Fireworks thundered off the walls of Phoenix Mountain and lit up the stone alleys and stilt houses above the River Wu last month, part of New Year's celebrations that go back 1,700 years here.
This year's festival was the last for the old town. Most of Gongtan is to disappear beneath the Wu's waters in June when the river gorge will be flooded for a dam and hydropower project.
"I didn't set off any firecrackers this year," says retired miner Ran Daifa, 57. "I was unhappy in my heart."
In the weeks since, though, the gloom in Gongtan (pop. 21,000) has lifted a bit. Through guile, resolve and faith in a petition system that dates to China's emperors, townspeople appear to have forced authorities to sweeten the compensation to residents who must move from their homes next month.
It would be a rare victory. Chinese authorities have confiscated land from millions of peasants for development. Along the Yangtze River, the government has forced 1.2 million people to relocate as part of the Three Gorges Dam project. About 150,000 others must move by the time it is complete in 2008. [Full Text]