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Ms. Xinna's Statement: The Plight of the Mongolian Herders of Southern Mongolia

March 22, 2009
New York

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Livestock Grazing Ban Brigade (禁牧队)of Southern Mongolia's Bairin Right Banner confiscating local Mongolian herders' livestock grazing on grassland.




The following is an English summary of a statement by Xinna, wife of prominent ethnic Mongolian political prisoner Hada. The original statement in Chinese is available here:


Xinna Statement: The Plight of the Mongolian Herders of Southern Mongolia

I received a communication recently from Mongolian herders of Darhan Muu-mingan Holboot Banner (Da Mao Qi in Chinese) where I used to live (in Bayan Zureh Som), asking for help in raising the awareness of the worsening living conditions of the banner residents. I therefore take this opportunity to publicize their current situation in order to bring this to the attention of the international community.  Currently, the “livestock grazing ban” has been imposed on nearly the entire Banner. In Bayan-zureh Som, there are only around 50 Mongolian herders living on their land. What is happening now is that the government is forcing them to move off their land, paying them as little as 4.85 Yuan (approximately 0.60 USD) per Mu (0.07 hectare) land, which means they are kicked out of their land after being paid only a lump sum of 20,000 some Yuan (2500 USD) for their 8-900 Mu (60 hectare) land. Most of the herders have been relocated to a camp called “Gao Yao Hai” where every household is allocated only 3-4 Mu land. All sheep and goats must be sold. Individuals above the age of 55 are given 200 Yuan (30 USD), and individuals above the age of 75 are paid 400 (60 USD) only as a one-time compensation. This is very problematic because these are only one-time payments and thereafter the herders will be left without any care from the government. A friend of mine told me that the herders in this particular place were fortunate during the time that they lived on their own lands making a living with their few hundred sheep and goats. Now with this displacement, they are being forced to move into cities or towns where they have lost their livelihood and future. Many herders express their helplessness with their tears. According to communications from other Leagues and Banners, this situation is very widespread in every corner of Southern Mongolia. There are tons of excuses from the government, such as oil and gas projects, mining and wind power projects etc. For example, China’s energy giant Shen Hua Group has occupied large tracts of herders’ grazing lands after the Government forcibly displaced the local herders under the pretext of “recovering grassland ecosystem” etc. Now, these government backed mining and power plant projects are becoming one of the major concerns of the Mongolian herders.  

Let us look at what has happened in Southern Mongolia since the 1990s. On Dec 19, 2004, China’s official news agency Xin Hua News made a report entitled “China’s Largest Open-up Zone Located in Inner Mongolia in Dilemma after Destroying the Grassland Ecosystem”. This is about the Ulgai Open-up Zone which is located in the heart of Shiliin-gol grasslands. Being open since 1993, the total area of this zone is 5,013 square kilometers, equivalent to 10 Shanghai cities. This was reported only in 2004 after more than 10 years of “opening up” which in fact was a 10 years grassland cultivation or grassland destruction. The report said those companies who engaged in “opening up” were not able to make any profit from this, and in fact those companies were allowed to start “opening up” without obtaining any formal approval from any level of government. Now the question is where have the herders who lived in this vast pasture land gone? What is their current situation? The report did not mention a single word about the local Mongolian herders. It just lamented the fact that those companies’ attempt to make profits was unsuccessful. In fact it is common sense that the Southern Mongolian grassland is not suitable for cultivation due to the thin top soil and low precipitation.

In July 2006, Inner Mongolia Daily reported that “Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Commission for Inspecting Discipline and other government bodies jointly issued a statement urging Party organs, government bodies and individuals who have occupied grasslands must unconditionally give up their occupied lands before October 31, 2006”. What this report revealed is that many government bodies and individuals who have power occupied herders’ lands to make money by opening up or selling to others. So, who were the victims of this? No doubt, the victims are the Mongolian herders who were kicked out of their lands.

On August 9, 2006, China Economic Times reported that “900,000 mu (60,000 hectare) grassland has mysteriously disappeared in Left Uzumchin Banner”. Where has this best piece of grassland gone? The report said “in 2005, 60,000 mu (4,000 hectare) of this disappeared land was under auction at China’s Investment and Property Right Exchange Fair in Tian Jin City as the Property Item No.183.” What this is telling us is that Mongolian herders’ lands have been plundered by those who have power and connection.

In Hulun-buir League, a similar case was reported. 700,000 mu land has been destroyed by the opening up project. Local herders have appealed to the People’s Congress on the case.  The government is almost hopeless, because the grassland ecosystem has been deteriorating and the herders’ rights continued to be violated even though the so-called “Grassland Act” and “Environmental Protection Act” etc. have been issued a decade ago. Banners and Soms that were known for their beautiful grasslands have been turned to poverty-stricken areas. According to a communication from Shiliin-gol League, more than 80% of the Mongolian herders are suffering under extreme poverty. This is what I have seen and what I have heard about the current situation of Mongolian herders in Southern Mongolia.

In the cases mentioned above, who are the immediate victims? No question, the victims are Mongolian herders. There is no thorough investigation of herders’ cases, no follow up reports on current situation and whereabouts of the herders. Those who illegally occupied and destroyed herders’ grazing lands have never been punished. There is no meaningful legislation that effectively protects Mongolian herders’ rights. China continually reports gas, oil or coal discoveries in Southern Mongolia. What all these mean to the local Mongolian herders is that their livelihood is gone, their life-style is abandoned and their culture is eradicated. There is no transitional or intermediate measure by the government to relocate the people in a humane manner. Everything must be changed abruptly. Corruption of local government officials has exacerbated the worsening situation. What the local officials are concerned with is to just fill their own pockets. No one cares about Mongolian herders.

Several years ago grassland degradation was one of the main concerns of the Mongolian herders. Now, grassland degradation is not an issue for the Mongolian herders because they have lost all of their grazing lands, and basically they have no land to be degraded. If the herders resist and try to remain on their lands, they are fined and subject to forcible expulsion anyway. The displacement process has always been very forceful and brutal.

We should not expect any help from the government or the state because they are backing the actions of those doing the plundering of the herders’ lands and violating herders’ rights. Therefore, I would like to appeal to the international community as follows:

1.  International Community must pay attention to the current situation of Mongolian herders in China’s Inner Mongolia. At the same time, I hope the international community urges the Chinese Government to stop the illegal usurpation of Mongolian herders’ grazing lands;

2.  I urge the United Nations relevant bodies to come to Southern Mongolia and carry out a fact-finding investigation on the current condition of Mongolian herders who are the legitimate owners of the Southern Mongolian grasslands to find out if their current situation matches what the Chinese authorities have reported to the world.

3.  I hope under the international community’s intervention Mongolian herders’ right to practice freely their traditional way of life will be fully restored.

I appeal to the international community to urge the Chinese government to respect the human rights of all of its citizens.  




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 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)

Grasslands and Grassland Science in Northern China

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