Mar. 23, 2023
River Decade Project 2014 (3) The Tears of the People of Jinsha

 The Tears of the People of Jinsha


On the morning of April 10th, 2014, we left Zhaotong city, Yunnan, to travel to Huanghua.  The deputy secretary of party propaganda, Zhou Xingwen, accompanied us in order to provide a supervisory role, claiming that we should all be focused on solving the farmer resettlement problems together. 

The area had just been hit by a 5.3 magnitude earthquake less than a week before we arrived.  Huanghua is designated as an earthquake prone area.   Its last major earthquake happened 40 years ago (a 7.1 magnitude earthquake).  However, now that the Xiluodu dam has been built and is storing a lot of water, the risks of a catastrophe are higher than in the past.  

-Development on the nearby mountain

-The Jinsha river after being changed into a reservoir


Along the sides of the Jinsha river there are many water storage facilities.  Experts comment that this is not a good thing.  If water isn’t allowed to enter the underground circulatory system as it would be able to naturally, then the risk of disaster will rise.

Minister Zhou told us we would have to take precautions against secondary seismic disasters.  After making this comment, he added that there was a garrison of soldiers ready to help if ever an emergency should occur. 

In the neighboring village of Baisheng, the recent earthquake had left many houses severely damaged, and the locals were currently reconstructing.  Luckily, no one had died, unlike the much more powerful 1974 earthquake which left over a 1000 people dead. 

However, according to the villagers, the construction of the dam led to a new problem: after the recent earthquake, there was a large landslide.

Before the 2014 earthquake, a Zhaotong city surveyor was sent out along the river to investigate the claims about potential dam complications.  He promised it would be resolved within 60 days, and the Zhaotong city leadership even acknowledged there was a problem.  However, the town sent a message 60 days later asking when the solution would come, with no reply to this day.


-A local mother receiving relief supplies

-A home after the earthquake


At the scene we saw a local militia bringing in supplies.  Most were young recruits who were being paid extremely little (less than $200 USD a month) in exchange for providing disaster relief services, which as it turns out, is extremely difficult work.

The leading officer told us that the purpose of a young man is to experience life.  The militia provided such an experience.  In exchange the young men would provide formal, efficient, and professional service for those in need.  He assured us that there was no lack of manpower.

We asked him if people still liked having armed soldiers in the countryside.  The answer was yes.


-Militia providing relief services

While eating lunch with the local town leaders, displaced farmers burst into the dining hall, asking the community leaders when their cracking walls would be fixed.  They then turned to us journalists and informed us about their housing troubles. 

Civil organizations and journalists are necessary in order to open dialogue with town leaders and hydropower executives.  This process helps Chinese society stay active in shaping their environment, and is a part of the development of democracy in China.  


-A displaced farmer preparing to give us a report


-Photos of the new housing complex with an unstable foundation


-A farmer’s summary about illegal transactions concerning his land


-Farmers at a town meeting


-Ex-farmers forced to emigrate to find work

At the meeting, over 1000 people attended from a town of 4000. 

One of the workers at the new hydroelectric power station spoke: “Who is going to compensate for the destruction of Huang Hua town, our mountains, and our desolated beaches?  The cost of living is too high.  Where’s the government’s sense of responsibility?”

Back in 2013, we reported that some of the homes constructed by the hydropower companies, for the sake of compensating the farmers, had collapsed.   Party secretary Ke Ping explained that it was the construction company’s fault for not following regulation and using an improper ratio of materials for making mortar.  One year later, many of the homes they were meant to build are still frozen in mid-construction.    As a result, many ex-farmers are forced to rent housing.

Even some of the homes that are continuing construction still suffer from problems.  There are cracks all along the floors, walls, and pillars.  Some of the cracks are over 1 cm wide, and water leaks are common.  Because of such shoddy construction practices, few farmers dare enter the homes built on behalf of them, for fear of their lives.

The government does not give the people monetary compensation, it only provides support for finding a place to stay.

According to party minister Zhou Xingwen, about 25% of the houses have problems, which means over 300 houses have this problem.  

-There’s something wrong with the houses


On April 10th, party secretary Ke Ping organized a symposium with representatives from the town, in order to hear about the quality of help from the government.  After the meeting, it appeared that those in charge of farmer migration policies had very little knowledge about the situation, and that local government had a difficult time using their right to appeal higher government decisions.


-The people are left helpless



It appears as though the fate of the local government and local people rest in the hands of upper management.  The ignorance about the situation of the people living here, combined with the unrelated priorities of those in charge of the dam and housing project, leave me extremely worried.