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Photo of the Day: The Wrestlers

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This Wednesday marks the official start date of Naadam, a centuries-old Mongolian celebration that these days is held to mark the country’s independence from China. While the main festivities take place in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, similar, smaller events can be found throughout the northern Chinese province of Inner Mongolia as well, where wrestling tournaments and horse races are held to give thanks to the land. Our Photo of the Day series this week will therefore share some photos from the province, taken during the Naadam period last year.

Last year, I hired a car from Hohhot and drove around Inner Mongolia for a couple of weeks. I was going in search of Naadam festivities, but I ended up only seeing one proper celebration. Much of the province had been hit by drought, leading numerous banners (as the council-like states within Inner Mongolia are known) to cancel any planned activities.

One celebration that did take place last year was under the Shuluun Huh Banner (Plain Blue Banner). It was a dusty affair — a truck made regular circuits of the grounds spraying the dirt with a water cannon, not to much avail — but a colorful one. There was a real fairground atmosphere, with hundreds of people in traditional dress, families barbecuing and cooking out on the grass, and entertainment in the form of regular wrestling matches and horse races.

The photos here come from the wrestling heats, several of which take place simultaneously. Some are over in minutes, with one wrestler putting his immense weight onto another and causing them to collapse to the floor; others can go on far longer, with the fighters feeling each other out and making tentative jumps and trips, wearing down their opposite number’s resistance as the tension is continuously cranked up. Either way, the bouts are fascinating to watch and the spectators at these festivities were often glued to the action all day.

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Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.

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