Off the property ladder: China clifftop villagers relocated in anti-poverty drive

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Originally published by The Guardian on May 15, 2020

Residents from a famous village perched 800 metres up a cliff are among thousands being relocated by the Chinese government into apartment complexes as part of a national poverty alleviation program.

Atulie’er village in Sichuan province drew worldwide fame in 2016 after images emerged of the residents climbing perilous rattan ladders – some hundreds of years old – up the cliffside to reach their homes.

The publicity prompted authorities to replace them with metal ladders, and the village, where the Yi people have lived for generations, soon became a tourist drawcard.

Now, 84 households are moving to a newly built housing complex 70km away, state-backed media CGTN reported. About 30 households are believed to be staying behind and working in tourism.

“My children won’t need to climb up and down the cliff for education any more,” Atulie’er resident Mose Labo told CGTN. “My wife is pregnant with our third child, moving here makes it very convenient for us to go to the hospital for examination.”

The new community was built as part of Xi Jinping’s target to eliminate poverty by 2020, and is expected to house about 18,000 relocated people in total.

Schools and hospitals are also being built, according to the report.

The furnished housing is likely to have been subsidised, according to the BBC, and China Daily reports each individual must pay 2,500 yuan ($350) for the move.

Leo Lan from Chinese Human Rights Defenders questioned whether Chinese authorities had considered the need to take care of the extra financial, social and cultural burdens of the relocated residents.

“It may seem to be doing good for the villagers to move to the urban areas, but the consequences can be difficult for them,” he told the Guardian. “The financial burden of living in urban cities is huge for people coming from poor villages.”

Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said it was unclear whether there was adequate consultation with the Atulie’er residents, and “the Chinese government has a history of carrying out coercive relocationand rehousing programs, especially in minority areas”.

“It’s important for authorities to have meaningful, transparent consultation with affected groups of people, and community concerns are taken into account in such government anti-poverty projects.”

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