Dec. 04, 2023
Eco-Disasterand a China on the Wane

 Narrative Visual Anthropology

                  Eco-Disasterand a China on the Wane

Ph.D. inanthropologyat Yunnan University
(Dianchi Lake: Vanishing Field Site)

In July, 2009, coming back from London School of Economics, funded by Chevening Scholarship, I headed directly to my field site of anthropological study, in an attempt to  finish  a  modern  edition  of  “Argonaut  of  West  Kunyang  Ocean”  with  more fieldwork. But, the field site has gone.

The village buildings have all been dismantled, leaving two scavengers searching in vain for some usable gadgets in the shambles.

Dianchi Lake,  also  known  as  Kunyang  Ocean,  is  the  home  for  the  famed  great circum-navigator  Zheng  He,  who  has  sailed  the  treacherous  ocean  during  Ming Dynasty, prior  to  Christopher Columbus. As a “heritage” of post-reform era, the Dianchi Lake has been infected  by one contagious disease that has been haunting
almost every watersheds of this country – pollution.

After tons of investment – circa nine billion RMB, paid for pollution treatment, the tumultuous  ecological civilization campaign barely yield any positive results; the Dianchi Lake has been  “hijacked” by anther concept – “Oriental Geneva”, when many old appellations proven to be total misnomers bordering sarcasm: High Plateau Bright Pearl, Capital of Ancient Dian Kingdom, Portal City Facing Southeast Asia, etc..

Heeled  after  the  dismantling  of  buildings  that  have  been  owned  by  aboriginal residents for  centuries, the urban planners of Kunming, capital of China southwest Yunnan Province, intend to transform the polluted lake into a highly developed urban region,  environs  by  man  made  wetlands,   “Lennon  Valley”,  “California  Villa”, “Spanish Grand Residence” (new exotica names created for the real estate business that has run berserk).
(“Bid farewell to the traditional past and marching toward a standardized future,” said a slogan written on a dismantled building around Dianchi Lake. In an effort to embrace an Oriental Geneva, the local government is destroying villages around Dianchi Lake to standardize an eco-future.)
Facing this engulfing displacement project, the local residents responded back with their own wit –  building their flimsy houses into towering Dubai style, in order to secure  more  displacement   compensation  money.  However,  witnessing  temples, centuries old buildings collapsed under the  machines, many villagers’ eyes welling with tears, saying the displacement project reminds them the devastating earthquake
that has shattered Sichuan in 2009.

“It’s our 8.0 Richet Scale Dianchi earthquake,” says one villager.

“Although I might get some compensation money, but I lost my land and sustainable way of life for good,” says him, “I am a peasant, all I know is how to grow vegetable; from now on, I will pay almost everything for my daily life in a strange place, I will even pay to get a place to pee.”

As the Kunming city grows bigger, it has gobbled up many suburban places, pushing the flower and vegetable business around Dianchi into more peripheral regions; at the same time, more grandeur fresh water transfer projects have been fashioned, in order to  secure drinking  water  for  the  growing  urban  population  (which  bounds  to  be doubled  by the  time  2020,  numbering  roughly 45  million)  and  cleanse  the  dead Dianchi Lake.

Like  a  thirsty  monster,  the  urban  planners  of  grand  Kunming  have  seriously considered  many  audacious  water  transfer  projects:  Fuxian  Lake,  Tiger  Leaping Gorges, Lancang-Mekong  River, Jinsha River, etc., and eventually finalized upper stream of Jinsha River as water transfer region, as it is a non-international river and less likely would it cause anti-transfer movements from the downstream countries of the trans-border watersheds.
(Green  Oriental  Geneva.  Scooping  water  out of  his iron boat, a garbage disposal  worker is scavenging waste and harvesting vegetations grow rampantly on polluted Dianchi Lake. Once, the vegetations which feasts on pollutants have been suggested by imaginative scientists as energy resources – transforming them into bio-fuel through industrial plants.)

Akin to many places in China, Dianchi is not a lake in Mars and polluted by freshly invaded earth citizens, it has thrived a civilization entitled as Ancient Dian Kingdom, it has witnessed a genesis of a unique culture established by non-Han Chinese, with enriched  and  strong  cultural  accents,  which  narrate  a  history  created  by  those Argonauts of Kunyang Ocean.

Although in a gravely endangered state, due to historical vicissitude, post-socialist industrialization  and  globalization,  those  lakeside  villages  are  still  a  rare  social scientific lab  that  enables us to understand how Southwest China has shaped over long historical span and by whom? How Dian civilization has been influenced by Yi and Bai ethnic groups? How this civilization relates to Thai and Indian culture? How this borderland region functioned in the grand Middle  Kingdom, in the past and at present?

In cultural sense, within this lake, there lies a Paradise Lost, Finnegan Wake, Devine
Comedy, The Ring of Nibelungen and The Argonaut of West Kunyang Ocean.
(Homes Lost and Argonaut of West Kunyang Ocean: Used to be my field site of anthropological study, the village destroyed, in the name of pollution treatment campaign, which has displaced large amount of villagers who has resided the lakeside for centuries.)

In the ecologically threatened China, the pollution has been bizarrely transmuted as an environmental justice. In response to the exploitation of urban people (Chengli ren) and metropolis (da chengshi),  the agricultural countryside (nong cun) and villagers (nong min) have de facto activated a vicious  consumption circle, through flow of agricultural goods and daily consumption products.

During fieldwork, I found that many villagers in my field sites produce vegetable through  polluted land awash with pesticide and waste water. As one of the biggest fresh cut flower producing center in China, almost all villagers use contraceptives and hormone  materials  to  control  the  growth  of  flowers  and  large  portion  of  these materials have been washed back to the lake through  rainfalls and finally ends in vegetable land.

Jiucai and Jiuhuang, two kinds of commonsensical vegetable which used to boost male sexual  performance (zhuangyang), are the main cash crops of this region and have been transported to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and even Hong Kong. The growth of these two “zhuangyang plants” relies predominantly on pesticide, fertilizers, polluted water of Dianchi Lake.

Accordingly, the perfect murder and revenge finally materialized on the table of urban people.

From this perspective, one can better understand why the tainted milk has repeatedly acquired  a  big  chunk  of  Chinese  market  and  claimed  hundreds  of  thousands  of children’s lives. Along with the decadence of moral values, what as well goes down is every Chinese’s self identification value and social responsibility level.

Like what my informant says, “In these years, no one can take responsibility and do their own businesses well.”

In this pollution stricken country the grammar of democracy has been transcribed as pollution for the people, by the people and of the people.

For whom, the bell of pollution tolls?
(Dianchi Lake: Still Life. Together with displacement of people, the great GDP acceleration of Chinese economy has witnessed eco-disasters throughout China.)
(Fishermen rest in scorching sun on a raft, when Dianchi Lake is opened for fishing during July, gazing upon the kids dabbling in polluted water, a traditional pastime they feel reluctant to give up.)

(Circa 30 kilometers away, in the Ancient Port Town –guandu guzhen, stands an iron machine police man, nearby Jingang Pagoda which believed by local villagers has subdued underneath a black dragon that used to haunt the Dianchi Lake or Kunyang Ocean.)

(Stone Dragon Temple. An armed warrior stands menacingly in front of a peaceful Buddhist image atop lotus flower. The Kunyang Ocean is used to be circled by myriad of temples of all kinds and the worship of dragons is universal to many of them both in ancient time and present days. )