Three Gorges Probe

Behind the dark curtains:Exclusive report on Three Gorges resettlement

by our correspondent
Three Gorges Probe
November 5, 2001


Chongqing, China: On March 12, 2001, three migrant representatives from Yunyang county were arrested in Beijing after they tried to petition authorities for fair treatment of Three Gorges dam migrants.1 In stark contrast, two weeks later, Ran Shaozhi, a local official, and lauded migrant representative from Fengjie county, was invited to Beijing, all expenses paid by the government, to meet with high-ranking leaders and give speeches in which he offered an idyllic view of Three Gorges resettlement, relishing the privileges and glory his stay bestowed on him.2

Unlike Ran Shaozhi, arrested migrants He Kechang, Ran Chongxin, and Jiang Qingshan relied on a pool of meagre funds supplied by the poor migrants they represented and were not allowed to make their case to authorities. On their arrival in Beijing, they were immediately arrested and escorted back to Yunyang by the police.

Why have these migrant representatives, living in about-to-be flooded villages just 50 km away from each other along the Yangtze River, been treated so differently? The reason is simple: Mr. He and his fellow activists were unwilling to go against their conscience – that is, to sing the praises of the project’s resettlement operation. Rather, they were trying to protect their basic rights, and to expose how local officials have taken bribes and scarce resettlement funds, and, with the help of underworld thugs, silenced and attempted to kill migrants who risked their lives accusing officials of wrongdoing.

Three Gorges resettlement has reached a critical stage. Two completely different approaches to the crisis have developed: The government and project authorities are covering up serious scandals “behind dark curtains” and forcing disaffected migrants to move far away, while those disaffected migrants fight to lift the curtains, layer by layer, to expose a web of corruption and scandal to the Chinese public and the world.

Ran Shaozhi was selected by the government as a model Three Gorges migrant in order to help cover up the wrongdoing that now plagues the resettlement process. Mr. Ran is just one of many who are covering up the monumental problems. Greed, corruption and crime are rife among officials, while hundreds of thousands of migrants suffer. The following is what the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party should know about the real resettlement experience of Three Gorges migrants.

A cesspool of iniquity

Yunyang county, in the heart of the Three Gorges reservoir, is one of the counties most affected by the dam. More than 120,000 people from Yunyang are required to move to make way for the project. In the current context of rampant and largely unchecked official corruption, the corruption scandals associated with local officials in Yunyang indicate a much larger problem.

Although the resettlement operation’s smooth progress is viewed as key to the success of the dam’s construction, project authorities have never been sure how many people would actually need to move. To win the approval of the National People’s Congress in 1992, Three Gorges dam proponents underestimated the number of people affected by the dam at 840,000. Meanwhile, in pursuit of personal gain, local officials inflated the number of people in their area that would need to be moved in order to obtain more funding from the central government. This has made it extremely difficult to estimate the number of people who would be displaced by the dam.

Indeed, the real number of migrants is still unknown. Neither dam proponents nor local officials cared what the real number was, instead manipulating figures to suit their own ends. This ambiguity has provided local officials with many opportunities to take bribes or divert resettlement funds for their own personal gain, making the Three Gorges project a haven for evil-minded people and evil practices.

Endemic corruption

A good example of how these evil practices began is provided by Guling township in Yunyang county. In 1991, the Changjiang [Yangtze River] Water Resources Commission, the planner and designer of the Three Gorges dam project, conducted a survey. About-to-be affected residents were required to register so the number of people who would be displaced by the dam could be determined and the resettlement budget fixed.

During the process, the authorities in Guling township fraudulently claimed that 6,319 people would be displaced, of which 4,935 were identified as “agricultural” and 1,384 as “non-agricultural.”3 But the number of residents about to be affected was really only 4,663, of which 3,289 were “agricultural” and 1,374 “non-agricultural.” The Guling authorities inflated the population to be resettled by 1,656 to obtain more resettlement funding from the central government than the township was entitled to.

According to the resettlement rules and regulations established by the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee (TGPCC), a rural migrant is eligible to receive 10,800 yuan RMB (US$1,300), excluding funds to build a replacement house. The resettlement fund allocation was then based on the number of displaced people reported from villages, townships and counties, and disbursed according to an administrative hierarchy: from the most senior level – the resettlement bureau of the TGPCC – via the province (Hubei) or municipality (Chongqing), city, county, township, village, group [a village unit in rural China] and, finally, into the hands of migrants.

By overestimating its population by 1,656, Guling township was able to obtain an additional 18 million yuan RMB (US$2.2 million). But the case is far from unique. Gaoyang township, also in Yunyang county, inflated its number of migrants from 13,000 to 15,000, producing an additional population of 2,000 and an additional 21.6 million yuan RMB (US$2.6 million) in resettlement funds. The same situation can be found, to a varying extent, in almost all of the 22 cities and counties [18 in Chongqing municipality and four in Hubei province] affected by the dam.

Local officials didn’t stop there. To get more reclamation funds, they also inflated the amount of farmland they had prepared for incoming migrants. For example, at a resettlement trial project involving Group 13 in Tanbao village, Gaoyang township, 12.3 mu (about four-fifths of a hectare) of unused land was reclaimed for agriculture for the migrants. But village and township officials cheated, reporting that 70 mu (more than 4.5 hectares) had been reclaimed, thereby obtaining 440,000 yuan RMB (US$53,000), ostensibly for the reclamation.

In Gaoyang township, almost all the land reclaimed for rural migrants, including the 12.3 mu of farmland mentioned above, was unsuitable for human settlement and eventually abandoned. These Gaoyang projects claimed 10 million yuan RMB (US$1.2 million) from the resettlement authority, most of which was embezzled, misused or wasted.

How resettlement funds are embezzled

Local officials in Guling township obtained millions of dollars earmarked for resettlement from higher authorities, and then used four main methods to channel some of these funds into their own accounts.

1. Fake migrants

To transfer the resettlement funds to their personal accounts, local officials in Guling tried every means possible to issue migrant status to people who would not in fact be displaced, even to people living outside the reservoir area. In co-operation with officials at the county’s resettlement bureau, officials at the group, village and township levels changed the household registrations of non-migrants to register them as migrants.

For instance, one common method was to restore the registration of women who had once lived in the reservoir area but had married men outside the area, as displaced people requiring resettlement. This provided a win-win situation for non-reservoir residents and household-registration officials alike: The former got to collect benefits for which they weren’t eligible, and the latter collected payoffs for obliging.

Another method was to make up names of supposed migrants and use those to obtain resettlement funds, then divide the spoils. There have been many examples of this in Guling township. For instance, an investigation by local reporters and researchers found that Yu Shengyuan, head of Group 3 in Guling village, agreed to accept as migrants 27 local residents who did not need to be resettled. Wang Dingxing, head of Group 4 in the same village, also “transformed” into migrants 44 people who did not need to be resettled, so they could obtain relocation compensation and other benefits. Local migrants estimate that Mr. Yu and Mr. Wang received bribes of about 80,000 yuan RMB (US$9,700) in exchange for this.

Meanwhile, the head of Guling village, Zhang Jiazheng, and his son, Zhang Guoqing, an official at Guling township’s resettlement bureau, allegedly transferred the household registration of Guling resident Tan Longquan and his family, who did not need to move, so that Mr. Tan and his family could claim the production resettlement funds – in return for a bribe of 10,000 yuan RMB (US$1,200).4

Even more ridiculous, Yang Yongxiang, the Guling village accountant, registered her brother’s family of four living in Hubei province, 1,000 km away from Guling township, as reservoir migrants. This accountant also reportedly “transformed” into migrants Chen Shenguo and his family of three, who belong to Group 5 in Guling village, and received a bribe of 31,000 yuan RMB (US$3,750) for doing so.

Based on a rough estimate, there are 97 fake migrants in Group 3 and Group 4 in Guling village alone, and they are by no means the only ones. Fake migrants have become a widespread phenomenon and exist in other villages in Guling township, such as Shuangdian, Fengzhi, Qiaoting and Shuirang. During 1996-97 alone, by dishonestly registering about 300 fake migrants at 10,800 yuan RMB (US$1,300) per migrant, local officials in Guling are estimated to have obtained 3 million yuan RMB (US$365,000) in resettlement funds.

2. Account-closed resettlement

Another popular method of illegally obtaining resettlement funds is “account-closed resettlement.” After migrants receive their due compensation and funds for moving expenses, their names are taken off the “about-to-be displaced” list, thereby ending the resettlement authority’s responsibility for them.

In Guling township, however, the names of many real migrants have been crossed off before they have received their resettlement funds. Local officials have claimed the resettlement money for their own use by submitting a migrant list for “account-closed resettlement” to high-level authorities.

In 1996-97, the “production resettlement fund” accounts of 1,239 migrants were closed without their knowledge, as were the “infrastructure reconstruction fund” accounts of 1,052 migrants. Guling township authorities hijacked 10 million yuan RMB (US$1.2 million) as a result.

Kept in the dark and without information about their relocation, a number of people in Guling are still awaiting compensation from the government. In the ensuing scandal, local migrants have staged repeated protests against the Guling authorities and sent petitions to high-ranking authorities.

3. Commission fees and resettlement dealers

To obtain their compensation, genuine migrants have to pay an extraordinary – and illegal – “commission fee” to officials responsible for managing resettlement funds. However, despite paying this fee, in many cases migrants are unable to obtain their due compensation.

In these circumstances, “resettlement dealers” have emerged. By cultivating access to officials in charge of disbursing resettlement funds, through social contacts, relatives and friends, these resettlement dealers are able to work through the resettlement procedures and obtain migrants’ resettlement money. But these resettlement dealers typically demand a commission fee so large that migrants receive only 30 per cent of their compensation, or less.

4. Migrants profiting at the expense of other migrants

While measuring the floor area of the about-to-be-demolished houses of their friends and family members, officials have deliberately reported a greater area in an attempt to claim more money for themselves and their loved ones. For instance, Yu Shengyuan, head of Group 3 in Guling village, was compensated 66,000 yuan RMB (US$8,000) for his old 120-square-metre house made of wood and earth. According to the resettlement regulations and local compensation standards for such a house, Mr. Yu was entitled to compensation of only 12,000 yuan RMB (US$1,500).

Officials at all levels in Guling township view the Three Gorges resettlement operation as a great opportunity for the illicit accumulation of funds. The effect is to leave the financial affairs of townships and villages in a mess. By Nov. 30, 1999, the government of Guling township had a deficit of close to 13.4 million yuan RMB (more than US$1.6 million), of which Guling village owed 12 million yuan RMB (US$1.5 million).

Local leaders models of corruption

Abuse of resettlement funds has become endemic among Guling officials because of the example set by their leaders. For example, the story of one senior member of Guling township’s Communist Party shows the decadent state into which the Three Gorges resettlement operation has sunk.

Tan Heping, secretary of the Communist Party in Guling township, was chosen to attend the 15th national congress of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in 1997. The same year he was honoured as one of the 10 most outstanding young people in China. Mr. Tan, only in his 40s, was appointed head of Guling village after serving several years in the People’s Liberation Army.

With political power and resettlement money at his disposal, Mr. Tan took every opportunity to show his superiors how capable he was at organizing village resettlement. As a result, he was showered with honours and considered one of the best local leaders involved in Three Gorges resettlement. He was promoted to secretary of the Communist Party of Guling village, then head of Guling township and then to an even more powerful position – secretary of the Communist Party of Guling township.

Mr. Tan was particularly adept at attracting the attention of higher authorities and presenting his township as a resettlement success story. Knowing in advance of the 1997 inspection tour to the Three Gorges site of Li Peng, then premier and director of the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee, Mr. Tan had local people build six massive signs with the six Chinese characters: Gu Ling Yi Min Xin Cun (Guling’s New Resettlement Village). The signs were very impressive and could be clearly seen when travelling by boat through the Three Gorges. Although constructing the signs had cost him nothing in either material or labour, Mr. Tan allegedly claimed 60,000 yuan RMB (US$7,000) for the effort, and put the money in his own pocket.

But where is the new resettlement village? Of 126 new buildings that went up along the road from Sunjiawan village to the Three Gorges Cement Factory, only five were constructed for migrants. The rest were for government departments, businesses and people who had nothing to do with the resettlement operation. When his superiors came to view his successful resettlement efforts, this is what they were shown.

When Gan Yuping, Chongqing municipality’s vice-mayor in charge of resettlement affairs, was on an inspection tour in Guling in 1997, Mr. Tan asked for funds to build the cement factory in Guling village, ostensibly to provide job opportunities for local migrants. Mr. Gan approved a budget of 3.64 million yuan RMB (US$440,000) to be taken from the production resettlement fund belonging to 520 migrants.

Mr. Tan then allegedly diverted more than 5 million yuan RMB (US$605,000) to build the factory by closing the accounts of 719 migrants – using the “account-closed resettlement” method – without their consent. Because of a shortage of funds for the cement factory, an additional 304,000 yuan RMB (US$37,000) was taken from the production resettlement fund of another 520 migrants. The total cost of constructing the factory had reached more than 12.7 million yuan RMB (US$1.5 million), twice the normal cost of building a cement factory of similar size.

Contrary to the official’s promise, few genuine rural migrants were employed there. Instead, jobs were given to his relatives, friends and those who enjoyed a special relationship with him. He treated the factory as his own private enterprise and exchequer, and is believed to have set up secret bank accounts so he could access funds undetected by auditors and in violation of fiscal regulations.

Corruption and mismanagement caused the factory to lose money and sink into debt: a production deficit of 1.8 million yuan RMB (US$220,000), unpaid back taxes of 600,000 yuan RMB (US$73,000), and unpaid back pay of 500,000 (US$60,400) yuan RMB. Migrants working at the factory have not been paid for six months and, as the factory deteriorates, they get poorer and poorer. “Tan Heping,” the migrants argue, “should be held responsible for all of this.”

In 1997, having received complaints and petitions from migrants in Guling township that Mr. Tan and other local officials had embezzled resettlement funds and encouraged the resettlement dealers to charge commission fees, county procuratorial officials were dispatched to investigate the case.5

Realizing the investigation would land him in serious trouble, Mr. Tan was determined to stop it. At his instigation, local officials and resettlement dealers invited members of the investigation team to a party and got them drunk. At a cost of 2,000 yuan RMB ($240), Mr. Tan allegedly also sent a couple of prostitutes along, and then took photographs of the scene. Alarmed by these photographs, the procuratorial officials abandoned their investigation and left Guling.

Underworld thugs

Guling is plagued not only by widespread official corruption, but also by growing organized crime and gangster activities. Armed with firearms, gangsters beat up innocent people and disturb peaceful society. Migrants who have visited high-ranking officials for help with their complaints about the misuse of resettlement funds are so scared that they dare not go shopping alone or go out at night.

The case of Li Weidong, a migrant from Group 3 in Guling village, and one of Guling township’s leading migrant petitioners, is an important one. He organized other migrants to appeal to the Communist Party of Yunyang county and the county government four times, as well as appeal to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party and the State Council’s Three Gorges Project Construction Committee in Beijing.

The party and governmental departments paid little attention to their petitions, and Mr. Li was repeatedly warned and even threatened by local officials not to carry on with his complaints. Fearing his constant efforts to appeal and organize collective actions, Mr. Li reports that Mr. Tan, the Communist Party secretary of Guling township, threatened him: “We will hire underworld thugs to deal with you if you continue appealing.” Wu Jian, vice-head of Guling township, and other officials, also warned Mr. Li on March 13 and 19, 1999: “You will face the consequences if you do not stop your appeals.”

Mr. Li was not deterred by their threats. Then, at 8:30 p.m. on March 21, 1999, he was set upon by four thugs and suffered six serious knife wounds to his head, arms and legs. Carrying the injured man on their shoulders, local Guling migrants marched to the Yunyang county seat, asking for protection for the petitioners and punishment for Mr. Li’s attackers and the local officials who were believed to have masterminded the attack.

After the attack, Mr. Li travelled four times to Beijing, demanding justice and explanations. The resettlement bureau of the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee asked local authorities to deal with the matter. Mr. Li’s attackers received insignificant sentences, while the instigators remained at large.

However, many people were surprised when the Guling township government paid 2,000 yuan RMB (US$240) for Mr. Li’s hospital bills and medicine. To settle the matter with Mr. Li in private, She Qinggui, who is thought to be the head of a gang in Guling and allegedly acting on behalf of Mr. Tan, met Mr. Li and said: “We hired thugs from the county seat of Yunyang to teach you a lesson because you accused us of claiming ‘fake migrants.’ We will pay all your costs as compensation, if you stop struggling against us.”6

Mr. Tan has since been demoted to vice-secretary of the Communist Party at Shuangjiang Development Zone [about 35 km upstream from Guling] in Yunyang county. This form of punishment is a symbolic gesture: Reducing someone to a lower rank or moving them from one place to another are regarded as the two major ways to punish an official for wrongdoing. But, despite so many scandals and crimes, Tan Heping is still an official of the Chinese Communist Party, and still enjoying his power in another place in the same county.

Conclusion: The people must be heard

Why did the migrants risk their lives to appeal to higher authorities? Because they found their accounts had been crossed off the resettlement list before they had obtained compensation for their displacement. Problems with Guling’s resettlement were so severe and local migrants’ dissatisfaction so strong, many people rented boats to travel to the county seat of Yunyang, or raised money from those adversely affected and travelled to Beijing to appeal to higher authorities on their behalf.

Tragically, Guling is just one example of the realities of Three Gorges resettlement. As long as corrupt officials escape serious punishment and resettlement problems are ineffectively resolved, more and more migrants like Li Weidong and He Kechang will decide to make their way to Beijing to protest against official corruption and appeal to higher authorities for help and justice.

Treated as “fugitives,” He Kechang and his three colleagues were arrested in Beijing on March 12, 2001, escorted to Yunyang and put in secret custody. On March 23, 2001, their relatives were informed that they would be accused of “inciting people to disturb social order.” Locked up in Yunyang’s police detention house, Mr. He and the three others faced the prospect of becoming the first people to be sentenced for appealing to higher authorities for justice in the Three Gorges resettlement operation.

While the fate of these petitioners is uncertain and more people in the Three Gorges area are forcibly resettled, a question remains: Who committed crimes – He Kechang, Li Weidong and other petitioners who lost everything they love to the reservoir – or corrupt officials who have the power to gain anything they want from resettlement? Ran Shaozhi, selected as a model migrant by the government, has spoken too much. Enough propaganda! It is time for the genuine migrants’ own representatives to be heard and for Premier Zhu Rongji to hear the truth about Three Gorges resettlement.


1. Editor’s note: See Three Gorges Probe, March 23, 2001, Three Gorges petitioners abducted and Three Gorges Probe, April 19, 2001, Imminent trial of Three Gorges dam protesters. These reports also contain details of a fourth migrant representative, Wen Dingchun, who was detained at the same time, but in Gaoyang. All four remain in custody in Yunyang county.

2. Editor’s note: Ran Shaozhi, a local resettlement official in Fengjie county, Chongqing municipality, is also a migrant himself. Unlike many migrants who protest their treatment and conditions and, as “distant migrants,” will have to move far away, Ran will be a “near migrant.” He was chosen as a model migrant and model official in charge of resettlement, and invited to Beijing at the end of March 2001 to meet with top leaders and report on the smooth progress of resettlement to the country’s leading media.

3. Editor’s note: Under the Household Registration System established in 1958 in China, every citizen must register with the local police and has a hukou. The hukou status becomes a major line of division between peasants and urban dwellers, resulting in the classification of “agricultural population” and “non-agricultural population.” With regard to the Three Gorges relocation operation, the hukou functions as a way of identifying migrants affected by the dam and local residents who do not need to move.

4. Editor’s note: Migrants’ resettlement funds fall into four categories:

1) The “production resettlement fund” provides compensation for land lost to the reservoir. Since the land is collectively owned by peasants in rural China, the compensation standards are determined on a county basis and vary across the reservoir area. For example, those who are organized to move in groups by the government cannot obtain money individually. Instead the funds are disbursed to the regions or enterprises that receive them. On the other hand, migrants who arrange their own resettlement and become self-employed are given 70 per cent of the funding allocated to them directly, while the remaining 30 per cent is kept by the government as “emergency funding.”

2) The “house-rebuilding fund” provides compensation for houses lost to the reservoir. It is given directly to each migrant family and calculated according to the type, structure and size of the about-to-be demolished houses.

3) The “moving expenses fund” is a subsidy that pays for migrants’ moving expenses and is calculated on the basis of the distance of the move.

4) The “infrastructure reconstruction fund” is used to rebuild infrastructure facilities such as roads, bridges, communications, water supply, electricity, and so forth, in the resettlement areas. The infrastructure reconstruction fund is transferred to the regions that receive migrants from the reservoir area and is used to build new infrastructure in the resettlement areas.

5. Editor’s note: “People’s procuratorates” monitor the work of state officials in the courts and the public security apparatus to ensure they are observing the law.

6. Editor’s note: Voice of America News, June 30, 2001, quoted Li Weidong saying that he wouldn’t stop his fight to seek help for those migrants whose money was siphoned off by corrupt local officials. “I’ve been chosen by many people to speak out for them,” he said.


Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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