'The Leaseholders Have Destroyed The Forest'

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mongolia-environment-04192017.jpg Ethnic Mongolian petitioners Sichinchimurg, the daughter of activist Urgumulaa, Alatengdabchi and Otogungerel in the Inner Mongolian regional capital Hohhot, April 2017.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

Ethnic Mongolian women are often found at the forefront of land protests and petitioning campaigns in the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, where the takeover of vast areas of traditional grazing lands by Chinese companies has sparked widespread social tensions.

Sichinchimurg, the daughter of activist Urgumulaa, Alatengdabchi and Otogungerel arrived this week in the Inner Mongolian regional capital Hohhot on a petitioning campaign for fellow residents of their hometowns in the county-like divisions of Urad Middle Banner and Otog Banner and Ordos city.

"There are 18 herders who came here from Ordos," Urgumulaa's daughter told RFA, saying she is now petitioning on behalf of her parents who have lost their livelihood with the loss of access to 2,500 mu of grassland.

"There are also people from Hulunbuir league and Bayanuur league," she said, referring to prefectural-level regional divisions.

"We have been going around various government offices in Hohhot for more than a month now, and I haven't heard of a single person who has managed to get a meeting with an official," she said.

Land held by Urgumulaa's family and neighbors was "allocated" to the Molinhe Stock Breeding Farm in July 2015 and again in July last year, prompting clashes with local demolition gangs and the collapse of an elderly farmer with a heart attack.

A local court has ruled a "land use permit" produced by the government to justify the move invalid, but this has had little effect on the ground.

Meanwhile, the herders have had to make huge efforts to evade police trying to stop them from petitioning.

"We have been petitioning about this for many years now, and they put me under surveillance," Urgumulaa's daughter, who apparently shares her mother's name, said. "I managed to leave via [a different route], and they called up the school where I work and said I had headed east, what's happening?"

"More herders are going to petition again, to try to protect our rights, because our grasslands were illegally occupied [by Molinhe and the government]," she said.

Fellow petitioner Alatengdabchi from Hanggin Banner said her family's land has now been leased out illegally three times since 2009.

"In 2009 it was leased by a guy surnamed Zhang on a 20-year lease, but then he transferred the lease to a third party, and it has now been transferred three times in all," she told RFA.

"Our family holds 800 mu of immature and 1,500 mu of mature forest, and now the current leaseholders have destroyed the forest," she said. "There are only about 300 mature trees left now."

"They are also farming illegally on the grasslands, destroying the indigenous environment," she said, adding that the leaseholders had breached the terms of their lease.

And Otogungerel, who hails from Otog Banner, said her family has lost 4,500 mu of grazing lands to illegal to the Ordos Mengtai Co.

"This happened in 2003, but the most infuriating thing is that I had build 80 square meters of housing on my own land," she said.

"They detained me for five days with no paperwork, and then Mengtai put up 490 square meters of buildings on our family land with no paperwork whatsoever, and nobody would do anything about it."

She said she still hopes to find a government department in Hohhot that will accept her formal complaint.

And Sichinchimurg from Urad Middle Banner said her family has lost some 11,600 mu of grassland to illegal leasing.

"Our family holds 11,600 mu or more, and all of this was taken over by a guy surnamed Shi back in 2002, who took it fraudulently, paying 10,000 yuan for a 26-year lease."

"Then, in 2004, this guy Shi forged my father's signature and transferred the grasslands illegally," she said.

Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million, increasingly complain of widespread environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.

Clashes between Chinese state-backed mining or forestry companies and herding communities are common in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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