(8) Hometown of Jianshajiang River's Son
Reported by: Wang Yongchen
We had the most relaxing day on December, 1, 2010 for the duration of the journey. The schedule was easy enough but it was the relative tranquillity by which our host families are now living that has really put us at ease. We have decided to track these two families, their lives, and their evolving relationship with the river for the next ten years. Xiao Liangzhong was a 32-year-old activist who dedicated his life to preserving the river and his community’s way of life. Though Liangzhong died at a tragically early age, his work is continued by other activists and community members who refer to him as “The Son of Jinshajiang River”.
As Liangzhong’s mother accepted gifts from thirty of her son’s friends and the friends of Liangzhong’s friends, she holds my hands saying: “Tell them that I live a happy life. Don’t worry about me.”
Liangzhong’s mother and the daughter of Liangyuan, Liangzhong’s brother
A Sociology Professor from Tsinghua University conducts a follow-up survey on the residents for the Yellow River Decade
Liangzhong’s mother and Suqiu; in River Decade 2006, Suqiu was just born. She is now four years old.
In 2004, plans were announced for the construction of a new hydroelectric power station spanning the nearby Tiger-leaping Gorge. The new dam would involve flooding the Jiangshajiang River Valley and dislocating the 100,000 families that lived within the flood plain. When news of the dam project was announced, the locals immediately began to organize themselves and fight for the project’s end. It was at this time that Xiao Liangzhong, still a young man from the remote mountains, had arrived here from Beijing and was ready to fight for the cause.
Alongside the Jinshajiang River
The land alongside the Jiangshajiang River
Liangzhong’s family was chosen as one of several families for follow-up tracking in 2006 as part of the River Decade program. It was in this year also that Liangzhong’s niece was born.
Suqiu, in 2006
Suqiu, in 2007
Suqiu, in 2008
Suqiu, in 2009
Suqiu, four years old
The ancient towns in Lijiang
After enjoying the Yulong Snow Mountain and some sightseeing we continued our journey from Lijiang on the morning of 1 December. We arrived first at Shigu Town near where the Yangtze River and Jiangshajiang River join.
Further upriver is a township in Diqing, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in the northwest of Yunnan Province. It is between the Shasongbi Village in the south of the Shangri-La County and Shigu Town in Lijiang City. It is about 130km up the highway from Shangri-La City. Here, the Yangtze River descends from the Qingzang Plateau, the “Roof of the World”, and heads towards Batang County in Yunnan Province. The landscape is magnificent where the Yangtze converges with the Lancangjiang and Nujiang Rivers before reaching Shasongbi Village in Shangri-La County. Here, the river turns suddenly towards the northeast forming a huge “V”-shape curve, what is often called “the first gulf of the Yangtze River”.
The Shigu Town at “the first gulf of the Yangtze River”
The first gulf of the Yangtze River
Dusk at “the first gulf of the Yangtze River”
When the Yangtze reaches the area around Shasongbi the water slows as the river widens. Like the mountains, the water is green as it reflects its landscape, including willow trees that flank its banks. Here is a fantastic place to enjoy the sunset along “the first gulf of the Yangtze River”.
“The first gulf of the Yangtze River”
After climbing the small mountains behind the Songshabi Village, we enjoy the natural scenery along the “gulf”. Beneath the sunset, the surface of the river shimmers like gold and reflects the green of the surrounding mountains. Everyone admiring the scenery is also painted gold by the setting sun. This is the famous historic city – Shigu-Town.
An old Bridge in Shigu
Senior musicians enjoying themselves
Statues of the Red Guards
Chicken-pea power: breakfast in the ancient town
Visiting the farmers’ families
Here, we chose one family to track for the next ten years. In 2009, we recorded the situations of Li Jiazhen’s family. He and his wife live on a farm where they tend fruits, grains, and livestock. They have raised seven pigs and over 30 chickens this year. The 350kg of wheat and 500kg of rice they harvest annually is mainly for their own use. Their fruit trees have recently produced about 1300kg of cherries, earning them eight Yuan per kilogram and at least 10,000 Yuan per year at market. With the pigs added, the family can earn as much as 100,000 Yuan each year.
Li Jiazhen has two sons. The elder one and his wife own a restaurant near the Yulong Snow Mountain and earn about 50,000 Yuan a year. The other son learned carpentry from his father and works at a furniture factory in Lijiang, with a salary of 2000 Yuan each month. Although Li Jiazhen is at an old age, he is still invited to make furniture because of his experience. He is paid 50 Yuan per day, 20 Yuan more than the ordinary carpenters. He used to earn 6000 Yuan each year but he has worked less this year and earned only about 2000 Yuan.
Li Jiazhen tells us that his family has done well this year because of the rise in agricultural prices. With the added income, the family has added three more pigs which have also added income as the pigs, raised on corn, were sold at a higher than average price. Unlike many families which use only water-soaked corn as pig feed, Li’s family cooks their corn before feeding it to the pigs. I ask Li whether the pork tastes any better from the pigs that are fed with the cooked corn but he answers that they both taste pretty much the same. I ask him why they bother to cook the corn and he informs me that it’s for the pig’s sake; cooked corn is easier for pigs to digest. More cooking means more fuel for the fire. When I asked him where he gets his firewood, he replies that the fallen limbs from nearby fruit trees are enough.
The repertoire maintained every year
In Yang Xueqin’s family
Ever year when we arrive at Shigu, we visit the home of another local, Yang Xueqin. Our host remembers last year when we travelled to his home but didn’t eat with him. His wife makes certain that this year we enjoy a large breakfast and finish the large portions that the two of them would be unable to eat by themselves. From their neighbours, they have brought some special rice dumplings that were crafted for the occasion. As we eat, we cannot help but remark how delicious the food was and how enviable and touching the relationship that these people had with river is.
Back on the bus, I tell my partners that many of the farmers in Shigu are as learned and graceful as professors. During our chat today, Li Jiazhen tells us that his favorite TV program is CCTV10-Approaches to Science and the South Weekend that he usually buys from the local vendors. Someone asks him: “Do you watch TV?”. Li replies that he doesn’t like TV because it is mostly unreal, nothing like reality.
Every year, we experience the elegant rhythm of the ancient Na’Xi songs that Li Jiazhen plays for us on his erhu fiddle. Today, he plays a piece called “The Coming Summer”. As he plays he tells us that, if we stick around, he would be happy to also play other original pieces called “The Coming Spring”, “The Coming Autumn”, and “The Coming Winter”. Every song he plays synchronises with each of the seasons.
At our invitation, Old Yang and Old Li joined us as we went to Xiao Liangzhong’s home.
Heading to the family of the “Son of the Jiangshajiang River”
The smoothly-flowing Jiangshajiang River
The Jiangshajiang River where the dam has been built
A section of the Jiangshajiang River in front of Xiao Liangzhong’s home.
In the past two years, more riverbeds have dried up but the portion of the river that passes by the home of Liangzhong is still wide and deep. It is hard to believe that while many people are becoming wealthier from changes in economic policy, a once fertile network of rivers and lakes has dried up and disappeared.
The gravestone for Xiao Liangzhong by villagers: “Son of the Jinsha River”
Farmhouses by the Jinshajiang River
In front of Liangzhong’s tomb
In front of Liangzhong’s tomb
Xiao Liangzhong was born on 5 December 1972 in Dingqing, a small River village in Yunnan Province known for its beauty and its importance as a bridge between the Han and Tibetan people in the area. He would later write about this location for his master’s thesis in anthropology and, later, in his book Axle.
To the people, he was known for his efforts to raise awareness - inspiring enthusiasm and organizing them to fight for their rights against the building of the dam and flooding of their river valley. His tireless efforts caught up with him as he finally became ill from exhaustion and extreme anxiety.
The Jinshajiang River from the sight of Liangzhong’s tomb
Despite their son’s early death we were not worried about his mother and family whenever we visited them; they were well looked after by the community. In appreciation and remembrance of his efforts, the village helped build a new house for Liangzhong’s mother and younger brother. Thanks to their hard work, the family has built a successful pig-farming business and keeps a good supply of grains and other livestock.
Despite her troubles, Liangzhong’s mother remains optimistic: “Let his friends feel at ease that his mother is leading an easy life now. There is no need to worry about me.”
The family and community worry that the Tiger Leaping Gorge might still be built. someday During the past five years, some donations have been raised for Liangzhong’s mother either by his friends or by journalists and experts from our River Decade group. Each time money is collected, she refuses to accept it saying that her life is not that difficult. As Liangzhong’s friends, we feel obligated to help her and, though it takes convincing, we leave her some money. In our own way, we want to honor Liangzhong’s memory by demonstrating our commitment to protecting the river.
Now Suqiu and her younger sister are one year older. When we don’t see Liangzhong’s grandmother, we are told that she is in the hospital. When I heard this news I was reminded of her silence on the anniversary of her grandson’s death and her commitment to Suqui since her birth. As much, I am reminded of life’s cyclical continuity as another generation is born and begins to grow along the river.
By the time Suqiu and her sister are my age, I wonder if the river will have remained as beautiful as it is today, if the water will have continued to flow as freely. More than that, I wonder what we can do to ensure that it is.
Liangzhong’s mother smiles at us as we say goodbye and wish the 80 year old grandmother well. This time next year, we hope that Liangzhong’s river remains free. For some other reaches of this river, there is still a long way for us to go.
The peaceful Jinshajiang River
Tomorrow, we will head for Panzhihua, in Sichuan Province, the confluence of the Jinshajiang and Yalong Rivers.
Addendum: Suggestions have been offered by several scholars and NGOs regarding the building of the proposed power stations. As part of our River Decades Program 2010, Yang Yong visited Tiger Leaping Gorge to take photographs and record his observations. They follow:
I visited the Tiger Leaping Gorge today and took photographs of the upper, middle and town “Tiger Leaping Stone”. The so-called “Tiger Leaping Stone” is not the actual bedrock that is connected to the mountain, but simply a huge stone in the river that has tumbled from the top of the mountain. It can be seen on the left in Picture 3 that the vertical basement rock connecting with the Yulong Mountain is mistaken as the Tiger Leaping Stone by the Environment Assessment Organization. The height of 132 meters is inaccurate. In fact, the Tiger Leaping Stone shown in the picture sits in the river on the right of the vertical basement rock. During the dry period, it will become increasingly exposed. From this point of view, the target assessment of the Environment Assessment Organization is neither convincing nor meaningful. It can even be said that it avoids the important and dwells on the trivial. It is penny wise and pound foolish!
Translator: Ding Jieqiong, Li Hongyi
Proofreader: Stephen Davis ； Karen Marshall