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Life After Horseback
Materials are provided by "Travel China weekly newspaper" by Liu Simin
Horse, which were once so crucial to Mongolian's life are gradually disappearing from the daily lives of this nomadic ethnic group.

Nashun, a herdsman from Ar Horqin banner, in northwest China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, finally presented a saddle handed down through generations of his family to a nearby museum after several months of deliberations and discussions.

Early in the morning, the family of six donned graceful Mongolian clothing and gathered to reverently stoke the silver-inlaid saddle.

"The museum will provide the same care as my relatives, and will offer better conditions to preserve the saddle so that future generations will know that we are the offspring of an ethnic group which once lived on horeback," said Nashun.

The herdsman bade farewell to horse breeding over a decade ago. "It wasn't because I didn't like horses, but simply because raising horses did not produce good economic returns. Tractors and motorcycles are much more efficent," he added.

been described as "people living on horseback," the largest nomadic group in China.

Aldinv, a specialist in Mongolian studies, said:"Horses have been the most important and inseparable working force in Mongolian production for several thousand years. The vast Inner Monogolia Autonomous Region is home to most of China's Mongolian ethnic group, and the Xilin Gol Prairie alone is the size of Britain."

More than half of the herder households no longer raise horses, symbol of the ethnic group. Horses have, in fact, disappeared from the production stage, according to Nashun.

An official with regional Animal Husbandry Bureau said the disappearance of horses from production represents only one aspect of the changes China's ethnic Mongolian people are undergoing in terms of both production and life.


Pastural life on the grassland.

Statistics show that the pastoral areas of Inner Mongolia are amongst the leading areas in China in terms of the per household availability of motor vehicles. The average ownership rate stands 1.5 motor vehicles per family.

Members of the Mongolian ethinic group in China have abandoned the nomadic life which focused on moving from place to place in search of water and grass, and have instead resorted to permanent homes. Yurts have been replaced by houses made of bricks and tiles.

Mongolian people initially abandoned the use of horses as early as four decades ago, but major changes have taken place in the past 20 years since the household responsibility contract system was introduced to the vast pastoral areas in Inner Mongolia, according to the offical.

"Many of the horse have been transferred to other jobs," said Yun Zhenlong, deputy director of the regional Tourism Bureau. An increasing numerous tourist centers which host over six million domestic and overseas visitors annually.

Herdsmen are still raising race horses for thousands of grand sports fairs, or "Nadam," held in Inner Mongolia each year. Horse races are one of the most popular events during the fairs.

The fact that China's largest nomadic group has abandoned horses for a comparatively stable life is also closely related to improvements in the region's transportation conditions.

Information from the regional transport administration shows the region's highway network stretches over 50,000 km, including some 80 percent constructed over the two couple of decades. Railways link 11 leagues and cities in Inner Mongolia, the sole exception being the Alxa League located deep in the Badain Jaran Desert, the third largest desert in the country. The region's seven airports offer regularly scheduled flights to over 40 cities in China and various major cities in other countries.

Septuagenarian Hazhab, a herdsman from Xinlin Hot, said:"It took me 10 full days to ride to Hohhot in the 1940s. Now, however, I can make the trip to visit my grandson in only 40 minutes by air."

Abandonment of the horse is a natural result of economic development, said Bao Qingwu, an economist with Inner Mongolian Academy of Social Sciences. The per capita annual income of herdmen in Inner Mongolia stands at 2,300 yuan now, 13 times the figure two decades ago.


More than half of the herder households no longer raise horses,
so crucial to their lives before.

Yidam, a herdsman from Xinlin Gol, visited Australia in 1995 at his own expense. Yidam's family, which has assets of well over one million yuan, continues to raise five horses.

"I don't feel I could be called a real Mongolian if no horses are kept in the backyard," Yidam said.

Generations of the Mongolian Dalhut tribe have cared for the mausoleum of Genghis Khan, and also guard two "holy horses" which helped him conquer the world. The horses are quite obviously statues, but were fashioned after the two best white horses selected from the entire herd in the pastoral area.

Qulubater, a herdsman from Ih Ju League, takes great pride in his horse which was selected to replace one of the "holy horses' died a short time ago.

"I could hardly hold back the tears when the Dalhut people left with my horse," he recalled.

Xurigan, president of Inner Mongolia University, said:"One could never fully understand Mongolians if they did not know their feelings about horses."

About two million younger generations Mongolian herdsmen are living in cities throught the nation. However, their feelings about horses remain intense in spite of having been away from pastoral areas for many years.

A bowed stringed instrument one end shaped like a horse's head is a common sight in urban Mongolian homes. Dedam, a female Mongolian singer living in Beijing, has several fine saddles in her home.

"I look at the saddles and feel as if I'm home," she said.

Monogolian composer Baogi said horseback riding is the spiritual cradle of the Mongolian group and horses will never be completely removed from the spiritual world of Mongolians.

"Instead, horses have emerged as a kind of spiritual symbol and sustenance of Mongolians, and the cultural significance of horse has become increasingly prominent," Baogi said, adding that "horses in this sense exist just like prairies, clouds, and the sky, and will indeed move into modern civilization together with the Mongolian people."


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