Mar. 23, 2023
Decade River Project 2010 (4) Shops By the World Natural Heritage

Decade River Project 2010 (4) Shops By the World Natural Heritage – the Nujiang River

Reported by: Wang Yongchen

On November 27 2010, when it was still dark outside at 7 o’clock in the morning, our car headed to Little Shaba, a small village located along the bank of the Nujiang River, where we were going to meet a senior man, Ho Xuewen.
When we were near the Little Shaba Village, we found that within a year, the village building markets had extended and were now located both within and outside the village The shop buildings that were so difficult to rent out two years ago, were now all rented out. We felt happy that the shops were booming and for the villagers in Shaba.
However, as we went further into the village, we noticed how many of the shop houses on each side of the street remained closed.


On the street of the new village of Little Shaba, 2007

The new farmers’ village in 2010, the growing trees and the shop houses remaining closed

The rented shop houses

We found the home of Ho Xuewen, an old man who River Decade is going to track for ten years. This summer, his son had called to tell us that his father was sick and in hospital. So I wondered whether the old man was feeling better.
I met Uncle Ho when I was doing the surveys on potential immigrants by the Nujiang River in 2005. As he was once the village head, and familiar with everything in the village, he showed me many families in the village. From his eyes, I could see the worry and anxiety that he was afraid that the villagers might be forced to move away because of the dam construction. He was also one of the 100 potential immigrants beside the Nujiang River.
When we met Uncle Ho today, he was sitting by the fire smoking. He has aged a lot in the last two years ago. I asked him how he was doing, and he answered better. However, life was still not easy. His son has bought a small truck to conduct his transportation business, but life was not stable for them because sometimes he had work, and sometimes not.
Last year, Uncle Ho told us that he was not able to go back to his old house to farm because it was too far away from his new home. Nevertheless, he told me this year that the folks living in the new village all went back to farming because it was so hard for them if they had no land; this is despite the fact that it  took them about two hours to walk the round trip from the old village to the new one.
Nevertheless, some of the fruit trees in the old village of Little Shaba were cut down, and some were abandoned because no one took care of them. In the past, Uncle Ho’s family used to make a living from those trees. He told us about the trees they used to own during River Decade 2008:
As construction on the reservoir commenced, their trees were occupied and flooded .  There were more than 60 mango trees, over 10 bundles of bamboos, 20 banana trees, 10 Pomegranates, four coffee trees, eight peach trees, more than 600 large tung trees and 200 small tung trees, over 600 fruit trees, five Kapok trees, and 10 melon trees. Although they had not been flooded until now, the fruit trees were located in the old village and the villagers who had moved away were not able to take care of them any more. In the past two years, they barely made any profit from those fruit trees.

Preparing food for the pigs

The granddaughter of Uncle Ho

To have a pig at the end of the year is important for farmers of any nationality in China. However, since moving to the new village three years ago, Uncle Ho found that pigs were no longer allowed in the village. In September this year, Uncle Ho’s daughter gave him a pig, so he found a place and built a pigpen outside the new village where he could raise the pig.
I asked Uncle Ho whether he had to check the pig everyday in the pigpen. He said the place was owned jointly by several families and there was someone \ there all the time. Many times, he would feed the pig except on weekends when his granddaughter would do the work. His granddaughter is going to attend the National College Examination next year. Two children who attend school are entirely supported by his son and daughter-in-law who both work.
We were pleased when Uncle Ho told us that the county immigration office would offer 5000 Yuan per year to each family if their shop houses had not been rented.
I asked Uncle Ho whether the shop houses had all been rented out at the entrance to the village and he replied that they had. I learnt that Uncle Ho’s shop houses were not good enough to rent so he had to live on the deep side of the village. What about other families? Why did their shop houses remain closed? The old man said that the houses had not been rented yet. So why were the shop houses at the village entrance rented out while other houses, only a few steps from the entrance were not. The old man guessed that it might be because they were too remote. However, is this the only reason, or are there other reasons?
When someone visited a family in the village, the rest of the village soon found out. We had not been at Uncle Ho’s house for very long before a number of people showed up. They came for one problem with the appeals covering fingerprints in their hands. They told us that the quality of the houses was very poor, and we saw the cracking and wet walls when we followed them to their houses.

The walls beginning to peel

The ground beginning to sag

The closet in the son’s wedding room left unused

The angle of the house with gaps and cracks

The requests for help because the houses are not fit to live in

After a villager showed us her leaky house, she brought us a letter that her family had written to the Hydropower Development Immigration Office. In the letter, the villager wrote that their children had grown up and that their house was not big enough for them to live in. However, the Immigration Office wrote back rejecting every request. The villager refused to comply, so she appealed to the provincial immigration office. She was disappointed when told to take her problems back to the county. Several months have passed and they have not heard anything.
As we stood on the balcony of this house and viewed the entire village, a small building stood out with ivy on the walls and flowers blooming at the front gate. We were told that it was the home of the village party secretary.


The house of the village party secretary

The villager’s house 

I took this photo of the village party secretary’s house in 2008. Some people who know about cars said that the car was worth 50,000 to 60,000 Yuan.


The building material market at the village entrance

Something puzzled us a lot: why were the shop houses at the village entrance so lively while the houses inside the village were so hard to rent, and only a short distance away?
Today, we had over 20 people conducting interviews in Little Shaba in order to learn more information. Luckily, one member of our group of them got the answer we were eager to know.
They asked a person who rented four shops in the village whose he was renting from, and he answered that they were the houses of the village party secretary. Then the team asked the person in the next four shops and they got the same answer. Later another person indicated that all the houses in the street belonged to the village party secretary.

    I do not know whether his words were true or not. How was it possible that all the open shops on the street belonged to the same person, while no one else could rent their own shops out?
In the on-bus class today, the team members exchanged information collected during their interviews. Some villagers believe their lives are not that hard. For example, two people claimed that they could earn more money than before by working for others.
According to another villager who runs a small bean jelly shop, people nearby prefer to play mahjong when they are free. When they get tired of the game, they like to eat some bean jelly and rest in his shop. It only cost our interviewer 20 Yuan for five bowls of bean jelly and two bowls of rice noodles, so it seems that the shop does not have make much profit. However, the shop owner did not complain. On the contrary, he thought life was not bad at present.


The coop for 20 chickens distributed by the village 

The wooden hencoop made by villagers

This is the hencoop distributed by the village committee. Pigs, sheep and cows are prohibited in the village. Instead, each family can keep 20 chickens, so people obtained hencoops free of charge. According to the villagers, the chickens did not like the hencoop because it was not warm, so people made their own wooden coops . I couldn’t help asking, “Where on earth does the coldness come from? Is it because the coop is cold, or because someone’s heart is cold? If the answer lies in the latter, then who is he?”
    We once asked the granddaughter of uncle Ho which home is better-the old one or the new one? She chose the former, because in the old village, she could go directly to the river from her home, but now there isn’t even a yard. Therefore her friends prefer to stay at home instead of playing outside. 


New flowers in front of the old house in the old village, and grass that is lower than the height of a person.  

Some families still refused to leave the village. Now these families are allowed to keep chickens and pigs.

Outside the old village ruins by the Nu River.

The old village at Xiaosha Dam

    We visited the old village at Xiaosha Dam every year during our River Decade. This time, a car from the local police station followed us. We did not evade them and said hello, and they were friendly and called me by my name, since they had dealt with me several times in the past. They thought I was very cooperative. “Why not”, I replied, “We came to the Nu River because we like its beauty, and we wish her beauty could last a long time.” The police officer answered that they need development as well. “It should be sustainable development”, I replied. “We are very poor”, he said. I told him that Xiaosha Dam was the richest village by the Nujiang River. He smiled. Since we were in a hurry and he was also doing his job, we did not talk a lot.

The stream running towards the Nujiang River outside the new village of Xiaosha Dam

    As shown in the picture above, the stream runs into the Nujiang River outside the new village of Xiaosha Dam. When I saw this I wished that a journalist would do a thorough interview! Why is it so difficult for ordinary peasants to rent out their own shops in the new village, while others easily rent out every shop on the whole street? Why had people already moved to the new village when there had been no final decision about whether to build dams on the Nujiang River? To give proper answers to these questions is to cherish and to show our respect for world heritage. 


The Nujiang River

Farmland by the Nujiang River

    I also want to talk about the next thing that happened. Since a stretch of road between the Nujiang River and the Lancang River was under construction, it was not open until 6 pm, and we had arrived at 2 pm Some of our journalists asked the responsible person at the cross whether he could let us in now because we were in a hurry for an appointment. They also showed him their press cards as evidence. We were allowed to go after he made several calls to higher-level responsible persons.


Cultivation on the farmland

The farmland by the Nujiang River

   However, the person who had agreed to let us go approached us on a motorbike ten minutes later. He told us to stop and wait for a guide because the road ahead was under construction. It would take half an hour, and we had to wait there. 
Finally, our guide arrived. He was from the road-repair institution, and would be responsible for our security. He got on our bus, and we went on with our on-bus class - talking about nature, about ecology, and about our volunteer activities.
After a while our security guide started contacting some people by cell phone to make preparations for our dinner. We told him that a peasant living  by the Lancang River was waiting us for dinner, so we could not let her down. We invited him to go with us, and he agreed after a few courteous words.

We do not know why there are sands like these by the river.

The bend of the Nujiang River

It was already dark when we arrived at Liu Yuhua’s home. She lived by Lancang River when we visited her in our River Decade 2006, and moved to the Xiaopingtian Village at Lujiang Dam due to the establishment of Xiaowan Power Station. The two photos of her family below are evidence of my argument during these years that the issue of reservoir immigrants has not been effectively solved.  

Liu Yuhua’s home in 2006

Liu Yuhua’s home in 2008

In River Decade 2006, Liu and her family enjoyed a rich and easy life. However, during the following years she encountered the worries of a reservoir resident, and then experienced hardship due to the unavailability of farmland after moving to her new home. During these years, I frequently received Liu’s phone calls.  I know that she did not feel very well, and that her four-member family earned a living by running a small restaurant that earned them an income of about 1,000 Yuan every month. Since all villagers are reservoir immigrants, how much business would there be for her small restaurant?


Liu Yuhua and her son at present

Liu and her son in 2008

I asked Liu whether her farmland was available or not. She said that she had already obtained the distributed land but it was 1.5 kilometers away from her home. According to Liu, some land was even more remote - about 3 kilometers away -  and located in mountainous areas. Originally, villagers could get a subsidy from the government every month before they agreed to accept the distributed land, but now it was November, and no money had been provided this year. Therefore people refused to distribute the land by drawing lots this time.

    According to Liu, she has a large financial burden with an old father and a young son to support. Life would not be that hard if she were healthy, because she and her husband run a small restaurant, even though the business is quite dull. However, she became tired after moving and settling down, and is now in poor health. 
The security official who accompanied us in the bus introduced us to a major from the Armed Transportation Police Force when we were at Liu’s home. We had dinner together, and enjoyed delicious stewed chicken cooked by Liu Yuhua.


After dinner, Yuhua told us about the difficulties of life in her family. She was concerned about her kids’ growth and her worsening health. This rural woman is one of the post-80s, but on her face, there is only the look of sadness. We do not know how to comfort her, because we cannot help with the difficulties of her life. In 2008, I saw the compensation standard offered to them by the immigration office . How much was paid for a bunch of bananas? Two Yuan. Why? The bananas are their private property. In this society where legal systems are complete and sound, how can we treat private properties like this?
The problems faced by the immigrants in 2008 have not been solved today. Furthermore, more than a year has passed since Liu Yuhua and her fellow villagers moved here but they still don’t have a field. It’s already November 2010, but the money the government promised to give to those who do not have any fields has not been paid to the immigrants.
When Yuhua told us these things, I invited the officer and the armed police major who accompanied us to comment. Unexpectedly, they handed Liu Yuhua an envelope and said to her, “We understand your difficulties, but we can’t help much. This is a token of our regard.” I do not know how much money was in that envelope, but I have seen few government officials who make donations after hearing complaints from the immigrants. 


This is a token of our regard.

Liu Yuhua’s father

Liu Yuhua said that her father’s health is getting better this year and the kids are obedient. What worries her most now is that she always has to see doctors. The little money her family earns is all spent on curing her disease. Guo Yuhua, professor of the Tsinghua University, asked about her plans and Yuhua answered that she wished the government would solve the immigrants’ problems.
After interviewing several families in the village, Zhao Lanjiang from the Phoenix Network found that their common problems are the lack of fields and the poor quality of their houses. I think the media’s attention on the families over the next ten years will probably not help solve most of their problems but besides recording their experiences the best we can do Is to help them with some basic issues. 

Dusk at Rujiang River

Tomorrow we are moving to another settlement for the immigrants. Yu Xiaogang said that it is a village which had moved from the riverside to the mountain. We are going to see what their life is like today.

Translator: Ding Jieqiong, Li Hongyi, Yang Wenlong