Frequent earthquakes attest to the continued northward movement of the Indian plate.

The climate of Xinjiang is governed by this topography. Prevailing northwest winds deposit most of their moisture in the Altai and Tianshan mountains, but contribute enough to the Junggar, either directly through rainfall or indirectly from snow melt, to support enough vegetation to stabilize the sand dunes of this basin. Much less moisture reaches the Tarim Basin, either from northern winds trapped by the Tianshan or from the south, where the Himalayas block the movement of moisture from the Indian Ocean. As a result, the Taklimakan Desert, which lies at the center of the Tarim, is extremely dry, its dunes unvegetated and unstable. Xinjiang as a whole is very dry, receiving less than 150 mm of precipitation annually. Animal husbandry is practiced mainly through transhumant movement from the mountain slopes in summer to the dry basin rims in the winter. Agriculture depends uniformly on irrigation.

According to a survey conducted by the Xinjiang branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XISRD, 1989), natural grasslands cover 572,588 km2 (36%) of this region, although only 480,068 km2 are judged usable. More than 90% of the usable grasslands are grazed on a seasonal basis. In 1986, Xinjiang had 498,000 hectares of artificial, 578,000 hectares of improved, and 442,000 hectares of enclosed grasslands, resources that were expected to increase during the Seventh Five-Year Plan (1986–1990). There are more than 32 million domesticated grazing animals in Xinjiang. Sheep make up 70% of the total, followed by goats, cattle (including yaks), donkeys, and horses. In 1987, Xinjiang produced 2.2 billion yuan of animal products, which was 8.7% of the regions gross output.6

The major problems with grasslands in Xinjiang, as in other parts of China, are the shortage and low yield of winter pasture, the imbalance of distribution between water and grass, and the fluctuation of growth from year to year. In some parts of this region, the yield of grasslands in an arid year is only about half that for a normal year. As a result, animal husbandry is widely, but thinly dispersed. The main concentrations are in and around the mountain systems, where forage and water are most plentiful. According to the 1982 census, the most numerous ethnic groups in Xinjiang were Uighur (45.5%), Han (40.4%), and Kazakh (6.9%). Most animal husbandry is carried out by minorities: Kazakhs, Mongols, Kirghiz, and others. Uighurs and Chinese (Han) settlers are concentrated in the cities and agricultural areas.


A detailed picture of the political, social, and economic contexts in which animal husbandry is practiced in northern China awaits future research. Indeed, one of the themes of this report is the paucity of knowledge about pastoral peoples and systems in China, and the importance of work in the

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