China Walls Out Mongolian Band


2004-11-18
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The Mongolian rock band Hurd on the cover of their latest album Photo: Hurd

By: RFA Executive Editor, Dan Southerland

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia—Much as China’s emperors built the Great Wall to keep out Mongol invaders, the country’s ruling Communists are now trying to repulse a Mongolian cultural invasion—rock music evoking the nationalistic spirit of Genghis Khan.

In late October, Chinese officials told organizers of a series of rock concerts in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of northern China that the concerts had been cancelled. They gave no reason, but hundreds of police showed up at a university campus where the first concert was to be held in the Inner Mongolia capital Hohhot.

Members of Mongolia’s most popular rock group, Hurd—which roughly translates as “Speed”—were preparing to leave the Outer Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator, to give a first concert on Oct. 30 when they learned the performance had been canceled.

Friends of the band in Inner Mongolia said Chinese authorities feared the band might inflame nationalistic sentiments among young ethnic Mongolians if the performance went on as scheduled.

Rising tensions

Media reports have linked the Hurd to the Darhad, a Mongol tribe at the vanguard of protests against government plans to privatize the mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ordos in western Inner Mongolia. Under the new “redevelopment” plan, Chinese businessmen would begin taking profits from the tourist business controlled for centuries by the Darhad.

"In the beginning there was a lot of censorship. They asked us to translate all of the songs … and then they banned some of them."

The Hurd deny that they belong to the Darhad tribe. But tensions have been rising for weeks between Mongolians and Han Chinese over the privatization plan, and Chinese officials appear to have feared the band’s nationalistic lyrics might inflame the situation further.

The Mongolian Darhad tribe was assigned hundreds of years ago to guard Genghis Khan relics, such as a wooden bow the conqueror left behind in Inner Mongolia.

Threatened with a loss of business, the Darhads took their story to the outside world through the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center. At the same time, Mongolian University students in Inner Mongolia began to express sympathy for the Darhads’ cause.

Hurd members had little to say about all this. But they denied reports that they were members of the Darhad tribe. They said that they hope to be admitted once again to Inner Mongolia, which buys more of their tapes and CDs than Outer Mongolia.

The Hurd have visited Inner Mongolia three times since 2000 and each year the Chinese appeared to grow more relaxed about their music.

“In the beginning there was a lot of censorship,” said Damba Ganbayar, 42, keyboard player, producer and leader of the band. “They asked us to translate all of the songs … and then they banned some of them.”

Nationalistic lyrics

Inner Mongolian youths told the band members that their music helped them to preserve their native language, he said. Sometimes, he added, a member of the audience would leap up and shout, “I am a Mongolian!” or simply “Genghis!”

(left to right) Dan Southerland, RFA executive editor, Damba Ganbayar, producer and band leader, and Dambaa Otgonbaatar, drummer. Photo: © ; RFA

The band was advised not to say things such as “We Mongols are all together” or “All Mongolians rise up and shout!” The Chinese authorities also advised members of Hurd not to encourage any audience participation to avoid getting the crowd overly excited.

By international rock standards, the Hurd’s music seems relatively mild—with lyrics that strike a non-Mongolian listener as sweet rather than angry. But it’s undeniably nationalistic. And that’s most likely what worried the Chinese authorities.

One of the group’s popular songs, “Born in Mongolia,” describes a vast “land of great legendary heroes,” a land “without borders,” and a land bearing the “stamp of Heaven.” Not something that would blow the roof off in most rock ‘n’ roll strongholds around the world. But perhaps enough to frighten a Chinese official or police officer trying to extinguish the flames of ethnic nationalism.

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