Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Originally farmers in a village near Chongqing, the Yan family was displaced in 2002 by the Three Gorges Dam project and relocated to Chongming Island near Shanghai. In Chongming the family continues to farm as a Sichuan minority. The transcript follows covering descriptions of their lives and related viewpoints. 
Mrs. Yan:

Other people think we made a fortune because we’re Three Gorges migrants, like we received 300-400,000 yuan but actually we only received less than 5,000 yuan. 

The government gave us some money for the land. And the money for the water and electricity we owe the government but we didn’t pay it.  

All the furniture we brought from the old house. We had to pay for the shipment. The shipment expenses for each person was several hundred yuan. So the actual money we got was a little more than 4,000 yuan for each person.
In the first 2 years, each person got 38.75 yuan per month for living expenses. The total money for the house is more than 80,000 yuan, we are paying for it with loans. 

Where was your old house? 

Mrs. Yan:

Our old house was in the lower part of Chongqing by the bank of the Yangtze River. My sons also worked outside of Chongqing. They worked nearby the house or they farmed. In the old house we fed pigs. Everybody there had pigs. We feed the pigs for selling but we will leave one pig for Spring Festival. At that time we kill it and eat the whole pig. This tradition happens still. The people here they don’t kill pigs for Spring Festival. They only buy several kilos of pork. It’s very different from our traditions in Chongqing.

Do you have family still in Chongqing?

Mrs. Yan:

I have an older sister. I am the second child and I have 3 younger brothers. They are all still in Chongqing.

Mr. Yan:

I joined the army when I was 18. I lived a military life until 1969 when I got married. Our family house was about 100 square meters.  It had walls.  All together we had 4 rooms in one line.  The kitchen and toilet were outside.
We had 4 rooms. The two living rooms were very big. Each living room had a door and we built a wall inside each room so if you counted them we had 8 rooms but it was actually only 4 rooms. 

Why two living rooms? 

Mrs. Yan:

We had two living rooms because we have two sons.  We built the two living rooms for when our sons got married, so they would each have one. Each living room can hold 8 tables for a wedding ceremony. So the living room was quite big. The daughter in law will bring furniture and we put some in the living room and some in the bedroom. 

How was the relationship with your neighbors? 

Mr. Yan:

Our relationship with the neighbors was very good, epecially during harvest, we helped each other a lot. We don’t need to pay to have help, we just treated each other for dinner. Most of the young people got together to work.  

How many people lived in your village? 

Mr. Yan:

There’s 11 groups in one village. Each group has 200 people. So all together more than 2000 people lived in the village. 

Mr. Yan’s Son:

We were not so familiar with all the 2000 people, but we were very familiar with the groups next to ours.  

Mr. Yan:

No I knew a lot of people in the entire village, because I worked as a leader of our group. All of the 11 leaders had meetings. So I knew many more people.

What were some differences when you moved to Chongming?

Mr. Yan:

In Sichuan we knew people there very well. We could play cards or just talk. Everybody did. The first two years here was hard because we don’t know anyone here. It was a hard time. The first two years we couldn’t understand the dialect here, how people talk. We missed our old place because we lived there for more than 30 years.

Mr. Yan’s Son:

All together more than 7,000 people moved here. We were divided into 3 batches.  The first two batches each had more than 2,000 people. The third batch had a little less than 2,000. We all live in different villages. 

This group we live in is the 5th group. There are 3 Sichuan migrant families living here, which is just my father and mother, my family and my brother’s family. I have two sons and my brother has one son.  

We spent at least 2 years to know the local people. We made new friends here but we feel more intimate with Sichuan people. The local people here they don’t visit each other so often. But in my old village everyone loved to visit each other, everyday. This new village doesn’t have this custom.

How is the rest of the environment?

Mr. Yan’s Son:

The general environment of the new place and old place is almost the same because it’s the countryside. The house here is more beautiful and we don’t need to spend too much time farming. It’s more flat here. 

This place is good the only problem is the house. Because the government showed us a picture of the house but when we came here it was different. There should be some decoration, but there is nothing. All the migrants here didn’t pay the bills because we didn’t receive the house we were told we would get.  

Mr. Yan:

If the local government meets the standard of the picture they showed us before then we will pay for the electricity and water.

Did the village leaders come to visit you?

Mr. Yan’s Son:

The first few years the local government would visit the old people. But now nothing. I just hope the whole situation will improve, but it will not be to serve any one individual.

How did you know you would come to Chongming?  
Mr. Yan:

The government has rules for the places each family goes. But before we accept the place the government chooses for us, we have the right to have a look to see whether we like it or not.  When we came here we only saw the general condition of the place. We saw the transportation, the land, but not the house because it wasn’t built.

The government paid for the travel when we came to have a look. Each family had one person come as a representative.

What was your reaction when you were told you had to leave? 

Mr. Yan:

We have no choice, we had to leave. Even my eldest son didn’t want to move. 

Later Mrs. Yan in the garden, what are you growing?

Mrs. Yan:

I brought the seeds for the peppers here. The local people here don’t like to eat spicy food.  They eat their leftovers for dinner but we cook every meal.

Recorded August 2009


I have a house in Pudong, it’s ok.

Someone came to talk to me in September.  They told me they want to build a house six floors at most.  But I don’t agree, they should offer to pay money.  I refused because you cannot afford this land, this is Shanghai.

They told me if you move early we’ll pay you more.  The earlier the more money.  But I complained at first, in June they offered RMB 600 per square meter. Then they changed in September to only RMB  400 per square meter.  In October it will be RMB 200 per square meter. We cannot talk because it changes.

Now they stopped talking, nobody comes to talk. They said since it is the EXPO they need to stop.  They are in a hurry because they started to move people when my son was just in 2nd grade, now he is graduated from middle school, in 9th grade.  So seven years passed but still they haven’t finished moving everyone out.

It would have been better for you if you moved early?


Yes we also want to move as soon as possible, but they only came with their offer last September, but their offer is too low.

These are the two offers they made.  The other one is the 250,000 per person. You take the money and you will get nothing else, no house at all. The house they offered is very far away, it takes 1.5 hours with no subway. The children still have school here, so it’s troublesome for their education. The education accepts students according to hukou, so they are not accepted there.

Our old house has two floors, we’re doing business.   We have been here for 20 years doing this business and we depend on this.  If we move they will not give us the shop.  They only give us a house.

When we move they will only give you the house but not the business.  My husband is more than 50 years old and if we don’t have the shop so what do we live on then?

They asked us to find a job by ourselves. How can people like us at this age find work in Shanghai?

Because we can’t agree on that, I tried anyway to get some help from the community organization. She tried everything but just can’t succeed. She wants to meet the investors and talk to them, but they will not allow me to meet the investors. Our requirement is not high.

What’s your idea for this solution?

RMB  4,000,000 around, I want cash. So we can make a small business.  I have children and a mother-in-law to feed.  This house now is my husband’s house.  It’s decades old.  In 1993, we were married and when I came here, the shop was already doing business. 

During the Cultural Revolution the time passed, personal stuff went to one organization. The public fortune and private fortune came together. Since then this house was taken by the country, but we are still here but it’s not ours it’s the country’s, they took the right to own it and now we rent it.

The neighbors have no way to choose. The government offered them a little more than RMB 300,000 they have no choice only take the money and go. But we’re doing business so we cannot accept this. The neighbors who moved complain about the transportation, everything there is inconvenient.

Also my neighbor told me don’t come there, everything is bad there. The new place is too far away and you can hardly call it a residential area because it’s new. To see the doctor or go to the market to buy vegetables, it’s all inconvenient.

I’ve been there, it’s very very far.  It used to belong to Nanhui, a year before it became part of the Pudong new zone.

If they gave you RMB 4,000,000 what will you do?

We will still do the business like this.

They say the house now is RMB 70,000 per square meter here. Quoting from the newspaper, there’s an article that says that in Shanghai, the average cost of every set of housing is RMB 17,000,000. 

As citizens we are fine if they demolish the old house, if they just give us back exactly the old house in a different place we’re fine with that.  Instead they force us to move. And some neighbors, they are chased after to leave.

Now some people who have been forced are suing the government. They even went to Beijing but it was all in vain.

The neighbor’s husband is a disabled man, every day they went to the municipal government but nobody will meet them and talk to them. They were forced to go Jan. 4 this year because they said they would demolish the house by force on Jan. 5, so they left one day before.

They’re not talking. They don’t want to talk to us, they just brush us off. They told us that we’re not behaving the way they want. They told me if you don’t accept or think it’s unreasonable you can go to the Huangpu court to sue, but nobody agrees.  They write it down in the contract if you think you cannot accept what they offer, but nobody will accept this to sue. We can’t win if we sue.  It’s impossible the court will not accept our case.

We all hope to improve the life. We hope to demolish to move, but we are also very afraid of that because the place we are going is too far away.  Everyone knows this.

In this house we store our stuff here, so we’re prepared to move. This has been prepared for a long time, all the suitcases here, we’re prepared to move.

It was not like this before, when they demolished next door, they ruined the roof.
It used to be very beautiful. When they demolished the house next to ours all the water came in and destroyed our house.

When they give us money they don’t care if you have work or not.  Whether you have work or not they give you the same. We are together with this house. So they offered 20,000 or 30,000 at the first discussion. That was too low and unacceptable.  So the second time there was two policemen without the official. They said they came to cooperate with the work.

The policemen asked us what we are doing here, they said they came to give us the paper to leave. I told them to take the paper back, I refused.  They just tried to persuade me to take it, just take it now.  So I threatened them back. I said  “If you demolish our house by force I’ll show you what I can do!”

I know after you take this paper, I know the procedure of demolishing the house by force will begin. Because we are normal common people, we have no space to complain, we can only use our life to resist. You can’t just stomp on me like an ant.

The third discussion also failed, after these seven years I know it will fail. After all these years of talking we know it will fail. I said I don’t want to quarrel with you because I’m a host and you come to my house. If you don’t come here, I don’t know who you are. The two policemen left.  Later they tried again to discuss but every time they just wanted to give me the paper to demolish my house by force, I just refused.

Now it stopped, just because the EXPO started. Because there are a lot of foreigners so it would look bad.  After the EXPO they will start again with us.  Only several days before the EXPO there were 4-5 families moved by force.

In what way were they forced?

The policemen and cars, the community organization and the moving company trucks came.  I saw that they just went to the house, grabbed the people and took them out.

They took them to the police station and after the house was demolished they released the people so they could not have a home, just had to accept the new place. They took all their belongings to the new place very far away.  The police just told them, their furniture, everything is there, just go there.

Did they just go to the new place?


No, they rented a house, they’re trying to sue.

Can you organize a group of people to talk to them?


No no you can’t do that. If you do that they will think you are making a disturbance. They will catch you. They will say you are making disorder to society which makes us common people afraid. We don’t dare to do that.

Recorded June 2010

An Interview with Shanghai residents in the old city center.  

Resident One:

This place I live in now is only temporary. I’m waiting for the new place. To live here is dangerous. You see how poor the roof is? The house is going to collapse. If you go next door it’s even poorer. We live upstairs, it’s dangerous. Be careful climbing the stairs. Now you see the inside, you see how poor our rooms are. You see the door? You see the desk? It can’t be worse. I went out last year when it snowed. We didn’t want to get buried, we were scared to death.

Was the house always like this? 

Resident One:

Yes since 1995, and no improvement, it’s always been like this. 

Resident Two:

Before the house was built there was nothing, just grass and weeds. Then there was a construction team. The leader just built a place to barely live. It’s not really a room or a house. It was built 65 years ago. My parents came here to live, they are my foster parents but I have an elder sister. So us four lived here then she got married and moved out. But other families have 6 or 7 people. 

Resident One:

This room used to be for a family but now I live alone. Before I came there was a family here, but they didn’t have money so they sold it to me. We built the kitchen by ourselves, actually it’s not allowed by the government because it’s an illegal addition. The kids slept up here. There’s not so much space in the ceiling.

Most people living here are from Shanghai or other provinces? 
Resident One:

Yes most are from Shanghai, you can rent an empty space here. It’s 360 yuan per month. Each person will get 200,000 yuan to move out of the house in the future because of the land.

Resident Two:

We will move to a new house in the countryside. It’s very inconvenient for us to travel to work and to the children’s school. It’s very far away. There’s no alternative though.

If you are rich enough you could just buy a house here, you don’t have to move. It would be 25,000 yuan per square meter to buy the house. So it’s impossible for us. 

We have no way to choose. It’s the reality we can’t change it. 

Resident One:

We live a frugal life here to save money.

Recorded September 2008