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Violent protests over development of the Pubugou Dam, China


The dam at Pubugou is the largest of an enormous project to build seventeen large-scale dams, in addition to 356 smaller power plants, along the Dadu river, a tributary of the Yangtze River in Sichuan Province. Power generation was expected to start in 2008, and the entire project was slated to be completed by 2010 [1].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Violent protests over development of the Pubugou Dam, China
State or province:Sichuan province
Location of conflict:Hanyuan county
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The average power generation rate is estimated to be 146 billion kilo-watt hours with 3,300 MW. The reservoir will flood 44383 mu of land (2959 ha). The annual national tax revenue is estimated to be 7 billion RMB, while the local tax revenue for the county is estimated to be 1.7 billion” [1].

Project area:2,959 (area flooded)
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:100,000 to 120,000
Start of the conflict:28/10/2004
Company names or state enterprises:China Guodian Corporation (China Guodian) from China - GD Power Development Co. Ltd., the listed arm of China Guodian Corporation, has been contracted to run the hydroelectric project.
Sinohydro Corporation Limited (Sinohydro) from China - Builder of the Pubugou Dam
GE Energy Infrastructure (GE Energy ) from United States of America - GE Energy won a contract valued at US$37 million to supply three turbines, additional equipment and services for the dam (Kelly Haggart, Probe International, 8 November 2004)
Relevant government actors:Zhang Xuezhong, Luo Gan
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:local villagers from three townships in Huayuan county (Wangong, Fuquan and Dashu)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Forms of mobilization:Land occupation
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Refusal of compensation
detention of the party secretary
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Soil erosion, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsIncreased risk of earthquakes
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Negotiated alternative solution
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:At least one person was killed [5], and thousands of paramilitary police deployed to restore order. Now, however, the central government has intervened, sacking at least one Communist Party official and promising to halt work on the dam temporarily. It is part of a strategy some describe as "buying stability", or offering concessions at a local level to restore order [6]
Although peasant dissatisfaction had been simmering for a long time, it was diffuse and only very loosely organized. And apart from a few de facto leaders among the peasants, there were no visible allies within the local government to act as policy entrepreneurs who might have instigated policy change in a way that could have led to a different outcome. In addition to this dearth of policy entrepreneurship and the corresponding absence of a meaningful coalition, it was the government…that successfully altered the media image, strategically changing the issue frame from one of economic development to that of political crisis. Because of the size and the nature of the protests, it was impossible for the protesters to mobilize the media and NGOs or to elicit the support of sympathetic local officials – the situation had become too political. It was no longer an issue of economic development, environmental concerns, or even compensation issues. Rather, it had become one of social stability – the one issue frame that unambiguously trumps even economic development. […] The press was kept out of the area, and local opponents within the government as well as NGO activists were frightened into silence and inaction" [1].
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Mertha, A. 2010. China's Water Warriors. Cornell University Press.
[click to view]

[2] High Tension in Sichuan Dam Standoff
[click to view]

[3] Forced Evictions Over Dam
[click to view]

[4] Sinohydro Corporation: The World's Biggest Hydropower Dam Company
[click to view]

[5] China 'executes dam protester'
[click to view]

[6] China Tries to Calm Dam Protests
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EJOLT team at School of Geography and China Centre, University of Oxford
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1724
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