Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
security in rural China, can be terrifying for farmers. At a basic level, the dam projects
are redistributing economic risk among rural households, exposing people to considerable
social and economic vulnerability. The past several decades of economic reform have un-
raveled many of the previously foundational social institutions in rural China, such as the
family and the agricultural collective. Many of the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, for ex-
ample, were seen not only as “Reform and Opening” (Gaige Kaifang) but also as “untying”
( songbang ): untying the villager from the collective, untying the economy from the central
plan, and untying the individual from his or her natal community. Ironically, of course, the
party-state has engineered and directed the policy changes that allow for such transforma-
tions of personhood.
The “untying” of households from the collective agro-economy has left many farming
households feeling economically well off as the beneficiaries of “social progress,” but it
has also left them vulnerable to a new range of economic risks. Many villagers had made a
calculated decision about which crops to grow and whether to focus on subsistence or mar-
ket sale; they were responsible for distributing their crops; and they needed to pay cash for
medical treatment or educational expenses for family members when the need arose. They
adapted to these changes by sending household members into the labor market, starting
new entrepreneurial ventures, or borrowing money from neighbors and family members to
get by.
Toward the end of our time conducting surveys in Fengqing County near the Xiaowan
Dam site, our research group took a detour to spend nearly three hours winding along
cobblestone roads in order to view a regionally renowned tea tree that locals claimed is
2,000 years old. At the tree—which was indeed the largest and most impressive specimen
I had ever seen, notwithstanding the dubious claims about its antiquity—we met a group of
middleandhighschoolstudentsfromXiaowanTownship.Oneoftheboys,ashortkidwith
glasses, was headed to university that fall; he had scored exceptionally well on the entrance
exam and earned a place at Tsinghua University in Beijing, the country's top institution
for science and engineering. During the course of small talk, a member of our group asked
him, “What do you plan to study?” Without a moment's pause he replied, “Water resources
and hydroelectric engineering [ shuili shuidian ].”
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