China's Dams

Dammed and betrayed

(October 3, 2012) Wang Like is a Three Gorges Dam migrant who moved thinking it was his duty and honour to do so. Wang and his family, along with so many others, gave up everything for the construction of China’s concrete colossus – an edifice that would later be described as equal parts vanity project and technological marvel – in the belief that it was for a greater good. But on arrival in their new resettlement area, Wang’s family experienced what has become standard for countless Three Gorges Dam migrants: a welcome of open hostility, corruption of resettlement funds, broken promises and incomprehensible ill-treatment – as though he and his fellow migrants were being punished for their sacrifice. Wang’s story is rendered in powerful detail here, in a letter he wrote to a sympathetic journalist, in the hopes his voice would be heard.

By Lisa Peryman for Probe International

When Wang Like and his family gave up their ancestral village home in Wushan County to make way for the Three Gorges Dam project, they did so guided by the principle of she xiao jia wei da jia – sacrificing their own home for the sake of the big family – the nation of China.

The next chapter to this story, one of betrayal and abuse, has become a familiar one for migrants like Wang.

In a letter to Liu Bai, a retired journalist dedicated to exposing the plight of Three Gorges Dam migrants and the project’s resettlement legacy of shattered lives, Wang Like shared his story in the hopes it would be circulated.

In three powerfully written pages, Wang exposes what has become standard for too many migrants uprooted by China’s massive vanity dam. In the first instance, resettlement funds that were promised to Wang and his neighbours, in contracts signed prior to relocation, were diminished by more than half their original amount by grasping local officials in Wang’s new resettlement area. Wang’s family – who opted to relocate themselves in accordance with a policy that permitted individuals to arrange for their own resettlement – along with other migrants from their area, were forced to buy old abandoned houses in the village they moved to. Though the contract they signed prior to leaving stated they would be entitled to 1.5 mu of farmland per head outright, contacts were often not fulfilled and many migrants remained landless.

The letter details how local cadres have treated Wang and his fellow newcomers to a welcome of open hostility, forcibly occupying farmland that migrants have paid for and ruining farmland as payback when migrants go over their heads to complain to higher authorities, even going so far as to restrict their personal freedom. Those who cannot stand it any longer, abandon their new homes to join the ranks of China’s millions of migrant workers.

“We are being bullied, oppressed, and discriminated against for everything and in every way,” writes Wang. “…We have no way out …. please give us a home, and help us restore our dignity as human beings!” he pleaded.

We want to go back to Dachang of Wushan County in the Three Gorges reservoir area – A letter by a migrant from Dangyang City in Hubei Province

July 12, 2012

Dear Teacher Liu,

My name is Wang Like. I am from Hekou Village, Dachang Town in Wushan County of Chongqing Municipality, and I am a Three Gorges migrant who is classified under the “relocating oneself” category of migrants. [1]

So, in keeping with the call made by the Communist Party to support the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, in 1999, we moved to Group 2[2] of Jiuchong Village, Yuxi Town, in Dangyang City of Hubei Province, believing in the principle, she xiao jia wei da jia – that we should give up our small home for the big family, the nation. We immediately regretted it, and felt cheated as soon as we moved to Yuxi Town in Dangyang. First of all, we had to pay 3,400 yuan per person in order to get our new household registration, or hukou[3], processed.

Once we were settled in Jiuchong Village of Dangyang, our nightmare truly began: from that point, the village committee of Jiuchong did not act in accordance with the relocation contract signed before our resettlement. For example, despite having all five documents for the “application for the disbursement of funds” in our hands, in just 11 days, the village committee of Jiuchong spent 337,920 yuan that had originally been budgeted as resettlement funds, on bridges, roads and other sorts of projects, none of which, by the way, have ever been built! The resettlement funds of up to 15,000 yuan per head, which should have been assigned to us migrants, were dramatically reduced to only 7,000 yuan for each of us. Clearly, we could not accept such injustice lying down; we had no choice but to seek help from higher authorities. But, the local cadres said that we had no right to go over the head of the village committee and warned us: whoever dares to accuse them of wrongdoing by seeking help from higher authorities will be in trouble!

According to the relocation contract signed by us, the migrants, and the village committee prior to relocation, migrants would be entitled to 1.5 mu (1 mu=1/15 ha) of farmland per head if we moved to Jiuchong Village. In reality, however, we were forced to buy old abandoned houses in Jiuchong Village, and the village committee issued a policy saying that we were allowed only to purchase farmland directly from local homeowners who were looking to sell their property. As a result, a number of migrants got no farmland at all.

In 2003, the village committee sold plots of Group 1 farmland in Jiuchong Village and Group 2 forest mountains, also under the control of the village,[4] but nobody knew where the money from the sales went. Oddly and ridiculously enough, despite these sales, the village committee declared that the village was still millions of yuan in debt. Let me ask a question then: what the hell was this group of spendthrifts doing?

Because I have been appealing to higher authorities about our situation and about the living conditions of migrants in this village, I have been closely watched and my personal freedom has been restricted.

In 2008, my family members and I planned to visit our relatives who live outside the village. But, before we had the opportunity to do so, the head of Yuxi Town, together with village committee cadres, as well as local police, came to our home and told us we could not leave: they prevented us from leaving the village for almost one month.

In 2010, in order to provide clean drinking water for villagers in Jiuchong Village, the government funded a project to install water pipes for us, free of charge. After the project started, the village committee asked each household to pay a 300 yuan installation fee. I agreed to pay the 300 yuan, but insisted that the village committee give me a receipt. Li Bihu, the village party secretary, replied: “We would lose 300 yuan if we give you a receipt!” Then I went to talk to Feng Mingjiang, the town party secretary, whose answer was the same as Li Bihu, “We would lose 300 yuan if we give you a receipt!” We villagers were really confused: why would those officials lose money for simply giving us a receipt after we paid the fee? What was wrong with local government and those village and town cadres?

In 2011, Wang Renlun, a fellow migrant of mine from Dachang of Wushan, had his farmland forcibly occupied by Bao Jiawu, his neighbor, and a host resident, who said he was doing so to build a road. Wang Renlun got very angry and went to both the village committee and town government to complain. The officials said, “Let him do it because there are no cement roads in this village [of Jiuchong] and it is a good thing that those people who have money are building roads for us.”

On March 27, 2012, Wang Renlun’s wife went to the village committee again, asking the village committee to intervene so that she could get her farmland back. But Chen Aiguo, head of the village, roared, “You get out of here, get out of my sight!” Wang Renlun’s wife felt deeply hurt and kept crying and crying. Is there anywhere that we migrants can get justice? Where are the laws and human rights here anyway?

In 2011, the village cleaned up a ditch, and dumped the mud from the ditch on my field. I grew rapeseed in that field (1 mu in size), but the mud pile destroyed the rapeseed, causing a total crop failure for me that year. Do you know what those village cadres said to me after that? “You deserve that because of what you have done.”

Currently the plight we migrants face is very difficult. We are being bullied, oppressed, and discriminated against for everything and in every way. A number of Three Gorges migrants from many families have been forced to leave the village, working as migrant workers, in order to make ends meet. Though we have homes in the village, we cannot go back because we would be troubled, bullied, and oppressed if we return! None of us has a choice; we desperately want to go back to our birth place in Wushan in the Three Gorges reservoir area, from where we were relocated.

We have no way out, so we’re appealing to the higher authorities and whoever can help us: please give us a home, and help us restore our dignity as human beings!

Wang Like

1 Since 1993, a year after the Three Gorges Dam was approved by the National People’s Congress, two kinds of population resettlement in the Three Gorges area was officially sanctioned: either the local government could take responsibility for relocating people in nearby areas, on higher slopes, or “in areas that needed to be developed” under a policy known as “resettlement with development;” or, individuals destined to be displaced by the dam could arrange their own resettlement, outside of the reservoir area, under a policy known as “relocating oneself.” Under the former, people would move according to an integrated, government-organized plan; under the latter, people would need to use their own connections and seek help or receive invitations from friends and relatives in other areas to settle somewhere else.

2 The “group” is the lowest administrative level in rural China, below the Village Committee. The town government is a higher authority, but still below the county government. So the administrative hierarchy in rural China is (from bottom to top) is: group-village-town/township-county/city-prefecture/city-province/autonomous region/municipality.

3 Hukou or household registration gives citizens the right to live in a particular area, work, and receive social services such as school, health care etc.

4 To a third, unknown, party.

Further Reading:

Bright Sun City’s Dark Intent

Absence of Justice

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