Three Gorges Probe

Three Gorges resettlement expected to spawn massive civil unrest

Three Gorges Probe
March 15, 1995



Chinese Officials Acknowledge Difficulty Moving People From Rich Agricultural to Poor Mountainous Areas

The forced resettlement of more than a million Chinese to make way for the world’s largest dam is "a problem of world-class proportions" and, "if dealt with improperly, this process will cause social shock and endless trouble in the future," warn Chinese authorities in security documents leaked to Human Rights Watch/Asia.

If completed, the dam on China’s Yangtze River would create an inland sea the length of North America’s Lake Superior. According to Premier Li Peng, the dam’s most prominent supporter, the massive resettlement of 1.3 million people to make way for the dam is "a very arduous task," but one that "is vital to the success or failure of the Three Gorges Project."

According to the authors of the confidential report, people who live on fertile farmland will be forced to move to mountainous areas where "the problem of the insufficiency of land resources will become more acute." In Kai county, for example, the largest area in the Wanxian Prefecture to be submerged and a region famous for its Mandarin oranges, officials fear the inhabitants who "live in relative plenty," will refuse to move. Officials acknowledge "there are substantial difficulties in moving people from rich areas to poor mountainous areas."

Police officials in the Wanxian Prefecture in particular foresee problems overcoming citizens’ "sentimental attachment to native land," explaining that "this deep-seated traditional outlook is difficult to eradicate from the minds of most relocatees." The government also expects dissatisfaction over compensation for land and crops will lead "relocatees who believe that their compensation is insufficient [to] become antagonistic." This antagonism, coupled with "homesickness welling up in their hearts," could lead many relocatees to return to their old homes, causing "an intractable long-term relocation problem and a latent threat to public order."

According to the security officials, experience with smaller Chinese dam projects shows trouble with the Three Gorges is inevitable. Smaller dams, like the Xinhua Reservoir in Wushan County and the Baishi Reservoir in Zhong County, the confidential documents note, "have constantly been the cause of frequent mass disturbances of no small scale," even though these small reservoirs involved the relocation of only a few hundred people. For the Three Gorges project, which will forcibly resettle over a million people, the security officials warn that "once disturbances arise, it is difficult to predict how far they might go."

The Chinese government nevertheless, remains determined to proceed with the dam and to suppress growing local opposition to the resettlement effort. According to officials of the Hubei Province Yichang Municipal Public Security Bureau, "past incidents have occurred among relocatees. . . Already, in January of 1993, one armed fight involving over 300 persons occurred in the vicinity of the dam. We must prepare to prevent and handle large-scale armed fights."

To deal with civil resistance to the Three Gorges, the Chinese government is preparing to use the ‘iron fist in a velvet glove.’ According to the leaked security document, the police are increasing "the fighting effectiveness of [their] ranks" to deal with "bloody armed incidents," while dam officials launch a propaganda campaign to "instill in the people of the area a warm love for the Three Gorges Project and an enthusiasm for its construction."

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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