June 15, 2023
On June 12, 2023, Mongolian herders from eastern Southern Mongolia’s Zaruud Banner gathered to block the road near their grazing land in protest of the local government’s land grab. Hired to advance the expropriation, a Chinese driver by the surname of Lu plowed into the protestors with a large bulldozer, crashing herders’ motorcycles, and injuring at least two.
According to protestors on the scene, the Zaruud Banner Breeding Farm Ar-Hundelen Branch appropriated a large swath of grazing land and sold it to a Chinese business—all with the authorization of the Zaruud Banner government.
A written statement from the local community notes that “Without our prior and informed consent, the breeding farm sold our land to a Chinese business at a price of 2,000,000 yuan (approximately 280,000 USD),” and that “the Chinese buyer is now bringing truckloads of cows and other animals to the land, attempting to graze them in disregard of our protest.”
“This happened before the eyes of government officials who are ganging up with violent Chinese invaders,” said an angry herder in a WeChat discussion group, in reference to the bulldozer attack. “The lives of Mongolians are worthless here.”
In a public statement, the Zaruud Banner Public Security Bureau confirmed the case while downplaying the violence as a “dispute that escalated to a conflict between a herder and the bulldozer driver, Mr. Lu, and the accountant Ms. Lu, resulting in an injury to the herder Mr. Wu.”
The next day, another attack took place in eastern Southern Mongolia’s Evenk Banner. A Chinese land-grabber struck a Mongolian herder with a vehicle while the herder defended his grazing land alongside other herders. The injured herder fell unconscious at the scene, but the state of his current health remains unknown.
“Violence by the Chinese toward Mongolians has happened two days in a row,” a Mongolian herder said in a WeChat discussion group. “Now even our lives are not guaranteed, let alone our land.”
Despite draconian censorship and aggressive surveillance of the Internet and social media, Southern Mongolians are managing to express their discontent over WeChat, China’s most popular social media platform. Sparked by these violent incidents, discussions among angry Southern Mongolians have gone far beyond the land-grab episodes and are touching on sensitive, foundational issues, including those of colonialism and national freedom.
“This is the cost we are paying for being colonized by the Chinese,” a Southern Mongolian said in a WeChat discussion.
“Yes, but nothing lasts forever,” another replied. “The days of this colonial regime are numbered. We Mongolians must stay patient, resilient and hopeful.”
In the same chat, another Southern Mongolian asked members to “Imagine if we have our own government and own country like the independent country of Mongolia. This type of violence would never happen, and even if it happens, the perpetrators will be brought to justice immediately.”
Yet another member said that “The squares [code name for Chinese settlers] are the most violent and brutal invaders in human history. They took away all of our rights, plundered our natural resources both under and above the ground; now they are taking away our land and lives.”
“This is no different from the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” said another. “The nature of the two is the same: the strong enslave the weak.”
The perhaps even more politically charged question of whether “Southern Mongolians are slaves to the Chinese” sparked heated debates in a number of WeChat groups. Some excerpts:
“We must admit that we are enslaved by the Chinese. This is the reality. This is our status.”
“I disagree. We are not slaves. We are proud Mongolians. Calling ourselves slaves won’t help improve the situation anyway.”
“Our situation is equally serious, if not more so, than that of Xinjiang and Tibet.”
“Remember, land appropriation is just a small part of the systematic destruction of Southern Mongolia; our language and culture are being wiped out by the Chinese now.”
As Chinese policies in Southern Mongolia grow increasingly oppressive, widespread discontent among Southern Mongolians has led to two major uprisings since 2011.
In May 2011, a region-wide uprising was precipitated by the brutal killing of a Mongolian herder, Mr. Mergen, by a Chinese truck driver. These protests prompted Chinese authorities to launch an extensive crackdown on all forms of resistance across the region.
In September 2020, an even a larger uprising transpired in Southern Mongolia, in opposition of China’s new language policy, which Mongolians widely consider “cultural genocide.” An overwhelming majority of Southern Mongolians joined the protests in some fashion, and an estimated 8,000-10,000 protesters were arrested, detained, imprisoned and placed under house arrest.