The Ewenki of Aoluguya, Inner Mongolia, used to be hunters and keep reindeer as pack animals. In 2003, they were relocated as "ecological migrants," their guns were confiscated, and hunting was banned. Reindeer herding in state-owned forests is the only remnant of their transhumant lifestyle, which is now based mainly on the production of reindeer horn for use in Chinese medicine.
A government-run enterprise is in charge of cutting and marketing the reindeer horn. China's nationwide policy of de-collectivizing farming and herding was never fully implemented in Aoluguya, with implications for the herders' rights to grazing land and even the ownership of the reindeer. Based on a study of land management policies, governance, and herding practices, this paper argues that Ewenki reindeer herders find themselves in a liminal space, or zone of anomie, where they are constantly treated as exceptional. They are no longer a "hunting tribe," nor are they regarded as true pastoralists (Chinese: shoulie buluo; mumin), while government departments variously deal with the reindeer as domestic and wild animals. Despite the challenges, the reindeer herders are finding ways to manage by negotiating their own exceptions, sometimes enabling them to turn the discourse of exceptionality to their own advantage.