Dam shame

Resettled, but tragic lives

Dam shame

They used to live here till the dam was built

The southern city of Foshan is famed as the home of Yim Wing Chun, who is remembered for resisting the (unwanted) advances of a warlord. In doing so she pioneered a new form of fighting. The martial art she devised took her name, Wing Chun.

Antagonism remains alive and well in Foshan, as a journalist from the Southern Rural News recently discovered. Since August 2002, the city has been witness to a series of new arrivals in the district of Gaoming. They come from the town of Wuxia, having been required to resettle in a place that speaks a different language (Cantonese), eats a different cuisine (and not the immigrants famed spicy Sichuan variety) and that has little in common with their former riverside home a thousand kilometres to the northwest.

Once the whim of emperors, the forced migrations of today are often a result of the country’s ambitious infrastructure projects. The Wuxians now resident in Gaoming form part of an enormous relocation programme that saw 1.24 million people moved to make way for the $30 billion Three Gorges Dam.

But as the journalist from Southern Rural News points out many of those resettled are far from happy with their new lot. Many have lost their livelihoods. Most feel uprooted, with little emotional connection to their new ‘home’.

Lu Xinggui is one of those who feels isolation and disappointment. He hasn’t been able to find any work in the area, being around 50 when he moved to Gaoming. He resorted to fishing, his previous means of earning a livelihood. But the catch was a meagre one – given local fish have been poisoned by a nearby chemical plant. “In the old days, I could catch more than Rmb1,000 worth of fish on a good day,” in the Yangtze River, he reminisced of his previous home.

Lu’s daughter, once a top student, also had problems integrating into her new school, which teaches its curriculum in the local dialect, Cantonese. Her grades dropped significantly, although she managed to gain entrance to a polytechnic. “She could have made it to a university,” sighs Lu. Another thing that upsets him is the poor quality of housing. Promises by the local government to look into the condition of his living quarters were never kept.

Gangnan – a village in Gaoming housing 23 Wuxia families – has become well known for less salubrious reasons too. That’s because it contains an incredible 10 hair salons. Little in the way of trimming and perming goes on though, as they serve as a front for brothels. The newspaper points out immigrant families are often involved in running such establishments, with sex workers now making up half the village’s population. Other immigrant families run businesses that feed off the vice industry. Two have turned their homes into internet cafes frequented by prostitutes in their free time.

Dead fish, hookers and rather shabby internet cafes – it hardly constitutes an idyll for those relocated from their former homes to make way for the Three Gorges mega project.

Mao Zedong once wrote of his dream to build a dam to “cut short the Yangtze River to make a peaceful lake”.

Years after his death the dam is finally built. But for all the benefits in cheap electricity, the dark side to the project includes countless villages like Gangnan – whose residents are blameless victims of the huge relocation programmes.

Environmental group International Rivers reckons China has built as many as 25,800 large dams across the country, forcing 10 million to move in the past three decades.

“Migration is not simply a case of moving house,” says Chen Tianhui, a National People’s Congress delegate from Shiyan city in Hubei province. “Integrating into a new area, often mixing with locals who speak a different dialect, can take more than a generation.”

Chen has also been involved with the resettlement of 180,000 people from Shiyan to make way for the South-North Water Transfer Project, which started last year and will take another two years to complete. Another 150,000 people will be relocated from Henan province, to facilitate the transferring of water from Danjiangkou Reservoir on the Han River to the parched cities of Beijing and Tianjin.

One of those already relocated is Zheng Jiaozhong, a farmer. He notes that his old home of Miaowan will enjoy its last harvest this year before being flooded. He misses the place already, he told the China Daily and added that his son – who is in the army – had telephoned the previous week and complained that he didn’t know where home was anymore.

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