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China frets over Mongolian metal band Hurd

With Beijing authorities growing nervous about ethnic minorities' agitation, a rampaging 'Mongolian Pride' rock band has drawn official attention

Metal Band Hurd

Members of the heavy metal band Hurd are pictured in their studio in Ulan Bator, Mongolia earlier this month. Photo: The New York Times

China built the Great Wall more than 2,000 years ago to keep out invaders from the north. But the Chinese are having a harder time repulsing modern interlopers like these: long-haired Mongolian men in black, whose office decor features a wolf pelt, a portrait of Genghis Khan and a music store poster of Eminem.

So the Chinese police got nervous when they heard that Hurd was crossing the Gobi Desert, coming down from Mongolia. With their new hit CD, "I Was Born in Mongolia," Hurd, a heavy metal, Mongolian-pride group, was coming for a three-day tour, culminating Nov. 1 with a performance in Hohhot, capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

"The morning we were to get on the train, the translator guy called and said 'Your performances are canceled,"' Damba Ganbayar, Hurd's keyboardist and producer, said glumly as lounged in a white plastic chair.

"He said, 'I will call with details.' I never got the details."

The details, according to reports from Hohhot, were that riot policemen and trucks surrounded the college campus where the group was to play. They checked identity cards, detained four people overnight and dispersed about 2,000 frustrated concertgoers into the autumn night.

In the next several days, the Chinese authorities shut down three Mongolian-language chat forums, according to the Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center, a New York-based group that tracks "Chinese colonialism" in what some call the southern end of Greater Mongolia.

"Banned in Hohhot" may not have an epic ring to it, but it is a sign of the times.

With reports of local protests almost daily fare in China, the authorities are increasingly nervous also about ethnic minorities. In late October, several days of fighting erupted between Hui Muslims and Han Chinese -- China's dominant ethnic group -- in central Henan province after a traffic accident.

During the 1960s, the Chinese-Soviet split kept Mongolia, a Soviet satellite nation, apart from China's Inner Mongolia. Today, the Chinese region is home to 4 million ethnic Mongolians, almost double the 2.5 million in the country of Mongolia. But Chinese migration to Inner Mongolia over the years has left the ethnic Mongolians there vastly outnumbered by 18 million Han Chinese.

In recent years, barriers have gone down between those two Mongolias as China has become its northern neighbor's largest trading partner and foreign investor. With Inner Mongolia's economy growing by 22 percent during the first nine months of this year, officials in the two Mongolias agreed in October to open a free-trade zone where the Trans-Mongolian Railway crosses into China.

On the cultural front, music groups from here often appear on Inner Mongolia's Mongolian language-channel. Hurd, which means speed, has done three concert tours in Inner Mongolia since 2000. It claims to be the most popular rock group for Mongolians on both sides of the border.

"In 2000, it was very Soviet-style, with lots of policemen around with flashlights, very disciplined concerts," Damba Ganbayar recalled. "Later, it became more relaxed, like normal rock concerts."

"Even so, they advised us not to say, 'We Mongolians are all together!' or 'All Mongolians rise up and shout!"' the keyboardist said. "People would shout, 'Genghis!' But it was nothing political."

But on later visits south of the border, he noticed a growth in Mongol pride.

Encounters between Mongolians and Inner Mongolians are a bit like encounters between Mexicans and New Mexicans. Many Mongols here say they consider Inner Mongolians to be more Chinese than Mongolian. When people here travel south, they do not say they are going to Inner Mongolia, but to China.

Metal Band Hurd