China's Dams

High tension in Sichuan dam standoff

Kelly Haggart

November 8, 2004

Troops with steel helmets and machine guns have moved in to the Hanyuan county seat in Sichuan province as tensions run high in the Pubugou dam conflict, according to Chinese-language Hong Kong newspaper reports today (Nov. 8).


Hundreds of villagers protesting against construction of the dam on the Dadu River in southwest China have been detained, and several dozen farmers have been hospitalized after violent clashes with police that began late last month. The county seat has been sealed off and outsiders prevented from entering, the newspaper reports said.

Eyewitnesses contacted by phone told Hong Kong’s Sun newspaper that all the hotels in the Hanyuan county seat are now filled with provincial and local government officials. Luo Gan, a member of the Communist Party’s ruling Political Bureau, was also due to arrive on the scene to deal with one of the most serious outbreaks of rural unrest since the founding of the People’s Republic more than 50 years ago.

Several villagers who spoke to the Sun newspaper said tens of thousands of protesters withdrew from the dam site on Saturday night (Nov. 6) after a sit-in demonstration that lasted more than 80 hours. They agreed to end their sit-in after the government promised to postpone the scheduled damming of the river.

Most of the protesters are from three townships in Hanyuan county – Wangong, Fuquan and Dashu. They are outraged over meagre compensation for requisitioned farmland, and allege official corruption in the resettlement operation.

Though the dam is located about 20 kilometres from their villages, they have vowed to return to the construction site if work on the project resumes.

Villagers told the Sun that people affected by the Pubugou dam now believe the government has no intention of offering better compensation terms, and that the protesters have reached a new consensus: They will not make any more demands related to the compensation package, but will simply oppose the dam outright and stand their ground – refusing to move or to permit their land to be requisitioned or inundated.

The newspaper said that elderly men and women are among the most active participants in the protests – in fact, are always out in front leading the charge. They have become known as the “dare-to-die brigade” because they taunt the armed police with shouts of, “Kill us, kill us! We will no longer have to move if you kill us!”

Meanwhile, foreign media reports said that more than 10,000 paramilitary police were deployed to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators who surrounded a top provincial official on Friday (Nov. 5).

Zhang Xuezhong, the provincial Communist Party boss, had arrived to investigate the unrest and became trapped in a government building, with tens of thousands of protesters outside clamouring for better compensation terms, Singapore’s Straits Times reported today (Nov. 8).

Mr. Zhang has since departed for Chengdu, the Sichuan provincial capital, without making any promises about improving the compensation terms for the 100,000 people who will be forced to move for the dam project, Hong Kong’s Sun newspaper reported.

The Pubugou protests have not been reported in the Chinese press outside of Hong Kong. Foreign and Hong Kong media are reporting three or four deaths in the clashes, with exact figures impossible to confirm. The Pubugou dam is being built on the Dadu River, a Yangtze tributary, by the Guodian Group, one of China’s five major power companies. It has been designed to generate 14.58 billion KW of electricity annually upon completion in 2011. The U.S. equipment manufacturer GE Energy has won a contract valued at US$37 million to supply three turbines, additional equipment and services for the dam.

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