In past centuries the Han Chinese ethnic group settled the valleys of southern China, pushing weaker ethnic groups into the marginal lands on mountains and hills where they scratch out a living. Now Chinese authorities with a new appreciation for the environment are moving minority peoples off the mountainsides to urban enclaves, purportedly to rescue Chinese hillbillies from poverty and ease pressure on the environment.
Guizhou Province has announced a nine-year plan to move 2 million people off mountains and hills into urban enclaves and industrial districts. Mountains and hills cover 95 percent of the province and it has 10 million people. The description of the program complains that the plots of mountainous land cannot be formed into contiguous areas for commercial farming. Most of those being moved are members of the Miao (also known as Hmong elsewhere in Asia) ethnicity.
This year, Guizhou has moved 59,000 families. The 70,500 mu of land they formerly occupied has been "reclaimed" or returned to "ecological" uses. "Reclaimed" usually refers to land used for agriculture. The article features an "ecological migrant" named Liao who was moved to a district for rural migrants-turned-entrepreneurs where he started a business making lanterns. The article claims ecological migrants have an average family income of 5520 yuan, much higher than Guizhou's rural average of 767 yuan.
Guizhou plans to move 150,000 people in 2013. The actual number depends on funding availability in various localities. It seems each locality is responsible for funding its migrants. Localities are not given a quota of migrants that exceeds funds available to support the program. The article doesn't explain where these poverty-stricken areas are getting the funds for the program.
In one Miao "autonomous" county, migrants formed a committee to negotiate on housing construction, supervise program fund use and allocate new housing. In another district, migrants say officials came to seek their opinions on the program and sign agreements to move voluntarily.
This appears to be an enlightened experiment in environmental protection, poverty alleviation and self-governance. It bears some resemblance to the United States' movement of its Native American population on to reservations in the 1800s and paying hillbillies to move out of the mountains that became National Parks in the early 20th century. The more cynical observer might ask whether the vacated land in Guizhou is being used to develop plantations or logging operations or to sell carbon credits to overseas companies.