There is a popular saying in China recently that migration in the Three Gorges area is the largest of its kind in Chinese history. This idea has gained wide attention as people in this area are moving to other parts of China. Some even call it the largest ever migration in the world. This is totally inconsistent with historical facts.
China has witnessed a lot of great migrations in history.
In 127 BC, during the reign of Emperor Hanwu, about 100,000 people from what is now Hebei, Shandong, Henan and Anhui provinces were summoned to move to the Hetao Plain and areas to the south of the Yellow River. In 119 BC, 720,000 poor people migrated to southern Inner Mongolia, northwestern Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces, southern Ningxia and the Hexi Corridor of Gansu Province. The next year, both officials and common people thought to be treacherous were exiled to border areas, their number estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. Also, there are some other migrations organized by officials at different places. In a period of more than 20 years, the government had implemented a migration of 1.2 million people, more than 3 percent of the total population, 36 million, of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). Most of the moving and resettlement fees were borne by the government. En route, the migration was supervised by a large number of officials and soldiers. The migrants covered hundreds of kilometers, sometimes 3,000 kilometers, before they finally settled down.
In 493 AD, Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) decided to move the capital from Pingcheng (now Datong) of Shanxi Province to Luoyang of Henan Province. It took two years and involved over a million officials and common people; all finally settled in Luoyang and surrounding areas.
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) also witnessed large-scale migrations. Some were carried out by administrative means or the military, while others were done under the preferential policies provided by officials. Major migrations include moving both rich households and farmers without land in south China to what is now Fengyang, Anhui Province; moving officials, rich households, craftsmen and soldiers to Nanjing; stationing soldiers and their relatives all over the country by setting up wei or suo (both meaning places for stationing troops in the Ming Dynasty), some of whom got as far as Yunnan and Gansu provinces; resettling surrendered or captured Mongolian soldiers or civilians in north China; migrating people from border areas of northern Shanxi and Inner Mongolia to Fengyang, Anhui Province; moving people from Shandong and Jiangxi provinces to Fengyang; distributing Shanxi people to Shandong, Henan, Hebei and Beijing; moving Jiangxi people to Hubei, Hunan, Anhui, Sichuan and northern Jiangsu; and migrating people from Hubei, Hunan, Anhui and Jiangxi to Sichuan. The number of soldiers and civilians involved reached 11 million, about 16 percent of the total population. The non-military migrants accounted to 7 million, over 10 percent of the total population.
At the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), preferential policies were made by Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong to encourage people to migrate to Sichuan Province. By 1776, immigrants to Sichuan and their descendants reached 6 million, accounting for more than 60 percent of the province's population. They mainly came from Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong, Jiangxi, Fujian, Guizhou and Shaanxi provinces.
In 1860, the Qing Dynasty opened the "forbidden land" in the northeast. With encouraging measures later, a great many persons moved in from north China provinces such as Shandong and Hebei. By the end of the Qing Dynasty, the accumulated number of migrants went up to 10 million.
The migrations mentioned above didn't include three large-scale southward migrations in Chinese history, for example, millions of people moved southward during the catastrophe in the Year of Jingkang (1127), when the Kin army marched south, captured the eastern capital of the Song Dynasty and took both the emperor Qinzong and his father Huizong prisoner. Nor did they include migrations in the turbulent years of war. Before the 4th century, for instance, the Later Zhao State (319-350) compelled the migration of millions of people to the Xiang Kingdom (now Xingtai of Hebei Province) or just moving within their own borders.
It is estimated that there will be 1.2 million migrants from the Three Gorges area, accounting for 4 percent of population of Chongqing Municipality. In the total population of 1.3 billion of the country; they account for no more than 0.1 percent. It will take 10 years for them to completely move out of the area. To date, most migrations occurred in local places, covering a distance of only scores of kilometers. Only a few went to other provinces such as Hainan, Fujian, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Hunan and Jiangxi. Investment from the central and local governments is also huge. Therefore, speaking from the number of people involved, migration distance, percentage of migrants in the total population and difficulty of migration, the Three Gorges migration could not be called the largest in Chinese history. Certainly, it is not the largest one in the migration history of the world.
It's true that the Three Gorges migration is undertaken under the condition that China has a population of 1.3 billion. Most people are to be resettled in mountainous areas along the Yangtze River, which boasts a limited population capacity and fragile ecological environment. So the difficulties cannot be ignored. However, this could not be a reason for exaggerating the Three Gorges migration in Chinese history.
The wrong saying has lasted for years. It should not go on to leave an "area of error" in the Three Gorges Project.
(china.org.cn by Li Jinhui August 3, 2002)