Xanadu Remains Closed, Controversial

(South China Morning Post, May 31)

Although Marco Polo may now be a symbol for the Chinese open-door policy, there still seems a deep-seated resistance to allowing foreigners to visit Xanadu themselves. Although the ruins were made a national heritage site 10 years ago, little has been done to protect the area. Efforts to force the state farm to leave have come to nothing. "People ask why we should spend money on this when we have a lot of other problems, like unemployment," admitted Li Shouhua. But there are other, darker reasons.
Xanadu is a painful symbol of the ancient hatred between nomad and farmer, tent-dweller and townsman, Han and Mongol. "There are different views.
Han Chinese think Kublai Khan was an evil man who destroyed China," said Wang Gemin. "The Mongols here call him a hero." "We have applied to the central government to open this area so we can welcome visitors, but so far they have refused," said Tsetengbilig, the Party Secretary for the Pure Blue Banner - and an ethnic Mongolian. It is widely believed that reviving Kublai Khan's memory could foment racial tensions just beneath society's surface: Wang is old enough to remember vividly the cruelty with which many Mongols were persecuted by their neighbours during the Cultural Revolution. "Many people were beaten to death around here," he said. In the 1920s and 1930s, when the Communist Party was fighting for power, it promised Mongols the right to secession. But after 1949 Mao Zedong set out to crush Mongolian nationalism and end the Mongols' nomadic way of life.
He outlawed Mongolian dress and the teaching of Mongolian, and destroyed 2,000 monasteries in Inner Mongolia. After 1958, Mongols were forced to join collectives and hand over their livestock and other possessions to the state. Most Mongolian intellectuals and lamas were imprisoned. As the Cultural Revolution unfolded Mao tried to oust the party secretary of Inner Mongolia, Ulanhu. Mao's henchman, Kang Sheng, alleged that Mongolians had formed an underground Inner Mongolian People's Party to fight for independence, and on that pretext hundreds of thousands of Red Guards were sent to the area. According to Communist Party documents drawn up in 1981, 20,000 to 50,000 Mongols were killed, 120,000 were maimed and 790,000 detained. "Even talking about Kublai Khan could be enough to get arrested," recalled Li Shouhua, an official from the prefectural capital in Xilinhot. Mongols were tortured until they confessed to being members of the Inner Mongolian People's Party, and then had to implicate relatives and friends. Locals also say Red Guards went to Xanadu to destroy what was left of that feudal symbol of Chinese humiliation. Since 1978 Inner Mongolians have staged sporadic protests demanding compensation for the events of the Cultural Revolution. The authorities have responded with periodic crackdowns against nationalists. To this inflammable legacy of mistrust and resentment has been added Beijing's fear of the rise of a separatist movement in Inner Mongolia provoked by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the emergence in neighbouring Mongolia of a democratically elected, non-communist government. The Chinese fear that in Inner Mongolia, Kublai Khan and Xanadu might become rallying symbols for the 3.7 million ethnic Mongols living side by side with a Han population five times as numerous. And respect for Kublai Khan is growing, according to young ethnic Mongolians like Dalai Long, a barman in the county town of Zhenglan, about 25km from Xanadu, where they serve a local brew with his portrait on the bottle. Local officials are now careful to respect at least the forms of Mongolian custom, honouring guests with bowls of mares' milk in silver bowls and songs of welcome in Mongolian, performed by girls in bright silk robes. "We all venerate Kublai Khan deeply. Most Mongolians have his portrait hanging on a wall," Long said. A girl agreed. "We are the descendants of a great hero," she proclaimed.