March 25, 2002
Fengjie: If it wasn’t enough having your home town dynamited and submerged under a reservoir, residents of Fengjie – directly in the path of China’s vast Three Gorges dam project – say much of their relocation money is being stolen by corrupt officials.
“The Three Gorges is profiting officials. It is them who are pocketing the money,” complained a man who gave his name as Ni, running a tiny stall selling alcohol on the southwestern town’s still-bustling streets.
“The whole of this resettlement project is further exacerbating the differences between the rich and poor.”
Fengjie, an ancient community of around 60,000 people, swelled by 20,000 migrants from the surrounding countryside, has a busy air for a place that will be deep under water in little more than a year.
Only a fraction of the population have so far moved to a new town being built on higher ground nearby and life continues in the narrow lanes of Fengjie much as it has for 2,300 years.
It is the only town that will be entirely submerged under a massive reservoir caused by the Three Gorges dam, a grandiose and deeply controversial project first conceived decades ago to harness the power of the mighty Yangtze River and control flooding.
The dam, the world’s largest hydro-electric project, will from next year create a reservoir that will eventually be more than 600 kilometres (375 miles) long and around 200 metres (660 feet) deep.
Fengjie itself – where a series of large buildings and chimneys were dynamited in January to clear shipping passages in the new reservoir – is due to begin disappearing from June 2003, a process that will take a planned six years to complete.
Authorities have set aside 2.68 billion yuan (323 million dollars) to relocate the town’s population, according to Zhang, director of the municipal relocation office.
However discontent is growing at the way this operation is being handled.
“The state has invested heavily but cadres are helping themselves first,” said a man calling himself Li, a vendor of watches and small electrical goods.
“The officials are well paid, and they also run businesses in the side,” complained a man giving his name as Cheng, who worked at a municipally-owned abattoir which was then privatised before going bankrupt.
“The rehousing is good for those who are the middlemen. What can you buy when you don’t have 300 yuan a month?” he said.
There have been widespread allegations of official corruption in connection with the vast relocation project along the Three Gorges, which will see a total of 1.13 million people moved, according to official figures.
Critics of the project, who also say the dam could prove to be an environmental catastrophe as well as an uneconomic folly, allege this figure is a significant underestimate.
Fengjie’s people lament both the passing of a such an ancient town and perceived difficulties in the new community, such as planned higher rents and the relocation of stalls and shops.
“For us, it will be harder to do business there, as we are scattered to the four corners of the new town,” said one vendor who gave his name as Zhang.
“As well, the rent for my stall is going from 500 yuan a month to around 1,000,” he said.
Among the most visible new buildings in the newly-built community are tall concrete towers, mainly local authority-owned properties, sprouting from cliffs jutting over the Yangtze.
“But many residential buildings and schools have not yet been built,” complained vendor Ni.
And while permanent Fengjie residents are offered apartments to rent or buy, unofficial rural migrants have to cope entirely alone.
Many workers at the Shicheng Hotel, which belongs to the district government, said they did not even know if they would be re-employed after the current building is submerged.
“The local economy rests to a large extent on people from the countryside. They are the lowest paid,” said Ni.
“The rent on two rooms in the new town is the equivalent of the majority of their wage,” he added.
But some are happy in the knowledge that for them, life will continue much as it always did.
Xie, the owner of a small restaurant he runs with his wife and daughter, will move from their current two-storey house to a taller new building. However, like now, the restaurant will be just beneath their apartment.
“The construction will begin in March and we will move there in July or August,” he said, confident everything would be ready on time.
According to Zhang, director of the relocation office, around 10,000 people have already moved to the new town and the process will accelerate in the second part of the year.
Eventually the whole town will be cleared away, cleaned up, and gradually disappear beneath the water for good.
Categories: Three Gorges Probe