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China: Strolling to save East Lake in Wuhan repressed

East Lake, located at Wuhan city, is a state listed ecological tourist scenic area. It occupies 82 square kilometers, 6 times larger than the Hanzhou West Lake. Being a national 4A tourist area, its planning should be subjected to environmental assessment and public participation accordingly. However, in May 2009, a real estate developer, Overseas Chinese Town, OCT signed an agreement with Wuhan city government on the development with East Lake without public consultation. In December 2009, OCT got the development contract of a large piece of land (3167 mu, 1 mu = 666.67 square meters) occupying 1000 mu lake surface area. (background via donghu)

The photo below shows the original beauty of East Lake:

east lake origin

In March 2010, local media exposed the construction plan and on April 2 OCT claimed that the development project does not affect East Lake. However, blogger Yaohaiying pointed out that the so-called artificial fish pond (450 mu) is located at the core part of the scenic area and is clearly defined in the East Lake protection article approved by the State Ministry. The blogger exposed in details the developmental plan:

1、填东湖渔场450亩水面建造2个四星级以上酒店(精品酒店和度假酒店),及大量商业配套设施…
2、紧靠梨园医院边上,一个被称作“两百亩”(地名)的湖面,当前的湖水已被抽干,华侨城即将实施填湖计划。该水域约150亩左右。
3、在紧邻风光村和东湖渔场之间的至少400亩水面上,武汉华侨城已规划建大型水上主题公园,即将动工。

1. The fish pond in East Lake (450 mu) will be reclaimed for at least two 4 star hotels and equipped with other commercial facilities…
2. Near the Li Yuan Hospital, at the lake surface of “Lian Bai Mu”, lake water has been pumped away and OCT will reclaim 150 mu lake surface areas.
3. Near Feng Guang Village and Fish pond, OCT will construct a 400 mu water theme park.

The numbers indicated in the map shows how the construction project destroys the East Lake:

east lake 1

The land reclamation in the East Lake has already taken place:

east lake 2

The China Study Group, summarized Time Weekly report explained that the project will destroy local livelihood, pollute the lake water and result in gentrification of public space:

Two villages and a fishery have already been evicted and demolished, starting immediately after the lease was signed last December, and a third villager is in the process of eviction. Villagers and fishery workers claim that part of the compensation promised by OCT has been pocketed by government officials, and when they petitioned the government about this they were assaulted by hired thugs. Most of these petitioners have backed down, but about 50 families in the third village are still holding out. All of this went largely unnoticed by Wuhan’s urban population and the news media for three months.

The chief concern among online critics of the plan was the possible ecological consequences, since water pollution and algae outbreaks have been increasing rapidly throughout China in recent years, rendering half of China’s population and two-thirds of China’s rural population unable to access safe drinking water, according to some reports. In 2007 an algae outbreak (attributed largely to synthetic fertilizers) in Tai lake on China’s east coast rendered the water undrinkable by two million people in Wuxi. In Wuhan, critics of the East Lake development plan also point to the plight of another local lake, Tangsun. On the 1-to-5 scale of water quality, Tangsun went from 1 to 4 within a decade of development, and experts estimate that even the most concerted effort to reverse the lake’s pollution would take at least another decade just to restore it to level 3.

Finally, critics are concerned about gentrification, as the development plan would transform the lake and its environs from a peaceful, clean place where anyone can enjoy the natural world for free (or a small entrance fee for some of the parks) to an expensive, noisy and artificial resort for the rich. In this sense some commentators emphasize that the effort to protect East Lake differs from recent comparable protests in China since its goal is not to protect private property or relocate environmental pollution farther away from the city, but to prevent public property from privatization.

More than 200 netizens self-organized via douban event page for strolling against the construction project in late March:

趁春光明媚~我们去东湖玩儿吧~
带上相机和音响,带上布条和纸板。
活动免费。

Spring has come, let's play at East Lake.
Let's bring camera and sound system, banners and display cards
This activity is free.

Another post on strolling from my1510:

1.穿统一的T恤,上面写东湖东湖,我们要散步的标语,于统一时间到东湖边散步,游玩;
2.于统一时间东湖边散步,同时戴口罩,散发有关资料传(口罩可行,散发资料危险);
3.点孔明灯,同时附上我们的东湖东湖,我们要散步的标识;这个可以随时进行,但是要注意附上统一标识,以表明态度。
我们的目的很简单,首先是希望能够阻止这一将会破坏东湖环境的项目的建设;其次,从长远上看,我们希望能够通过这一个活动把“散步”这种健体运动推向正轨。我们希望的是平等的发表意见的机会,而非对抗任何人。

1. Wear standard T-shirt with “East Lake” on it. We need some slogan, and fix a time for the strolling and picnic.
2. In a specific time, we wear a mask and distribute relevant material (which may be dangerous)
3. We light a flying lantern with “East Lake” written on it. We also need a standardized logo for our action.

Our objective is simple, to stop the construction project that would destroy the East Lake. In the long run, we should make strolling a proactive and constructive expression. We want a equal opportunity to express our opinion rather than confrontation.

However in April 9, volunteers from a number of environmental groups were called upon by counsellors who warned them from further involvement with the development project. douban posted the counsellor notice:

“接上级通知,近期因'‘东湖事件’,有个别学校学生组织集会游行,造成诸多不稳定因素。为加强学校安全稳定工作,请各学院辅导员老师加强值班和校园巡视,密切关注学生动向,如遇学生集会游行等活动,务必及时通报学工部。谢谢”

“Notice from upper rank said, due to the “East Lake incident”, some student organizations from some university are planning to organize demonstration, it creates instability. In order to strengthen the stability and security of school, counsellors and teachers have to pay attention to the school campus and monitor student activities. Please notify the school work department when you spot out any protest and demonstration plan. Thank you”.

The student organizers also disclosed that the notice is from the provincial level and the police are involved in the investigation.

A twitter hashtag #donghu is used to disseminate and update information regarding the East Lake construction project. However, after the crack down on strolling, there isn't any update in the past two days.

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