Coal mining in Inner Mongolia began 5 years ago, and became particularly intense in Shilingol. The Chinese authorities have never been upfront about this whole business. In 2001, they initiated a huge ‘ecological migration’ in various zones inhabited by Mongol herders. The residents were asked to leave the region and go to the big towns so that the soil could recover. But that was merely a pretext, to clear the way for coal mines. Beijing decided that Inner Mongolia would be the ‘energy base of China’ and they allowed many mining companies to set up in the zones which were supposedly ‘protected’.
The people who protested at the beginning of May are either the Mongols who resisted the relocation or people who came back after a couple of years because they didn’t integrate into the big towns which are predominantly Han.
"This land has become a lawless zone in which the companies can do what they like, completely disregarding the indigenous people"
These days, the situation has gotten very bad. The ground has been over-exploited; the shepherds’ pastures have been devastated by trucks. The vegetation lacks water because the mines have depleted the underground reserves. As a result, desertification has accelerated. This land has become a lawless zone in which companies can do what they like, completely disregarding the indigenous people. Our understanding is that the company that employed the drivers who are responsible for Mergen’s death were not permitted to exploit the land they were mining.
The Chinese authorities’ policy is increasingly hostile towards the Mongols. Their aim now is to eliminate our culture. During these past few years, schools have been merged resulting in the end of lessons in the Mongol language. So now, schools teaching Mogol are further and further away from people’s homes. Some go to Chinese schools, others leave school altogether. It is about time that people realise what is going on. If we can’t learn our language, nor follow our way of life, we have arrived at a critical juncture and the Mongol people risk dying out.