Geography Reference
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moments such as the lead-up to the Beijing Olympic Games or the transition of political
leadership can precipitate a crackdown (Ying 2005).
In practice, s hangfang can involve a variety of tactics, from letter-writing campaigns to
signed petitions to amassing complainants in front of government offices in an attempt to
gainpublicsupport.The shangfang processcanclearly serveasamechanism forextracting
accountability from political elites, but it also tends to unfold within well-defined cultur-
al boundaries. 2 Villagers tend to be most successful when their requests are seen as mod-
est and reasonable; otherwise, they risk being labeled as belonging to “nail households”
( dingzi hu ) that chronically seek to stir up trouble. In this regard, shangfang is not un-
like the “weapons of the weak” described by James Scott: “The antagonists in such con-
tests … know each other's repertoire of practical action and discursive moves. There is, in
other words, a kind of larger social contract that gives some order and limits to the con-
flict.… Thelimits andconstraints characterizing conflict arenevercut-and-dried tothepar-
ticipants. The antagonists are, all of them, continually prospecting new terrain—trying out
new stratagems and wrinkles that threaten to change, and often do change, the shape of the
'game' itself” (2005:398).
Ying's experience unraveling the complex social problems related to dam-induced dis-
placement is shared by many other social scientists. Dr. Li, for example, the sociologist
who worked for a government-sponsored research institute, had recently conducted an as-
sessment of the long-term social impacts of resettlement for the Three Gorges Project, for
which at least 1.3 million people have been relocated over the past twenty years. In a tea-
house near his office in Beijing, when I asked him whether he could provide me with a
copy of his report to the Three Gorges Commission, he replied flatly, “No, the report is for
internal use [ neibu ] only.” He did, however, outline the main findings of the study, reciting
a list of ongoing problems that were by now all too familiar: “First, as we've already dis-
cussed, compensation levels were too low. Employment was also a problem; job-training
programs were not always very effective. There isn't nearly enough farmland in the region
to support all the displaced farmers. In some cases, farming households were widely dis-
persed; in other cases, they were given adjacent pieces of land almost like collective farms
from the old days. The only difference is that no one is in charge; there is no production
team leader.”
Dr. Li also shared with me, in general terms, the recommendations that his research team
made to the Three Gorges Commission, the most important of which was that the cent-
ral government should go beyond household-level compensation to provide funding for
ongoing community-development projects that foster social cohesion. In light of the seri-
ous social problems that his team and others have documented for the Three Gorges Pro-
ject—including conflict between migrants and members of host communities as well as a
dramatic demographic shift in which most young people have left their villages in search
of wage labor—he argued that the central government must play a stronger role. “When we
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