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Xiangjiaba Hydropower Plant in Yunnan and Sichuan, southwest China


The 6400MW Xiangjiaba Hydropower Plant, owned by China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG), is the last step of a cascade development on the lower mainstream of Jinsha River, of which Yibin County of Sichuan Province is on the left bank and Shuifu County of Yunnan Province is on the right bank.[1]

The Xiangjiaba hydropower station’s normal impoundment level is 380 meters. The Xiangjiaba reservoir has a total storage capacity of 5.185 billion m3, and its active storage capacity is 905 million m3.The dam has a seasonal drawdown period. The Xiangjiaba Dam has eight 800 MW generating units and a total capacity of 6,400 MW. Its annual electricity production will average 30.747 billion TWH. Xiangjiaba is China's third-biggest hydropower station following Three Gorge and Xiluodu with an investment of almost 70 billion yuan.[2]

The construction of the Xiangjiaba Project officially began in 2006. The river closure was realized in 2008. The first 3 generating units were put into service in 2012, and the whole project was completed in July 2014 after 10 years of construction[3]. The power generated by Xiangjiaba will be supplied to mainly central and east China and also to Sichuan and Yunnan during the drought period. As an important part of China's Great Western Development Programme, the project is expected to drive local social and economic development. The project is a multipurpose scheme. Aside from its main purpose of power generation, it has also been developed for flood control, navigation improvement, and irrigation benefits. It will also trap sediment and act as a counter-regulator to the larger Xiluodu scheme.[4]

Altogether, about 100,000 residents in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces were forced to move out before the planned date of impoundment in May 2012 as their homes would be destroyed and land would be flooded. The anxiety of the involuntary displacement and resettlement was strongly raised in Suijiang before being submerged in the dam lake.

According to the compensation scheme announced by the Suijiang County government, the vast majority the residents who lost their land and home will be compensated with an annual rate for their land and also for resettlement implementations without land redistribution from other areas. However, the compensation for their loss of land and the resettlement subsidies will not be sent directly to the resettlers(also as displaced migrants). The Suijiang County government is "co-ordinating" each resettler’s 30,720 yuan, which will be divided and paid as a monthly rate of 160 yuan per capita for 16 years onwards[5].

The anxieties, doubts, confusions, and dissatisfactions of the resettlers were triggered by the low resettlement standards and compensation rates, difficulties to find a job to sustain their livelihoods after losing land, in combination with rumors that the local governments were misappropriating and deducting the resettlement compensations. At the same time, officials from the government were also quite frustrated while admitting that most of the appeals from the resettlers are reasonable; whether the impoundment could start in the scheduled time or not was also worried by the Three Gorges Corporation. The unsolved conflictive issues among China Three Gorges Corporation, the local governments, and the resettlers accumulated in the past years and finally caused the massive violent incident at the end of March 2011 in Suijiang.

The story began with salt. On 11 March 2011, the big earthquake and the tsunami happened in Japan triggered “waves of salt rush” in mainland China since people are worried about the radiation of nuclear power. Some of the resettlers found that the price of 0.5kg salt increased to 10 yuan, according to the local resettlement policies, each of the resettlers would receive 160 yuan per month in the following years, “Is it enough to buy salt?”  On 17 March, several resettlers petitioned to Suijiang County government to ask for an explanation and were told that, on 25 March, the government will be open to receive visitors to hear their complaints.

25 March, 2011 was the deadline for all the resettlers in Suijiang County to sign the relocation and resettlement agreements. Prior to this, all the public servants and people who worked in public enterprises and institutes had signed the agreements before 10 March under the threat that they will be suspended without payments if they do not sign. Due to time constraints, all the departments of the county government had stopped their daily work; officials were fully committed to the massive mobilization of signing agreements with resettlers; in the meanwhile, they should ensure that the resettlers would not petition to higher level governments; overdue public servants and officials who cannot complete their assigned tasks also faced penalties.

This was considered as “mission impossible”. Everyone could feel the tension in the Suijiang County when 25th of March 2011 was coming, resettlers whose land was expropriated started to gather at the main gate of the county government, demanding the government to "make the policy transparent" and "solve the resettlers’ difficulties", while the latter failed to give a reply that satisfied the landless resettlers. Around 10 AM, many resettlers started to block the main roads to the new site of Suijiang County. The construction company for the resettlement apartments in the new county was Yunnan Construction Engineering Group Co., Ltd.[6] , all the vehicles from the construction company have to go through the blocked intersections. At noon, an SUV from the construction company was blocked and clashed with the road blockers when they tried to cross and the car hit two of the protesters. According to some of the protesters, the persons who were in the SUV were beaten by the protestors because of some exasperated words.

The roads were blocked for 5 days until 29 March. However, the government didn’t respond promptly to the demands from the resettlers, nor did they realize the seriousness of the protest at the beginning. Some of the officials were even continuing their persuasion work with resettlers to conclude the agreements on 25 March. In the evening, some police were trying to maintain the order, but protesters set up tents and started to cook in the siege points, there were several small-scale clashes between the police and the protestors.

During the protest, the resettlers hold banners like “the government eats dirty money, we are h-a-ngry!” Some county residents also joined in the protest to support the rightful resistance by resettlers in the next day. The protesters even hijacked vehicles on the road with beer bottles, the traffic tied up in the whole county. The government only began to evacuate the crowds when two directors from the Urban Construction Bureau were besieged by the protestors. Later in the evening, the director of the Public Security Bureau (Police) who tried to say something to disperse the crowded protestors was besieged too. In the midnight of 26 March, the situation culminated out of control, any forms of threats or inducements did not work. The besieged people from the construction company collapsed, but the ambulance could not reach the place due to the traffic block. The deadlock persisted until the early morning of 27 March, several plainclothes police went to the center to get out of the besieged people in the SUV, while the director of the Public Security Bureau became the main target and was trampled by the crowd.  The 3 besieged in the SUV and the Director of the PSB were eventually rescued by the police and sent to hospital. The Suijiang County government reported the situation to the prefectural and provincial level government.

Apart from sporadic clashes, the impasse was continuing on the 27th and 28th of March. At the same time, the county level government organized a meeting on the 27th to negotiate with the resettlers. The representatives expressed their appeals about the inadequate provisions made by the government for the displaced villagers.  Low compensation and poor housing are among the chief complaints, plus the transparency of the resettlement policy and the compensation scheme, the problem of unemployment, the possibilities of adopting a different compensation scheme like Pingshan County in Sichuan province, etc. [5] Indeed, this is not the first time that displaced migrants have protested the dam, located in the south-west Chinese province of Yunnan. In June 2010, prior to the relocation, a demonstration was held at the head office of the project, where dozens of protesters were injured by riot police[7]. There were also various scales of protests and petitions in Pingshan County since 2010, even if residents in Suijiang County would wish their government to learn from their neighbors[8]. The county government responded that the appeals from the resettlers are reasonable, but the resettlement must be implemented in accordance with certain policies. On 28 March, the Suijiang County government announced that all the roadblocks much be dismantled by 24:00 of 28 March, otherwise the protestors “will be disciplined by law”.

On 29 March, several hundreds of riot police were dispatched from the surrounding counties in Yunnan Province to disperse the protesters, the protesters hurled bricks and rocks at the heavily armed police[9]. The protesters were driven away in the same afternoon; about 50 people were injured during the protest, including protestors, policemen, government officials, workers in the construction company.

According to Probe International[10], another catalyst for this protest appears to have been the 6.8 magnitude earthquake in nearby Myanmar (Burma), and another recent earthquake in Yunnan[11]. They fear that their new homes, built in a seismic zone, may fare as poorly as the shoddily built “tofu” schools that collapsed in the deadly 2008 earthquake in neighboring Sichuan province, killing an estimated 7,000 school children.

As described in the December 2013 issue of Water Power and Dam Construction, the plant was supposed to substantially drive local economic development, help improve the local environment, ease power supply and optimize the energy mix after completion As a backbone power source of the West-East Power Transmission Project, the Xiangjiaba power plant brings grid connection benefits; supplies power mainly for the four provinces in China's central region, China's eastern region as well as Yunnan, Sichuan and Chongqing; substantially eases tight energy supply in these regions. With an annual electricity output of 30.747TWh, Xiangjiaba is expected to replace a coal-fired power plant of equal size, resulting in an annual consumption reduction of some 14 million tons of raw coal and a corresponding CO2 emission reduction of some 25 million tons.

The Xiangjiaba hydropower project brings major flood control benefits, and its combined operation with the Xiluodu hydropower project will improve flood prevention in the downstream coastal cities of Yibin, Luzhou, and Chongqing from the current 5-10-year recurrence to 50-100-year recurrence. The project may also serve to irrigate nearly 3.75M square meters of farmland in Sichuan and Yunnan. Xiangjiaba's navigable structures are designed according to Class 4 channel standard and allow for passage of a 2x500t vessels. At the same time, the reservoir will inundate 84 obstruction rapids, resulting in much better shipping conditions. [4]

In 2005, the project was temporarily suspended for being located in a national rare fish reserve. The problem was "resolved" when the zone's borders were redrawn[12]. About 1.46 billion yuan has been earmarked by CTGPC for environmental protection[13]. Since the afternoon of July 8th 2014, the Xiangjiaba reservoir area of nearly 100 km long surface began to appear a large number of dead fish, people in the surrounding areas were worried about the environmental and economic impacts[14].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Xiangjiaba Hydropower Plant in Yunnan and Sichuan, southwest China
State or province:Yunnan and Sichuan
Location of conflict:Suijiang County and Pingshan County
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Official name 向家坝

Location Yunnan

Coordinates 28°38′48″N 104°23′33″ECoordinates: 28°38′48″N 104°23′33″E

Status Operational

Construction began November 26, 2006

Opening date 2012

Dam and spillways

Type of dam Gravity

Impounds Jinsha River

Height 161 metres (528 ft)

Length 909 metres (2,982 ft)


Total capacity 5,163,000,000 m3 (4,185,712 acre·ft)

Catchment area 458,800 km2 (177,144 sq mi)

Surface area 95.6 km2 (37 sq mi)[1]

Power Station

Operator(s) China Yangtze Power

Commission date 2012-2014

Turbines 4 × 812 MW, 4 × 800 MW MW Francis-type

Installed capacity 6,448 MW

Annual generation 30.7 TWh (2015)

Level of Investment:10,000,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:From 85,000 to 118,000 people from six counties (about half in Sichuan, half in Yunnan) who will need to be relocated
Start of the conflict:2010
Company names or state enterprises:Alstom from France
ABB (ABB) from Sweden - For this turnkey project, ABB was responsible for overall system design and supply of the main equipment, including 28 high- and ultrahigh-voltage converter transformers, ten from Sweden and the rest manufactured with ABB components and technology in China, in local partnership. Other key products delivered include thyristor valves, DC and AC switchyard equipment and the DCC800 HVDC control system.
State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) from China - The 1,980km UHVDC overhead transmission link, one of the biggest of its kind, was commissioned by the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) in July 2010.
China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG ) from China - The power plant is being developed by state-owned China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG).
Yunnan Construction Engineering Group Co., Ltd. (Yunnan Jiangong) from China - Suijiang Resettlement Project
Relevant government actors:-Suijiang County government and different bureaus
International and Finance InstitutionsChina Yangtze Power Co., Ltd. (CYPC) from China - project financing
China Development Bank (CDB) from China - project financing
China Construction Bank (CCB) from China

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Landless peasants
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Media based activism/alternative media
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Refusal of compensation


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Other Environmental impactsDifficult living environment after resettlement.
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsthe unknown health impacts of dead fish and its contamination to the water, etc.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime
Other socio-economic impactsDead fish


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The displaced villagers suffered and sacrificed a lot from the resettlement and some of them obviously could not easily sustain their livelihoods in the long term due to low compensation and limited job opportunities. The dam is in operation and there would be potential ecological damages along the river and in the surrounding areas like a large number of dead fish in 2014.

Sources & Materials

[2] Xiangjiaba Hydropower Station

[3] Xiangjiaba hydropower station starts operating

[10] Thousands of Chinese citizens protest forced resettlement by hydro dam, clash with police

[11] Burma earthquake: At least 75 people killed

[5]《财经》:绥江围城(Caijing: Besieged Suijiang)

[6] 工程总承包-绥江移民工程


[7] New migrants, same story: villagers in Sichuan protest relocation packages

[8] 向家坝水电站移民内幕揭秘

[1] Xiangjiaba Hydropower Plant

[14]金沙江向家坝库区惊现数十吨死鱼 影响群众近十万人

[4] Xiangjiaba hydropower project: Asian project of the year

[12] Last refuge of rare fish threatened by Yangtze dam plans: Developers of hydroelectric plant have redrawn the boundaries of a crucial freshwater reserve for rare and economically important species

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Xiangjiaba Dam Documentary中国十大水电站之:向家坝纪录片

[9] Thousands of Villagers Clash With Police Over Yangtze Dam Project

Meta information

Contributor:EnvJustice, ICTA-UAB
Last update18/08/2019



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