Three Gorges Probe

Introduction to Xie Chaoping’s book, “The Great Relocation”

(October 15, 2010) Probe International has translated the introduction by Long Pingchuan, a Chinese writer, to Xie Chaoping’s controversial book, “The Great Relocation,” which details the struggles of migrants relocated to make way for the Sanmenxia dam.

When the Sanmenxia dam was completed in the 1960—under the supervision of Russian engineers—it was hailed as a symbol of the new revolutionary China, with its image printed on country’s bank notes. But in a matter of years, it became an embarrassment, as more than a billion tonnes of silt poured into the reservoir annually—forcing the government to rebuild it. Claims that it would ever operate as a flood control facility ceased.

Indeed, the dam soon caused the very floods it was supposed to prevent, and produced electricity only sporadically.

But the Sanmenxia dam was more than just an engineering debacle; it spawned a four decades-long social disaster too. To date, more than 400,000 citizens have been relocated, once in the 1950s and then again in the 1980s because of this dam. Over time, countless stories of graft by local officials and forced impoverishment have accumulated.

At every stage in the never-ending social disaster local officials have struggled to silence the story of these migrants.

Xie Chaoping challenged this silence by publishing his book, “The Great Relocation”, a detailed account of the Sanmenxia migrants’ struggle against the injustices doled out to them. For his service, Xie was detained on August 19, taken from his home in Beijing and transported hundreds of miles to Shaanxi Province by local police and held on charges of “illegal business activities” for nearly a month. He was released two weeks later when higher level prosecutorial officials rejected the charges against him on the grounds that the evidence was “insufficient”.

According to sources in China, obtaining a copy of Xie’s book is difficult, as nearly all of the copies have been confiscated by officials in Weinan—the municipality in Shaanxi province where the migrants were displaced. But Probe International has received a portion of the introduction to the book, by Long Pingchuan, a Chinese writer. It is translated here.

Introduction by Long Pingchuan (Chinese writer)

Selected translation from Preface 2: “About the ‘Great Relocation’”

Although books concerning migration are about as abundant in academia as seashells on a beach, there is a shortage of studies on Chinese migration, particularly internal migration. Chinese scholars appear to be more passionate about the history of trans-national migration, seemingly showing more interest in events outside of their own country.

China is the world’s leader in the construction of hydro dams—not only in the number of dams built, but also in the size of these dams. But due to the country’s sizable population and limited amount of arable land, problems with displacing and relocating citizens to make way for these dams are both complex and numerous. In this context, the publication of “The Great Relocation” is particularly significant, as it allows us a window from which we can view both China as a whole and the Yellow River valley in particular—enabling us to do so from political, economic, cultural, legal, and social perspectives. It also enables us to search for solutions to deal with a host of problems surfacing in contemporary Chinese society.

Xie Chaoping, the book’s author, repeatedly travelled to Weinan, Huayin and other places in the Yellow River valley in order to complete his book on the history of resettlements caused by the construction of the Sanmenxia dam on the Yellow River. I’m amazed at his research abilities, which has allowed him to perform the amount of work that I thought would require a team of researchers.

“The Great Relocation” describes the experience of people displaced by the Sanmenxia dam, who were treated as second-class citizens and forced to watch as their fate was controlled by authorities. They were supposed to be moved to the promised land, but they would have no rights in the process.  And in turn, they became frightened, panic-stricken, acted in secret—like thieves and ghosts—or quickly gathered to protest their fate. But most of the time, they were left with no choice at all, but to pray.

They lived under two skies. One was mother nature, who created droughts and starvation, or produced devastating floods with deadly winds and rains. The other sky was the authorities, which were allowed to determine the very life and death of these people. In the end, no matter how many of them there were, and no matter how brave they were—with their blood boiling and their emotions running high—they were unable to do anything about their fate: their life was as cheap as ants on the road. All they could do was pray again and again.

The history of resettlement in regions south of the Wei River caused by the Sanmenxia dam is a history where farmers were moved in and out like a group of ants. In the process, they attempted 17 times to try and return to the reservoir area. They struggled to survive in poor living conditions, exhausted not only physically, but mentally. All the while local officials watched as the migrants suffered with their blood and tears—many of these officials, unmoved by the migrants’ misery, turned to exploitation and authoritarianism.

So, on top of the detailing of ordinary people’s emotions and feelings, “The Great Relocation” is significant, because it exposes endemic corruption and an intense hatred of this corruption. This book tells us that we have more important things to do once we’re fed and clothed. We should be on guard for officials, seemingly eager to highlight their kindness and loyalty with elaborate, top-down programs, but instead use these programs for personal gain and silencing dissent.

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