Jan. 20, 2019

Decade River Project 2010 (3) Mudslides by the Nujiang River

Decade River Project 2010 (3) Mudslides by the Nujiang River

By Wang Yongchen

At seven a.m. on December 25, 2010, River Decade 2010 had its first interview with Li Zhanyou’s family in the Jiasheng Village of the Bingzhong Township near the Nujiang River. Because we spend 20 days every year visiting the six major rivers of China, our journeys start early in the morning and end at dusk.

Sitting by the fire in Li’s house

The couple’s tour in Beijing

Unlike last year, professors of social anthropology from Tsinghua University and the Third Sector Research Center of Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University took part in this year’s investigation. Their participation made our investigations of the selected households more meaningful.


Shimenguan, a narrow portion of the Nujiang River

Flowers by the river

Because River Decade 2010’s main focus this year is the calamitous drought in southwest China, I asked Li whether the Nujiang region had felt the impact of the global climate change.

“I’m not sure” Li said, “but in recent years, the leaves have been falling when they shouldn’t have fallen, and there has been more rainfall than ever before.” Li and his wife were also surprised that the Chinese chestnut trees hadn’t borne any fruit over the past two years and that the walnut trees aren’t growing as well as before. Li attributed that to climate change, because he said he could not think of any other causes. Walnuts and Chinese chestnuts used to be their source of income. Now, something has gone wrong. What will they do about their future?

As for changes, the change in Li’s family from 2009 to 2010 was that his daughter had become a performer in the newly founded performance troupe of the Bingzhongluo Township. One of the troupe’s tasks is to sing and dance when officials visit or when important events take place. Her income has become a key source of cash for the family. When we conducted a household investigation of Li’s family years ago, Li’s son-in-law had left the village to make money. Nowadays, his daughter performs outside the village, and his son-in-law has returned to take care of the family.

This is where the Li’s live. 

The biggest bend of the Nujiang, when the water was blue

A brook that flows into the Nujiang river

As Li told us last year, the government sent cattle and sheep to some of the villagers to help them out. Li received two head of cattle, but he was surprised when they grew leaner over time. This year, Li told us that the cattle sent by the government had died. Not until later did the villagers learn that the government sent them Brown Swiss cattle, which failed to acclimatize to the foreign environment. Now Li is raising a native bull and it is growing well.

When we asked about the life of Li’s daughter, Mrs. Li told us, “my daughter was required to board at school ever since she was very little. I was always worried that she would kick off her covers while sleeping at night and catch a cold.

In 2009, Li and his wife, along with some senior citizens from the village, visited Beijing with a travel agency.  We asked Li’s daughter, “Now that your life is better, when are you going to tour Beijing with your husband?” The young couple smiled. Obviously, this plan had already gone through their minds and they were simply waiting for it to materialize.

This June, Li’s daughter was elected as the director of the women's federation of the village. We asked her what the director’s most important task was at the time. According to her, because the villagers are minorities, every couple in the village can have two kids, but some want even more. Li’s daughter and her colleagues are supposed to dissuade them from having more kids. Judging from her description of the job, we knew that she had no complaints, even though her salary was only a mere 50 yuan per month compared to the 500 yuan per month salary of the other officials such as the village head and accountant.

When asked about the future plan of the family, Li said he wanted to equip the guest rooms with solar water heaters so that visitors during the holidays could both dine and sleep in his house, serving as another source of income. 

Li’s son-in-law still remembered, back when I did a survey among 100 villagers in 2006, that I asked him if he would agree to have a hydropower station built on the Nujiang river. Now, no one mentions the power station. This is a relief to them because the village has limited land resources and it wouldn’t be able to support more immigrants.

An important reason for building a dam on the Nujiang River is that the local area is too poor. However, judging from the present living condition of Li’s family, that is not the case. 


Walking by the Nujiang River