Xiaolu Chu


  Kazak Herdsmen Migration
Surrounded by five Kazakh herdsmen, a cow is lying on the ground screaming and whining. While two herdsmen pull the calf’s legs from the exhausted cow, the other three hold her tightly. If the labor lasts for more than 3 hours, death will be the cow’s destiny. This is one of the routine pictures on the livestock route trail in Altay, Xinjiang.

There are 19 livestock route trails in Altay area for Kazakh herdsmen’s migration between winter and summer pastures. While the herdsmen move to the foot of Altai Mountains for winter, they migrate to pastures at higher elevations during summer time.

According to temperature in each June, Kazakh herdsmen drive the hungry cattle to migrate along the snow-line from north to south for nearly 500 kilometers. The camels and horses with supplies on their back stagger toward the summer pastures on the ancient trails.

During migration, each family keeps distance from another as the trails are too narrow for thousands of cattle. The trails originate from traces left by generations of herdsmen and cattle, but not suitable for modern vehicles. Therefore, camels and horses are the most reliable tools for transportation and 5 times more expensive than other livestock. A herdsman’s family usually has hundreds of cows and sheep and tens of camels and horses. After the cold winter in Altay, the cattle are emaciated and will be well fed in summer. After the cattle are sold in fall, the herdsmen buy winter supplies migrating with the rest to the towns to get through winter.

The Kazakhs originated in the 15th century and mainly live in Kazakhstan and northwest of China. Currently, 1.4 millions of Kazakhs reside in the northern part of Xinjiang, living on stock raising for nearly 150 years.

On the basis of livestock trading, Kazakh herdsmen earn more than other residents in Xinjiang. The average revenue of a Kazakh herdsmen family (5 people with 200 domestic animals) is 200,000 RMB, while the number is 22,160 RMB per capita for the region. Larger herdsman’s families usually keep 300-400 domestic animals. The higher income is an important factor for Kazakhs stick to herd other than their tradition.

The life of Kazakh herdsmen is a mix of Islamic religion and Mongolian nomads lifestyle, which make them more tenacious, peaceful and generous. Whenever you meet the herdsmen in break, they will always invite you to their tents and provide hot milk tea and cheese.

The older generation of Kazakh herdsmen are used to traditional nomadic life on the trails with their families. However, the younger generation has their own thoughts.

“We don’t want to herd like our fathers forever. We want to see the world and make friends. ” Says the young herdsman who climbs onto the top of a hill seeking for mobile signal. “In winter, we go to schools in Altay. We learn Chinese and English and how to use the Internet.”

Young Kazaks herdsmen hope to settle down at a place where they have warm houses and Internet. Though livestock trading can bring high income, they think the nomadic life is too hard. They want to have friends in big cities and melt into the modern world. “We’ve lost touch with a lot of friends due to poor mobile signal.” After saying this, the young herdsman asks for mine mobile number and WeChat ID, hoping to see me in Beijing.

Although local government built modern settlement, the older Kazakh herdsmen still prefer the more rewarding traditional nomadic life. While the free nomadic lifestyle goes deep in Kazakhs’ blood, the younger generation are longing for modern life due to the prevalence of internet.

Attraction from modern world brings more impact to Kazakh herdsmen along with the implement of the “One Belt and One Road” policy of China. Finding the balance between traditional nomadic and modern life is a long-standing problem for the young generation of Kazakh herdsmen.

Accompanied with economic growth and social development in China, the conflict between traditional and modern life is affecting Chinese people with different geographical or ethnical backgrounds. Which kind of impact this conflict will exert on this ancient nation is still a question waiting to be answered.

The photos are supposed to present the culture conflict under the high-speed economic development at this very age in China.

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