Relocation for Giant Dam Inflames Chinese Peasants

by Julie Chao
Palm Beach Post
May 15, 2001

He Kechang retired to a village above the Yangtze River hoping to spend his last years with his family working their half-acre of land. But as construction started on the Three Gorges Dam about 200 miles down river, the former ship worker found himself slowly drawn into a morass of deceit and corruption.

The government sent millions in tax money to the town of Gaoyang to relocate 13,000 farmers and make way for the dam. But He and his family never saw their share.

Instead, they saw officials spend the money on impressive new buildings for the government and police. He turned up evidence that officials artificially inflated the number of residents and amount of land to collect more money from the central government while denying farmers their rightful compensation.

He, 61, felt compelled to act. He collected documents, got petitions signed and traveled several times to Beijing to lodge complaints and seek out journalists. Sometimes he went at his own expense, sometimes with donations from villagers who gave what they could afford.

"My son tried to tell him, if a farmer tries to seek justice from the government, the only possible outcome is failure," said his wife, Xiong Dezhen. "But he didn't listen."

For his troubles, He is sitting in jail with three other men, all in their 50s and 60s, all informally elected as village representatives and now charged with disturbing the public order. They are awaiting the outcome of a trial in Yunyang.

The four are among thousands who have traveled to Beijing and provincial capitals to expose graft and appeal for help. However, He and his colleagues are the first to be arrested for doing so.

In an area that is already seething with anger at official corruption, the arrests may serve only to ratchet up the tensions. While the state-run Chinese media reports on how smoothly the resettlement is going, demonstrations and clashes between peasants and officials have been reported in the foreign media. One local official in charge of resettlement has been murdered.

Volatile Social Problem

The controversial $25 billion Three Gorges Dam project has drawn worldwide attention for the potential environmental problems it may cause. Now, as China carries out the huge task of resettling 1.3 million to 1.9 million people by 2009, almost half of them farmers, experts fear the relocation issue could boil over into a volatile social problem.

Many of those being forced to move say they are not opposed to the dam itself, which the government says will generate electricity, help flood control and improve navigation. When completed in 2009, it will be 1.4 miles long, qualifying as the world's largest hydroelectric dam.

Continued on Next Page >>


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