border review | 6 January 2012

The City doesn't smell good

A few weeks ago, Jonathan Kaiman wrote a piece for the Los Angeles Times on an old Evenki woman resisting the Chinese government’s resettlement efforts (I found it only now via SentialSource.com). About 30,000 Siberian Evenks (or Ewenti, Ewenks) live in China. They are reindeer herders and hunters. As with other nomad or semi-nomad pastoralists, the Chinese governemt has tried to settle them. In this case, the resettlement site was a multimillion-dollar themepark in the outskirts of Genhe. The “Reindeer-Herding Tribe Culture Tourism Zone”, as it is called, was designed by a Finnish consulting firm and completed in 2003. The resettled herders were supposed to sit there, be authentic, and carve souvenirs from raindeer antlers for the anticipated stream of tourists. However, the tourists never arrived, many reindeer starved to death because of a lack of lichen only found in the woods, and huntig was not feasible anywhere nearby. Jonathan Kaiman tells the story of Maliya Suo, an old woman in her nineties who resisted resettlement and went back to the woods. Kaiman quotes her saying:

The city doesn’t smell good.

Reminds me very much of many similar stories in Eastern Tibet. However, to be fair, I have also met somebody from a resettled nomad family who said that his folks actually liked their new place much better than the old one. But the fact remains – the Chinese government does not like nomad herders, especially close to the borders.