Today a provincial gov’t announced a new relocation project that would move 2.8 million people from their homes, nearly twice as many as were moved for the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. This project though is not to clear the way for a massive new infrastructure project, but is instead aimed at poverty alleviation and avoiding disasters.
The project is looking to move people from rural Shaanxi to some of the larger towns and cities, and will no doubt be a topic of debate over the next few years.
The argument the gov’t makes is that this project could help to limit some of China’s rural problems. By moving rural people to larger towns it would improve access to medical care and education, with the possibility of providing local jobs that would keep families closer together. The People’s Daily article found a few farmers who were very optimistic about what this might mean for them (surprisingly they didn’t interview anyone against it).
Almost all of the people being moved are living in desperate poverty in a region that seems especially unforgiving. It seems like almost any project would improve their standing, however similar things were said during China’s last great relocation.
During the Three Gorges Dam project farmers were relocated from the small villages where their fields were, to newly built towns. They were given a small monthly allowance, a new apartment, and a little job training (this is also what is happening on a smaller scale every time a new factory, railroad, or airport is built here, and is what happened to many families after the Sichuan Earthquake).
Often the people who are relocated realize that they do not have the abilities needed to find new jobs, and have no farm land to return to, and that they sold their land for far too little money. In many cases they end up worse off than when they were farming since they are cut off from access to the capital they could have used to pull themselves out of poverty.
These relocation projects have become so unpopular that they have lead to large scale protests in dozens of provinces throughout China. The government has also had to step in to urge police not to assist local governments in forcing people out of their homes.
These projects often turn out poorly because there are rarely 2.8 million low skilled jobs available for these farmers who are adapting to a completely new life.
If this project is met with little resistance from the locals, than I worry that this could become a new trend. Building projects like this show up in local officials GDP numbers which lead to nice promotions. It also raises the question which China will have to address in these next few decades, Can the physical location of a village doom its residents to a life of poverty?