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Portraits of Three Gorges Migrants
Summary:Over 1.2 million people were forced to relocate by the Three Gorges project. Moving to an unfamiliar land, most have struggled to adapt and find the quality of life they had before. However, a few like Ye Lieqiao have seized the opportunity to start over and improve their lives through bold entrepreneurship.


three gorges

By Du Yuan (
Issue 599, Oct 29, 2012
Nation, page 14

Translated by Dou Yiping
Original article:

More than a decade ago, residents of Gaoyang Village (高阳村) in Chongqing piled into buses that would take them to their new homes 300 kilometers away in Ping’an Village (平安村). As they left, crowds cheered, supporting the sacrifice they were about to make for their country.

The people of Gaoyang were just a handful of the 1.2 million forced by the Three Gorges Dam to move to other regions. For more than ten years, these migrants have been followed by different media outlets. Sometimes they’re smiling and anxious to talk about their new lives. Sometimes they remain heartbroken and give a much bleaker narrative. But no matter what, life has forever changed for these migrants.

Tough Adjustment

Jiangjin District is home to 8,000 Three Gorges migrants. At the end of 2001, Chen Peiqing (陈培清) and his family got on the bus with some furniture in a truck that followed.

After a sleepless night, they arrived at the place where they’d probably spend the rest of their lives. A newly-built two-story house was waiting for them. It was spacious and well-lit, but still today, the only pieces of furniture in the house are those Chen brought from Gaoyang 11 years ago.

His household was allotted three acres of farmland for growing rice, which the government had bought from local residents. But Chen and his wife Huang Mingxiang (黄明香) had grown cotton back in their hometown. They had no idea how to plant rice, so they had to hire temporary workers to help out.

“Some of our land is close to other households that their ducks and chickens would eat our plants,” Chen said.

After the rocky start, life has gotten easier for Chen and his family. His children now work in other provinces and can send money home. But they still aren’t totally adjusted, and may never be. Some migrants marry locals, but generally, the two groups live their lives separately. Huang said that they prefer to associate with their own group.

Their financial setbacks aren’t over either. Two years ago, every household in the village had to pay 8,000 yuan for gas, a water heater and a kitchen range. And this year, the “Countryside Reconstruction Project” is requiring everyone get their roof painted for 40 yuan per square meter out of their own pocket. When talking about these expenses, Chen frowns with worry.

Still Struggling

Looking at the buildings in Ping’an Village, middle-age farmwoman Yao Qiong (姚琼) gets quite emotional. Back in Gaoyang, Yao’s husband made a living as a contractor. “But here, we don’t know anyone,” she said. “We don’t get calls, we don’t have anyone to help build a network. We’re not even wanted as employees for others. It’s really irritating.”

Yao later tried beekeeping, which would allow her to receive government subsidies. Unfortunately, her bee boxes got stolen and her subsidy application was put on hold. She’s still struggling to earn money.

The Model Migrant

Ye Liqiao (叶利巧) is regarded by other villagers as a very capable woman. She’s short and tanned, dressed neatly with her hair tied back in a ponytail. Usually Ye spends her time in the mountains 10 kilometers away looking after her forest and goats.

In 2006, Ye and her husband were resettled in Wutan Town and allotted small scattered pieces of lands. Rather than simply trying to grow what she could on those plots, she decided to borrow money and open a local supermarket. Since then, she’s always been on the lookout for new projects. She later invested in a fertilizer factory and then started another business planting trees and raising goats.

Ye said that when she was younger, the only path she saw was working for others, getting married and having children. But her fresh start in Wutan inspired her to be bold and build her own business. “Immigration was a good thing for me,” she said.

At the beginning of 2011, Ye was diagnosed with a severe case of Raynaud disease - a rare blood vessel disorder that cuts circulation to fingers and toes. She said that like Yao Qiong, she’s met many difficulties from being an outsider in the new town. But Ye thinks it’s funny to ask for so much from the government, even if one’s living conditions are poor.

Many people now come to Ye for advice on how to get rich. She tells them that even if you have children, there are many jobs you can still do from home. “Starting a business is risky,” she says, “But there’s no chance for wealth if you stay in your comfort zone.” 



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