social sciences to complement and inform the study of the grasslands themselves. Research on these topics will surely point out the wide variety of practices in different times, places, and sectors. Given these limitations, it is nonetheless possible to make some general statements about the social structures and land use practices of people in northern China.
Human land use in northern China varies with temperature and moisture. The warmer, wetter zones are intensively cultivated. In recent years, agriculture has been expanded through a combination of irrigation schemes, immigration from China proper of farmers with the requisite technical skills, and political pressure from Beijing to open up marginal lands. As temperature and moisture decline, pure agriculture gives way to a mixed pastoral-agricultural economy. In these areas, animal husbandry is sometimes limited to the feeding of animals in pens. Finally, the coldest, driest regions, where agriculture is impossible, support extensive pastoralism. The pattern most common in these areas is seasonal migration of grazing animals to take advantage of distant grasslands during the summer and return in winter to a fixed home base. A major limiting factor for animal husbandry throughout northern China is winter feed, which can come either from winter pastures or from fodder cut and stored for this purpose. True nomadism, the continuous movement of herders and animals without fixed abode, which was once a standard practice among pastoral peoples of this region, is no longer found in China.
The distribution of people and animals in northern China reflects the limitations imposed by climate and vegetation. The eight provinces and regions covered in this study account for half the area of China, but contain less than 15% of the population. Excluding the highly developed Northeast, the population density of northern China is only one-twelfth as high as the rest of the country, whereas the numbers of grazing livestock in this area exceed those of human beings by 60% (Table 1-2).
The spectrum of economic activity in northern China corresponds roughly to the distribution of ethnic groups, with certain minorities—primarily Mongols in Inner Mongolia, Hui in Gansu and Ningxia, Tibetans on the high plateau, and Kazakhs in northern Xinjiang—dominating the pastoral economy, and Han (Chinese) concentrated in agriculture. This pattern reflects both the persistence of established ethnic minorities and associated pastoral techniques and the more recent arrival of Han immigrants who have opened up new lands to cultivation. The migration of Han agriculturalists into the eastern regions of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia has taken place over the past century or more and has been driven in part by spontaneous forces arising from the migrants themselves. Historically, there has been much less movement of Han to the more remote and climatically harsh western regions of Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Tibet. The pace of migration to all inland frontiers picked up after 1949 as the rulers in Beijing promoted, and in some cases compelled, the transfer of Han soldiers and settlers from China proper to border lands for many of