And so it was done. We were officially married; well in the province of Inner Mongolia that is. You see, since Chinese administration is largely decentralised, Jiangsu province has no clue whatsoever what those people up in Beijing or Hohhot are up to and vice versa. In terms of our little wedding booklets, that means they are not valid in other parts of China but need to be notarized by the notary office so that we are legally married in the rest of the country, further proving my point that a province in China might as well be an independent country.
This idea is further enforced by the fact that our little booklets are bilingual, featuring both Chinese and Mongolian characters. I could not be happier about this, I mean not many people get to say they have a wedding booklet with Mongolian on it! The sad truth is of course that this is mostly for show; while most parts of Inner Mongolia feature bilingual signage and documents, barely anyone is able to read it anymore. Even the spoken language is finding less and less regular use on a daily basis, as an increasingly shrinking pool of “pure blood Mongolians” exist in the province. In Inner Mongolia, the Chinese government has pretty much succeeded where it has not in Xinjiang. While Mongolian tradition is being kept alive in the grasslands as a means of making money on tourism, the Han assimilation in cities is pretty much complete. Much like the Roman empire did in the past, the Chinese government’s strategy after claiming territorities inhabited by non-Han people has been to settle Han Chinese in this region in the hopes of the local people mingling with their new rulers, ending in a peaceful acceptance of their presence. Much like Greek gods have found their way into Roman mythology, the presence of the Mongolian scripture suggests at least a slight tip of the hat to the original inhabitants of the region. While a small group of nationalistic Mongolians, who communicate in their native tongue most of the time, do exist, in a majority of cases, both cultures have mingled and now tolerate each other’s presence. One of Mr. Li’s relatives by marriage is Mongolian, yet the only time when he truly shows that he is any different is when he sings Mongolian songs to much applause of the listeners; Mongolian culture seems to have become something special to be marvelled at possibly due to its near extinction rather than remaining a major part of this region’s culture.
On one of my flights back from Hohhot I struck up a conversation with my seat neighbour, a young girl who as it turned out was of Mongolian descent. In truth, except for the little character on her ID card, which under the category “people” says 蒙 where it normally reads 汉 one could barely tell. She could understand the Mongolian language, yet was unable to speak it. Especially since she worked in Shenzhen, where Mandarin or Cantonese are the common languages of communication, she now barely uses her second language. She is one of many young people who move into big cities in hopes of better work opportunities, unwittingly aiding the loss of her native culture.
While the positive side to this is that Inner Mongolia is a relatively peaceful province compared to Xinjiang, it does come at the slow loss of a culture. Calling IM entirely peaceful is not entirely truthful either, in 2011 unrests occurred when in the first instance a Mongol herdsman was run over by a Han truck driver. However, the government was eager to make concessions, affording the family damages and sentencing the driver to death. Last year’s altercation involved the detainment of protesting herdsmen, who are seeing their lifestyle encroached upon as their lands are grabbed by Han forestry and mining companies and attempts by the government to persuade them into settling in one location. To a nomad people, this is unthinkable, and has led to discontentment around the fact that their traditional life style is not being respected. That being said, Xinjiang provincs is far less stable, with clashes between Uighur and Han people occurring on a regular basis and even terrorist activities such as the train station knife attack in Kunming in 2014 and the Tian’anmen Square incident in 2013 taking the conflict outside of the region.
Hohhot, as the capital of Inner Mongolia, is very similar to most other Chinese cities, except for the aforementioned bilingual signage. Interestingly, many people do not seem to think so, as when I or Mr.Li tell people of his origins, you would be surprised how often they inquire in ernest whether he grew up in a yurt and how many ponies and sheep his family owns, while obviously wondering simultaneouslt how his family managed to afford to send him abroad for studies. In conversation with Chinese people, though, the reaction is rather different. Upon hearing my partner is from Hohhot, the first question is whether he is Mongolian. When I respond that he is Han, many say “Oh, of course, the Han are rich in Inner Mongolia.” Well, that explains everything, doesn’t it?
Somehow I feel I have slightly departed from the topic. Long story short, we had to get our certificate notarized; but not before we stood in the middle of the street and popped open our celebratory Italian sparkling wine and got our afternoon buzz on. The effect was only increased by the fact that MiL and her partner were waiting in the car and so to the slightly astonished and confused looks of some construction workers, Mr. Li and I chugged the red liquor as if there were no tomorrow.