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Ancestral villages all gone with the flow

(China Daily)

16:08, August 26, 2011

Two boys sit on a stone tablet in Zhangzhuang village, Henan province, on Wednesday. Over 1,000 villagers have been relocated to a new community in Xiangcheng county, Xuchang, about 300 kilometers away, as part of the South-North Water Diversion Project. Xiang Mingchao / China Daily

NANYANG, Henan - Zhang Jianzhong had a sleepless night on Tuesday, a day before he was due to leave the home where he has lived all his life.

He is one of the 2,221 residents being relocated in the Danjiangkou Reservoir area, in Xichuan county of Nanyang city, Henan province, a key part of the nation's ambitious water diversion project.

"How I wish I can stay. I have lived here all my life," said Zhang.

Before Zhang and his fellow villagers boarded the buses that were to take them to their new homes, a farewell meeting was held in the village to celebrate their departure.

Families lit firecrackers in front of their houses as part of a ceremony to remember their old homes and pray for good fortune in their new life. Zhang also took offerings to the tombs of his ancestors, before his family had lunch with relatives.

The second-and-last stage emigration in the area was completed as two villages including Zhang's headed separately to their new homes on Thursday morning.

The reservoir is the starting point of a water line, part of the South-North Water Diversion Project that travels 1,277 kilometers all the way to Beijing to quench the thirsty north.

The more than 1,000 villagers in Zhangzhuang village, where Zhang lived, were moving to their new community in Xiangcheng county, Xuchang, about 300 kilometers away.

They were among the 162,000 in the county removed from their ancestral land to more than 25 counties and cities all over the province. In all, some 345,000 residents were involved in the relocation for the Danjiangkou Reservoir that borders Henan and Hubei provinces.

"The intensity of the emigration is unprecedented for the nation's water projects," said Mu Weimin, major of Nanyang who headed the emigration program.

"However, the end of the relocation is just the first step," said Mu Weimin, the mayor.

Tough jobs still lie ahead including helping the relocated villagers integrate with the local people and environment.

"We will remember what they sacrificed for the nation," Mu said. "We have made relevant policies and provided funds to help them get through the transition period and thrive again as family trees."

But like many other villagers, Zhang was worried about what lay ahead.

"I am getting old. It's hard for me to find a job," said Zhang, who has received a smaller amount of less fertile land than he had before.

However, some are more positive about the move.

"I'm a farmer, and it's all right as long as we're going to have new farmland," said 60-year-old Xu Bingqiang.

According to Xu the villagers can now escape the floods that haunted them for good.

"In serious floods, we could lose all our crops," he said.

He had wrapped something special in his package - two persimmon saplings.

"It's a souvenir of my homeland and I don't think the new land will have ones as good as these," he said. "But like them, we will root ourselves again."

Young people such as Liu Guofang, 25, were also more optimistic about the relocation.

"As young people, we of course prefer better places," said Liu, who had been working at a leather factory in southern city Guangzhou and arrived home just two days ago to lend a hand.

"Maybe it'll take some time to get on with the new environment, but I believe things will get better."

According to the city's emigration management center, more than 140 relocation villages have been built, with accommodation for over 21,000 households, 85 schools, and 71 country clinics.

China's South-North Water Diversion Project consists of three channels - eastern, central, and western - the construction of the middle route involves the relocation of 330,000 people in Henan and Hubei provinces.

The "middle line" project, after it is finished in 2014, will convey some 9.5 billion cubic meters of water from the Danjiangkou Reservoir to more than 20 cities along its length.

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