The New York Times
By James Brooke
November 26, 2004
Jae-hyun Seok for The
New York Times
members of the band Hurd at their studio in Ulan Bator,
Mongolia: from left, Damba Ganbayar, the group's leader and
keyboardist; Damba Otgonbayar, the guitarist; and Damba
Otgonbaatar, the drummer.
BATOR, Mongolia - China built the Great Wall more than 2,000
years ago to keep out invaders from the north. But the Chinese
are having a harder time repulsing modern interlopers like
these: long-haired Mongolian men in black, whose office décor
features a wolf pelt, a portrait of Genghis Khan and a music
store poster of Eminem.
Chinese police got nervous when they heard that Hurd was
crossing the Gobi Desert, coming down from Mongolia, 600 miles
to the north. With their new hit CD, "I Was Born in Mongolia,"
Hurd, a heavy metal, Mongolian-pride group, was coming for a
three-day tour, culminating Nov. 1 with a performance in Hohhot,
capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
morning we were to get on the train, the translator guy called
and said 'Your performances are cancelled,' " Damba Ganbayar,
Hurd's keyboardist and producer, said glumly as he lounged in a
white plastic chair. "He said, 'I will call with details.' I
never got the details."
details, according to reports from Hohhot, were that riot
policemen and trucks surrounded the college campus where the
group was to play. They checked identity cards, detained four
people overnight and dispersed about 2,000 frustrated
concertgoers into the autumn night.
next several days, the Chinese authorities shut down three
Mongolian-language chat forums, according to the Southern
Mongolia Human Rights Information Center, a New York-based group
that tracks "Chinese colonialism" in what some call the southern
end of Greater Mongolia.
in Hohhot" may not have an epic ring to it, but it is a sign of
reports of local protests almost daily fare in China, the
authorities are increasingly nervous also about ethnic
minorities. In late October, several days of fighting erupted
between Hui Muslims and Han Chinese - China's dominant ethnic
group - in central Henan Province after a traffic accident.
the 1960's, the Chinese-Soviet split kept Mongolia, a Soviet
satellite nation, apart from China's Inner Mongolia. Today, the
Chinese region is home to four million ethnic Mongolians, almost
double the 2.5 million in the country of Mongolia. But Chinese
migration to Inner Mongolia over the years has left the ethnic
Mongolians there vastly outnumbered by 18 million Han Chinese.
recent years, barriers have gone down between those two
Mongolias as China has become its northern neighbor's largest
trading partner and foreign investor. With Inner Mongolia's
economy growing by 22 percent during the first nine months of
this year, officials in the two Mongolias agreed in October to
open a free-trade zone where the Trans-Mongolian Railway crosses
cultural front, music groups from here often appear on Inner
Mongolia's Mongolian-language channel. Hurd, which means speed,
has done three concert tours in Inner Mongolia since 2000. It
claims to be the most popular rock group for Mongolians on both
sides of the border.
2000, it was very Soviet-style, with lots of policemen around
with flashlights, very disciplined concerts," Mr. Damba Ganbayar
recalled. "Later, it became more relaxed, like normal rock
so, they advised us not to say, 'We Mongolians are all
together!' or 'All Mongolians rise up and shout!' " the
keyboardist continued. "People would shout, 'Genghis!' But it
was nothing political."
later visits south of the border, he noticed a growth in Mongol
and more the young people say, 'We want to keep the Mongolian
language and the traditions,' " he said. "I met a guy with a
Mongolian name, and he shouted, 'I am Mongolian!' - in Chinese.
I met many like that."
Encounters between Mongolians and Inner Mongolians are a bit
like encounters between Mexicans and New Mexicans. Many Mongols
here say they consider Inner Mongolians to be more Chinese than
Mongolian. When people here travel south, they do not say they
are going to Inner Mongolia, but to China.
have an Inner Mongolian problem," a Chinese diplomat in the
region said in an interview. "Most of the Inner Mongolian
population has been 'Han-ized.' They speak Chinese, think like
Chinese. Hohhot is like any other Chinese city."
Tsend, Mongolia's foreign minister, said in an interview, "For
us, Inner Mongolia is a province of China that happens to have
ethnic brother on other side of the border."
northern side of the border, Hurd's nationalist identity has
grown over the last two years, a time when the group did not
record any new songs.
national pride and love of homeland takes the ethos of Bruce
Springsteen's 'Born in the U.S.A.' to a new level," said Layton
Croft, an American foundation representative and musician here,
who attended one of their concerts in October. "There is a
loyal, mostly rural, Mongolian fan base for such music."
Mongol nationalism is aimed at that audience: young Mongolians
who now leave the country for work, the men in construction in
South Korea, the women as 'hostesses' in Macao.
But the "I
Was Born in Mongolia" CD, with its paeans to a "land of great
legendary heroes," came out here as ethnic Mongolians in China
were discovering that a Han Chinese-owned company was taking
over administration of the Genghis Khan Mausoleum, the region's
biggest tourist money-maker. Entrusted to the care of the Darhad
Mongolian tribe since 1696, this shrine holds relics of the
great conqueror, including his saddle and his black bow.
burial place of Genghis Khan, who died in 1227, is not known,
and has been the object of several archeological expeditions.
But construction of a new "mausoleum" by Dong Lian, the Chinese
company, prompted protests by Mongolians who see the move as
another power grab by Chinese settlers.
Chinese side, "anything associated with nationalism, separatism,
political rights, they want to suppress it," said an Inner
Mongolian trader here who asked not to be identified.
best-known case, a bookstore owner who goes by one name, Hada,
is serving a 15-year sentence after being convicted of
separatism in 1996.
the canceling of concerts by Hurd and Horda, an Inner Mongolian
band, some fear new restraints on Mongolian cultural expression.
government is shutting down a lot of music shops, confiscating a
lot of music tapes," said Enhebatu Togochog, who runs the
Southern Mongolian information center in New York. "They say
they are purifying the cultural market."