Private Plots and “Water Shaming” in Yanbian

By | June 19, 2015 | No Comments

Working in the fields in Hwapyong county, northeastern Jagang province, in October 2014. Image via Chosun Central TV.

Working in the fields in Hwapyong county, northeastern Jagang province, in October 2014. | Image: Chosun Central TV.

Irrigation issues have been sensitive in the Chinese-Korean border region since the 1880s inaugurated an era of mass Korean migration into Manchuria. In 1931, a famous incident found Koreans at odds with local Chinese farmers in the region then known as Jiandao–today Yanbian–over water rights. At that time, a small dispute over a single ditch being dug by Korean farmers metastasized into an international incident that ultimately accelerated Japanese intervention and the annexation of Manchuria itself.

That is to say that water use and its connection to agricultural production has a certain emotional cache in the region today, known no longer as “Jiandao,” but as the PRC’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. The same is true just across the Tumen river, where North Korea is enduring a severe drought. (Whether DPRK is going through its worst drought in 100 years, or suffering “the most abnormal conditions in fifty years,” is largely a matter of meteorological perspective and timing.)

The following story, translated from a Yanbian government news site, a further reminder that China, while offering aid and Ambassadorial photo-ops to North Korea, does not have it particularly easy in terms of managing its own resources under drought conditions near the shared border. The piece clearly indicates that tensions are rising in Yanbian over issues surrounding private plots and shared water resources. These are issues that North Koreans over the border in North Hamgyong province are also certainly dealing with in their own unique context. After all, as Yong Kwon reminds us, private plots and drought management are intimately entangled in the DPRK.

“Yanji in an uproar over people using tap water to irrigate private gardens during ‘drought’,” [延吉正闹“水荒”有人却用自来水浇地], Yanbian News, June 18, 2015.

Since the summer of 2014, Yanji city has faced a type of continuous drought rarely seen in history. This has created a very serious situation with respect to water usage in the city. Indeed, the slogan “Saving water is glorious, wasting water is shameful” still resounds in the ears of city residents. But recently, Yanji City Water Group Co., Ltd. (延吉市水务集团有限公司) has continuously received a substantial number of reports from city residents: Some people are using tap water for their vegetable gardens, affecting the ability of the general public to use water normally.

“The situation today can’t be compared with previous times. All of Yanji is lacking in water–so people who are using tap water to irrigate their vegetable plots should be a bit more conscientious” [用自来水浇灌菜园的人应该自觉点]. This correspondent interviewed a lot of people who, saying something like this, do not endorse the method of watering vegetable plots.

Elder Auntie Wang, who lives and gardens in Xincun district, says: “We do not have adequate access to normal water, but they use so much water irrigating their vegetable garden.” Wang said that from last year, her family was truly upset over the “drought” [她家就闹起了“水荒”]. Not only was their water supply limited to certain times of day, but even when water was available, her household was unable to use much. “It could be that the level of our house is too high,” she says. Auntie Wang says that her family of five lives in an apartment which normally has access a large amount of water; at times when residents downstairs are not using water, such as after midnight, she collected a bucket of water.

Auntie Hu, lives on the fifth floor of an apartment in Tianxin district. Recently, she said, due to the fact that residents on lower floors so often watered their vegetable plots with tap water, her home has been without water during the day, and water in the evening is also just a “trickle.” Clearly normal usage of water has already been seriously affected.

When spring planting season comes, in addition to farmers becoming very busy, some of the residents of the community also follow suit. It is at this time that they begin moving to stake a claim on empty land outside the ground floor of the apartments, creating “enclosure” (圈地) gardens and seeding them with vegetables. When the seeds sprout, watering them becomes a problem, because there is no river nearby, nor is there a well from which to draw water. So these residents choose to irrigate their vegetables with tap water.

Mr. Zheng, a resident of Tielu district in his 30s, says: “I am running water through my own water meter; what does this have to do with anyone else?” Owing to a lack of a property manager in his district, when spring came, his family started a vegetable garden of about 40 square meters. Mr. Zheng said it had been quite productive every year, and that he normally irrigated it with tap water. They usually took a long hose out connected to the water faucet in his house, and ran it downstairs to the vegetable garden.

Old Wang, a 59-year-old resident of Guangjin district, told a reporter, “Well, this is not all irrigated with tap water!” His downstairs garden, he said, had gone through times of drought before. He connects a water pipe to his home to irrigate the garden, and a lot of people are like him.

A responsible official of Yanji City Water Affairs Group Ltd. (延吉市水务集团有限公司), said recently that they received many reports from the masses, and also gone to various places to collect evidence of the problem. In the Tianxin district, a resident watering his vegetable garden with tap water by means a hose on the first floor was given “criticism education” [批评教育].

An official for Yanji City Water Affairs Group Ltd. said, the residents pay for tap water for standard drinking water and domestic uses; irrigation water does not belong to this category. Using tap water for vegetable gardens is a serious violation of the relevant provisions of the Urban Water Supply Regulations (城市供水条例). The group will severely curb such behavior among residents, if it is to be found in violation of the regulations. If violations occur after the ordered deadline for corrections, appropriate punishment will be given in accordance with the provisions.

Source: “Yanji in an uproar over people using tap water to irrigate private gardens during ‘drought’,” [延吉正闹“水荒”有人却用自来水浇地], Yanbian News, June 18, 2015. Translation by Adam Cathcart.

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