Oct 22, 2008

Inner Mongolia: Forgotten Fight for Cultural Survival

Active ImageChina's ethnic Mongolians have been forgotten by the world, their fight for cultural survival overshadowed by unrest in Tibet.

Below is an article written by Emma Graham-Harrison for The Guardian:

China's ethnic Mongolians have been forgotten by the world, their fight for cultural survival overshadowed by unrest in Tibet, the wife of the region's best-known prisoner of conscience told Reuters. 

Xinna, who like most Chinese Mongolians uses only one name, said she was worried about her jailed husband's health after he reported leg problems, but prison officials told her the results of a medical checkup were "top secret". 

"I was very excited about the Olympics, it was a special opportunity. Now it's passed, I'm even more without hope," she told Reuters over a meal of cheese, mutton and milk tea in Hohhot, regional capital of China's Inner Mongolia. 

She wrote to the country's top leaders ahead of the August [2008] Games asking for a pardon for her husband Hada, founding chairman of the Southern Mongolian Democracy Alliance, who was jailed for 15 years in 1995 after organising peaceful demonstrations and strikes. 

Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience and has voiced concern for his well-being. 

But instead of releasing him the government launched a pre-Games crackdown on Mongolians, Xinna said. A senior official from the regional government, propaganda chief Wu Lan, told Reuters Hada would serve out his sentence "like every prisoner". 

Xinna, who grew up in a city speaking little Mongolian and was once a teacher of Marxism and political theory, is carrying on her husband's work protecting their language and culture. 

She worries that economic pressure to assimilate is crushing their traditions and slowly wiping out their language. 

"In cities many kids can't speak Mongolian... some parents who grew up studying the language faced unfair treatment. So they don't want their children to learn Mongolian. The pressure of a market economy forced them to learn Mandarin," she said. 

On paper Inner Mongolia enjoys a high degree of autonomy but, like Tibet and Xinjiang in the far west, Beijing keeps a tight rein on the region, fearing ethnic unrest in those strategic border areas. 

Not Enough Attention 

Mongolians are too few to attract attention, outnumbered four-to-one even in their own "autonomous region" and overshadowed by the neighbouring independent nation of Mongolia, Xinna said. 

"We don't get enough attention from the world," she said. 

There has been massive international attention for other minorities battling for greater autonomy from Beijing, particularly Tibetans, who have been championed by their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. 

But many other ethnic groups in China are also unhappy about the cultural and economic dominance of the Han Chinese. 

Hada's confinement has marginally improved since foreign media and human rights groups reported on his plight. 

"They used to let the criminals beat him, it has got a bit better with international pressure," said Xinna. 

But her worries for her husband, whom she normally sees just twice a year and then only for an hour, because he is held in another city almost 24 hours' journey away, have not abated.

She says he won't "admit his guilt" so is held in harsh conditions, with no phone calls allowed and newspapers she has subscribed to not reaching him. 

"These are the best years of his life as an intellectual, how can they do this? He looks so different from when he was young," Xinna added sadly.