High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser that was originally written for Radio Free Asia on August 10, 2010 in Beijing and posted on her blog on August 14, 2010.
The article was written by Woeser just two days after devastating mudslides hit the area in Amdo known as Drugchu in Tibetan and Zhouqu in Chinese. At the time, Woeser was also monitoring Twitter reactions to the mudslides, a round-up and summary of which can be found on Global Voices.
Whilst international media has been calling the area by its Chinese name Zhouqu, Zhouqu is in fact the Chinese rendering of the Tibetan ‘brug chu meaning “Dragon River”.
On August 8, just before dawn, the most agonising landslides swept across Drugchu. Drugchu is situated in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province and, in the past, used to be an area inhabited purely by Tibetans. Today, only about a quarter of its entire population is Tibetan and it will become more and more Han Chinese: Nevertheless, as a student from Drugchu wrote in an essay: “Drugchu’s Tibetans are distributed mainly over the upper reaches of the Drugkar (Ch: Bailong) and Gongba (a tributary to Drugkar) rivers −apart from two villages on the east mountain, which are purely Han Chinese and a few places, which are inhabited by Han and Tibetans equally, most villages are occupied by Tibetans− over two thirds of the county’s area is in fact inhabited by Tibetans.”
Locally, information is being spread that the landslides were not only a result of heavy rainstorms but also of the destruction of the ecosystem by human beings. Thanks to the internet, much information regarding this can be obtained. There is no need to “jump over the Great Firewall”, all data, reports and surveys provided by the authorities deliver sufficient proof. The Drugchu County’s annals testify that this place “has always been renowned for its green hills and clear waters with the surging Bailong River elegantly crossing the entire county, graceful like a khata, lined with immense forests and crossing over deep valleys.” However, this picturesque scenery has been destroyed over the past 50 years. In 2005, official media reported that from August 1952, when the Drugchu Forest Management Bureau was founded, until 1990, the entire county’s forests were reduced by 100,000 cubic metres per year. Plants were also severely damaged and the harm caused to the ecosystem went beyond any limits.
In fact, similar situations are very common everywhere on the vast Tibetan land. For example, the rich natural resources of Kandze (Ch: Ganzi) County forest, declared the number one out of all forests in the whole of China, and which, apart from some areas that were used by locals or for temple buildings, has always been self-sustaining and untouched. After 1950, large-scale tree-felling activities started, some organised, and some at random; it ended up in indiscriminate and excessive deforestation to the extent that, as it was the case in the Drango (Ch: Luhuo) County, forests were completely exhausted with only bald hillsides left and the county’s Forest Management Bureau had to be disbanded. The consequences of this excessive felling of trees could be felt in the late 1990s when a massive flood occurred in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. This made the Chinese government pass a series of policies according to the maxim: “Better late than never”.
However, in recent years, under the “Great Western Development Programme” and in line with the call for “great economic development”, governments in all regions have continued to plunder natural resources; they say that it is in order to stimulate the GDP, but in actual fact this just serves as a cover for the authorities’ corrupt and greedy behaviour. A county such as Drugchu, with just over only 130,000 inhabitants and a few more than 20 villages, has endured 47 hydropower development programmes since 2003 and is home to 15 hydropower stations with another 14 currently being installed; it is hard to imagine at what range this many hydropower stations will be erected in the turbulent waves of the river. Furthermore, a fellow netizen, who has actually been to Drugchu, highlighted the damage caused by mining activities in the area and said that due to many years of gold mining, the hillsides are deforested leaving only grey and black soil, the rivers and creeks are full of gold mining equipment and in the river runs grey and black mud.
However, according to the Chinese authorities, the landslides were a natural disaster; this is the same reason that is always given in situations of disaster, man-made calamities are never admitted or recognised. Yet, there are a few experts who concluded that the severe landslides were in fact caused by excessive deforestation as well as by the building of large-scale irrigation works, increasing the likelihood of severe ecological disasters. Also, shortcomings in the urban planning of the county capital contributed to the disaster. Yin Yueping, a famous specialist for the prevention of ecological disasters, already said, in light of the heavy land- and mudslides that occurred in Dartsedo (Ch: Kangding) two years ago, that “when I went to the Kandze County, I asked the local county head why he would install that many hydropower stations as they would bring about many problems, including the continuous landslides in the county capital. He answered that by erecting this many hydroelectric stations, his yearly tax revenues amounted to 400 million…” The geologist, Yang Liankang bluntly says, “China’s need for hydropower has not yet exceeded the need for human life.”
I have never actually been to Drugchu myself but I have seen surrounding areas similar in terms of geography and climate and also, I have lived in the Kham area for many years, so this naturally makes me think that this time this engulfing landslide rushing down like a giant dragon hit Drugchu but where will it be next? An article found through Twitter made me really feel uncomfortable: “During the decades before the 1980s, almost the entire indigenous forests of the Muli area were destroyed; in the following years, gold diggers wreaked havoc like rats; now in the current century, it is the installation of hydropower stations. The formerly quiet, graceful and peaceful Shambhala has turned into a noisy, vulgar and savage place. The disaster in Drugchu is the overture for Muli.” The names of many familiar Tibetan places are one by one passing in front of my eyes; I cannot help but shudder all over.
Beijing, August 10, 2010?
This post is also available in: English