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Hard Luck, Hard Work Tales Of Forced Migrants Of China's Three Gorges Dam

Some 1.2 million were forced to relocate by China's massive Three Gorges project. Moving to unfamiliar land, many of these internal migrants struggle. Some tell another story.

Terraced fields in Ping'an village
Terraced fields in Ping'an village
Du Yuan

More than a decade ago, residents of Gaoyang Village in Chongqing piled into buses that would take them to their new homes 300 kilometers away in Ping’an Village. As they left, crowds cheered for them, 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 construction of 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, for these internal Chinese migrants, life has forever changed.

Jiangjin District is home to 8,000 Three Gorges migrants. At the end of 2001, Chen Peiqing and his family got on the bus with some furniture following in a truck behind.

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 local farmland for growing rice, which the government bought from local residents. But Chen and his wife Huang Mingxiang 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 was so close to other households that their ducks and chickens would eat our plants,” Chen says.

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. And indeed Huang said that she and her husband prefer to associate with other migrants.

Their financial setbacks aren’t over either. Two years ago, every household in the village had to pay 8,000 RMB ($1,285) for gas, a water heater and a kitchen range. And this year, the “Countryside Reconstruction Project” is requiring everyone to get their roof painted for 40 RMB ($6.43) per square meter.

An immigrant's dream

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

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.

Ye Liqiao tells a somewhat different story. Widely respected by other villagers, this short and tanned woman is dressed neatly with her hair tied back in a ponytail. Ye spends much of 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, where they were allotted small scattered pieces of lands. Rather than simply trying to grow what she could on those plots, she decided to seek a loan in order to 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 the one 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 faced many difficulties from being an outsider in the new town, but by now locals 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 always do what seems most comfortable.”

Translated by Dou Yiping

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


💡  SPOTLIGHT

Bulgaria is COVID fail of the week: Our roving reporter is tired of asking "why"

With much attention now focused on rising COVID-19 cases in the UK and Moscow's new lockdown, a hidden story is in Bulgaria, which claims both Europe's highest death rate and lowest vaccination rate. By now, this reporter knows the drill

I suspected, while Google translating the Bulgarian news Wednesday morning, that I might be the last person in Sofia with an internet connection to have found out about the new COVID rules.

Following reports of 4,979 new COVID-19 cases and 214 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, the Bulgarian government had announced that proof of vaccine or negative PCR tests will be required for access to restaurants, theaters, cinemas, gyms, clubs and shopping malls. Starting tomorrow.

I'd heard some chatter at the co-working place the night before, but after 18 months of coronavirus reporting, and pandemic living, both in my native Sweden and my former home in Paris, I wasn't up for another round on the topic.

Perhaps, that same plague fatigue was what caused me — when deciding to set up shop in Bulgaria a month ago — to miss the detail that this is both Europe's least vaccinated country and the one with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate.

I had chosen Sofia (Europe's oldest city!) on the latest stop of my now 12-year hunt for a place to sort of settle down for its cheap rent, cobblestoned city center … and its excellent nationwide WiFi. What more could you ask?

Well, vaccinations, it turned out. So here I was facing the COVID story again, after months exploring France's extra strict lockdown measures, Sweden's famous flirt with herd immunity, the mask morality police and anti-vaxx ideologues everywhere.

The world's pandemic press this week is focused on the UK, where again cases are skyrocketing, and Moscow's new lockdown. But here in a country of barely 7 million, where I didn't speak the language or know the history, what might I find? After just six weeks, I considered the social dispositions I had discerned, what political leanings I'd nosed out that might explain why 80% of the population still isn't vaccinated.

I had, for example, observed with great interest that Sofians never jaywalk. Maybe that was the angle? The striking incongruence between social conformity and vaccine refusal? Or maybe the upcoming parliamentary elections held a clue to the bad COVID management.

To answer these questions, I went where any hungry reporter would go: the burger joint on the corner.

- "So new restrictions huh? You think they might lockdown?"

- "Dunno. The usual? No chili?"

- "Right, no chili … So you think more people will get vaccinated now?"

- "We'll see. That'll be four leva."

Having spent the past 18 months among the army of finger-wagging, number-crunching armchair social scientists (both in and out of print) I had suddenly lost my hunger to "explain" why Bulgarians were the world's bad boy of the moment on the COVID front. Consider this just one roving reporter's version of pandemic fatigue.


Carl-Johan Karlsson

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.

💬  LEXICON

魷魚的勝利

Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

A child stands in front of burning tires during a protest in Beirut against a new rise in fuel prices as Lebanon faces a crippling energy and economic crisis. — Photo: Marwan Naamani/dpa/ZUMA


✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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