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Open the village

02 March 2015


Charting informal life politics in Inner Mongolia.

Urban and industrial pollution, catastrophes like the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, deforestation and climate change, overcrowding in some regions - rural depopulation in others.

Conventional means of dealing with such challenges are failing to deliver satisfactory outcomes. In some instances, state politics may be contributing to problems rather than resolving them. 

Against this backdrop, ordinary citizens across East Asia are taking matters into their own hands..

A three-day conference at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, Survival Politics in East Asia: Socio-Environmental Crisis and Grassroots Response, explores efforts to counteract socio-environmental crises in Japan, China, the two Koreas, Mongolia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

It will be held from Wednesday 4 March to Friday 6 March at the China in the World building at ANU.

One of the speakers, Wuqiriletu, is discussing the effects of pollution on village life in Mongolia. In particular, he will look at the impact of a big Chinese paper factory on a herder’s grazing land at E Village, East Ujimqin banner, in Inner Mongolia.

The following is a photo essay of his work in Inner Mongolia.

On the right-hand side of the barbed wire is Mongolian herdsman Damrin’s ranch and living areas, where animals graze freely. The left side was once his ranch. At that time there was no barbed wire yet.  But fifteen years ago, a paper mill illegally occupied the land on left side, and made it into a land of death. 

This country road leads to herdsman Damrin’s home.

Damrin and his favourite motorbike. He said that he has not ridden a horse for many decades. Not far away, his sheep are grazing peacefully.


Growing grass, harvesting grass.

The wall of a sheep pen built with cow dung. This is to protect the sheep from the cold northerly wind during the winter.

A telescope is an essential tool for herders. Damrin is watching the sheep through his telescope.

Damrin’s brick house, with a small truck and motorbike outside. Mongolian yurts, oxcarts and horses have quietly disappeared from the herders lives.

Early morning. A new lamb is standing beside her mother, watching the distance thoughtfully.

This is the left hand side of the barbed wire. The paper mill discharge waste sludge on this land more than five years. Following protest by Damrin and other herders, the mill moved out nine years ago, leaving this contaminated land. 

We found a dead sheep in the sludge, when Damrin guided me to this land of death. Now, no one is in charge of this piece of land. The local government told Damrin that it is impossible to restore the polluted land into its original state.


The dead sheep’s eye, is looking towards us, while beyond, on the right-hand side of the barbed wire, the place is full of life.

Following the local resistance movement, the paper mill went bankrupt a few years ago. It left the herders with this land of death.

Survival Politics in East Asia: Socio-Environmental Crisis and Grassroots Response will be held at the Centre for China on the World at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific from 4 to 6 March.










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