houses. Subsequent television and newspaper reports on the tragedy said that two victims
were found dead within several hours, but twelve people were still missing and presumed
dead, eight from a single family ( Yunnan Wang 2009). Within a few days, the media re-
ports concluded that “heavy rains” were to blame for the landslides, and the thread of news
soon disappeared without confirming the fate of the missing victims.
People in China often refer to any attempt to peer inside a complex and poorly under-
stood phenomenon—in particular one involving political sensitivity—as “lifting the lid”
( jie gaizi ). In this case, the immediate difficulties placed in our path by bureaucrats repres-
ented one obstacle to lifting the lid, but it was not the only one. The effects of involuntary
displacement on individuals and communities are exceedingly complicated and difficult to
understand. Many questions remain only partially answered, and the long-term future pro-
spects of displaced villagers are unclear.
Another fact that thwarts efforts to “lift the lid” on resettlement problems is that many of
the long-term effects of resettlement defy easy measurement. Beyond changes in income,
agricultural practices, and housing conditions, how do villagers experience the cultural and
emotional dimensions of what they are going through? What are the implications, for ex-
ample, ofrelocating apopulation with generational ties tothe landscape, with family tombs
lining the edges of their agricultural fields, and with cultural and even spiritual attachment
to place? Anthony Oliver-Smith, who has examined a range of case studies on resettlement
for large-scale development projects, concludes: “Attachment to place may transcend the
unique experiences of individuals and come to involve the constellation of social relations,
and the cultural values that inform them, of entire groups or communities.… The feelings,
memories, ideas, values and meanings associated with everyday life in some setting be-
come a dimension of a person's or group's identity” (2010:166).
In my experience, many villagers felt a sense of ambivalence toward the Lancang dam
projects, recognizing elements of loss while maintaining a tenacious sense of hope for the
future. One middle-aged Yi farmer, whose family had recently been displaced by the Xi-
aowan Dam, reported that his family had moved into the resettlement village and had been
fairly well compensated for their lost land. He reflected, “The biggest effect on us is the
inundation of our land. The dam will flood farmers' houses and fields, and they will have
to move. Many have already been moved. This destroys people's traditions and culture.
People are usually not willing to move. It totally changes their way of life. Of course, that's
progress [ jinbu ]. If the dam wasn't built, there would be no social progress [ shehui jinbu ].
There are more benefits than drawbacks. Of course, there are some negative impacts. I lost
my land. But the positive benefits outweigh the negative impacts. Life is better than be-
His remarks underscore the fact that as the Lancang dams move forward, displacing tens
of thousands of villagers, they change people's sense of long-term security; the prospect
of losing any amount of farmland, which is the primary source of livelihood and social