On this blog often we have made a speech about the ethnic complexity of Xinjiang, Chinese autonomous region. Now we do sketching out Mongol communities scattered in this part of the Chinese territory. As the history teaches, in North and West China events have been intricate and complicated. Here many peoples clashed, joined forces, distanced and someone have been destroyed. All that made ethnical feature of Xinjiang and its surroundings extremely varied and patchwork. This is especially true for Mongols, spread through their conquests in places very far from their homeland. So, if you’ll bump in a gher somewhere faraway from Mongolia, don’t be surprised!
Mongol Autonomous Prefecture of Bayangolin
This Prefecture is in the south of Xinjiang and is the biggest of China, with a size twice and half the Great Britain. The capital is Korla, a very charming town, in the past awarded as one of top ten urban Chinese destinations. In Mongol language the meaning of Bayangolin refers to a beautiful and rich river, as the history of the Prefecture is. Here, Silk Road key point, were the most part of the 36 realms recalled by Chinese historians. Bayangolin contains part of the Taklaman Desert, surrounded by high mountains in the north (Thianshan ridge) and in the south (Kulum and Altun ridges). The landscape aspect is a great strenght of the Prefecture, where there is the Tarim Basin as well. Here there is the Bostan Lake, the only Chinese reserve to protect wild Camels and the biggest area in China of mountain animals safeguarding. But there are as well the vastest zone of gas and petrol exploitation and a road (actually today are two) running hundreds of kilometres across desert dunes. In Bayangolin territory there is also the mysterious area of Lop Nor, a dried lake where temperature is fiery and where it almost never rains. In this zone, seat of an ancient kingdom, a scientist (Peng Jiamu) disappeared and an explorer (Yu Chunshun) had been found died. Bayangolin is a Mongol Prefecture but with a population where Han are majority (due to the strong immigration) and Mongols are now little more 4%; at the time of the creation of the Prefecture (1954) Mongols were 35%. About demographic statistics is to mention that Uighur rate has increased after 1960, when a part of Uighur majority Xinjiang was annexed to Bayangolin Prefecture.
Mongol Autonomous Prefecture of Bortala
Created in 1954, this Prefecture is clearly smaller than Bayangolin (it’s big as Haiti), but is of special commercial importance due to its confine with Kazakistan, in the north-west of Xinjiang. Alashankou (or Alataw) customs is the list of top class Chinese customs and manages almost 90% of Xinjiang entering and exiting goods. The second longest Eurasian rail passes through Bortala, linking Lianyun (China) to Rotterdam (The Netherlands); Situated in the Zungaria Basin Bortala Prefecture is surrounded by mountains in the north-west (Alatau ridge) and south-west (Borohoro ridge); the meaning of the name in Mongol language is brown steppe. About demographics this Prefecture sees a Han majority (around 67%) with the remaining shared by 35 nations. Historically this area was inhabited by the Oirats, later populated by Chahar Mongols (coming from north-east of China) once the Torgud had gone away toward the Volga. A finale note is the presence in Bortala of salamanders which origins are in the age of dinosaurs even. Needless to say these animals are an object of considerable interest for the scientists.
Mongol Autonomous County of Hoboksar
This County is in the Tacheng Prefecture, and is quite small (around 50.000 inhabitants) but with a great cultural importance. Hoboksar is deemed the birthplace of the Jangar, an important Mongol epic which we have written here already. In the County live Mongols of different roots: with the majority of Torgud there are a minority of Chahar and Uriankhai, that are related to the Tuvans by some scholars. There are other ethnic groups as the Daur and the Mongolian speaking Dongxiang. Geographically the County is split in two parts: the northern draws on water from snow-capped peaks of Tarbagatai-Saur ridge, the southern is less populated due the presence of the Gurbantünggüt desert. We should in the end point out that the County in its South-West faces hydro-geological hazards associated with the drainage of the Alan Nur River and the difficult situation of the Manas Lake, both overused for irrigation and other acrivities.
Mongol Autonomous County of Subei
This County is within the Prefecture of Jiuquan in the North-West of Gansu, an area of great substance in Chinese history. This region is de facto a corridor putting into communication Xinjiang with the rest of China. In addition, Gansu is situated between the Tibetan ridges and the Mongol steppes. Subei County occupies an area of around 66.000 square kilometres, with a population of 15.000 people only. Here as well Han is the largest nation (around 65% according to 2000 statistics), whereas Mongol rate reach 31% roughly (2000 data). The remaining of ethnic groups has a population less than 1%, only exception the Tibetans (around 1.6%).
Mongol Autonomous County of Henan
The County of Henan is in the Region of Qinghai, within the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Huangnan. Despite its small size (about 6.000 square kilometres) the County has a population bigger than 30.000 peoples. Qinghai is found to the slopes of the mountains of Tibet and the influences of Tibetan culture ensure that, in spite of being absolute majority of the County (89% according 2000 data), only few Mongols speak the Mongolian language. The majority of population, indeed, speaks Tibetan.
Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Haixi
Also called Qaidam Prefecture, located in Qinghai also, this Prefecture has the feature to be titled to two different nations. Actually, until 1985 the Prefecture denomination included Kazaks as well, but then these moved to Xinjiang. Extending on more than 325.000 square kilometres, the Hexi Prefecture occupies a large part of Qinghai, with a population density of a person and half for square kilometre (for a total of 500.000 inhabitants). Mongols are the fourth bigger ethnic group (around 7% of the population), behind Hans (around 65%), Tibetans (around 12%) and Huis (around 12% as well). In the end worth to say as this Prefecture has an exclave, that is a separate territory: the town of Tanggulashan.
Several maps of Xijiang are available here.