Inner Mongolia claims twelve percent China’s total land-mass, and is the third largest of the autonomous regions, and the northern-most of those; it shares a border with Russia, from which, the local lore claims, “one can see the North Pole”. The grasslands, deserts and mountain ranges are rich in natural resources, which have recently caught the attention of policy planners in Beijing: gas and oil exploration have risen sharply since the turn of the century, and Inner Mongolia led the world in the minting of new millionaires a few years ago. In an effort to hasten modernization, Han Chinese are being slowly relocated to the big cities—Baotou, Houhot, Ordos—to dilute the indigenous Mongol population. Indeed, Ordos is a currently a city of two surreal halves: the rubble of the old settlement remains, abandoned and post-apocalyptic, while newly-constructed neighborhoods elsewhere in the city stand unused, awaiting an influx of new residents that hasn’t yet arrived. Squatters hurry down those wide streets, and schoolchildren explore the echoing rooms, timidly.
By Thomas Alleman