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Exploring China's new frontier ep.1: Nomadic Kazakh lifestyle faces transformation

Reporter: Han Bin 丨 CCTV.com

10-01-2016 12:43 BJT

Full coverage: Xinjiang: Exploring China’s New Frontier

No one understands this series better than its maker, Han Bin. Before we go to it, we will talk to him in the studio. Welcome to the program, Han Bin. Some people may know very little about Xinjiang. You were there reporting and filming for well over a month. Can you tell us what exactly this place is all about?

Xinjiang is the biggest ethnic autonomous region as well as the biggest provincial-level region, about one-sixth of China's land mass. Xinjiang borders eight countries -- the Central Asian countries, along with Mongolia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. This far western region is divided into the Dzungarian Basin in the north and the Tarim Basin in the south by the Tianshan Mountain range. This region has 47 ethnic groups, with Uyghurs taking nearly half of its total population. The economy has largely relied on natural resources. It’s China’s new frontier in many ways and has strategic significance.

We spent six weeks filming to provide a true picture of Xinjiang, not the true picture. In our first episode, we visited a northern village in the Yili Kazakh Prefecture. We found out how modernization has brought dramatic changes to this once isolated village, and saw new conflicts among the different groups there.

A pastoral life, at the foot of the Tian Shan Mountains. Qiongkushitai is known for its idyllic beauty. Some 300 Kazakh families live in this village.

86 year-old Aby Johmubay has been roaming the grasslands ever since he was born.

"This place used to be very quiet, with few people living a nomadic life. Now, we’ve seen a lot of people coming from outside. Animal husbandry has been restricted by the government’s grazing ban," said Aby Johmubay, Herdsman Qiongkushitai, Xinjiang.

Ehye Bahyar, is Aby’s grandson. He’s one of the eight children from the village who've been admitted to university.Ehye also loves the grasslands, but he doesn’t want the life of his grandfather.

Qiongkushitai’s “peaceful” existence came to an end five years ago, when it was listed as a “State Historical and Cultural Village.” Roads have been built, connecting to even the most remote homes. The local government promotes tourism to upgrade the living conditions. The growing number of visitors has forced lifestyle changes.

And many welcome this. Ehye is hoping Qiongkushitai will open, much more.

"I have seen more and more young people become busy doing farm house tourism. I don’t want to just stay at home. I want to earn some money, and to lower my living costs and pay tuition fees. This will help family life as well," said Ehye Bahyar.

Domestic tourism is booming in China, demanding new destinations like Qiongkushitai.

Xinjiang’s unique natural scenery is a tremendous draw for tourists. The local government hopes the industry can boost the economy. But many herdsmen worry about the effect on their tranquil lifestyle.

The Kazakhs are known for “living on horseback”. This tradition is gradually fading as more young people leave the village for the big cities.

Ehye still helps the family with the animals, but he knows the nomadic life won’t get him rich, and tourism can.

Finding forage is increasingly difficult, as herders have to travel farther.

The government has issued new regulations to restrict herding to protect the grasslands for eco-tourism.

"No, I don’t want to stay in the mountain areas forever. I want to realize my dreams, and I really want to make a change to the traditional lifestyle. I can’t raise livestock on the grasslands all my life. I have my own dreams and grandpa has his dreams. I would love to go to the big cities to observe, to open my mind and eyes. What I don’t really like about tourism is -- I wish the tourists who come to my village wouldn't casually drop rubbish, and damage our natural environment," said Ehye Bahyar.

Qiongkushitai is changing. The centuries-old way of life of their ancestors is disappearing.

"I really don’t know whether the nomadic life can still continue in the future. The fact is, as tourism grows, the grazing environment is getting worse. The grazing areas have been further reduced. These changes have made the traditional lifestyle difficult," said Aby Johmubay.

Aby says modern conveniences are not the measure of his happiness. He feels as though he's sitting at the edge of the ancient world, in an increasingly urban Xinjiang.

He says it’s really comfortable in the old village. And he intends to savor it as long as it lasts.

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