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not likely to be prioritized in remuneration plans and may not be compensated for at all.
Irreplaceable losses—cultural connections to ancestral lands, for example—are impossible
to evaluate in a cost-benefit analysis and consequently are often externalized by develop-
ment authorities (WCD 2000b). On Yunnan's rivers, displacement of minority nationalities
raises difficult questions about how to assess nonmaterial losses such as community ties,
cultural heritage, and traditional ecological knowledge.
Dr. Li, a sociologist who worked for a government-sponsored research institute, had
more than a decade of experience conducting SIAs for hydropower projects. He discussed
with me some of the methodological challenges of applying the SIA approach in China.
His research team, charged with the task of collecting baseline data for a poverty-allevi-
ation project in rural Guizhou, adopted a standardized household survey used by Western
colleagues, translating it into Chinese and modifying it only slightly. One of the ques-
tions asked study participants to indicate their occupation and contained a range of pos-
sible responses including “farmer,” “wage laborer,” “government official,” and so forth.
The research team struggled to fit their data into these predetermined categories, a process
that became truly ridiculous when one study participant identified herself as a matchmaker
( meipo ), whose job was to use astrological charts to determine the suitability of poten-
tial marriage partners for local villagers. Recounting the story, Dr. Li was nonplussed; he
chuckled, “How were we supposed to fill out the questionnaire for that?” Sometimes the
epistemological categories that we are expected to apply to a topic of study prove inad-
equate to the task.
As part of my work to understand the scientific and policy dimensions of hydropower, I
interviewed many social scientists like Dr. Li who had conducted SIA work for water-re-
source projects in recent years. I also reviewed the growing body of published literature in
English and Chinese on the subject. In the process, I gained an understanding of the chal-
lenges of resettlement planning and implementation, the mechanisms through which social
scientists try to improve the outcomes, and the strategies used by displaced individuals and
communities to get what they need. Reviewing the recent history of SIAs, even those con-
ducted at the behest of government agencies, one doesn't have to wait long before encoun-
tering the social problems—poverty, mass protests, and even violence—that go along with
large-scale development projects.
The story of Dr. Ying Xing, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,
provides a point of entry into this topic. As a doctoral student in sociology in the 1990s,
Ying was invited by the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee to study the re-
settlement process in the Yangtze River region and provide critical feedback on how the
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