The 2011 Protests in Inner Mongolia: An Ethno-environmental Perspective

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In May 2011, Inner Mongolia experienced the most serious ethnic unrest in the region for 30 years. In this article, I explore the broader context that led to the eruption of the protests, with a particular emphasis on environmental issues. My aim is to explain why environmental issues occupied such a prominent position in the protests, and how these issues were connected to ethnicity. After discussing the material and practical implications of grassland degradation for Mongolian herders, I analyse the symbolic implications of this environmental crisis for the Mongolian educated elite, who have linked environmental issues to ethnic politics and identity. I argue that in the last 20 years or so, Mongolian intellectuals have developed a highly ethnicized environmental discourse, and that this discourse played an important role in informing the 2011 protests. My analysis focuses on this discourse as it is manifested in the domains of art, academia and daily discourse.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)214-233
Number of pages20
JournalChina Quarterly
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • 2011 protests
  • Inner Mongolia
  • environment
  • ethnicity
  • grassland degradation

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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