The Northeast China Exploitation by the Government and its Impacts on Oroqen Indigenous Environment

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TheNortheast China Exploitation by the Government and its Impacts onOroqen Indigenous Environment

TheNortheast China Exploitation by the Government and its Impacts onOroqen Indigenous Environment

Oroqenis a name used to refer to an ethnic minority group in China, whichmeans people living in the high mountains. They were originallyrecognized as the Shilu, Soulun or the Dasheng tribe before the QingDynasty but their identity changed to Oroqen after the founding ofnew China. Invasion by the Russian Empire in the 17thcentury forced them to relocate from the South of Xing’an mountainsto Northeast China. Efforts of the Japanese troops to frustrate theOroqen by giving them opium forced some to flee and the remainingpopulation declined to 1000 by 1945. However, their stay in NortheastChina has been quite challenging, most policies put in place by thegovernment has affected them and forced them to change theirlifestyle and culture (Cappelletti, 2015).

TheChinese government adopted a policy that banned hunting, which wastheir way of life. Many other factors have had an impact on theirenvironment. This research paper will focus on the various ways thegovernment exploited Northeast China and the impact it had onindigenous environment of the Oroqen.


Oroqenis an indigenous group of people who lived in high mountains of Chinawith a very rich culture. They are very few and thus preserving thepopulation is important. The Chinese government made various reformsto help them transit to the modern civilized life. However, this movewas not welcome as they did not want to abandon their culture for themodern way of life. To them this was betrayal and the result was thatthe community felt violated and this affected their environment.Northeast China exploitation by the government negatively impacted onthe indigenous environment of the Oroqen.

Purposeof Research

Thegovernment developed a strategy to introduce development andcivilization in the Northeast China region. However, no consultationwas done with the Oroqen who formed part of the inhabitants to ensurethat it did not affect their culture and lifestyle. This created aproblem as it interfered with their environment. The aim of thisresearch is to establish how the government exploited the region andthe impact it had on the local population.


Oroqenswere barely known out of their residing region, because they did notquite leave a mark in history. However, for a very long time theywere highly regarded as a rich source of information aboutcommunities and their relations with other groups. They spent theirlife hunting and fishing in the forests and spoke Oroqen languagewhich was quite a different dialect from Mandarin Chinese to even aslate as 1950s. However, over the past couple of years, theirenvironment has changed a big deal. In the 21stcentury, they mainly practice farming and though hunting is stillpart of their life, they are hardly doing it following a ban onhunting from the government in Northeast China. People no longerspeak fluent Oroqen language and those who do are in their laterstages of life. The language is not being passed on to generationswhich mean it will cease to be spoken in the coming years.

Mucheffort is being directed towards revamping the community though manyfactors downplay the possibility and it is feared that efforts couldbe futile. No resources are available to facilitate culturepreservation, none of the Oroqen dialect is recognized as thestandard. Fluent speakers of this language are dispersed in differentlocations rather than a single concentrated location. In areas wherethey live, they are dominated by Ham Chinese or other minoritygroups. Chinese politics are focused on promoting unity rather thanculture preservation. This further obscures the hope of ever revivingOroqen language and culture. The possibility continues to get furtheraway day by day and this has great effect on the Oroqen people. Inaddition it is loss of a unique culture that would have been used topreserve national heritage (Xingang, 2013).

Globally,there has been a trend of small communities shifting from theirethnic language to the standard national language. However, these areshifts promoted by history or social factors. The case of the Oroqenis different. It is neglect of the minority which has caused drasticchanges, now they all speak Chinese.

Agriculturein the Northeast of China

TheXingan Mountain had rich volcanic soils which were suitable forgrowing coffee and tea in China. Therefore, the governmentauthorized clearance of native forest for agriculture. It led tograbbing of large tracks of land that belonged to the indigenousOroqen group (Xingang, 2013). The knowledge of historical landuse change, especially in the Northeast of China is key in the studyof world environmental sustainability. The transition time of the1950s and 1980s showed the expansion of farming lands while the landcover of forest declined. The introduction of agriculture inmountains led to clearance of indigenous forests occupied by nativepeople such as the Oroqen. The Chinese political policies also haveresponsibilities of ensuring food security as well as protecting therights of citizens (Postiglione, 2013). The effects of climate changereduced agricultural production. It made most people exploit primeland such as forests. Moreover, the Chinese government started theutilization of fertilizers, mechanization, and pesticides thataffected biodiversity in the forests. These agricultural activitiesled to the displacement of the Oroqen community. Such situationsaffected their economic activities such as hunting, fishing andgathering wild fruits (Harlan, 2014).

InfrastructureExpansion and Exploitation of Natural Resources

GreatLeap Forward was launched in 1958 with the goal of reviving theeconomy of China. It involved enhancing connectivity andaccessibility through expansion of infrastructure. This stretched tothe Northeast China where the Oroqen lived. They had not witnessedindustrialization before and this was quite new to them. The chairmansuggested that they be taken out of these remote locations to exposethem to some bit of civilization. This was going to enable themaccess education, free health services and opportunities ofinvestment. The Oroqen were forced to abandon their rich culture andway of life to fit in with other groups with the Han being themajority (Xingang et al., 2013). Diseases invaded them and thisfurther reduced their population. They shifted from hunting to beingfarmers. The remaining small population was exposed to discriminationand persecution. Many of them were believed to support MongolianPeople`s Revolutionary Party this was contrary to what the majoritywas supporting putting them at an even greater risk as they wereviewed as enemies. During holding of rallies they were forced toproclaim that they did not support revolution. They were harassed andsent to prisons. Physical and psychological torture affected most ofthem and some opted to take away their lives.

GovernmentPolicies for Minority Groups

Endof the Cultural Revolution revealed that policies put in place forthe minority groups led to more suffering and marginalization otherthan improving living standards. The government embarked on provisionof preferential treatment to minorities through proper education,free health services and increased opportunities. The intention wasto revitalize the Oroqen and revival of their culture. However, thisdid not turn out as expected, the number of intermarriages betweenthe Han and Oroqen increased. This was because they wanted to benefitfrom the policies of the minority. This meant that more and moreOroqens abandoned their culture to fit the intermarriages this ishow their culture was eroded. Minority policy no doubt contributed todecline of Oroqen heritage. In addition to that, they had settled ona region that was used for succession of military powers. Theactivities of the different communities like the Japanese and Russiandisrupted Oroqen lives and exposed them to vulnerability before Chinabecame a republic (Harlan, 2014).

Explorationof Natural Resources

Alarge group of the Han population moved to Northeast China to assistthe state in exploring natural resources. The huge influx of Han inthe region to carry out tasks that they were good at had an impact onthe Oroqen. Their culture was believed to be primitive and backwardas they still held on to hunting, this made them marginalized attheir own home. Han community was involved in forest developmentprojects while the Oroqen were left out. The perception that theywere the minority and inferior denied them the opportunity of takingup leadership positions (Ye et al., 2012). The jobs in their regionwere taken up by the growing population of the Han. Later the Oroqenmoved to seek for jobs that had been abandoned by the Han, in theprocess their cultural and language was eroded. At the same time, theforests were being exploited by companies in the timber industry.Hunting was at stake as it depended on these forests. These companieschased them out and they could no longer hunt. In 1996 a ban onhunting was imposed further threatening the survival of Oroqenculture.

Maintainingpeople in their original environment is important to ensure theythrive. Forests were believed to have some spirits that bonded withthe community. Other than for hunting purposes, the Oroqen went topractice their religious rituals in the forests. With theexploitation of the forests they were forced to abandon theirreligious and spiritual practices.

CompulsoryEducation in the Oroqen Indigenous Group

Theminority groups in China with a college education were approximately9.09%. Because of this, there was high illiteracy level in indigenouspeople living in forest areas, for example, the Oroqen. Also, peoplewith primary and junior secondary education were 14.4% (Postiglione,2013). The situation forced the government to popularize compulsoryschool for young people. However, that affected the social andcultural activities of the indigenous community because the teachingof their own language and Chinese language amounted to forgetting thenative way of communication. The youth needed to plant trees, huntfor wild animals and protect the territories of the indigenous Oroqengroup. On the other hand, government required them to undertakecompulsory education causing confusion within the community(Postiglione, 2013).

Prohibitionof Hunting

Oroqenpeople had been sidelined and were not involved in governance issues.This meant that whatever decisions made by the government did notrepresent or have consideration of their issues as there was no oneto speak for them. Decisions were made to reform their way of lifeand no consultation was done. Xing’an Mountain in Northeast Chinawas the only recognized home for the Oroqen community. In 1996, thegovernment placed a ban on all hunting activities including those ofthe Oroqen, despite that being their main source of livelihood. Itwas argued that this policy was going to be the first step of drivingthe Oroqen to make a transition to the modern way of life. The localauthorities implemented this as a sign of good will to help the localcommunity (Xing &amp Wang, 2016). The only problem was the Oroqenwere not of a similar opinion, they viewed this as betrayal of theirculture. They even questioned what their identity would be now thatthey were no longer going to be hunting. The authorities did not takechances they confiscated their hunting guns just to make sure theywould not go back to it. This revealed a regional autonomy that didnot respect the rights of the minorities in particular the Oroqen.This community was highly marginalized and there was no way they weregoing to push through with their culture preservation when they couldnot even fight for their rights.

Thosethat tried to keep wild animals had their efforts disrupted bycompanies sourcing for timber in the forests. These companies allowedtheir employees to use the forests under a contract for their ownlivelihood. This move was hard to comprehend, Oroqen could notunderstand how they were denied the use forest resources yet they hadlived there for generations. Other people who came to invade theirhome had more rights over the land than them. Social injusticeagainst them was clear but the system of legislation in place backthen did nothing about it.

ReformingMinority Groups’ Way of Life

Lawswere in place to protect the rights of minority groups and gave themfreedom to preserve or reform their way of life. The irony is thateven with this law in place, Oroqen were not involved in decisionmaking which was going to see them abandon their traditional way oflife. The language, culture and their hunting traditions were doomed.Their heritage and identity was disregarded as being backwardcompared to the new life of civilization (Haspelmath &amp Tadmor,2012). The state was committed to see this come to pass, andresettled them from their original homes to occupy other regions.Oroqens were made to believe that the transition was very beneficialand would make them be recognized as a modern nationality. The stateintensified their efforts by taking the community for tours so thatthey could have a feel of the civilized life and get rid of their badattitude towards it.

Exploitationof Petroleum Resources in the Northeast China

XinganMountains where the Oroqen lived was endowed with natural resources.Forests were thick and dense which supported their livelihood offishing and hunting. There were more than a thousand species ofplants and animals. Within them were also rivers that were home tomany kinds of aquatic life and different species of fish. Theenvironment was serene, and allowed the Oroqen to preserve their richculture, traditions and heritage. They went to the forests to performtheir religious rituals, hunting and fishing. The Chinese governmenthad discovered oil deposits that were in the forests bed. Theexploration process was threatening the life of the Oroqen. Duringthe exercise, the natural habitat was interfered with, the soils andwater became polluted. Most of the aquatic life died and fishing wasno longer possible. Other than that, they could not access theforests as freely as they did before. Similarly, the research showedthat water pollution from petroleum exploitation had causeddegradations of rivers in the Xingan Mountains. The resources arelivelihood of the indigenous Oroqen group (Wang, 2015).


Extensiveresearch was carried out on journals, published works and librarymaterials for any information relating to the Oroqen. A lot ofinformation was available from when the community first settled atthe foot of Xing’an Mountains in Northeast China. This has alwaysbeen one of the smallest communities of people in China. They werepeople that had a very rich culture which was highly dependent ontheir environment. Research materials used for this paper have adetailed history of how the lives of the Oroqen were before invasionby the government and other tribes. Government activities inNortheast china greatly impacted on this indigenous people. Theirenvironment was affected by exploitation of natural resources. Theculture heavily relied on the environment they were therefore forcedto forget some of their practices for lack of a good environment.

Ialso conducted interviews on people who were experienced in historyand were well aware of how this community came to be and theirpresent situation. Interviewees were mainly governmentrepresentatives, the Oroqen and a few other members who knew of thepredicament that faced this minority group. Government officialshighlighted the major activities, policies and reforms that theythought contributed to eroding the heritage of Oroqen. Victims of theexploitation, Oroqen, also proved to be a very important source ofinformation. It was first-hand information as I got to document howthey lived in the forests and what their livelihood was like beforethe Chinese government came in to disrupt their lives. They agreethat their lives changed drastically as they had to move to newplaces and were introduced to other activities different to what theywere used to. Their natural environment was distorted and they had nochoice but to adapt in new conditions.


TheChinese government made a decision and adopted policies aimed attransforming the Oroqen to a modern tribe neglecting the fact thatthey belonged to an indigenous minority ethnic community. There wasno consideration made to ensure that their lives were improved butstill retained their heritage and the possibility of passing it on toother generations. This led to the loss of identity and thecivilization worked against what they believed was their way of life.

Duringthe exploitation of natural resources in the Northeast part of China,rivers were polluted, natural habitat of animals in the forestsdisrupted interfering with activities of fishing and hunting whichwas the Oroqen’s way of life. Consideration ought to have beenexercised to protect the environment as well as the livelihood ofminority groups that occupied the region. However, this was not done,the environment was polluted and the local population had to beresettled introducing them to a new way of life.

Thehunting ban passed by the government was uncalled for and showed lackof respect for the culture of minority groups. The Oroqen had theright to either preserve their culture at will. Given that they werea minority group, the government should have put in measures toadvocate and protect the rights of such groups. Oroqen community wasmarginalized and was not involved in any governance issues. Decisionsaffecting them were made and were obliged to obey. This denied themthe right to do what they wanted regarding their environment andculture and environment.

Thelinguistic of the Oroqen was also one of the impacts of governmentpolicies. The movement of the Oroqen from their native land to otherregions contributed to their breaking away. They settled in differentregions other than their original set up which was concentrated. Intheir new homes, they were dominated by other majority tribes. Theirlanguage was not dominant in any given place and this made it hardfor them to teach younger generations, those who could speak fluentlywere very few.


Thegovernment should carry out its activities without disrupting theenvironment which supports the livelihood and culture of people.Preserving the natural state of the ecosystem ensures that all humansand animals have equal chances of survival. It also gives minoritygroups the right to live their lives normally.

Minoritygroups should be protected to prevent them from extinction. Thegovernment should allocate resources towards preserving their cultureand way of life. Preferential treatment is also vital in ensuringthey are able to cope with other ethnic groups that exercisedominance and look down over the minority.

Indigenousenvironment supports people whose history is unique and contributesto various social factors. Protecting the people and preservingtheir habitat is crucial for continuation of the generation andperpetuation of history. Diversity of different ethnic groups interms of way of life and cultural practices is what makes a richheritage. It is also what gives each community their identity. Evenas development projects continue to be carried out, regard should beexercised for the communities likely to be affected.

Vulnerabilityof minority groups is much more than that of dominant groups. Theyare likely to be oppressed by major communities. The governmentshould put in measures to ensure their rights are respected and thatthey have the freedom to practice what they believe in.


Todaythe number of the Oroqen population is very low and not much is knownabout them. Efforts of the government to change their way of life tobe more civilized, exploitation of petroleum in North east chinawhich was the home of the Oroqen has led to their decline in number.Few can speak in their native language and hunting and fishing areactivities they practiced back then. The indigenous environment theylived in was greatly affected by the many exploitative activities andit could no longer support their livelihood. Some even had to move tonew locations in search of a better place.


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