Under the rural reforms, the collective was dissolved, and each household received approximately 300 sheep, 50–100 yaks, a few horses, and 3000 mu (1 mu equals 15 hectares) of winter pasture, which has been turned over to private use but remains titled to the brigade. Sheep herds are generally 3–3.5 times the size of yak herds, although yak and sheep have nearly equal forage demands. Each household maintains a fodder field of 20–30 mu (1–2 hectares), most of which are planted in oats with seeds supplied by the brigade administration. Summer pasture, which is located in the mountains some distance from the permanent settlements in the valley, is grazed communally. In fact, most of the pastoralists take their sheep herds off summer pasture in midsummer to trespass on other collective farms located on the north face of the Qilian Mountains in Gansu Province. Although grazing times are regulated and strictly enforced within the brigade, trespassing both by and against neighboring communities is common and tolerated. The major environmental and economic problem in this region, as elsewhere in China, is said to be degradation of the grasslands, caused by overgrazing and, in this case, the influence of burrowing rodents, especially the zokor (Myospalax baileyi). (Liu Jike et al., 1982)

Under contracts signed for the procurement of livestock and land from the brigade, herding households in this region must deliver 6% of their livestock each year to government agents, for which they receive a fixed below-market price. Surplus animals and animal products may be sold on the open market, which expanded steadily during the reforms of the mid-1980s. Since 1988, however, Beijing has tightened controls on markets for major animal products—wool, cashmere, meat, and hides. The government monopolizes wholesaling, and informants at Haibei agree that at present there is little possibility of selling more than an odd lamb or skin through the private market.


The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Map 1-5), with 1.6 million km2 and 14.3 million people, is the largest and one of the least densely populated regions of China. The topography of Xinjiang, represented in one of its Chinese ideographs (shown at right), is defined by three mountain ranges; the Altai in the north, Tianshan in the center, and Kunlun in the south (the three horizontal lines), separating two large desert basins, the Junggar above and Tarim below (the two rectangles). Smaller intermontane basins occur throughout the Tianshan ranges (3000–5000 m). The alluvial sediments of the Junggar Basin began accumulating at the time of the collision of India with Asia in the early Tertiary. The huge Tarim Basin consists mostly of desert with thick alluvial deposits that continue to form from erosion of the surrounding Kunlun, Karakorum, Pamir, and Altun ranges. Major strike-slip faults along the boundaries of these mountains are responsible for their uplift by transpression.

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