Three Gorges Probe

Restoring China's lost lakes

South China Morning Post
February 6, 2006

Millions of people are being moved from the Yangtze floodplain as a result of the reversal of Mao’s drive to create croplands by shrinking vast wetlands, Jasper Becker writes.

At the stroke of a pen, Premier Zhu Rongji ordered the removal of more than 2.5 million people from the Yangtze flood plain after the terrifying 1998 floods. Four years later most of them have gone, rebuilding their homes and sometimes demolishing and reconstructing entire small towns. On Qinshan Island in Dongting Lake, the Zhang family and their neighbours were left until Stage 4 of the plan. Last week they were busy pulling the tiles off their roof and loading their belongings on to a tractor to take them to their new house in the local town. The tiles and even the bricks will be used again. When the next flood breaches the six-metre dyke nearby, what’s left of the house will be submerged under water. Their fields will once again be part of the lake, part of a 560-square-km area of land reclaimed from the lake now being returned to its original state. "The Government is very good. It helps the people," said 73-year-old grandfather Zhang Yunzhang repeatedly as he accepted a cigarette from the local official in charge of handing out a government subsidy once the household moves. The relocation of the Zhangs and their neighbours is taking place with little of the criticism by human rights groups looking at the far more contentious plans to find room for the 1.5 million forced to make way for the Three Gorges Dam. For all the social changes in recent years, the power of the state to move huge numbers of people at will remains astonishing. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Government relocated about 170 million people by emptying the big cities, sending the Red Guards to the countryside and building the third-line military industrial complex in the interior. These days many worry about the 120 million migrant workers who are said to be "blindly" moving around the country in search of work.

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