INNER MONGOLIA: ITS STEPPES, ETHNIC GROUPS AND NEOLITHIC CULTURES

STEPPES OF INNER MONGOLIA

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Steppes are flat or gently rolling grassland. They are mostly treeless except for areas along riverbanks. It's name is derived from stepi, meaning “plain.” The Central Asian steppe stretches from Mongolia and the Great Wall of China in the east to Hungary and the Danube River in the west. Steppes are covered mostly by sparse grass or grasses and shrubs such as saxual. Trees are often stunted. Large trunks, branches and leaves require a lot of water to maintain. When the steppes meet the foot foothills, you can find wild poppies, even wild opium poppies. Describing the steppes, Polish Nobel laureate Henry Sienkiewicz wrote in With Fire and Sword, "The steppes are wholly desolate and unpeopled yet filled living menace. Silent and still yet seething with hidden violence, peaceful in their immensity yet infinitely dangerous, these boundless spaces were a masterless, untamed country created foe ruthless men who acknowledge no one as their overlord."

Bashang Grasslands (200 kilometers north of Beijing) is a popular retreat for urban residents wanting to get a taste of steppe life. Some even make a weekend trip to the area. Also known as the Bashang Plateau, this steppe area covers about 16,000 square kilometers (6,200 square miles) of northwest Hebei and bordering areas of Inner Mongolia in the counties of Zhangbei, Guyuan, Fengning, and Weichang in Hebei and Kangbao and Shangyi in Inner Mongolia. Bashang Grasslands is 1,300 - 1,600 meters above sea level. Though the plateau is high it does not have tall mountain peaks nor depressions. From a distance it appears to be hills, but appears mostly flat land when you are there. The plateau is dotted with hills and many lakes. The largest lake, Angulinuo Lake is 47.6 square kilometers (18.4 square miles) in area and two to six meters deep.

Gonggeer Grassland

Gonggeer Grassland (400 kilometers north of Beijing as the crow flies) is said to be the most beautiful steppe area near to Beijing. Located in Keshenketeng Qi, in Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, it is one of most famous natural high quality grasslands. It is vast and open, vigorous and magnificent, and its total area adds up to 4,800,000 mu (3,200 square kilometers). There are aneurolepidium chinense and needlegrass of the cereal family, and over 500 kinds of other wild forage grass and plants, dozens of kinds of wild animals and more than 130 kinds of precious birds.

“"The sky is blue, the field is boundless, the wind blows, the grass bows, and the herds and flocks are in sight" is a line from an oft-quoted ancient Mongol ballad. When speaking of the steppes, Mongols describe the blue sky, the white clouds, the green field, the red flowers, groups of sheep, the studded yurts, the fragrant meat and milk. Such grasslands are not far from Beijing. If we drive 600 kilometers northwards from Beijing, we will arrive at a nearest and most beautiful natural grassland — the beauty of Gonggeer Grassland will come into view. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

“In spring, there are green grass, luxuriant cattails, speckled yellow flowers, and swarms of migratory birds. In summer, the grassland seems to merge with the sky in distance, all flowers vie for beauty and glamour, and the cows, the horses and the sheep are all fat and strong. In autumn, the sky looks like a vaulted roof, the white clouds wander leisurely, and the numerous flowers are really intoxicating. In winter, Children on the Grasslandthe vast fields of snow are clad in white and adorned in silver, enchantingly beautiful. Once you enter the herdsmen's yurt, you can feel from the creme, the cheese, the milk bean curd, milk tea, millet stir-fried in butter, stewed meat taken by hands, and the hospitable and unadorned Mongolian friends, the incomparable charm of the grassland, and you will be moved by the broadness of the Mongol's minds.

“Besides Gonggeer Grassland, the beautiful and mysterious Keshiketeng has also many other places of natural and cultural interests, such as the Dalinuoer Lake, which is called "the Eden of the birds and the pearl of the grassland", the Mantuo Mountain, which is a famous leisure resort, the emperor's capital of Northern Yuan---the relics of Yingchang Road, the Haolai River, which is the narrowest river in the world, the Golden Great Wall, which stretches thousands of miles, the ancient Wulanbutong battlefield, where Emperor Kangxi defeated Gedan, the relics of the Quaternary Period glacier, which is rare in the world---ice mortar and granite stone forest, and also the well known spruce in dene, and the hot spring etc.

“"Keshiketeng" is the transliteration of Mongol, meaning "army corps", or "armed escort". It is a famous Mongolian tribe that was developed from Genghis Khan's armed escort. There are not only nature's treasures and beautiful scenes, but also centuries-old history and brilliant culture. As the story goes, Genghis Khan and Kublai had both stopped here and watered the horses. In the Northern Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368), it has been The Mongols's political, economic and cultural center. The Kangxi and Qianlong emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) had also arrived here and made their rounds. Today, with the development of the tourist industry, the visitors came in an endless stream to seek the past. The name of Gonggeer Grassland and Keshiketeng are spreading all over the country and even overseas.

Xi Ujimqin (500 kilometers north of Beijing) is one of the few regions in Inner Mongolia with a majority Mongolian population. Herding families make up 71 percent of the population.

Heshigten Global Geopark

Heshigten Global Geopark(210 kilometers northwest of Chifeng, 400 kilometers north of Beijing) is a 1,750 square kilometers area with eight separate areas of scenic beauty and geologic significance, including volcanic, glacial, and desert features. The park was designated a National Geopark of China by the Ministry of Land and Resources in 2001 and as a World Geopark by UNESCO in 2005. [Source: Wikipedia]

Heshigten Global Geopark lies at the convergence of several geographic regions: the Greater Khingan Mountains to the east, the Yan Mountains to the south, and the Hunshandake Sandland to the southwest. The collision belt of the North China Platform and the Xingmeng Geosyncline also runs through Hexigten The eight park areas are scattered throughout the area, sampling glacial, volcanic, desert, and hydrological land forms of scenic beauty and geological significance. Hexigten Banner's total area of 20,673 square kilometers.

1) The Arshihaty granite forest in northern Hexigten Banner is a "forest" of stone columns created by frost splitting, freezing and thawing cycles, and erosion by wind. The granite columns are unusual in their strong horizontal segmentation. Five scenic areas in the granite forest are nicknamed the moon castle, sworn brothers, eagle with folded wings, fortress besieged, and live folk entertainment.

2) The Qingshan granite mortars area is a landscape of glacial potholes similar to giant's kettles. These are round pits in the rock, formed by whirlpool-like swirling water during the Quaternary period. The two-square-kilometer area contains over 300 potholes ranging in size from 50 cm to a few meters, with shapes resembling pots, jars, spoons, buckets, and basins.

3) Dali Nur is a lake in the western part of Hexigten Banner, with several park areas near its shores. The Dali Nur volcanic group lies on the northwest shore. Volcanic features include a basalt plateau and the large "plugs" of extinct volcanos, which once formed islands in the lake when water levels were higher. The plugs are now isolated hills.

4) Mount Huanggangliang is the highest peak in the Greater Khingan mountain range, with a peak at 2029 meters. Above 1500–1700 meters there are "island-like' permafrost areas, remaining from the last glaciation. 5) Reshuitang thermal springs is a mineral hot spring bath area in the eastern part of Hexigten. 6) The Pingdingshan glacial cirques are remnants of the Quaternary, in the southeast part of Hexigten Banner. The existence of cirques and other Quaternary glacial features in Hexigten are importance evidence of the glacial history of northern China.

7) Xilamulun River canyon is where the Xar Moron River ( Xilamulun) flows to the northeast through Hexigten Banner. The vicinity of the Xar Moron was the original homeland of the Khitan people. In the southwest of Hexigten, the river forms a deep "grand canyon" which is included as one of the park areas. 8) Hunshandake Sandland is one of the four largest sand lands in China, covering an area of 53,000 square kilometers. It is an ecologically sensitive region, undergoing rapid desertification because of overgrazing: from the 1960s to 2000, the fraction of Hunshandake occupied by sand dunes increased from two percent to 33 percent. The sandland park area with its dunes is located in the part of Hunshandake on the south shore of Dali Nur.

Hongshan Culture Sites

The Hongshan Culture of northeastern China (near Chifeng, 200 kilometers northeast of Beijing) was one China's major Neolithic cultures. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei, “Five to six thousand years ago, the Hongshan Culture reached new heights. In addition to constructing temples to a giant, painted goddess, they also built round sacrificial altars and square tombs. They carved animals from pieces of jade. Some of these were animals in the fetal position, others were birds with hooked beaks and beasts with fangs, and some had mesmerizing vortex eyes. This unusual blend of human, bird, and beast features in a single carving may imply that ancient shamans used the essence of jade and spirits of animals to pray to divine ancestors for protection.” [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw]

Sites of Hongshan Culture (Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region; Chaoyang City, Liaoning Province) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Niuheliang, Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, which could date back to 6,000-5,000 years ago, are important representative sites of the Hongshan culture. The Niuheliang Archaeological Site dating back to 5,500-5,000 years ago was a burial and sacrificial center in the late Hongshan period. Compared with other late Hongshan sites so far known, it boasts the greatest scale, the best preservation, the richest varieties of remains, and the largest number of unearthed cultural relics. In addition, the Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, dating back to 6,000-5,500 years ago, were both residential settlements. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“The Niuheliang, Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites represent the settlements of Hongshan culture with different functions and scales. They jointly reveal prehistoric production, lifestyle, burying, and sacrifices in the West Liao River Basin 6000-5000 years back. The Hongshan people, capable of establishing harmonious relationship with nature, organizing and managing the society, and dealing with social relations inside and outside the community, made splendid material and cultural accomplishments. Moreover, compared with previous societies, the Hongshan culture witnessed remarkable social transformations. For example, its population significantly increased; a social class in charge of sacrificial activities appeared; the techniques of architecture and jade-making developed then reached the heyday in China 6,000-5,000 years ago.

“Furthermore, the Hongshan inhabitants created an integral and unique sacrificial system, involving ancestor worship, dragon-prioritized animal worship, and Heaven and Earth worship, all of which were practiced with jade artifacts that served as media between human and divine worlds. The material and cultural accomplishments made by Hongshan people were significantly contributory to the formation of the Chinese civilization, which is demonstrated by the dragon-centered worship still popular today. Simply put, the Niuheliang, Hongshanhou, and Weijiawopu sites have provided important messages for our understanding of a prehistory 5,000 years ago. They are essential for the exploration of the origin of the Chinese civilization, and are constitutive of an irreplaceable part of ancient East Asian civilization.

“While the Weijiawopu is a site with the largest number of discovered residential structures, the Hongshanhou Site is the place after which the Hongshan culture was named. In spite of different functions and types of the three sites, they have internal and reciprocal relationships, with which people’s production, lifestyle, burial and sacrificial activities of the Hongshan culture period are explicitly represented. These characteristics of the Hongshan culture also provide the basis for the exploration of the Chinese civilization.”

“While the Weijiawopu is a site with the largest number of discovered residential structures, the Hongshanhou Site is the place after which the Hongshan culture was named. In spite of different functions and types of the three sites, they have internal and reciprocal relationships, with which people’s production, lifestyle, burial and sacrificial activities of the Hongshan culture period are explicitly represented. These characteristics of the Hongshan culture also provide the basis for the exploration of the Chinese civilization.

Importance of the Hongshan Sites

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The overall plan and the layout features of Niuheliang Site, the construction of various sacrificial structures including the Goddness Temple, the stone mound and the altar, the carving and adoption of dragon, phoenix and human-shaped jade artifacts fully represent the creative genius of primitive ancestors 5,500-5000 years ago, and provide an important evidence of the civilized society. Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Sites, where the Hongshan inhabitants settled and lived 6,000-5,000 years ago, also represent people’s spirits and wisdom through the building and design of villages and houses. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“Dating back to 5,500-5,000 years ago, the Niuheliang Archaeological Site bears a unique testimony to the burial and sacrificial traditions in West Liao River Basin. It is an outstanding representative of the cultural remains related to the early Chinese civilization; it bears witness to the unique spiritual life of Hongshan people and to the formation of the primitive state. In addition, the Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, as places where the Hongshan inhabitants settled and lived, bear an evident testimony to the cultural traditions in lifestyle, types of production, familial and social patterns, aesthetic conventions, as well as external relations. The two settlement sites, complementary to the Niuheliang Site, bear an exceptional testimony to a disappeared prehistoric civilization in West Liao River

“The Niuheliang Archaeological Site was a grand-scale sacrificial center during late Hongshan culture period. Various types of funerary and sacrificial structures, such as the Goddess Temple, stone mounds, and altars, were built on the top of mountain ridges or hills, whereby the cultural and natural landscapes were brilliantly integrated. With the Goddess Temple and its platform as the center, the sacrificial structures in various types distributed at 16 spots formed a cluster of sacrificial sites of the highest rank and became an outstanding example of sacrificial and burial sites in the early stage of human civilization in East Asian cultural zone. In addition, the holistic plan and layout of the Niuheliang site, the architectural and decorative patterns of the Goddess Temple, and the mason technique of altars and graves are all outstanding examples that illustrate the advancement of a prehistoric technology in this region. The Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Sites are outstanding examples of village architecture in prehistoric East Asia with the orderly arranged semi-subterranean houses, the well preserved remains of trenches and cellars.”

Hongshanhou Site

Hongshanhou Site (five kilometers northeast of Chifeng in eastern Inner Mongolia, 350 kilometers northeast of Beijing) is where the Hongshan inhabitants settled and lived 6,000-5,500 years ago. Nestled in the Hongshan Mountain, where prehistoric villages and natural landscapes are well integrated, it boasts rich cultural connotation and bears two different cultural elements of the Neolithic Age from the Central Plains and north China, thus becoming the origin after which the Hongshan culture was named and occupying an important status in Chinese archaeological history.

“Hongshan Mountain is located on the bank of the Yingjin River, northeast of Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The mountain covers an area of 10 square kilometers; and it comprises 9 peaks, among which the main peak is 746 meters above sea level. The Hongshanhou settlement site lies on the southeast slope of the secondary peak, and covers an area of roughly 20,000 square meters. The site was firstly excavated by Japanese in 1935, during which semi-subterranean house ruins and ash pits were discovered, with a large number of cultural relics including potteries, stone artifacts, and bone-made artifacts. The excavation of the Hongshanhou Site for the first time revealed the state of prehistoric human production and lifestyle in the West Liao River Basin 6,000-5,500 years ago. Furthermore, the Hongshan culture is named after the Hongshanhou Archaeological Site, and it laid one of the foundations for the Chinese civilization, revealed by series of major archaeological discoveries in later times. [Hongshanhou Archaeological Site Coordinates: N 42° 19 19", E 118° 59 29"]

Weijiawopu Archaeological Site

The Weijiawopu Archaeological Site (15 kilometers south of Chifeng in eastern Inner Mongolia, 350 kilometers northeast of Beijing) is one of the Hongshan Culture sites nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Weijiawopu Site is a large-scale settlement ensemble distributed around the Hongshan Mountain. The semi-subterranean houses were constructed with standing wood columns. This kind of structure was being employed for a great period of time in Northeast China because of a neat advantage-warm in winter and cool in summer. Moreover, the well-ordered and trenched houses represent a sophisticate system of social organization and management. The site featured a diversified economic structure, dominated by farming which was complemented by fishing, hunting, and gathering. For farming, the most primary unit for grain production is the family; for hunting, however, families had to maintain close cooperation between each other.[Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“The site is located on a relatively flat platform, and covers an area of 93,000 square meters in total. In May 2008, based on pottery samples collected on surface of the site, archaeologists confirmed that the site used to be a large settlement cluster during the Hongshan culture period. Between 2009 and 2011, a joint archaeology team consisting of the Inner Mongolia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Frontier Archaeology Center of Jilin University officially carried out archaeological excavations at this site, and discovered 103 semi-subterranean house remains, 201 cellars and sacrificial pits, as well as well-preserved trenches. Dating back to 6,000-5,500 years ago, the Weijiawopu site is a large-scale settlement cluster that is best preserved and contains the richest varieties and the largest number of unearthed cultural relics, including residential ruins, cellars, sacrificial pits, and trenches.

“The discovery and excavations of the Weijiawopu site have supplied rich materials for the study of settlement forms of the Hongshan culture period. The materials are also academically invaluable for the research of the population, society, lifestyle, and human-nature relation during the period. The Weijiawopu Archaeological Site is a relatively high-level residential ensemble with a large size and a great number of well-arranged residential houses. Being settled down, inhabitants of the Hongshan culture developed an advanced agriculture, revealed by the large number of tools for the production. Foods were also provided by hunting, gathering, and fishing. Family became the primarily social unit. In addition, handicraft became increasingly professionalized. In particular, pottery-making was highly developed. Painted pottery characteristic of the Central Plains of China was introduced and widely used. Openness and fusion were the major factor that stimulated the rapid development of Hongshan culture. Weijiawopu Archaeological Site Coordinates: N 42° 08 24.6", E 118° 57 41.3"]

Dauria

The Daurian forest steppe ecoregion (northeast Mongolia, southern Siberia, Russian and western northeastern China) is large band of grassland, shrub terrain, and mixed forests that follows the course of the Onon River and Ulz River. The region has been described as a “sea of grass that forms the best and most intact example of an undisturbed steppe ecosystem and is also one of the last areas in the Palearctic that still supports stable herds of larger vertebrates” in a semi-mountainous area. The area also has flat wetlands that are important to migratory birds. The ecoregion is in the Palearctic ecozone, with a Cold semi-arid climate. It covers 209,012 square kilometers (80,700 square miles).

The Daurian steppes are a vast region located at the junction of the borders of three states — Russia, Mongolia and China. Dauria stands out among the Central Asian steppes for its unique weather conditions, relief, flora and fauna. Tens of millions of years ago there was a subtropical sea, as evidenced by the frequent finds of fossilized corals and mollusks of the time on this territory. Later the terrain changed, and the warm reservoir changed into a “grassy” sea. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]

Today, Dauria is meadow steppes, steppe pine forests, picturesque hills and many small warm salt lakes, the largest of which are the Toreys on the border of Russia and Mongolia, Dalainor in China and Buir Nur on the border of Mongolia and China. Most of the steppes of Dauria, located at an altitude of 600-800 meters above sea level, are mountainous. Located in the center of the Eurasian mainland, they are “sheltered” from the influence of the oceans by the mountains of Hentei, the Yablonovy and Borshchovny ranges and the Greater Khingan. Significant spaces of the steppe Dauria are depressions confined to the lake basins. They are replaced by valleys flat as a table or small hill ridges. Individual peaks can reach 1500 meters above sea level.

Dauria is one of the most arid and cold regions of the Central Asian steppe belt: the annual rainfall here ranges from 150 to 400 mm, and the annual temperature difference can exceed 100°C. The largest waterways of the region are Onon, Argun (Hailar), Kerulen and Uldza. The first three rivers are in the upper reaches of the Amur basin and are its sources together with Ingoda and Shilka. Uldza floods the inland Torey Lakes. The change in wet and droughty climatic periods, causing significant changes in spreading and look of the vegetation and the animal population of the ecoregion, is particularly important for Dauria. The most significant intrasecular cycles have a duration of about 30 years.

History of the development of these lands by man is interesting. Suffice it to say that the name of the great Genghis Khan is connected to the Daurian steppes. He was born and raised here, he gathered his army here, and, according to legend, his grave is here as well. Scientists are still arguing about when people first came to Dauria. The remains of Stone, Iron and Bronze Ages encampments are often discovered in the steppe. Encounters with traces of the so-called “culture of tile graves” are also frequent.

At different times Dauria was inhabited by Daurians, Evenks, Mongols, Buryats, Chinese and Slavs. Each nationality introduced its features into the local culture, absorbing, in turn, the unwritten laws of the steppe hospitality, mutual assistance, moderation and patience. Rich pastures and snowless winters contributed to the development of cattle breeding here, primarily sheep and horse breeding. This direction of the economy is still the main one in the region.

Daurian Steppe: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Dauria was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017. According to UNESCO: “Shared between Mongolia and the Russian Federation, this site is an outstanding example of the Daurian Steppe eco-region, which extends from eastern Mongolia into Russian Siberia and northeastern China. Cyclical climate changes, with distinct dry and wet periods lead to a wide diversity of species and ecosystems of global significance. The different types of steppe ecosystems represented, such as grassland and forest, as well as lakes and wetlands serve as habitats for rare species of fauna, such as the White-naped crane, Great Bustard, Relict Gull and Swan goose, as well as millions of vulnerable, endangered or threatened migratory birds. It is also a critical site on the transboundary migration path for the Mongolian gazelle. [Source: UNESCO]

“Shared by Mongolia and the Russian Federation, the Landscapes of Dauria is a transboundary serial World Heritage property of four component parts. It is an outstanding example of the Daurian steppe ecosystem, which covers over 1 million square kilometers, extending from Eastern Mongolia to Russian Siberia and into Northeastern China. The serial property covers a total of 912,624 hectares and comprises several protected areas in the northern part of the Daurian steppe ecoregion which occupy large areas of the transition from taiga to desert, including various steppe ecosystems. The inscribed property includes the nationally designated core and buffer zones of most of the Daursky State Nature Biosphere Reserve and the Valley of Dzeren Federal Nature Refuge (Russian Federation), as well as the core zone and a large part of the buffer zone of the Mongol Daguur Strictly Protected Area and the Ugtam Nature Refuge (Mongolia). Most of this property is surrounded by a World Heritage buffer zone of 307,317 hectares, which overlaps with Ramsar sites and UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in both countries (Mongol Daguur in Mongolia and Torrey Lakes in the Russian Federation).

“The main natural value of the property resides in its intact steppe systems (including forest steppe), interspersed with wet meadows and floodplains, at the convergence of three floristic provinces belonging to three floristic regions. This exceptional ecological context results in a diverse combination of ecological complexes which derive from the cyclic climatic and hydrological variations over the year. The property provides key habitats for rare fauna species such as White-naped Crane, Great Bustard and millions of migratory birds of other species, including vulnerable, endangered or threatened species. The property is also an important area of the migration routes of the Mongolian Gazelle (Dzeren) and the major known place where this species breeds in the Russian Federation at the present time. The property also provides sanctuary to endangered Mongolian Marmots (Tarbagan), as well as to the near-threatened Pallas Cat.

“The property provides key habitats for rare fauna species such as the White-naped Crane, the Great Bustard and millions of other vulnerable, endangered or threatened species of migratory birds. The property is also an important area on the migration route of the Mongolian Gazelle (Dzeren) and the only place where this species is known to breed in the Russian Federation. The property also provides sanctuary to both endangered Tabargan and Mongolian Marmots, as well as to the near-threatened Pallas Cat.”

Oroqen

The Oroqen are one of the smaller minorities in China. Also known as the Orochen, Orochon, Elunchun, they are scattered over a large area of Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia in northeast China. Up until the last couple of decades many Oroqen were hunters and forest nomads, similar to tribes found in Siberia. Most are settled now. Oroqen can mean both “mountain people” and “reindeer herder."

The Oroqen language belongs to the Manchu-Tungus group of the Altai family of languages. It is similar to Mongolian and the languages spoken by people native to Siberia. Most Oroqen have a good command of Chinese. Some also speak the Ewenki, Mongolian and Daur and other languages of the people that live near them. The Oroqen lived north of the Amur River in Siberia until they migrated into China to escape czarist Russian plunderers and then lived in the pine and birch forests the Greater and Lesser Xingan Mountains in Heilongjiang Province and eastern Inner Mongolia. The Chinese divided them into two groups: the Horse-Riding Oroqen and the Foot Oroqen.

The Oroqen live mainly in: 1) the northeast of Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region in Oroqen Autonomous Banner, Zhalantun, Molidawa Banner and Arong Banner; and 2) in the Heilongjiang province in Tahe county, Huma county, Xunke county, Jiayin county and Heihe city. Oroqen Autonomous County is situated in the east side of the Daxing'an Mountains and has a total area of 54,657 square kilometers and a population of 297,400. Of them only 2,100 are Oroqen. Most are Han Chinese and Mongolians. The Oroqen are mainly distributed in Nuoming, Wulubutie, Guli Townshiop and Tuozaming Village. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

Ewenki

The Ewenki are a small ethnic minority that live in northern Heilongjiang Province and eastern Inner Mongolia. Closely related to the Tungus, Evenski and Yakut in Siberia and more distantly related to Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, they are a Turkic people who originated from the Lake Baikal region of Russia. They speak Tungus-Manchu languages, look like Mongolians and have traditionally herded reindeer, traded furs and hunted and fished. Many Ewenki migrated to northern China from the Lena River Valley in Siberia beginning in the mid 17th century. Reindeer were used mainly to haul tepees and bedrolls on long expeditions to hunt for moose, bear and wild boar. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]

There are about 30,000 Ewenki in China. They are also known as the Tungus. Some regard them as members of the Tungus group, which lives in Siberia. In China, they have traditionally been grouped with the Oroqens and Dauers, who were collectively referred to as the ‘Sulun Tribes," and have been ruled by Manchus, Russians, Japanese and Chinese. Since the Communists have come to power many have given up their traditional ways. Few herd reindeer anymore. Most Ewenki are engaged in farming, farm-herding or animal husbandry. A few live as their ancestors did, as roving hunters and reindeer herders, in the forests around the Greater Xingan Mountains.

The Ewenki are distributed across seven banners (counties) in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and in Nahe County of Heilongjiang Province. Most reside in the Ewenki autonomous district, Hulunbei'er city in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Others are found in Chenba'erhu District, Erguna Zuo district, Molidawa District, Arong District, Zhalantun City, and Nehe County in Heilongjiang province. They usually live in these places alongside members of the Mongolian ethnic minority, Han Chinese and the Oroqen ethnic minority group."Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

'Ewenki' is the name used by the Ewenki to describe themselves. It means “folks living in mountain forests” or "people living in the big mountain". Ewenki people used to live in the forest north of Lake Baikal and later moved east to the middle reaches of Heilongjiang River. In the past, the Ewenki were known as the 'Suolun', 'Tonggusi' and 'Yakute'—the names of different Ewenki groups that lived separately from one another. The joint name 'Ewenki' did not emerge as a widely used name until 1957.

The Ewenki language belongs to the Tungus-Manchu branch of Altaic linguistic family. There are three dialects -- River Hui and Yimin (Buteha), River Moerge (Chenbaerhu) and Aoluguya (Erguna). Mongolian is the language generally used in pasturing areas, and Chinese is the language generally used in agricultural and mountainous areas.

Hulun Buir Landscape

Hulun Buir Landscape and Birthplace of Ancient Minority (near borders with Russia, Mongolia and Heilongjiang) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The area retains a large number of ancient Chinese ethnic tombs, ancient cites and walls for the military defense provide a special witness of the ancient Chinese minorities in Northeast China, especially migration, reproduction and prosperous process of Xianbei, Shiwei, Khitan belong to Donghu family in this region. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“The natural part of the property is composed of 6 pieces of relatively independent area which are Hanma Nature Reserve, Ergun Nature Reserve and Ergun Wetland Park and Ergun Scenic Area, Hulun Lake Nature Reserve, Huihe Nature Reserve and Honghuaerji Zhangzisong Nature Reserve, Hulun Lake Nature Reserve and Ergun Northern Forest Zone, including three different ecosystems of forest, wetland, grassland. Location: Hulun Buir Prefecture, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Coordinates:N49 12 37.5 E119 42 25.3]

“The property shows the changing landscape of the river, a large area of original northern coniferous forest in Greater Khingan Mountains, largest area woody wetland of the Gen River in Asia and the vast Hulun Buir Grassland landscape. The scale of the plant landscape is huge, and different types of vegetation seasonally changing with richness in color. The Ergun River is the only river in eastern China that still flows naturally. The rivers show a rich variety of forms in the natural state, meandering landforms, and horseshoe bay and oxbow lake. Also a large number of lakes with different shapes, scale distribute in this area, and the property including different types of landscapes in the region.

“The ecosystems of northern coniferous forest, river wetland, lacustrine wetland and temperate steppe are preserved with vertical and horizontal spatial gradients. The dynamic change of the water system in the region has provided the impetus for the change of the landform and ecosystem. The area and the location of the lake wetlands vary with the amount of water injected into the lake. The number of species and the number of individuals in wetland habitats, along with the dynamics of the process.

“In addition, the wetlands in the Ergun River basin are important nodes in the migratory routes of Arctic-Australasia migratory route of birds, and are important breeding grounds and stopping places for many birds. Every year from April to November, tens of thousands of migratory birds come together, form a very high diversity of bird species with the local resident birds, and constitute the rare animal landscape in the world. There are five species of crane in these habitats, three of which are internationally threatened species, including red-crowned cranes and hooded cranes. The property contains representative of Siberian taiga forest in China, which is the most preserved, still retains complete animal communities. The property has obtained an international level protection destination, which Hulun Lake Nature Reserve was listed in Ramsar in 2002, and later was listed as the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, Hanma Nature Reserve was listed as UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2012.”

Hulun Buir Ecosystem

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The property is located in East Siberia Taiga, Temperate Needle-leaf Forests or Woodlands, and Mongolian-Manchurian Steppe, Temperate Grasslands of Palearctic Realm. The habitats of temperate grassland and flood savanna in Palearctic are not included in world heritage list, which are also the blank of WH Global 200 defined by WWF, are priority areas to nominate world natural heritage recommended by IUCN in recent years. The main geographical units in this region include the Greater Khingan Mountains and the Hulun Buir grassland in northeast Mongolian Plateau, which are all belong to the Ergun river basin. The Greater Khingan Mountains shows north-south orientation is located in the east of this region while the Ergun river is located in the west of the property.The Ergun Rivers flow through Mongolia, Russia and China, which the source is Hailaer river, the downstream is Amur River. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“The Ergun river basin in western slopes of the Greater Khingan Mountains formed several rivers flow from east to west into Ergun river, mainly including Kerulen River, Hui River, Gen River. The Landscape features such as mountains, rivers, forests, lakes, wetlands distribute in the space of hundreds of thousands of square kilometers between Ergun River and Greater Khingan Mountains. contains large area of natural habitats without being disturbed by human.

“The Hulun Buir maintains the most complete forests, wetlands, grasslands ecosystem in Ergun River basin. The forest in Greater Khingan Mountains is the only outstretched part of Siberian taiga forest of the Eurasian coniferous forests in China. The parts of northeast Mongolia floristic composition, flora composition, polar composition, alpine floristic composition are joined here, where is rich in plant species. As haven’t been disturbed by any commercial logging and the human activity, the property keep the diversity of the taiga ecosystem in the region. Typical mammal and birds of palearctic taiga forest such as sable, sable bear, brown bear, otter, lynx, red deer, elk, snow rabbit, and black ZuiSong chicken, flower tail hazel hen, black woodpecker, three-toed woodpecker, small spot woodpeckers, north noise crow inhabit the property.

“Due to the scouring and silting, the rivers on the western slope of Greater Khingan Mountains formed many river wetlands and lake wetlands. The wetlands with largest area, the most well preserved and the highest level of biodiversity of are along the Ergun river, Hui river, Gen River and the Hulun Lake, which are all located in national nature reserves. Wetlands in Ergun River basin is an important node on the Arctic-Australia migration route, which is an important stopover and breeding spot for variety of birds, is also the key area of birds protection priority area in China. The population of gold spot plovers and small curlew is especially large, quite a proportion of the global population during the migrating season. And also the number of the swan goose which is a threatened birds inhabit in the property is more than 20 percent of the global population. Due to water level in the wetland is rich in annual and seasonal variations, the wetlands provide different types of habitat for birds. The property has a total of 227 species of bird, including 159 summer residents, 5 winter residents, 19 passing migrant, 44 resident birds. And all kinds of wetlands are respectively inhabited by the hoary head, white-naped crane, the red-crowned crane, demoiselle, and the hoary head, white-naped crane and the red-crowned crane is the threatened species. The area has the most abundant breeding crane species in the world.

“The grassland in the property is important habitat of Procapra gutturosa. Procapra gutturosa was distributed in the Altai Mountains which located in Mongolia and Russia to China, and exists only in Inner Mongolia now in line with neighboring Mongolia. The Huangyang Nature Reserves which is a part of the property located in the Xinbaerhuzuoqi County, Hulun Buir is one of the few important sanctuary for Procapra gutturosai in China.”

Hulun Buir History and Cultural Heritage

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Xianbei was a part of "Donghu" which was one of the three important chinese northern minority nationality, and its reproduction and development have a significant impact on the process of Chinese and global civilization.The monuments of Xianbei in Hulun Buir Prefecture include Ga Xain Cave sites, Zhalai Nuoer tombs, Labradlin tombs, Ihoulah graves, Qika tombs, Chu Lumeng Bei 1st tombs, Meng Gen Chu Wula 1st tombs which are built between 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.These cultural relics are located in the east Greater Khingan Mountains and the forest, wetland, grassland ecotone, built around the end of the first century B.C. to the 1st century A.D. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“Among them, the Chinese inscriptions on the Gaxian Cave clearly record the historical events that the ancestors sent someone back after the establishment of the Northern Wei Dynasty in the central China, and the cave established the historical fact that the Gaxian Cave was the birthplace of the Xianbei. The tombs in the forest, wetland and grassland of the Greater Khingan Mountains unearthed a large number of sacrificial objects such as pottery, birch bark, bones, bronzes, copper handicrafts and stone vessels. The unearthed cultural relics reflect the process of the development of the Xianbei people after the migrated to the Ergun River basin, adapting to the local natural conditions, forming their own cultural practices, and further developing the productive forces.

“The relics reflect the process that Tuoba Xianbei migrated from the origin of Gaxian Cave to the west, from the mountains to the grassland. This process laid the foundation for the Xianbei migration to the south, and then took over the establishment of the Northern Wei Dynasty in the central China. The extremely rich unearthed cultural relics reflect the history of the second stage "moving south to big lake" which embodies the nation's survival in the area, further development of productive forces, and the integration surrounding Murong Xianbei, Yuwen Xianbei and other minorities.

“In addition, the Jinjiehao Wall, Bayan Ura Ancient City and other relics of these minorities reflected the establishment of a powerful kingdom in the region to strengthen the military presence, consolidating border activities. All these relics above constitute a historical and cultural evidence of the region, witnessing the development and evolution of ethnic minorities.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China Web site; CNTO; Perrochon photo site; Beifan.com; University of Washington; Ohio State University; UNESCO; Wikipedia; Julie Chao photo site

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020


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