tion, and surpluses generated in China proper have pushed migrants to the north and west. All these trends accelerated after 1949. During the first three decades of Communist rule, Beijing did little to check population growth, transferred Han soldiers and settlers to northern border areas, and promoted economic development with little regard for the effect on the surrounding environment.
The migration of the Han, both voluntary and government induced, has been accompanied by the expansion of agriculture into marginal lands, including rangelands. To some degree this has been a natural process: Chinese farmers who moved into new areas set about making a living by the means they knew best. Particularly during the periods of Mao Tse-tung's ascendance, the Great Leap Forward (1958–1960) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–1971), however, tremendous pressure was brought to bear on peasants and local officials to "grow grain everywhere." The cultivation of land previously devoted to grazing reduced the area available to feed livestock. Later, when crops grown in marginal areas failed, land erosion followed, and viable rangeland was lost—now and for many years to come.
Whereas the growth of human population and the expansion of agriculture have impinged on and reduced the grasslands, the number of animals that depend on this shrinking resource has increased exponentially. During the first 40 years of the People's Republic of China (1949 to 1989), the total number of grazing animals in China more than tripled, from slightly more than 100 million to nearly 340 million head.7 Whether these increases have exceeded traditional stocking rates, whether they have reached a sustainable level, or whether they will continue are questions that merit further research. The effect of grazing on the northern grasslands as a whole is unclear, but heavily grazed areas show a level of degradation that gives cause for concern.
Many Chinese who study and help manage the grasslands believe that damage by overgrazing has been intensified by recent reforms, which have placed livestock in private hands whereas the rangelands are held in common. In this view, the reforms have achieved their principal goal of increasing the animal population, but have done so by making the grasslands a free, uncontrolled, and overused resource. Critics describe this situation as a "tragedy of eating from the common pot." The solution, some believe, is to expand the double responsibility system by which grazing areas and animals are assigned to the same households, and create a self-interest on the part of producers to maintain the balance between land and livestock.
Beijing's effort to deal with the problem of grassland degradation is contained in the Rangeland Law of the People's Republic of China, which was passed in 1985. This law focuses primarily on the effects of agriculture. It forbids farming and other activities that damage rangelands and empowers local governments "to stop anyone from farming a rangeland in violation of the provisions of the present law, to order the person to restore the destroyed