Relocated Three Gorges Residents Face Challenges As the waters of the reservoir rise and submerge their homes and fields, 1.3 million residents of the area are being relocated by the Chinese government. Many struggle to reestablish their once-rural lives in a more urban environment.
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Relocated Three Gorges Residents Face Challenges

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Relocated Three Gorges Residents Face Challenges

Relocated Three Gorges Residents Face Challenges

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next, let's continue our look at one of the world's most ambitious engineering projects - the Three Gorges Dam in China. Part of the challenge is relocating more than one million people whose homes and fields are being submerged in the reservoir.

In the second of three reports, NPR's Anthony Kuhn says some people have profited while others have suffered.

ANTHONY KUHN: I'm standing on a boat that's speeding through Wu Xia - the second of the Three Gorges upstream from the Three Gorges Dam. On either side the soaring peaks jut into the clouds, their black and beige rocks mottled by the reds and greens of the trees on them. The filling of the reservoir has only somewhat diminished the grandeur of these gorges, as if these were giants now standing in water up to their knees.

China's government says that 1.2 out of an estimated 1.3 million have already moved. Some moved to other provinces, most just moved uphill. Many will tell you it's a funny feeling to float over where your old home used to be. One such person is Ran Hongsheng, a local ferryboat captain in Yunyang County.

Mr. RAN HONGSHENG (Ferryboat Captain, Yunyang County, China): (Through translator) My former home is about 65 feet below where we are right now on the river. It's all under water now. The soil down there was really good. We grew vegetables and took them to the county seat to sell. Our income was pretty good in those days.

KUHN: Ran now lives uphill from his old home. He notes the irony that some folks wanted to move away but couldn't; others didn't want to leave but were forced to.

Mr. RAN: (Through translator) I wanted to move but got no chance. We live on the south side of the Yangtze. Folks on the north side moved to Shanghai where things are much better. All of those families got rich.

(Soundbite of music)

KUHN: The last major county town on the reservoir to be demolished is Kaixian. Musicians are playing traditional music outside a funeral home in the old town as if to mourn the demise of the 1,800-year-old settlement with its tree-lined alleys and weathered wooden houses.

Up the hill, stereo speakers are blasting from a new shop where 23-year-old Yu Haiyang sells down jackets. This is the new county town where high-rise hotels, Internet cafes and fast-food restaurants are springing up. Yu thinks the government is doing a good job of moving the Three Gorges residents, and he doesn't see why Western media are so critical. He picks up a Chinese newspaper with a report about the gorges.

Mr. YU HAIYANG: (Through translator) Look at this headline: "Western Media Ask Pointed Questions; China Refutes Exaggerated Rumors." Many foreigners say that China exerts a bad influence in the world. I don't agree with that.

KUHN: But signs of discontent around the Three Gorges are hard to miss. In the county town of Zhongxian, taxi and bus drivers are on strike. The drivers and police watch each other nervously as they mill around the bus station.

I hop in a van and ride with one of the strike organizers. The streets are filled with stranded residents. The organizer was afraid of being arrested and asked that I not use his name.

Unidentified Man: (Through translator) All of us are laid-off workers or people whose homes were inundated by the Three Gorges reservoir. We bought our vehicles with our relocation subsidies and just started to get some income when a local company tried to grab a controlling stake in our privately owned buses.

KUHN: The creation of the reservoir forced two-thirds of local industries to close. Unemployment in the gorges area stands at 12 percent. The strike organizers say the drivers are desperate.

Unidentified Man: (Through translator) All the money were earned with our sweat and blood, these bosses are trying to take it once and call their own. What are we ordinary folks to eat?

KUHN: In Wushan County, the government arranged for Huang Yihui to move to Guangdong province, one of China's richest. But she says her son face discrimination when he tried to join the army there. The government registered her in Guangdong, but registered her son in another province, splitting up the family. So she moved back to Wushan County. Wang says tearfully that she got no compensation for the family food processing plant she lost in the relocation. She protested to officials who had her thrown in jail. But she says she still supports the Three Gorges project.

Ms. HUANG YIHUI: (Through translator) Our fine family has been bankrupted and split apart. But we don't blame the central government. Perhaps these were errors committed by local officials. We can forgive them, but we want to get our business back and restore our family to the way it was before.

KUHN: The government says that nobody has been forced to move and denies widespread corruption. China's National Audit Bureau said that as of 2006, local officials had embezzled or misused $40 million or less than one percent of the central government's $7 billion in resettlement funds.

Wang Tianmin is a Yunyang County official in charge of relocating residents.

Mr. WANG TIANMIN (Yunyang County Official): (Through translator) The people who relocated up the hillsides and to other towns are basically pretty stable. It's just a minority of people who are having difficulty leaving their old homes because of their desire for personal gain.

KUHN: The central challenge the government faces is how to move its rural poor away from the reservoir and into the cities. The government in Chongqing, the biggest city on the reservoir, wants to create jobs to attract four million country folk into the city in the next 10 to 15 years.

But life for Chongqing's new urbanites is not easy. Thirty-nine-year-old Xiong Yingkui came to Chongqing about five years ago. He became a bang bang man - a porter carrying loads on a bangzi or shoulder pole. You can see the bang bang men all over Chongqing carrying shopping bags, suitcases and live chickens. Xiong says he doesn't feel rooted in the city.

Mr. XIONG YINGKUI: (Through translator) I'm not sure what my next move will be after my child grows up. I'm not really settled here. If this job doesn't work out, I'll try something else.

KUHN: Xiong finally gets some work at the bus station hauling bags for a passenger. He gets paid two yuan or about 25 cents. With luck, he can clear $135 in cash a month, which definitely beats farming.

(Soundbite of dock)

KUHN: Xiong heads over to a dock where the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers meet. Tears well in his eyes as he talks about the discrimination he sometimes faces.

Mr. XIONG: (Through translator) Sometimes I get some boss who looks down on me. He swears at me. He says he won't pay and I can do whatever I like about it. But there's nothing I can do. Who does he think he is? If he doesn't pay, then forget it. I can't fight him.

KUHN: This is just the fate of the bang bang man, Xiong says. Whatever changes, Chongqing will always have bang bang men, he says, because people will always need to carry things uphill from the boats and the river.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News on the Three Gorges Reservoir.

INSKEEP: Tomorrow we'll find out how the Three Gorges Dam is affecting old river towns in China.

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