Driving between the old and new areas of the Wanzhou District of Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality is like traveling through a wrinkle in time.
In old town, shabby houses crowd along narrow, cobbled roads. Dust accumulates thickly on tree leaves, as the area undergoes large-scale demolition to make way for the Three Gorges Reservoir, the largest hydropower project in the world.
Just several kilometers up river, on the other side of the wrinkle in time, is the "new" Wanzhou. Here, there are wide, tidy streets lined with modern, high-rise buildings.
A similar situation more-or-less exists in the other 12 cities in the Three Gorges dam area, all of which will be completely or partially submerged when the reservoir is filled with water in 2009. All 13 cities have completed their relocation plans.
As many as 646,000 people were resettled during the process, 140,000 of whom are now living in 24-odd regions outside their hometowns in Chongqing Municipality or in Central China's Hubei Province.
"The relocation, with the robust financial support of the central government, has considerably speeded up the development of these regions. They have thus advanced at least half a century more quickly than they would have," said Liu Zhen, an official with the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee under the State Council.
The accelerated speed of urban development has given local people many pleasant surprises, but some of them have yet to adapt well.
The 55-year-old Du Jiuyuan used to plant orange trees on the bank of the Yangtze River in Zigui County of Hubei Province. He now lives in an apartment on a residential square, where most of the other residents are relocated farmers like himself.
For the first time, Du has a community hospital, a primary school and even a cinema within a 30-minute walk from his place.
With all three of his sons temporarily working in Beijing and Shanghai, along with the government compensation for his orange orchard, Du is enjoying his life. However, he still complains that he can no longer plant vegetables for his daily use. Moreover, he has no orange trees to tend, which was more than a pastime for him -- it was his life's work.
Cases like Du's are far from rare.
Idle residents, along with idle commercial facilities, in the "new" cities are a problem confronting local governments, admitted Liu.
"The accelerated urban development of these cities, realized through the relocation, is actually a radical transformation of the cities from agricultural-based to commercial-orientated," said Liu.
"The pre-planning of these cities has left much room for commercial and recreational facilities. But people capable of running the facilities or accustomed to using them still need to be cultivated."
(China Daily November 7, 2002)