• 2010-07-30

    [转载]Lakeside dramas



    The 30 meters Memorial Wall and its creator Mai Dian. Photos: June Lee

    By Zhang Lei

    A diving platform isn't usually a stage, but when the swimming area at Wuhan's East Lake in Hubei Province was transformed into a theatre on July 14, the audience seemed happy. As the driving rain stopped, the drama began with love songs played by street musicians, soon attracting a crowd of passersby.

    As part of the ongoing art project Everyone's East Lake, the drama Free XX, is a "social drama" created by dramatist Wu Meng, who was inspired by the news in late March that 450 acres of East Lake were going to be filled up and built into a theme park by Overseas Chinese Town (OCT), a Shenzhen-based real estate developer.

    Born in Suzhou, a city of rivers and lakes in Jiangsu Province, Wu has a special attachment to water. She came to Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, to work with local theatrical troupes on the project. The lakeside stage was a surprise for her. "It is hard to find a place like this in Shanghai, where nine out of ten venues refused to provide space for us," said Wu, a member of a Shanghai grassroots theatrical troupe called Grass Stage.

    In Hubei, known as the "land of a thousand lakes," the waterside stage provides a perfect place for public performances.

    The loud guitar sounds didn't attract the city authorities, but locals enjoy the lake view after work. Unlike many other city lakes where swimming is banned, East Lake is vast, wild and free. Swimsuits, floating rings and inflatable boats are available to visitors.

    "I have swum in the lake since I was a small boy," said Liu Lei, a native in Wuhan. "But now the water is getting dirty, so I seldom swim here."

    Liu hadn't heard that part of the lake was going to be filled to create the resort. OCT claimed they would provide a free park on the site, but locals were skeptical. He said even if the site was open to the public, the high-priced ticket (160 yuan or $24) would turn them away.

    Liu Zhenyu, 25, a BMX bike enthusiast, said he was thrilled to hear that there would be a skate park in the park at first, but later realized that East Lake couldn't be sacrificed for mere amusement.

    Lost lakes

    Located on the south bank of the Yangtze River and in the east suburb of Wuchang district, East Lake is the biggest scenic spot in Wuhan and the largest urban lake in China. It covers 87 square kilometers, with 33 square kilometers of water area, making it six times the size of West Lake in Hangzhou.

    The beautiful landscape, abundant wildlife, exotic flowers and rich history make it a tourist attraction treasured by Wuhan residents. Even Mao Zedong loved the site, spending a lot of time in a retreat house on the scenic bank of the East Lake in the 1950s and 1960s.

    However, at a less visited area at the north bank, a major development is secretly underway, involving illegal expropriation, forced demolition and a blackout on information.

    Last year, 109 households in the State-owned East Lake Fishery were forcibly demolished, according to the Guangzhou-based Time Weekly. Clothes, furniture and children's toys were seen on the ground afterward.

    OCT had promised they wouldn't change the shoreline or use any of the 450-acre lake surface. However, the East Lake Fishery, with more than 20 ponds, was not part of the lake and was built into a public park, claimed Wu Siyuan, vice president of OCT.

    Reports on the violent demolition and environmental consequences were censored by authorities. An online discussion forum was disbanded for this issue and active members were expelled by police when they talked about the possibility of preventing the program and open government information.

    Backroom deals

    It was at the fisheries that Mai Dian, a freelance artist, and his friends found inspiration in transforming the remains of demolished houses into a "30 meters memorial wall," as a silent protest at the newly released regulation that only areas within 30 meters of the lakeshore are exempt from development.

    "The general public has no idea how short '30 meters' is," said Mai, adding that the rule was issued to mislead the public and cover up the dirty deals that are going on.

    Previously, no real estate developer had touched the lake bank, as Yu Zhengsheng, ex-governor of Hubei, was firmly against exploitation of the East Lake.

    The OCT project was decided by the related departments, according to Ruan Chengfa, mayor of Wuhan. "Whatever the reason, history won't forgive us if we encroach on the lake," he said, repeating that it was prohibited to fill up the lake, drain waste and develop residences.

    Statistics from the Wuhan Water Authority show that the number of lakes in the city had decreased from more than 100 in the 1950s to only 38 today.

    "The sharp decline is caused by fishing, city construction and illegal filling," said Jin Boxin, a lake and water resource expert at Huazhong Normal University.

    A preservation regulation was issued in 2002 to protect downtown lakes by banning garbage dumping and landfills.

    Happy Valley

    Last December, OCT bought 3,167 acres of land in the north bank of East Lake area for 4.3 billion yuan and planned to build a leisure development including a "Happy Valley" amusement park, residential buildings, and two four-star hotels.

    On the site of the future "Happy Valley," a wireman from OCT was busy working on the electricity lines. He said company leaders visited the building site the other day to check the construction process, but was unclear if the park would be finished by the planned date of October 2011.

    The majority of the lake OCT bought had already been filled in. The earth beneath was a landfill of construction waste. A row of shrubs was planted along the shore overnight. A dead tree lay in a big pit nearby among wild grass and rainwater.

    A farmer surnamed Song from the nearby Heping Village said, pointing at the filled wetlands, "It used to be a beautiful place, but now it is filled. There are no more white shrimps and wild ducks."

    The weeklong heavy rainfall had flooded his home, which the water channel was cut off after the nearby fisheries was filled.

    His wife, wearing a pair of rubber overshoes, was bringing home several crawfish and shrimps in a barrel. "We have lived here for more than 60 years," said Song's mother, a Hunan native who moved to Hubei before 1949.

    Having lost their land and fishery, the family of five now live on 2,000 yuan a month offered by the village committee. He said that the village committee made lots of money from the land requisition, and had ganged up with criminals to demolish houses and fill up fisheries over the past two years.

    Song witnessed his neighbor, an 80-year-old woman, being dragged out of her home, pushed into the pond and kicked by thugs. They went on to smash her windows.

    He doesn't oppose the development, but needs an explanation. "They didn't show us any legal papers," he said. When he asked for them, the village head said they had no choice but move. But low compensation of 1,000 yuan per square meter for his home has left him unable to afford apartments priced at 2,000 to 3,000 yuan per square meter.

    He thought of going to the courts, but, as a victim of frequent injustices, he doesn't have faith in the law. "I can't feel the law in my life. It is all manipulated by special interests," he said.

    Artistic responses

    Four months after the initial stir, some outraged citizens calmed down and found a way to express their discontent through art creation.

    Li Juchuan, an architecture expert and co-founder of the Everyone's East Lake Project, started the project after his attempts to raise public awareness failed.

    "The main problem is urban space, not the lake filling or pollution. In the future, a low-carbon community will become rich people's priority and less lakeshore will be accessible by the public," he said.

    It is still not clear whether OCT filled the lake, he said, "but the entry will be limited to holders of high-priced tickets."

    If OCT keeps their word and builds a free park on the former East Lake Fishery, the company will be doing a better job than others, he added. "We will see if they can manage the pollution."

    Li stressed that the city space has been seized by political and economic powers in the process of modernization, while the public is blocked from finding out about or participating in it. "Under these circumstances, I tried to explore how individuals can regain the space and make it their own," he said.

    More than 50 participants enrolled in the project, ranging from college students to renowned scholars. Some carried out performance art such as falling into the lake "accidentally." Some participants began to investigate Wuhan's remaining lakes by documenting.

    Li doesn't believe he can stop the development, but is concerned with how each individual faces their living condition.

    "I think everyone can create their own space and seek freedom by certain ways. No matter how harsh the world is, we can deal with it artistically."

    Lake laws

    The Wuhan Declaration, released at the 13th World Lake Conference last November in Wuhan, calls for the restoration of the balance and vitality of lakes and their basins, utilizing natural processes to the maximum extent. The goal is to enhance control of internal pollution, facilitate a harmonious relationship between humans and water systems, and to promote sustainable economic and social development.

    The Declaration is also intended to promote partnerships involving governments, communities, industries and non-governmental organizations, and promote public participation as the basis for a more community-oriented approach to complementing a strictly regulatory approach to the common goals of environmental protection and maintenance of lake basin ecosystem services.




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