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  Dr.Chuluu Ujiyediin Speaks at "Promoting Human Rights, Democracy and Freedom in East Turkistan, Tibet, Southern Mongolia and the People's Republic of China"
March 31, 2013
New York


"Promoting Human Rights, Democracy and Freedom in East Turkistan, Tibet, Southern Mongolia and the People's Republic of China" held in Geneva, March 2013  

The following is a speech by Dr.Chuluu Ujiyediin, a member of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) at the "Promoting Human Rights, Democracy and Freedom in East Turkistan, Tibet, Southern Mongolia and the People's Republic of China" held in Geneva from March 11 to13, 2013:

Despite the long history of interaction between Mongolians and Chinese, there has always been a lack of mutual understanding due to cultural reasons. In this short discussion, I would like to talk about my personal experiences with Chinese attitudes toward Mongolian culture and the environment.   I feel it is important to talk about Mongolian culture and the environment because our culture and pastoral lands in Southern Mongolia are facing massive destruction by the dominant Chinese culture and the expansion of agriculture and mining.  Furthermore, cultural and environmental rights of Mongols in Southern Mongolia are human rights.

Chinese attitudes toward Mongolian culture have always been misguided or unfriendly, if not derogatory.  They have referred to us as barbarians.  There are plenty of the derogatory terms used to refer to Mongols.  For example, 靼子, “Retarded” and 死老蒙古, “ugly old Mongolian.”  As recently as two years ago, when visiting my home in Jirim League of Southern Mongolia, I heard a popular phrase among the local Chinese from a Chinese taxi driver: “天不怕地不怕,就怕老蒙古会说汉话!”,“We have no fear of heaven and earth, but we are fearful of an ugly old Mongolian who knows how to speak Chinese”.   This implies that Mongolians who don't know how to speak Chinese are inferior to Chinese and they are easily fooled if they don't learn to speak Chinese.  Due to this deep-seated misunderstanding and their lifestyle differences, Chinese people in Southern Mongolia, in my opinion, lack respect for the Mongolian customs and way of life. 

Aside from this general discriminatory attitude of the ordinary Chinese folks toward the Mongolians, the Chinese state media or governmental institutions either idealize or exaggerate the Mongolian culture.   A typical example of this is depicted in the popular Mongolian songs among the Chinese, for example, songs like “美丽的草原我的家”, “The Beautiful Grassland is My Home” , “ 呼伦贝尔大草原”, “Vast Hulunbor Grassland”.  A common tone of these songs falsely beautify the grassland in Southern Mongolia as if there are still endless grasslands with green pastures everywhere in Southern Mongolia, and the happy-living Mongols are still galloping their horses across the vast grassland,  herding their livestock and singing their folk songs.   In reality, there are no such place left anywhere in Southern Mongolia and very few Mongols ride horses in these days due to the lack of open pastures. Many Mongol herdsmen have been forced to migrate to towns due to ecological resettlement. 

Another example of this is the so-called“建设民族文化区”, 'building ethnic culture region/district'.  After the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2002, the Chinese central government and the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Regional Government enthusiastically promoted the splendid idea (policy) of transforming Southern Mongolia into the ethnic cultural regions.  A huge sum of money has been allocated to this initiative and numerous projects have taken off.   As a result, countless cultural centers have been established in all levels of administrative districts of the Autonomous Region.  Each Banner in Southern Mongolia has two or three cultural centers.  For example, the Jarud Banner of Jirim league has been designated as “民族曲艺之乡”, an 'Ethnic Folk Art Town', “民族艺术之乡”, a 'Township of Ethnic Art',  “乌力格尔之乡”, a 'Township of Traditional Story Telling', and “中国民间文化艺术之乡”, a 'Township of Chinese Ethnic Folk Culture and Art'.  Bairan West Banner was named “中国格斯尔文化之乡”, a 'Township of Geser Culture', “中国好来宝之乡”, a 'Township of Story Telling', and  “中国民间文化艺术之乡”, a 'Township of Chinese Ethnic Folk Culture and Art'.  Numerous cultural festivities are celebrated throughout Southern Mongolia year around.   For example, the Horse Culture Festival takes place almost every Banner in Southern Mongolia each summer.   All of these cultural events misrepresent the real situation.  They are merely a show put on by the Chinese government.  The reality is that the ecological basis for pastoralism has completely disappeared, and only a handful of the Mongols are able to maintain their traditional nomadic way of life.  Their pastoral lands are shrinking day by day because of the farming and mining by Chinese peasants and mining industries.  

The main reason for this idealization of Mongolian culture is an attempt by Chinese to emphasize the “otherness” of the Mongolian people from the majority of Chinese.  This otherness often implies “backwardness” and a need to be civilized by the Chinese.  Some researchers point out that the Chinese state “may foster minority otherness, even as it seeks national unity and integration, in response to minority demands; the encouragement of a distinct identity is thus an official attempt to bolster loyalty to the Chinese state among minority populations by demonstrating that the state is committed to multiethnicity. This 'offering' also may help assert Han (Chinese) modernity and superiority because minority otherness often implies backwardness” (Baranovitch, 2001).  thus, this justifies Chinese dominance over the other ethnic groups.  By fostering minority otherness in China, the Chinese are in fact attempting to advance the concept of a homogeneous Chinese nation.  Highlighting the differences between the Chinese and other ethnic groups makes internal differences seem insignificant (Baranovitch, 2001).  In the Mongolian case, a main goal of glorification of the Mongolian grassland and establishment of all these meaningless cultural centers and festivities serve no purpose but to conceal or divert attention from the activities that are destroying the Mongolian culture and environment: the colonization and the assimilation of the Mongolians by Chinese and the destruction of the grassland by the over-cultivation and open-pit mining by Chinese farmers and mining companies.

Chinese and Mongolians also have a different view on nature and the environment.  The Chinese usually view the open land/pasture or the uncultivated land  as “荒地” or “生地”, 'wasteland', while the Mongols, because of their Shamanistic beliefs and their traditional way of life, view  nature as a majestic living being.  Although the Southern Mongolians are Buddhist (or non religious), they kept their Shamanistic practices of nature worship.  Even in the present day, many Mongols believe that every living being in nature has a spirit.  They have customs of tree worship, mountain worship, river worship, and so on.  They believe any destruction of nature may cause harm or illness, for example, digging holes in the grassland or cutting down a tree worshiped by villagers.  To illustrated this point, I will give you the following two examples. (1) The people in the Mongol village in which I grew up still refill ditches after digging something from the ground.  They believe that if they don't refill it, mother earth will put a curse on them.  They also hold this practice because of practical reasons.  Someone who is galloping through the grassland with their horses may fall into these ditches if you don't fill them, and they will hurt their horses or the worst case, the holes will cause injury to the riders.  The local Mongols often got into fights with the people from the nearby Chinese villages who dig the Chinese traditional herbal medicine from the ground each summer without refilling the holes.  (2). There were many beautiful elm trees north of our village.  The village elders often reminded us youngsters, to not climb on these trees or cut any branches of these trees because local deities resided in those trees.  If you cut a branch off of those trees, the saying went,  you would cut your finger accidentally or you would lose your eyesight in one eye.   We, kids never dared to get close to those trees.  Guess what happened a couple of years later?  Most of the trees were suddenly gone.  It turned out that someone from the nearby Chinese village came during the night and cut them all and most of the trees were stolen for making furniture. 

A core of Mongolian culture is harmony between human lifestyles and nature. Traditionally, the livelihood of the Mongolians depends upon nature.  We are nomadic people and herders.  We need huge open grasslands for herding our livestock.   Livestock is the main source of our food and clothing.  Most of us don't have much, but we don't need much.  We are happy with what we have and enjoy our worry-free lifestyle on the grassland, roaming around our land.   Because of this necessity, Mongols try their best to protect their grassland and avoid causing any destruction to the pasture land.

Ever since Chinese started migrating to Southern Mongolia, the Mongols have been forced to either give up their ancestral lands to Chinese farmers or to become farmers themselves.  After arriving in the Mongol areas, the Chinese rarely adapt local customs or the way of life. Instead they look down upon the local Mongols and ridicule them because they think herding is backward, uncivilized, and a barbaric way of life. The Chinese have cultivated huge areas of land for farming year after year and have been expanding their farming practices since they started to migrate to Southern Mongolia about a hundred years ago.   The Mongols have either assimilated into Chinese society or moved further inland.  After the Chinese government took over Southern Mongolia, a large influx of Chinese immigrants flooded Southern Mongolia in the name of developing the border areas and cultivating the wasteland“开荒”.  Any Mongol that dared to stand up against Chinese migration and government policies of cultivation, would be brutally crushed by a powerful Chinese police forces.  In the last 20 years, a huge reserve of coal has been discovered in Southern Mongolia.  Chinese state-owned companies and private enterprises have rushed into Southern Mongolia and operated open-pit mining everywhere.  Mongolian herders have been forced to move from their native lands under the Chinese policy of “禁牧还草”, 'To protect the grassland by prohibiting herding'.  As soon as the herders move out, the Chinese buy the land from the local government (mostly Chinese officials) at a very cheap price. 

The environmental deterioration and desertification in Southern Mongolia involve complex issues, including global warming, drought, over-farming, over-grazing, and over-mining.  However, because of a lack of understanding or a policy of discrimination,  the Chinese officials and researchers tend to simplify the causes and only blame Mongolian herders for over-grazing or  other environmental issues in Southern Mongolia.  For example, recently, a news article I read said that several Chinese researchers in Southern Mongolia recommended to the Autonomous Regional government that the way to protect the environment is to completely ban the Mongols from herding. The truth is, as I mentioned above, that many Mongols have been forced or coerced to move from their native land, and those who are still living on the grassland have very little land, which is often surrounded by big corn fields and open mining pits.  They are no longer allowed to herd their livestock on an open range (see more details in Han 2011).  If they are caught doing so, there are heavy penalties.  The Chinese police issue them large fines or take away most of their livestock. The harassment of poor herdsmen is a daily event in many of the Mongolian villages.  Each day, they have visitors from the different branches of the local government offices, threatening to take away their livestock or issue fines.  In fact, this became a way for local government officials to extort extra money.  Local police ride in their expensive jeeps and visit several Mongol herders each day, extorting several thousand Yuan from each family.  If herdsmen don’t pay them, they threaten to watch those Mongol herders daily, and fine them every time the herdsmen let out their livestock.

Because  Mongolian herders have been forced to raise their livestock in stables or to resettle their families in urban areas, most grazing lands are occupied by Chinese for farming or mining.  The desertification and degradation of the grassland are, therefore, not just caused by over-grazing, but by over-cultivation and mining. Instead of singling out Mongol herders for harming the environment, the Chinese government should ban cultivating and mining in Southern Mongolia.   The desertification of the Mongolian grassland not only diminishes the Mongolian way of life, but it is a huge environmental issue for China as a whole,.  I would like to call upon the new Chinese government to protect Southern Mongolians' human rights and their grassland.


Thank you,


Dr.Chuluu Ujiyediin



Enze Han (2011), “The dog that hasn't barked: assimilation and resistance in Inner Mongolia, China”, pp.55-75,   Asian Ethnicity, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Feb., 2011)

Nimrod Baranovitch (2001), “Between Alterity and Identity: New Voices of Minority People in China” pp. 359-401, Modern China, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Jul., 2001)



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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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