East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society

Apr. 6 Workshop


Workshop on East Asia:
Politics, Economy and Society Presents

“Understanding the Nujiang Anti-Dam Activism in China—A Grassrooted Metropolitan Environmental Movement”

Hang Zhou
Visiting PhD Candidate, Department of Applied Social Sciences,
Hong Kong Polytechnic University

4:00-5:30pm, Tuesday
April 6, 2010
Pick Lounge
5828 South University Ave.

Workshop website: http://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/eastasia/
Student coordinator: Jean Lin (jeanlin@uchicago.edu)
Faculty sponsors: Dali Yang, Cheol-sung Lee, Dingxin Zhao
The workshop is sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies and the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences. Persons with disabilities who believe they may need assistance, please contact the student coordinator in advance.

Understanding the Nujiang Anti-dam Activism in China—A Grass rooted Metropolitan Environmental Movement
The Nu River (or Nujiang) roars out of the Tibetan plateaus east of the Himalayas and surges forward between Gaoligong Mountain and Biluo Mountain in China’s Yunnan province with a total length of 2816 Kilometers and a drainage area of 324000 square kilometers. The mighty Nu plunges through steep canyons inside the border with Burma and finally empties into the Andaman Sea of Indian. In 2003, along with two other grand rivers in Yunnan province, the Lancang River and Jinshan River, it has been awarded “Three Parallel River World Heritage Site” by UNESCO. The magnificent scenery of Nu River can be developed into ecological tourism and international drift adventure site. However such natural beauty will be at risk of disappearing due to the construction of thirteen cascade hydroelectric dams. According to this development scheme of China Huadian corporation the Grand Gorge of the Orient will degrade into static reservoirs and be deprived of conditions for ecological tourism. Besides, due to geological disaster induced by the project, the accumulation of sediment in the reservoir will cause irrevocable destroy.

The Attempt to save the Nujiang as a primitive river develops into efforts to channel the grievance of dam-affected immigrants by some Chinese metropolitan-based environmental NGOs in the seven years environmental campaign. In the process of contention, many issues have been raised in terms of conservation of biodiversity and ethnical cultural traditions, resettlement of dam immigrants, safety of dam-building in geological instable area, expansion of highly-polluted industries due to hydropower development. This case study intends to address the following puzzles: does the saving Nujiang campaign signify a more pluralization political process in China? Is it a new strategy for Chinese collective action impasse? How Chinese ENGOs cross the obstacles of self-restraining and how Chinese grass root society to integrate beyond the trend of being fragmented.

I argue that this movement is more like a metropolitan environmental movement with the battlefield in the remote frontiers facilitated by an appropriate political opportunity. The framing that environmental activists applied fits the central government vision of “scientific development” and echoes the villagers’ concern for resettlement, land taking and compensation, nonetheless, these framings contradicts sharply with what the local government advocates. In their eyes, hydropower development is the only option that brings Nujiang autonomous prefecture out of poverty and backwardness. What is the best balancing point between economic growth and environment protection in contemporary China maybe debatable, however, the fight between the public interest representative like citizenry and ENGO and advantaged interest group is becoming visible. It is still too early to conclude which part wins.

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