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When the Songhua River was dammed in 2007 at Dadingzi Mountain, 100 kilometers northeast of Harbin, the water flowing through the city was at a depth of 116 meters, 6 meters higher than during the dry season.
That brought a slew of benefits. Water transportation was guaranteed downstream, a 240-square-kilometer wetland was created and the threat of flooding was greatly minimized.
But drowned out by the cheers was the fact that about 3,300 hectares of farmland was now permanently flooded, affecting four villages.
To add to the misery, this land was not classified as farmland but as a "flood-diversion zone", and thus farmers received scant compensation, just 12 yuan ($2) for every square meter lost.
"That was actually higher than the law stipulated, and the village government sweetened the deal by reversing the original 50-30 distribution deal, which meant the majority of the compensation money went to farmers," said Yang Jiuzhou, chief of Shengli, a village whose name translates as Victory.
Luo Guocheng, a 55-year-old resident, said: "There were protests and pleas to higher authorities in other villages, but ours did not resort to that, partly because of the prestige and decisiveness of our village government."
Shengli, which accounted for about two-fifths of the land submerged in the dam project, is in Daowai district, roughly 30 minutes by car from downtown Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province. Slightly more than half of the affected area belonged to the collective, with the rest owned by individuals.
Farmers used to plant soybeans and corn, as well as summer vegetables and edible fruit on better patches. "We could harvest 10,000 yuan worth of corn a year from 1 mu (0.06 hectares) of land," said villager Jiang Nianyou.
Out of the village's 5,000 residents, 4,008 lost land outside the new embankment, causing a loss in annual revenue totaling 10 million yuan or more.