Report: China Arrests Thousands of Mongolians Protesting Limits on Nomadic Herding

This picture taken on June 28, 2016 shows Pagvajaviin Shatarbaatar herding horses in the Gobi desert near Luusiin. Mongolians went to the polls across their sprawling, sparsely-populated country on June 29 as it struggles to benefit from its vast natural resources amid disputes over foreign investment and slumping demand from …
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese authorities have arrested thousands of people in Inner Mongolia after they refused to accept Beijing’s recently imposed restrictions on nomadic pastoralism, a traditional lifestyle of the Mongolian people, Hong Kong’s Apple Daily reported this weekend.

The arrests come as local authorities seek to further tighten their control over the region’s nomadic herdsmen over concerns the traditional practice undermines Chinese culture and the authority of communist dictator Xi Jinping.

In July, the Standing Committee of the Inner Mongolia National People’s Congress passed legislation prohibiting grazing, described by authorities as a “powerful” step forward in imposing Xi’s ideology on the supposedly autonomous region.

Native Mongolians have practiced nomadic pastoralism for several millennia, and around two-thirds of Mongolians still live a nomadic life. The lifestyle involves herding livestock such as sheep and horses in order to find fresh grazing pastures. Mongolians are a minority in China, however, and the Communist Party is dominated by people of the majority Han ethnicity.

“Nomadic pastoralists live in societies in which the husbandry of grazing animals is viewed as an ideal way of making a living and the regular movement of all or part of the society is considered a normal and natural part of life,” explains Oxford Handbooks. “Pastoral nomadism is commonly found where climatic conditions produce seasonal pastures but cannot support sustained agriculture.”

Apple Daily quoted various Mongolian herders discussing the issue online.

“This was just a policy, but now it will become an exact law. If we violate it, we will be held legally responsible,” said one herder. “The situation is much more serious now.”

“We, as ethnic minorities, don’t know anything besides herding,” added another. “If we are not allowed to do so, how is this different from killing us?”

The crackdown on nomadic pastoralism forms part of a wider effort from Beijing to undermine Mongolian culture as a whole and create loyalty to the Xi regime. In recent weeks, authorities have arrested hundreds of activists protesting against the forcing of Mandarin language study in regional schools as opposed to their native Mongolian.

Inner Mongolia is one of several allegedly “autonomous” regions where the Chinese state seeks to eradicate native cultures. In the Tibet and Xinjiang, authorities are employing similar tactics such as the imposition of the Mandarin language and establishment of concentration camps aimed at indoctrinating natives into the dogma of the Chinese communist state.

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