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Date Posted: 23:38 19/07/2005

Dammed if you do, damned if you don't

China's rivers and rural communities continue to take a shellacking

OFFICIALS with the Chinese government recently acknowledged that as many as 23 million peasants have been displaced by the impoundment of dams across the country.

Speaking at an event held by the Immigration Department of the Bureau of Water Resources, Party man Tang Chuanli pointed out that 'to a certain extent, handling the remaining problems of immigration, especially reservoir immigration, is about relieving poverty'. A third of those 23 million peasants, he admitted, haven't even managed to reached an adequate level of subsistance, and this problem was 'extremely prominent, complex and hard to resolve.'

Thus, his proposed solutions - involving the positive study of the experiences and methods of poverty relief in order to make a contribution to the construction of a comprehensively well-off society – wouldn't have felt particularly satisfactory to the multitudes evicted from their land and herded into the tenement slums of various low-level cities in Sichuan, Yunnan or Guangxi. It would not have slaked the resentments that have descended upon communities like Pubugou.

This, of course, is an old story, and it isn’t unlikely that the figure of 23 million is a significant underestimation of the true rate. Local governments are usually anxious to help state-owned power firms minimize the compensation payments to displaced peasants in order to ensure that they – the local governments - can enjoy whatever prestige arises from the erection of a bloody great dam.

And quite apart from the corruption, one can only imagine the pressures on county officials to trade off and trade up, to discard thousands of chronically underemployed rural people in exchange for a vast hydroelectric project that could potentially galvanize local industry and stimulate the construction of highways, rail roads and KTV bars where once there were overworked hills and overcrowded mud huts.

Revolution is not a dinner party, and neither is capitalist construction.

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