2013 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: DePauw University
Individual Student Research Projects:
Alashan Region of Inner Mongolia
Mentor: Sherry Jenq-yunn Mou, Modern Languages & Asian Studies
Students: Jeffrey Craig ’15, Jason Grullon ’15, Janelle Lyons ’14, Phua Xiong ‘14
With the help provided by DePauw’s academic partner, Inner Mongolia Normal University in Hohhot, we were able to plan an extraordinary twenty-two day itinerary throughout the remote and little researched district of Alashan in Inner Mongolia. Alashan is the largest of eleven administrative districts in Inner Mongolia. It is the size of Colorado with a population of just over 200,000 persons. We travelled through all three banners of the region and interviewed students, professors, administrators, doctors, nurses, migrant workers, herders and many other people, among them Mongols, Han Chinese, and Hui, to enable each student participant to gather information for their individual research projects, which were each quite different and centered upon their own college majors. Once back from Asia, because the students successfully competed for an internal summer student-faculty research grant from DePauw University, they were able to spend five weeks in Indiana utilizing the libraries at DePauw and Indiana University to complete the research and writing of their individual research papers.
My work in this “Student-Faculty Fellows”program has been extremely beneficial as I became involved in writing two different research proposals, one seeking support from the Freeman Foundation through ASIANetwork and one from DePauw University, composing pre-departure essays for my mentor, and formulating interview questions for use in Inner Mongolia. Once back from Asia, we spent five weeks working on our projects, holding weekly meetings and conducting peer review sessions to strengthen the focus of our research and the quality of our writing. As the title of my completed research paper suggests, my study focuses upon the “Desertification of Inner Mongolia’s Grasslands.” It explores the degradation of land or loss of intrinsic soil qualities necessary to sustain an economically viable agriculture. This can be caused by changes in climate or by destructive land use when human activities are forced upon an environment and degrade the natural ecosystem causing irreversible damage to the landscape. One discovers that sand dune encroachment by natural causes accounts for just over 5% of land desertification, while almost 95% of desertification is initiated by human activities such as urbanization, over-grazing of pasture land, and coal mining.
My research is informed by a brief but informative experience I shared with others in our DePauw University “Student-Faculty Fellows” group travelling through the Alashan District of Inner Mongolia. While there, I had the opportunity to interview herders, seasonal workers, doctors, teachers and students as I conducted research on “Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Liver Cancer in Inner Mongolia.” However, our research trip went beyond being consumed by interviewing those we met as we intermingled with them, slept in traditional Mongolian ger (or yurt) and socialized with Mongolian people into the night. The focus of my research is on the heavy consumption of alcohol among Mongols in Inner Mongolia and the dangers posed by this to their health. Consumption is encouraged by strongly rooted cultural habits that encourage drinking as a sign of masculinity and as a means of celebration. The dangers to health are exacerbated by the sale of increasingly potent forms of alcohol in the region, and the lack of adequate records in the region on alcohol production and consumption, along with the ready markets and profits that can be made from the sale of liquor.
I began my research for a study on the “Consequences of Land Policies in China’s Inner Mongolia: Herders versus the Grassland Law” during the spring of 2013, while studying in Cuba. Then once back in America, I scrambled to collect more information on grassland policies, develop an outline for my study and formulate interview questions before departing for China in the summer. My research considers the impact of the passage in 1985 of the “Grassland Law of the People’s Republic of China (Order of the President No. 82) and subsequent renditions of this on nomadic herders in the Alashan League of Inner Mongolia. The intended goal of this law is to sustain the herding lifestyle and protect the grasslands, but many feel that this has not happened. Many herders have been forced to seek other employment and forced to relocate; herd size has been dramatically reduced; and conflicts between herders, miners and developers frequently occur. All this has meant that a dramatic transformation of the traditional Mongolian culture, based on raising livestock and herding, has occurred. In some ways, one must honor what the Chinese government is trying to do to protect the environment, but one hopes this will not be at the expense of the herders’ livelihood and the Mongolian culture centered around this.
My research centered on the Alashan Banner, Inner Mongolia, China is centered on the interaction between ethnic Han Chinese and ethnic Mongols and more particularly on “China’s Education Policies for Its Ethnic Minorities: Language Preservation and Social Mobility in Inner Mongolia.” Because it is mandated that the language of instruction in most schools must be Mandarin Chinese, mastering this language to secure the economic well-being, power and prestige that comes through education is a key to upward social mobility in China. However, because language is “the repository of the history and beliefs of a people,” one must also consider the impact of bilingual policies in education on Mongolian culture. My research shows that by and large, bilingual education is transitional and serves primarily to integrate ethnic Mongols into mainstream Chinese culture. Students often deprioritize their native tongue in order to become proficient in Chinese, the official language. However, if one develops strong language skills in both Chinese and Mongolian, he/she is often advantaged. As the Mongolian language becomes less valued, it is important for Mongols to strive to promote their culture by celebrating it at festivals, weddings and so forth.