(December 9, 2010) Probe International researcher and a Chinese social scientist,Yang Chongqing interviews migrants from the Danjiangkou dam reservoir in Hubei Province and finds many of the problems that plagued earlier resettlement programs are being repeated.
Located in northwest Hubei Province, Yunxian County is experiencing first hand the ill effects of raising the Danjiangkou dam reservoir—being raised so it can hold more water, which will be transferred North to drought-stricken regions, particularly Beijing. According to official statistics, as many as 58,900 people from 118 villages—or nearly one-third of the total migrant population in Hubei that will be forced to make way for the higher reservoir—are now in transit.
On November 7th, I took a trip to Yunxian County to see how the resettlement program was going. I chose Yunxian County after speaking with a taxi driver I hired in Shiyan City—nicknamed Motor City by the Chinese because it is home to many automotive factories—who said Yunxian County is the epicentre of the Hubei Province resettlement operation. Easy to reach, being little more than an hour’s drive from the city, he also said I would see the remains of many of the houses that have been torn down.
The taxi driver also said his own relatives had been among those forced to relocate just two months ago.
On my way to Yunxian I found the remnants of what appeared to have been a giant building next to the highway between Shiyan and Yunxian. I asked Mr. Li, the driver, what it was. He told me it had been a cement factory but was torn down to protect the water quality of the Danjiangkou reservoir. I asked him to stop the car to take a closer look.
The main building had been removed, but the gate of the factory still stood, displaying eleven large Chinese characters:”Yunxian Tianmaya (Pegasus Cliff) Cement Co Ltd” (Yunxian Tianmaya Shuini Youxian Gongsi.).
When we finally arrived at a village near the Danjiangkou reservoir, I was shocked: many houses had been destroyed and broken bricks and debris lay everywhere. Furniture, worn shoes and a child’s school bag were still on the ground—the scene, to me, resembled a battlefield. Several people were working, loading bricks onto a truck.
I went to a house near the ruins. Inside, a family of five were eating lunch—including an old couple, a middle-aged man and two children. I asked why they had not left with all of the other families.
An old man, probably in his sixties, replied: “We don’t want to go far, so we are still here.” I asked where they planned to go. The middle-aged man—who could have been the old man’s son—said: “Of course, we cannot stay here for long. Soon we will be resettled in an area close by.”
It was no surprise that I discovered a number of propaganda slogans painted on the walls of houses scheduled for the wrecking ball: “Great relocation, great development, moving earlier and developing more quickly” (Da yimin, da fazhan, zao banqian kuaifazhan); “Do everything possible for the resettlement, do whatever we can for the migrants” (Yiqie weile yimin, weile yimin yiqie); “Support the central government’s decision-making, support the South-North water diversion” (Yonghu zhongyang juece, zhichi nanshui beidiao); “To look at the overall situation and make contributions, to move voluntarily and to be a model (for others)” (Guquan daju jiangfengxian, zhudong banqian zuomofan), and “Sacrifice small family for big family, and build new homes for the country” (She xiaojia wei dajia, wei guojia ban xinjia), and so on.
A major propaganda campaign had, clearly, taken place prior to the forced relocation.
And it seems—from the red banner which read, “Meeting to pledge mass effort for the remote resettlement in Shifangyuan Village of Tanjiawan Town” (Tanjiawan zhen shifangyuan cun yimin waiqian shishi dahui)” hanging on the village committee building, that a mass assembly to support the propaganda campaign had also been held.
I was curious to know when that assembly took place and how long afterwards the residents were relocated. Looking around, I saw no adults, just a few children in front of the village committee building learning how to ride a bike.
I asked a little boy where his parents were. To my delight, he responded that he would be glad to take me to his home to meet them. I met and spoke with the boy’s father at his house near the village committee centre.
The father, in his forties, told me his family name was Fang and that the assembly took place on September 25th for the nearly 1000 people scheduled to be relocated. Their relocation took place shortly after the rally—with a contingent of more than a hundred buses and trucks waiting to whisk the migrants and their belongings to their new homes.
These 1000 migrants have all now been resettled on the Xiangnan Farm, about 200 km away and 20 km south of the county seat of Yicheng County, Hubei Province.
Mr. Fang also told me that in his village, half of the migrants were moved outside of Yunxian County, while the other half chose to be resettled nearby. When I asked why he decided to stay rather than be resettled, he retorted: “Why did I stay? My family didn’t want to go anywhere, no matter how good it would be.”
I felt Mr. Fang was a little uncomfortable with my question. He appeared ready to end the conversation, so I quickly asked: “Last question for you: what do you think about the compensation?” He shook his head, saying, “We got the small part of it while the officials got the lion’s share.”
I planned to visit migrants who moved from Shifangyuan Village to the Xiangnan Farm in Yicheng County in Xiangfan City. But when I arrived in Xiangfan City, nobody was willing to drive me there because the road to the resettlement site was still under construction. One taxi driver suggested I go to a different farm called Xiangbei Farm, where the migrants from Yunxian County had been resettled—saying that it was not far from Xiangfan City, about two hours drive. Off we went.
As we approached the resettlement site on Xiangbei Farm, I could see coloured flags on the trees along the new road leading to the site.
“You see, the flags are still there, meaning a welcoming ceremony took place recently,” the taxi driver said. “And the new road was specially built for the migrants.”
We came across a new community built in the middle of a vast field lined with rows upon rows of new homes. Upon the arrival of my taxi, a group of citizens gathered out of curiosity. I asked a man in his fifties how many people had been resettled here and where they were originally from. He told me there were around 1,000 people living in 300 homes in the new community and that they had all come from the Town of Qingshan (Green Mountain) in Yunxian County—close to Tangjiawan Town where I took many pictures.
I asked him how much money the residents spent to purchase their new homes.
“About 90,000 yuan RMB for a two-storey building and about 40,000 yuan RMB for single storey building,” he said, adding that he had bought a two-storey house.
“So how much money have you received from the government?” I asked.
“All the money (from the government) has been spent on buying the house,” he replied.
“And how do you make a living now,” I replied?
“The farmland has not yet been distributed, so currently we depend on a subsidy from the government,” he told me.
“And how much is that?”
“200 yuan for each person per month—with six people in my family—so it’s around 1,200 yuan each month,” he said.
“How long will the subsidy continue?”
“Six months,” he said. “So hopefully we can get farmland and start growing wheat and cotton.”
“Are you happy with your resettlement?” I asked.
“It’s hard to say. Certainly it’ll take time for us to get used to it. We are grateful the government has built new homes for us, but my house already has a problem with it. I called the department in charge several times but, while they are always polite on the phone, they have not yet come to fix it.”
Our conversation was interrupted by a woman, who said: “I don’t like it here. One of the biggest problems is that we can’t grow vegetables and raise pigs and chickens, so we have to buy them. That costs a lot.”
On the way to Xiangfan City, the taxi driver had a different opinion than that of the migrants, saying: ”Those people should be content with what they have. You know, our government has done a lot for them, by building new houses and new roads, giving financial support every month and providing good land for them. You might not know, but that big piece of land belonged to the Xiangbei Farm before, which was a state farm—something like a labor camp actually—with lots of prisoners working there. Now the farm is gone and all the land has been used to resettle the people from the Danjiangkou area. So the migrants not only received good quality land but, they don’t have to argue over who owns it.”
“I think the government has done enough for them, so they’re really lucky in my view.”
If the taxi driver is correct, that migrants resettled at Xiangbei Farm are lucky, there is no shortage of evidence that some of the groups relocated for the Danjiangkou reservoir are unlucky.
Migrants protest resettlements
Soon after my visit to Yunxian County, in which I heard rumblings of dissatisfaction from the migrants forced from their homes by the South-North Water Diversion project, Chinese media outlets began to report protests breaking out at other resettlement sites.
According to a story first published November 26th on Radio Free Asia’s (RFA), between November 24th and November 26th migrants in Qianjiang City of Hubei Province—displaced by the Danjiangkou dam reservoir—protested the resettlement program. During the protests, several people were injured and twenty people were arrested and still remain in police custody.
As reported by RFA, thousands of migrants blocked roads for three days to protest shoddy housing. They also complained about the lack of promised funds for the resettlement program. A staff member from the local government told RFA that the vice governor of Hubei Province, Tian Chengzhong, went to the scene of the protest to try and bring it under control.
Mr. Liu, one of the protesters, told RFA that they were forcibly dispersed by the police: “What I can tell you is, we were driven away from the highway by armed police who took us off the road with electric batons in their hands.”
Since then, the police have established check points to control who enters or leaves the area. The police have also distributed a flyer to migrant families, warning them not to bring any materials relating to the protest and not to get involved in any protest activities.
“The Public Bureau of Qianjiang City has since issued a warning that it will arrest anybody who instigated the gathering, blocked traffic or caused trouble. There have been arrests, I have heard of them,” Mr. Liu said.
Another woman told RFA: “Something happened for sure, but many issues have yet to be resolved. There was a fight with residents from Yunxian County. I don’t dare say anything because the police are just over there.”
The protests began on November 24th when thousands of migrants from Yunxian County blocked a section of Guanghua section along the 318 State Highway—saying they were unhappy with the poor quality of resettlement housing and the lack of funds for daily needs. That night the protesters remained on the highway, burning branches to stay warm.
At noon the next day (November 25th), the protests continued, as several police cars were thrown into the river. That night the standoff continued, with reports that one armed policeman was injured.
On Friday (November 26th), the migrants attempted to block the Wuhan-Yichang Highway, but were unable to do so after armed police from other cities—such as Jingzhou City and counties of Hubei Province—were sent in to control the situation. The protest then moved back to the No. 318 State Highway.
The majority of the recent protesters were migrants from Liupi Town, Yunxian County in Shiyan City. The Shiyan Daily reported that 6,722 migrants from 1,658 households and 8 villages in Liupi Town have been resettled in the Guanghua resettlement site—with the last group of migrants resettled on November 22, 2010.
The sad reality is that the houses the migrants from Liupi Town bought with the compensation money are of poor quality, and many have already cracked. Meanwhile, the living allowance offered to migrants has failed to materialize.
Mr. Liu said: “We have not seen a penny of the living allowance promised by the government. So far, we have got two handfuls of noodles, two cabbages, a small pot of oil and a little bit of gas. We have been here a week and eating a proper meal is still a problem.”
“The so-called new houses are full of problems and are dangerous. Almost every house is cracked, but we cannot fix them as we spent all our money buying them!”
The protests reported by RFA occurred days after my visit to Yunxian County, which will soon be submerged by the waters of the Danjiangkou reservoir—so that much of this water to be shipped north to Beijing where water shortages have become chronic. As with all forced resettlements before this one, Chinese citizens and their families are being forced to make way for the “big family” of the Chinese state and now face an uncertain future.
Yang Chongqing, Probe International, December 09, 2010
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