November 1, 2005
Introduction: Inspired by sociologist Ying Xing’s book, The Story of the Dahe Dam, social scientist Yang Chongqing set off to research the fate of the villagers whose struggle is chronicled in the book.1 Many of the farmers whose lives and livelihoods were thrown into turmoil by the impacts of that dam, built 30 years ago on a Yangtze tributary in what is now Chongqing municipality, were later pushed off their land for the Three Gorges project.
The makeshift home of a Gaoyang returnee
Yang Chongqing travelled to the region featured in Ying Xing’s book – Gaoyang township in Yunyang county, located about 225 kilometres upstream of the Three Gorges dam. What he found shocked him: Farmers who had been displaced by the Three Gorges dam were living in appalling conditions of destitution and insecurity back in their original location, because the resettlement sites to which they had been sent were even worse. Many took one look at the unwelcoming and unsatisfactory situation they were being squeezed into in the new places, and opted to go back to farm the slopes in familiar surroundings, even though their old homes had already been demolished and their old fields were perhaps already submerged. Back in Gaoyang, they are staying with relatives, renting temporary accommodation or living in makeshift shelters cobbled together from shattered bricks and tiles salvaged from their bulldozed homes, along with bits of plastic sheeting, bamboo, branches, twigs and grass. Yang Chongqing’s account of his conversations with a few of Gaoyang’s forgotten farmers highlights a phenomenon, officially called "reverse flow," whereby some people ousted by dam projects in China abandon resettlement sites to return to their place of origin. The poignant account below of the relocation woes suffered by Three Gorges migrants in Gaoyang township (who have also been battling corruption in the resettlement operation, and in some cases have been imprisoned for doing so) offers little comfort to the many other communities that stand in the way of China’s myriad planned dams.
The forgotten farmers of Gaoyang Ever since reading The Story of the Dahe Dam, sociologist Ying Xing’s account of a prolonged struggle for redress by people plunged deeper into poverty by a dam, I have harboured a desire to visit the Dahe area. I wanted to see for myself how these "twice-dammed" people – affected first by Dahe in the 1970s and then again by Three Gorges – were getting on now. To protect his sources, Ying Xing used pseudonyms for many people and places in the book, including for the dam itself. But the real name and location of the dam is by now an open secret. Dahe, literally, means "big river," but it is in fact the 180-kilometre-long tributary of the Yangtze called the Xiaojiang, or "small river." (To complicate matters, the river is commonly known as the Pengxi, and appears under either name on maps.) An opportunity to visit the Xiaojiang area presented itself earlier this year during a weeklong holiday in May. I headed first for the new county seat of Yunyang, constructed on higher ground 30 kilometres upstream of the old Yunyang, which is due to be partially inundated when the Three Gorges reservoir is filled to 156 metres above sea level in 2006. The fresh face of the new Yunyang came as a pleasant surprise: wide avenues stretching along the riverbank, a well-designed park in the town centre, newly built shops, banks and cinemas lining the
Categories: Three Gorges Probe