Dec. 03, 2021
(5) Walking into Hanyuan

Article/Photo: Wang Yongchen & Zhou Chen

Date: December, 27th , 2009

Along the stream of the Dadu River we arrived at the famous city on the Southern Silk Road—Hanyuan. Relying on the fertile flood plain, Hanyuan has developed into a rich, productive and prosperous city. Chinese prickly ash is a famous specialty of this city. Because of the extent of the Southern Silk Road and the Tea & Horse Trading Road, this specialty has enjoyed a high reputation in China and it was officially recognized as articles of tribute since the Tang Dynasty.   

The Valley in Hanyuan, 2007

Hanyuan in the past

Amid the joyous celebration of the sixtieth birthday of the People’s Republic Of China, Hanyuan, founded in the Han Dynasty, has just experienced its 104th birthday. Based on the current archaeological achievements and historical literature, we can trace Hanyuan cultural heritage back to the Upper Paleolithic Period 20,000 years ago. In 1960, archaeologists found a small quantity of teeth and bones of mammals, some bivalve fossils and some leaf fossils in Fulin Town, Hanyuan County. More importantly, they unearthed an array of ingenious stone implements. These findings prove that Hanyuan is a site of human activities with a history of more than twenty thousand years, a surprising and outstanding discovery. The County Government is located in Fulin Town. Since the site was found in Fulin, this cultural phenomenon is also called “Fulin Culture”. Fulin Culture is the representative of the Paleolithic Cultures in South China. For this reason, Fulin has enjoyed a widespread reputation, and it has become well-known to domestic and overseas scholars.

The paddy field of Hanyuan, 2007

Hanyuan in the water

Fulin, although it enjoys a famous reputation, is now half underwater and half in ruins. People who work on the ruins are recovering building materialssuch as square bricks and steel rodsfor the construction of a new city. Most people have moved out of their old houses before the city became a stretch of water. They wander along the water, looking for steel rods from their dismantled old houses to sell them for money. Some people even bring along their children to help find rods.
All these changes began with the construction project of the Pubugou Hydropower Station during the Tenth Five -Year Plan. The development plan of the Dadu River in the Sichuan province was to build three reservoirs and twenty two cascade hydroelectric power stations. The planned Pubugou Hydropower Station will be the key flood-control project in the middle section of the dadu river with a total installed capacity of 3.30 million kilowatts. With a normal pool level of 850 meters, the reservoir covers an area of 84 square kilometers. However, the Hanyuan County is only 28 kilometers from the station and 820 meters above sea level. In that case, the county will be totally inundated. The prosperity, seen from ancient times, will disappear with the old Hanyuan County as well.

The quiet Hanyuan

Dadu River at the present

The inundated Valley

The photographer Li Guoping, who accompanied us on our trip, grew up in Liangshan near Hanyuan. He told us that Hanyuan has always been the envy of other people in the surrounding towns. Taking advantage of the fertile flood plain, the peasants here can produce enough surplus grain to last them for a few years. They also have a plentiful harvest of agricultural by-products and fruits. We know that the Hanyuan prickly ash has enjoyed a high reputation, and people nearby want to share the same reputation to make money. So they promote their own Chinese prickly ash with a fake brand of “Hanyuan prickly ash”. In considering this problem, Mr. Li suggests to us that we had better not buy prickly ash in Hanyuan. On the contrary, the other photographer Li Tiandu, said that the prickly ash of the surrounding towns have their own unique flavors and are still delicious.
In 2004, the construction of the Pubugou Hydropower Station required the relocation of the old part of Hanyuan. Since then, we began to pay attention to the Hanyuan County. This time, we come to Hanyuan and know that part of the old city has already been inundated and some people have moved into their new houses in the new city. We drive to the passenger depot in the new city. The remains of fireworks are littered all over the street in front of the new stores. We walk into the new city and interview some migrants who are selling goods on the sidewalk.

People are anxious

A tricycle is carrying passengers.

“Our paddy fields yielded three crops a year, and our dry fields yielded two crops a year, which produced enough grain to last us for three years. We also raised four pigs, twenty ducks, forty chickens and frogs. Selling frogs alone brought us a profit of about ten thousand Yuan to twenty thousand Yuan a year. We also planted a lot of fruit trees for the family, not for sale.”

Picking up garbage

In the past, one-year of farming could yield enough surplus grain for many years to come. 

 “In the past, I could earn tens of thousands of yuan a year by selling vegetables alone, not to mention the profit of selling walnuts. I had enough money to buy whatever I wanted. ”
“We were severely afflicted by the massive Wenchuan earthquake and now we are earthquake victims and migrants.”
While the new migrants of the new city of Hanyuan were voicing their concerns, a certain woman attracted our attention. When we asked whether she was a migrant or not, she began to weep. She looked about forty or fifty years old (thirty-six years old in fact) and owned a deep-fried pancake stand.

“We used to live in the countryside, and we always had more food than we could eat. My husband also did some odd jobs, which brought us an additional income. We lived in a three-story building, with a four-hundred square-meters yard. We planted more than one hundred fruit trees and we had a big family. But now, our relatives have moved. Some of them have moved to other cities, and some of them are out of contact. It is really difficult for us to see each other again.”

“The government is going to set up a hydropower station and we are required to move away from this city. At first, we were not so happy to move, but we should support the national construction, shouldn’t we? Now, our paddy fields (five mu in total) have been inundated. And after we moved, we lost our house. In return, we received less than 0.4 mus of dry fields in the ravine. They told us we would receive an allowance, but their promise didn’t come true. They also told us that we would be given thirty square meters of living space. But it proved to be only twenty square meters, including the doors and the walls.”

“There are three members in my family. My husband hurt his lungs while working. Now, he can only do some trivial jobs in the streets. This stand only brings us thirty Yuan a day at most, not to take into account the fine imposed on illegal stands. I could spend four hundred Yuan to buy a license, but if I had four hundred Yuan, I would not have to have this stand.”

“What I am worried about the most is my son. He is a junior three student. Because we became poor in such a short period of time, he has been distracted from his studies. There is no electricity and no water in our house, and he goes out every night. Sometimes he even stays out all night. I am so afraid that he might fail the entrance examination to get into high school.” This peasant woman told us her story and wept. Her tears wet the fried pancakes. She was desperate for a talk to pour out her worries and emotions.

“We used to have a happy life.” 

“I live here.”

Song Yuanqing is a Hanyuan resident that we keep in touch with to record our “Decade River Project ". He tells us, “In Hanyuan, for an ordinary peasant family, their agricultural activities alone can afford them a well-off life.” He is a member of the county committee of the political consultative conference (CPCC), who is now a migrant as well. He works in the Culture and Spots Bureau of the Hanyuan County. According to the local migration policy, he receives the best treatment. I visited him last year. His house was about 120-square meters. However, this house is now inundated.

Song Yuanqing’s, 2008

The living conditions

In Hanyuan, there are three classes of migrants: the government functionaries, the urban residents, and the peasants. The government functionaries are allotted a one-hundred and fifty square meter- apartmentd in the new city. In relation to their old houses, they needed to pay 650 yuan per square meter of extra space that they did not have in their old houses. Song’s inundated house in the old city is 120 square meters. According to the policy, he needs to pay for the extra 30 square meters, about twenty thousand yuan in total. The urban residents only received apartments the same size as their old ones. Most apartments in the old city are around 100 square meters. The housing policy for the peasants was thirty square meters per person, but it was reduced to twenty square meters soon afterwards. The officials explained that, “it is better to teach a man how to fish than to give him fish. After the peasants moved, they lost their land and had financial troubles. In order to help them get rid of these difficulties, the government decided to remodel the first floor of dwelling houses into stores. The price of stores is certainly higher than the price of ordinary dwelling houses. “Therefore, we have to cut the average living space.” Most peasants voiced their concerns about the unfinished houses to the authors during the interview.

The door: I am 170cm high

I can’t move the bed to the room, so I have to stave the wall and rebuild it after the bed is in place.

The unfinished living place

“Every family in this plot has its own store and they are all doing business. However, there are no customers. The farmers were expected to pay for their houses because they were compensated for the removal of their old houses. Of course, if they don’t have enough money, the government will provide loans.

The Department’s new building 

County courtyard

“In other words, the peasants use their own money to build houses, but the government is the intermediary agent who introduces the construction company.” Said Wang Yingchun, the journalist of the Chinese Economic Herald. This statement awoke these peasants who were confused with their new houses. Very soon after they began living in their new houses, they found a lot of problems. The room and the bathrooms leaked. Cracks appeared on the wall. The subsidiary facilities were underdeveloped and the roads were broken in one month. These farmers didn’t know who could help them, so every day they wait for the government to find the construction company to repair their houses. But day after day, they were disappointed. 

The Dadu River in Hanyuan in the past 
The present Dadu River

Because of the nourishing Dadu River, the people of Hanyuan, especially the farmers, regard it as the mother river. The river has nourished them for more than two thousand years and has allowed them to live freely and happily, without any financial worries.
People in Hanyuan soak themselves in the happiness of their natural economy. They didn’t know anything about development, but developments still occurred and one day they found that their mother river had submerged their home. They slowly accepted this fact after a weak struggle. In November, the Pubugou reservoir first started storing water. The level of the water was 751meters below the Hanyuan county town. Next March at the latest, the old Hanyuan city will be submerged by the second stage of storing water. 

The children who were playing beside the reservoir. 

By smashing the ruins, they could get the steel bars and sell them for money.

Most areas drowned by the first water storage were fertile farm grounds, which meant that tens of thousands of people lost their farmland. Even people in town with fixed salaries suffered from the soaring prices of food. “There was no farmland to grow vegetables. Vegetables used to be a few cents for half a kilo. But the prices have risen to several Yuan for half a kilo.” Said Lao Song, who was one of the government functionaries who didn’t have much money. He now lives in his work place in the old Hanyuan town after his home was flooded. He had asked his wife to live in his daughter’s home in Chengdu city.   

Move with every effort
Our working energy becomes more and more like the level of the rising water

So far, only one third of the resettled houses are finished.

However, the scrolls of encouraging relocation slogans are posted everywhere around the old town which say things like “move to a new home to spend a new year, and life will be sweeter than honey” and “prepare for the second water storage and don’t add any burden to our country”.
Because the water will soon flood the old town, a lot of people have already begun living in their new homes which were under construction, surrounded by wind and the bright light.
The aim of this is to prepare for the plan of the Pubugou reservoir storing. It is suitable for storage in the Spring when the ice thaws. Otherwise the proprietor will lose a lot of money by waiting for another year. “The stress comes from the provincial government as well as the central government. The central government pushes the provincial government and the provincial government pushes the Hanyuan government. ” Lao Song said, “if this project cannot be finished in time, all the water conservancy projects in the Sichuan province will be affected.” These projects have a great importance and are very profitable. We are unable to interview any government officials about this, but we can imagine that the GDP and the need of energy are the two reasons for the Han Yuan people to sacrifice so much.

Set a stand on the road

Vegetable stand

When we arrived at the new Hanyuan town, we found it celebrating the spring festival with the sound of firecrackers. We know that many new shops will open before New Year’s Day, making a public-relations ploy for relocation. The new town, located on a mountain massif named Luobogang, is the highest place in this area. According to the government’s publicity materials, after storage, the reservoir will become a man-made lake, the biggest man-made lake in the southwest with an area of 84kilometers. Surrounded by water trilaterally, the new Hanyuan city will be very beautiful.

But in the eyes of the ordinary people, Luobogang is only “a wild mountain and stones often drop from it. A school had once been built there. However, the foundation bed sank before it was finished.”
Lao Song was very worried about the safety of the new houses, “I will live there for several years. If it is too dangerous, I will go to my daughter’s home in Chengdu.” We only found a box of potatoes in his living place. He told us that he only ate a dozen of potatoes every day. Actually, he lived this kind of life from childhood.
The geologist Yang Yong came up with three problems of the construction of the new town:

First, the mountain is not solid enough. There exist risks for hill creep and mud-rock flows.

Second, the ecological carrying capacity is very low, which is unfavorable for earthquake resistance.

Third, there exist many gulches, so the geology is not solid.

According to Yang Yong, Hanyuan is located in the transition zone of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Sichuan Basin. Its geological structure consists of a special development of fault age and folds, registering as steep landform and broken rock masses. So natural disasters happen easily here, which is worsened by the digging and cutting done on the vulnerable mountain.

“If I am the leader, I should certainly stop water storage and remake the plan of relocation there from both macro and micro areas.” Said a journalist emotionally.
Ecologist Xu Fengxiang said, “Without a long-term and systemic plan, how can ten thousands of people live there? How can we ensure their safety? Why is it so unscientific?”

“Development is the absolute principle, but it is not the only principle. It is not right to think that the aim of a developing economy is to achieve political performance, instead of improve people’s lives. The small-scale peasant economy and natural economy are foundations for industry development there. It should not be drowned because of low GDP. The flood land nourished people for two thousand years.” said another journalist.

When we were in Hanyuan, a women recognized Xu Fengxiang, who attended a show called “three people together” on a Phoenix TV channel recently. She welcomed him and gave him a warm embrace. The woman is a teacher in primary school. Because her new house was under construction, her family now lived in the simple room in the construction place. But she still fully understood and supported the government’s hydroelectric development.

People were so good at adapting to their situation. They lived such a difficult life but still thought they should support the development of our country. What about their future life? They had experienced both earthquakes and relocation, but they still don’t know what will happen to them.

December 20th, 2009 was professor Xu Fengxiang’s eightieth birthday, he said to the young journalists, “Does this kind of development correspond with the Scientific Development Idea and conservation culture developed by government? I hope it will draw the public’s attention through your hands. I also hope people here will settle down and develop sucessfully.”

The young in the town

The lake appeared among mountains

I think that middle school students who do their homework at night should do their homework at home as soon as possible.

Translator:Li Xiaoxia (1-7)& Xi Wen(8-14)
Proofreader:Ryan Yu