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The Last of the Mongolian Yurts
Summary:The EO visited one of the few remaining companies that specialize in manufacturing yurts, the companies orders have been shrinking over recent years, with the dozen or so remaining workers only making 30 yurts a year, and the best they can hope for is a large order from a tourist site.


By Song Fuli (宋馥李)
Nation, page 10
Issue No. 555, Feb 6, 2012
Translated by Zhu Na
Original Article:

Menggen Qiqige has been living in a brick house for the last ten years, but, she still feels that her home is the yurt where she was born.

On the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, where she grew up, there’s no need for bricks and cement - the yurt can be dismantled and erected as its owners move around.
Qiqige still misses the open air and every spring she goes out to Juyanhai Lake (居延海) and lives in a shack until the end of summer.

The government’s policy of "prohibiting grazing, rotational grazing and temporary halts to grazing" (禁牧、休牧,划区轮牧) has had a dramatic impact on the Mongolians’ nomadic way of life and the yurts that went with it.  

The EO visited one of the few remaining companies that specialize in manufacturing yurts, located in the West Uzhumuqin Banner (西乌珠穆沁旗), the companies orders have been shrinking over recent years and the dozen or so remaining workers are only making 30 yurts a year, the best they can hope for is a large order from a tourist site.

For many in Inner Mongolia, raising livestock and growing crops has now taken over from the nomadic way of life.

In the 17th century, during the Qing dynasty, the area available for these nomads was reduced dramatically from thousands of square kilometers to a few hundred. In 1958, it was narrowed further and the shrinkage has continued to this day.

As the expanse of grasslands shrank, so the yurts became redundant. Over time, there was such little the land to roam, that the herders built houses and settled.
Qiqige's house was built for her by the government as compensation for her share in the grazing land that she left. The house came with 6 hectares of farmland beside the river.
This policy of compensating herders is common, but it is only a temporary solution. According to official policy, farmland such as Qiqige's will later have to be restored to forest or grassland because the ecologically fragile land can't support sustained grazing or farming. Under the government's policy, Qiqige will start receiving a monthly stipend of 1,000 yuan two years from now, when she reaches the age of 58. She will be moved off the land to Dalaihubu Town (达来呼布镇).

Ejina Banner, the area where Qiqige lives, began its policy of converting grazing land back to grassland (退牧还草) ten years ago. Local herders aged over 21 received annual subsidies of around 10,000 yuan, while those over 56 receive a pension.

Less than 20,000 people live in Dalaihubu Town, where single-storey houses line the streets and the silence settles each evening. But the town is still too noisy for Qiqige, who would prefer to be beside Juyanhai Lake with her livestock.

"I've lived there all my life, I don't want to leave," she said.

Her bond to the grassland is typical of the older generation of herders in the region. They don't enjoy life on the farms and prefer the uncultivated lands that her forebears used to roam, even though these have now become dry and barren.

Attitudes among the younger generation are different. Qiqige's son and daughter both work in Dalaihubu Town.

Murigen (莫日根), a young restaurant owner, doesn't miss anything about the old way of life.

"The grasslands are so boring, life there's uncomfortable, and there's no internet. You need to ride a horse for half-day to see a friend. Life in the town is better, we have everything here."

This article was edited by William Bland



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