Three Gorges Probe

No room for residents when ancient town is moved

Kelly Haggart
Three Gorges Probe
November 29, 2001

The historic town of Dachang, due to be submerged when the Three Gorges dam reservoir is filled in 2003, is to be dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt on top of a hill, China Central Television (CCTV) has reported.


The 1,700-year-old site, one of the best-preserved ancient towns in China, will be reconstructed 10 km away from its original location. Bricks, tiles, roof beams and pillars will all be marked with a number and each piece carefully reassembled at the new site, CCTV said.

However, the new Dachang will be a theme park for tourists to visit, not for local people to live in. Many residents of the once-bustling port have already been moved to distant locations. Last year, the official media reported the arrival of 233 migrants from Dachang in the southern coastal province of Guangdong, 1,000 km away.

Dachang is located on the Daning River, one of the Yangtze’s most beautiful tributaries. The Daning River is also the site of the popular Mini Three Gorges. The Longmen, Bawu and Dicui gorges stretch along 40 km of the winding river and are smaller (though some say even more impressive) than the Three Gorges on the Yangtze River.

"Unlike the deep and murky Yangtze, which is brown from soil erosion and industrial pollutants, the Daning is shallow and clear," reporter Ching-Ching Ni wrote recently in The Los Angeles Times. "Water from the new dam, however, will shroud it like a dirty blanket."

When the Three Gorges dam reservoir is filled to the 135-metre level 18 months from now, that "dirty blanket" will also cover the heritage site of Dachang. Most of the town’s buildings date from the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD) and early Qing (1644-1911), and are outstanding examples of the ancient architectural style of eastern Sichuan province. Many houses are grouped in the traditional way around a central courtyard, and are famous for their ornately hand-carved doors and windows.

Dachang is in Wushan county, and 60,000 people from the county are being moved to make way for the dam. Ching-Ching Ni describes the sorrow of one Dachang family facing relocation from the ancestral home in which 12 generations were born.

The Wen family compound, a comparative mansion in the town, "will be saved from the great flood, but they will never be allowed to live in it again," Ching-Ching Ni writes. " … The Wens could come back and see their old home again, if they pay the price of admission."

The family has been offered the same compensation for their landmark house as others are getting for broken-down shacks. "If that’s all the money they will give us, I don’t want their money," the family’s 61-year-old patriarch is quoted as saying. "I’m staying in this house, and I’m going wherever the house goes." His family was due to be dispersed to different parts of the country, with one son being sent to Guangdong, and another probably going elsewhere.

"To live somewhere else is a terrifying thought for the Wens," Ching-Ching Ni writes. "The same anxiety is brewing all around town. Every day, angry neighbours spill into the street as they haggle with cadres parroting the party line.

"The residents’ main complaint is money. They say that out of the nearly $4,000 the state promises each displaced person, only about $1,000 will reach their pockets. … Too many stories of corruption and embezzlement have eroded their confidence that they will ever get a fair shake."

Some residents run to the hills and hide in caves when the resettlement officials come to town. One 62-year-old woman was so distressed after being forced to register her family for relocation that she drank rat poison and died, Ching-Ching Ni reports. Other elderly people are upset because they have already bought their funeral caskets, but, as one explained, "we won’t get to take them with us. There’s no room."

The Xinhua News Agency reported that the Dachang relocation project will cost 30 million yuan RMB (US$3.6 million) and involve the removal of 38 ancient buildings and the old town walls. Some parts of buildings that are too old to survive the move will be replicated in the new location using similar materials, the agency said.

"We will try our best to maintain the original look of the town," Chongqing cultural relics official Liu Yuchuan was quoted as saying. Mr. Liu acknowledged that damage to the ancient structures was inevitable during the move.

The Three Gorges project will inundate more than 1,100 villages and towns, including other ancient places similar to Dachang, such as Xintan, Yangdu and Xituo on the Yangtze River, the Xinhua report said.


Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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