in Mongol
fashion. They like milk tea and finger mutton. The
Chinese have their influences on us, and we have ours on
However, the Mongolian human rights centre says an
increasing number of Mongolian-language schools have
been either forced to close or have been absorbed into
the Chinese-language school system.
Bao Erjin is a young Mongolian, but does not speak
Mongolian. "When I was in school I was told to speak
Chinese, that Chinese was my culture and language. My
parents speak Mongolian and I can understand some, but I
can't speak it," he said.
Although stories such as Mr Bao's are common, the
Mongolian language has fared surprisingly well, given
the challenges it faces. The government tried to correct
poorly written Mongolian signage ahead of last year's
60th anniversary. Most signs are bilingual.
About 4 million of Inner Mongolia's
24 million residents speak Mongolian, giving it slightly
more native speakers than Mongolia, the independent
neighbouring country. Inner Mongolia
uses traditional Mongolian script while Mongolia,
sometimes referred to as Outer Mongolia, uses the
Cyrillic text of Russia. Foreign study of Mongolian has
been concentrated in the Cyrillic form due to support
from the US, which wants to leverage Mongolia's
proximity to Russia.
Emyr Pugh, a Welshman who wrote the first commercial
dictionary software for Classical/ Uygur-script
Mongolian and lives in Hohhot translating a Mongolian
novel into English, said he was impressed by the
government's support of the language.
"It's infinitely preferable for Inner
Mongolia to be a part of China rather than of
Outer Mongolia because the culture would have been
overwhelmed by the Cyrillic," Mr Pugh said.
Most Mongols are relatively content, despite their
eroding influence, thanks to the economic boom they are
enjoying. Along with rapid expansion of mining for coal
and other minerals, the region has enjoyed the largesse
of national investment programmes.
Mongolia is the only region to enjoy the benefits
of two national development programmes: the western
region development plan and the rejuvenation of
northeastern China. This has been a big help to our
economy," said Mr Ren, the deputy governor.
Investment in Inner Mongolia
totalled 1.35 trillion yuan ($1HK.51 trillion) between
2003 and last year, compared to virtually no investment
before that period, he said. About 75 per cent of that
money came from outside the region.
And the possibilities the money brings are not lost on
young people eager to join the economic boom, be it led
by Han Chinese or Mongols.
"I'm happy that we're part of China and not Mongolia,"
said Wu Riya, a young Mongol woman who moved to Hohhot
from the west of the region to study English at the
Inner Mongolian University. "They're lazy and
undeveloped. We get more development from China."