High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on December 14, 2011, for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and posted on her blog on December 20, 2011.
This series of posts covers Woeser’s travels to Amdo, Kham and Lhasa that started in the Summer of 2011 and follows on from the last post “Tibetan Buddhist Gatherings Worship a Portrait of His Holiness”. This post is the 11th post from the series of travel posts and concludes the series. The travel posts, in chronological order of posting on High Peaks Pure Earth, are as follows:
Photo 1 shows Batang at nightfall, streetlights are off, the only light comes from shops and hotels using generators. Photo 2 shows Batang during the daytime. The photos were taken in Summer 2011 (at the end of July) by Woeser.
“Why is Batang County Experiencing so Many Power Cuts?”
When I was travelling through Kham last Summer, I went to Batang with a special purpose. On our way from Lithang to Batang we drove on muddy roads, passing through vast grasslands, my friend who was driving said that the the conditions were even worse than on the Xinjiang-Tibet highway, which is referring to the road linking Kargilik (Xinjiang) and the northern Tibetan town of Ngari. But even on this muddy road, we still saw Han Chinese tourists on self-drive tours with their off-road vehicles being decorated with the Chinese flag. 106 years ago, Zhao Erfeng who led military troops into the area to suppress Batang also passed by this area. I realised that the police car was still following us.
As it is the case in many places in Tibet, wherever we find mountains, there is mining, wherever there is water, we find hydroelectric power plants, and wherever there are mountains and water, as for example in Batang, we find mining and hydroelectric power plants. When we arrived at the Batang county town it was already getting dark but the whole city was without electricity, only a few shops and hotels used generators for lighting. It was summer, the nicest season, why was there no electricity? After we had found a hotel to stay, we asked some locals about this and came to know that they were currently building a hydroelectric power plant inside Batang. For this reason, all electricity supply was used at the construction site and, as a result, since the beginning of 2010, there have been many power cuts in the city, causing much inconvenience to its inhabitants. Subsequently, many retired cadres went to the regional government to express their dissatisfaction, saying that people wanted to watch TV in the evening, upon which the power cuts happened largely during the day and electricity came back between 7 and 11 in the evening.
But of course, retired cadres weren’t the only people who were dissatisfied. Whenever I mentioned this problem to local Batang people, I was immediately infected by their deep anxiety. Power cuts, even for several years, are not that bad but what is really terrible are the consequences of the excessive building of hydroelectric power plants. For example, in summer 2010, Drugchu County experienced severe landslides, which were not only related to the heavy rainstorms but actually more to the destruction of the environment. Excessive deforestation, excessive excavation of mountains, violent breaking up of rivers by hydroelectric power plants of different sizes, all this has in the name of “development” represented an extreme plundering of natural resources, resulting in Drugchu County to perish miserably; and this will also lead to other similar places being confronted with the same danger. Whenever I mentioned Drugchu County, Batang people were in a state of lingering fear.
There are some resources about the power cuts in Batang county found on the internet. For example, an official report from 2008, investigating the development of hydroelectric power in Batang issued by the state and the industry, presents: “Batang County is situated in the middle stretches of the Yangtze River (…) by the end of 2007, it was home to 31 hydroelectric power spots operating 41 power plants (…) and it holds tremendous potential for development”. Or as “Batang County’s Bachu River Hydroelectric Powerplant Development Project” of the “Kardze Prefecture Scheme for Advantageous Natural Resources Investment” from 2011 introduces, among the project’s large-scale power plants are “Dangen”, “Sumdo”, “Lala Mountain”, “Dam” and “Batang” plants and they already belong to the country’s key state-owned large-scale industries – The China Huaneng Group is in charge of their development. In fact, the reason why Batang experiences many power cuts is precisely because of the current construction of the “Sumdo” hydroelectric power plant.
On the internet, I also found a travel diary of a Cantonese tourist who because of altitude sickness underwent oxygen treatment in Batang County Hospital; the doctor said to him angrily and bluntly: “Cutting down our trees is like peeling off our skin, leading to soil erosion. Excavating our minerals is like excavating our hearts and it also pollutes our rivers. Now they are even building power plants, it is like they are sucking our blood, many riverbeds are already dry and the environment is destroyed.” The Cantonese patient took this remark to heart and wondered “Whether we shouldn’t reassess our work, like excessive deforestation, excavation and the building of hydroelectric power plants?” but then came to a very sinister conclusion, unexpectedly saying “It is the local security bureau gathering these opinions and wishes of the public, expressing their strong dissatisfaction with the Party and with society, is there awareness of the especially dissatisfied intellectuals, does the Ministry of State Security seize comprehensive control over this?”
Also, a recent and widely circulated Weibo message read: “The families of Batang County, Kardze Prefecture, Sichuan Province have been living without electricity day and night since December 2010; recently, the situation has worsened dramatically; when I got to know that a 82-year-old fellow gentleman had to get up at 3 in the morning to make Tibetan butter tea, my eyes were covered in tears! I could not bear the thought of an old man not being able to eat regularly because of the constant power cuts.
December 14, 2011
This post is also available in: English