Inner Mongolia (a large province of China) is currently under near martial law, as the Chinese government tries to quash protests by ethnic Mongol inhabitants.
Last week thousands of students were arrested, and the internet has been cut off in an attempt to stop news of the protests spreading.
In a province in which, despite its name, only 20% of the current inhabitants are now ethnic Mongols*, the violence may well have flared due to the feeling that the newly arrived Han Chinese majority are exploiting resources that the Mongols feel are rightfully theirs, and becoming rich because of it. This is a feeling sadly experienced everywhere on the planet where there are large influxes of other populations.
In Mongolia itself there are now right-wing, “Nazi” gangs in the capital Ulaanbaatar (UB), who have made it their business to threaten and demoralise the number of Chinese immigrants who have set up businesses there. These businesses may not advertise in Chinese characters, any menus in Chinese restaurants must be in Mongolian (though English or Russian translation is allowed), and it is common for known Chinese individuals to be assaulted, even a Mongolian woman who goes with a Chinese man will be beaten and have her head shaved as a mark of her “betrayal”.
From the West this mentality is extreme, reminding us of the worst episodes in our continent’s history. Having lived in UB for three months, and personally met and talked to some of the nationalists there, it is slightly easier to understand, though no less worrying.
The Mongolian people* are still racially 89% Mongol; they have an enduring cultural history, un-marred until very recently by influences from outside; they have a thousand-year-long historical rivalry with the Han Chinese (several wars, invasions and counter-invasions).
Mongol culture is interesting: American-style rap is now becoming popular, but they do not listen to American music – there is a booming Mongolian rap and hip-hip scene, with artists singing in Mongolian, about their country and its people. The rest of their culture is just the same, and has been for centuries – Adaptation NOT adoption of other ideas to suit their own.
Anything that threatens to over-ride rather than amalgamate with their own culture is hated, as indeed we in the West hate what we see to be a threat to our culture. (NB My personal view is not a hate of other cultures – I embrace them but there are vocal others with this view.)
The Mongols are a nomadic, fiercely independent people and the influx of mining companies into their territories, in both Mongolia and the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, is seen as an invasion of their land, a breach of their rights to roam the land and use it, and a theft of their inherited resources.
Sadly, in a region with such rich geological resources, the fight may well continue and worsen in the years to come.
A Mongol is a member of an ethinc group, including inhabitants of Mongolia, China, Russia and more.
A Mongolian is an inhabitant of the country of Mongolia, no matter what their ethnic origin.
For example, there are Mongolians that are Kazakh, and Chinese that are Mongols.