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Winter Pasture: Book describing hardships endured by ethnic Kazakh herders of Xinjiang now available to wider audience

·2-min read
Kazakh herders' of Xinjiang (Photo Credit - Reuters)
Kazakh herders' of Xinjiang (Photo Credit - Reuters)

Beijing [China], May 6 (ANI): The hardships of Kazakh herders of Xinjiang in China depicted in the book Winter Pasture will soon be available to a wider audience as the book, first published in 2012 by author Li Juan, has been released in English this year, reported The Diplomat.

The book covers the dying tradition of herding in the south of the Ulungur river as China introduced a new land conservation policy in 2003 to discourage the millennia-old practice of nomadic herding in the west.

Sribala Subramanian, writing in The Diplomat said that known as tuimu huancao (converting pastures to grasslands), the project was part of an ambitious campaign to "Open up the West" for economic development.

In a 2005 speech, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said 60 per cent of the rural poor lived in the western region and toiled on depleted, overgrazed lands. Rejuvenating the grasslands, which accounted for 90 per cent of new desertification, became a priority for policymakers, reported The Diplomat.

The author, Li Juan who accompanied a group of Kazakh herders, asked, how a natural cycle that connected sheep and pasture had irretrievably broken down. After all, she muses, herders were the guardians of the grasslands. Without their flock, "the grass seeds that drift onto the earth in autumn will no longer feel the force of stomping hooves that bury them deep into the soil. The masses of manure that fertilized their growth will no longer fall on them."

Li hinted in her book that the government may have bigger plans for the Kazakh grazing grounds. When she spotted a metal fence that extended far into the horizon, her host Cuma speculated that the pasture was being turned into a prairie national park to attract tourists.

Another telling sign: a tall steel tripod atop a sand dune. Was there oil under the scrubland? Cuma was not hopeful about the money materializing in his lifetime, even if they did strike oil. The message to the herders was clear: get off the land, said Li in her book.

"Winter Pasture" is not an overtly political book, but these granular details from a Han Chinese writer speak volumes about the ethnic Kazakh's tenuous place in contemporary China, said Subramanian.

"Winter Pasture" is no ordinary travel memoir. Li Juan tackled big themes like Kazakh identity, oil and mineral exploration in Xinjiang, climate change in the grasslands, and the rise of consumer culture in China through the prism of one family's survival in the wilderness, added Subramanian.

It has been close to a decade since the book was published. Today the grasslands are vacant. Herders have moved to settler villages, and grass seeds are scattered from up high by plane. In 2019, China permitted 2,000 citizens to migrate to Kazakhstan.

Kazakh emigres, many of them herders, were among the first to inform the outside world about Xinjiang's internment camps, reported The Diplomat. (ANI)

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