Monday, May 4, 2009

Article - Mongols' 'subsumed' culture

ST 4 May 2009

A bleak future BAIYUNKUANGQU (China) - BAYAR has spent most of his 48 years roaming the great Mongolian steppe in northern China, grazing his sheep flocks as his ethnic Mongol ancestors did for centuries.

But he was forced to settle down three years ago in a small brick house on a windswept plain here due to grazing restrictions which Mongols call the latest harsh blow to their age-old pastoral culture under Chinese rule.

The restrictions, first introduced a decade ago and now being stepped up, are aimed at protecting grasslands from desertification due to excessive farming, the overgrazing of expanding livestock herds and drought.

For centuries, Mongols have grazed sheep, cattle and horses and hunted on the open steppe, camping in circular white tents known as yurts in a rugged, nomadic lifestyle that gave rise to the mobile cavalry of legendary conqueror Genghis Khan.

But those days are over for Bayar. He now ekes out a living renting out fake 'yurts' to vacationing Chinese tourists eager to play nomad for a night.

The government 'encouraged' this, he said, saying no more under the watchful eye of local officials who followed AFP reporters to his remote home in a sign of the issue's sensitivity.

In private, others are less guarded about the grazing restrictions. Bayar now must pen his herds three months of the year. Unable to afford feed for such a long period, he had to sell half his 300 sheep, taking a loss amid plunging mutton prices.

Critics say government compensation is inadequate or non-existent and allege that many of the 'protected' lands were later taken over by Chinese mining and energy firms.

According to China's forestry ministry, expanding deserts threaten up to 400 million people and recently were growing by nearly 3,500 square kilometres a year to now cover a third of the country.

While China is widely accused of cultural repression in Tibet and its Muslim northwest, Mongols say their way of life also is being subsumed by Chinese culture and insensitive policies, as well as the impacts of climate change. -- AFP

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