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The Last Nomads

Photographs by A Yin

October 31, 2008–March 2, 2009

The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region transverses almost two-thirds of China’s northern border and is the third largest of China’s provinces. Its vast grasslands account for one-fourth of China’s total grasslands area.
Mongolian nomads have a long history in China and are often hailed for their bravery and enduring spirit. The Wuzhu Muqin is among the last remaining nomadic tribes in Inner Mongolia and one of the oldest; its roots can be traced back to Chinggis Khan’s descendants in the seventeenth century.
The Wuzhu Muqin’s harmonious relationship with nature has allowed the ecologically fragile grasslands to survive for thousands of years, while the grasslands in turn have helped to preserve the distinctive traditions of nomadic life by sustaining herds. However, since the mid-twentieth century, much of the grasslands have been reduced to desert by over-cultivation of fragile soils, over-grazing, poor governmental management, and meager irrigation. As the fertile natural environment disappears, so too, unfortunately, does the culture it supports. Hence, these nomads’ traditional way might not survive another generation.
Born in 1970 into a poor herdsman’s family in the steppes (semi-arid grasslands) of Mongolia, A Yin is a self-taught freelance photographer. In 1998 he began documenting the vanishing nomadic tribes in the Wuzhu Muqin under the working title Mongolian, setting up a self-funded commercial studio for his work. Yin continues to follow the traditional lifestyle of a Mongolian herdsman while also pursuing his photographic mission to document the disappearing steppes and the lifestyle they support.

Photographers Statement:

Mongolia is considered to be one of the few highly remote places remaining in the world, yet the forces of globalization are quickly changing the traditional way of life for the descendents of Chinggis Khan. The need for economic development is rapidly changing the face of Mongolia; horses are being replaced with motorcycles and herders are struggling to deal with grassland degradation. Severe sandstorms are destroying the environment and, as a result, my own culture. As a Mongolian photographer, it is very important for me to document these crucial times and share these stories with the world.

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