[lg policy] Ethnic Protests in China Have Lengthy Roots

Madeline Spring mkspring at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 6 19:37:29 UTC 2011


On Sat, Jun 11, 2011 at 8:56 AM, Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at gmail.com> wrote:

> June 10, 2011
> Ethnic Protests in China Have Lengthy Roots
> By ANDREW JACOBS
>
> DAMAO BANNER, China — The Mongol nomads who have ranged across these
> blustery grasslands for millenniums have long had a tempestuous
> relationship with their Han Chinese neighbors to the south. Genghis
> Khan’s horseback conquerors overran Beijing in 1215, and Qing dynasty
> armies returned the favor four centuries later.
>
> By the time Mao’s Communist rebels declared victory in 1949, the
> Mongolians who occupied what became the Inner Mongolia Autonomous
> Region of China had been by and large pacified through Han
> immigration, intermarriage and old-fashioned repression.
>
> But the ethnic Mongolian protests that have swept a number of cities
> in recent weeks are a sobering reminder that government largess,
> assimilation or an iron fist cannot entirely extinguish the yearnings
> of some of China’s 55 ethnic minorities, who account for 8 percent of
> the country’s population.
>
> Even as an exemption from the nation’s one-child policy granted to
> minorities helped expand their numbers, Mongolians are still
> outnumbered by Han five to one in Inner Mongolia, a region twice the
> size of California that borders the independent nation of Mongolia.
>
> “We feel like we are being drowned by the Han,” said a 21-year-old
> computer science student, speaking through the fence of Hohhot
> Nationality University, where he and thousands of other Mongolian
> students were penned up for five days last week to prevent them from
> taking to the streets. “The government always talks about ethnic
> harmony, but why do we feel so oppressed?”
>
> Although the immediate trigger of the demonstrations was a hit-and-run
> accident in which a Han coal truck driver struck and killed a
> Mongolian herder in early May, the underlying enmity can be tied to
> longstanding grievances that spilled out during interviews with more
> than a dozen Mongolians last week: the ecological destruction wrought
> by an unprecedented mining boom, a perception that economic growth
> disproportionately benefits the Han and the rapid disappearance of
> Inner Mongolia’s pastoral tradition.
>
> In Xilinhot, a mining hub not far from where the herder was killed as
> he and others tried to block a convoy of coal trucks, as many as 2,000
> people, many of them students, took to the streets on May 26. Five
> days later, about 150 protesters marched through the center of Hohhot,
> the regional capital, despite the presence of thousands of soldiers
> and paramilitary police officers who kept college students confined to
> their campuses.
>
> The government response has hewed closely to the recipe used to quell
> the far more violent ethnic turmoil that convulsed Tibet in 2008 and
> the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang a year later. Internet
> access has been severely restricted, with most Mongolian Web sites
> shut down, and scores of students, professors and herders have been
> taken into custody. Enhebatu Togochog, an exiled human rights
> advocate, has described the crackdown as a “witch hunt.”
>
> But officials have also sought to address some of the underlying
> drivers of the discontent. They have vowed to correct abuses of the
> coal industry, among them unregulated strip mining and trucks that
> career over the fragile steppe. The government has also committed to
> broader changes, promising hundreds of millions of dollars for
> education, environmental protection and the promotion of Mongolian
> culture.
>
> And in an unusually prompt trial — apparently a reflection of Chinese
> leaders’ fears of further unrest — a Xilinhot court on Wednesday
> handed down a death sentence to the Han driver convicted of running
> down Mergen, the Mongolian herdsman. The trial, which lasted six
> hours, according to the official Xinhua news agency, also yielded
> stiff sentences for three other men involved in the episode. The
> authorities said they planned to quickly try another Han driver
> accused of killing an activist with a forklift during a confrontation
> between the two groups at a coal mine several days later.
>
> But it is unclear if the swift action will still resentments that have
> simmered despite Inner Mongolia’s fast-expanding economy — the growth
> rate has topped that of all other provinces since 2002 — and
> affirmative action policies that have provided tens of thousands of
> government jobs to ethnic Mongolians.
>
> “The Mongolian situation is very worrying for the Chinese leadership
> because you can’t just throw money at an issue like ethnic identity,”
> said Minxin Pei, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for
> International Peace and professor of political science at Claremont
> McKenna College in California.
>
> Here in Damao Banner — banner being the Mongolian equivalent of a
> county — a decade-long effort to restore grasslands to health by
> moving thousands of shepherds into towns and cities has helped fuel
> antigovernment sentiment.
>
> The reasons for the land’s decline are a matter of some debate,
> although many environmentalists say the damming of waterways, coal
> mining and overgrazing all play a role. But the government’s most
> ambitious solution, known as ecological migration, focuses solely on
> the herdsmen, providing subsidies to them — but only after they have
> sold off their flocks.
>
> In Damao, those with money are encouraged to move into new apartment
> blocks on the outskirts of town. For now, they appear largely vacant,
> although a billboard near the entrance claims that 20,000 people have
> already moved into the 31 buildings.
>
> Those too poor to buy new homes rent cramped rooms in the town’s
> Mongolian quarter, a grim, densely packed cluster of brick buildings.
> On a recent afternoon, Suyaltu and Uyung, the husband-and-wife
> proprietors of a small canteen called Friend of the Grassland,
> explained how they were forced to sell their pasture and a herd of 300
> cows, sheep and horses in 2004. There are perks to the program, they
> said: subsidized school fees for their college-age daughter, a $2,775
> annual subsidy and the advantages of living near medical clinics,
> shops and schools.
>
> Still, Uyung, 50, who like many Mongolians goes by a single name, said
> that even when combined with the income from their restaurant, their
> soon-to-expire subsidy was not enough to sustain the family. Then
> there are other, less tangible downsides to the arrangement. “We feel
> lost without our herds and the grassland,” she said as her husband
> looked at his feet and dragged on a cigarette. “We discovered we are
> not suited to the city, but now we are stuck.”
>
> Chen Jiqun, director of Echoing Steppe, an organization that works to
> protect Inner Mongolia’s grasslands, said the benefits of ecological
> migration were questionable. For one, he said, a healthy pasture
> depends on the hooves of grazing animals to grind up manure.
> “Otherwise it just blows away and the land loses its fertility,” he
> said.
>
> In a report issued last December, the United Nations Special
> Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, criticized
> China’s nomad resettlement policies as overly coercive and said they
> led to “increased poverty, environmental degradation and social
> breakdown.”
>
> But Christopher P. Atwood, an expert on Inner Mongolia who has studied
> the disintegration of herding communities, said ecological migration
> was merely accelerating the inevitable demographic shift brought on by
> two decades of sagging livestock prices and the rural stagnation that
> drove young Mongolians to the region’s Han-dominated urban centers.
>
> “Rural communities are the stronghold of Mongolian culture and
> language, so breaking them up has a direct impact on ethnic identity,”
> said Mr. Atwood, chairman of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana
> University, Bloomington.
>
> The result has been a steady decline in the proportion of students who
> attend Mongolian-language schools, a figure that has dropped by nearly
> half, to 40 percent, since the 1980s. The shift has largely been
> propelled by former herders like Huang Liying, 38, a shop owner whose
> 13-year-old daughter studies at a Mandarin-language school in Baotou,
> an industrial city 500 miles away. “To be successful in the modern
> world you need to speak good Chinese,” Ms. Huang said. “I feel regret
> she doesn’t speak her mother tongue, but Mongolian is not very useful
> beyond the grassland.”
>
> Even if the government is not directly responsible for the ebb of
> Mongolian language and culture, many of those who joined the protests
> last week directed their ire at the Han officials who run the show in
> Inner Mongolia. They complained about increasing intermarriage, the
> heavy-handed censorship of local Web sites and the fact that Mongolian
> script on street signs is sometimes rendered smaller than the adjacent
> Chinese characters.
>
> Such sentiments are not confined to students. During one of several
> unwelcome confrontations with the police last week, a Mongolian
> officer in Damao sidled up to a stranger and made a startling
> confession. He said he wished he had been brave enough to join the
> protests. “The anger I feel,” he said with a conspiratorial grin, “is
> burning through my veins.”
>
> http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/11/world/asia/11mongolia.html?ref=world
>
> --
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