April 15, 2010

Picturesque Yunnan Lake Destroyed to Make Room for Townhouses

Translation: 云南大理洱海填湖建豪华别墅群 from China Youth Daily

Satellite photo taken from Google. Inside the red circle is the site of the former Lover's Lake. The area is now full of commercial housing, some finished and other still under construction

Picture of the Lover's Lake. It was on the postcards issue during 2006 Chinese New Year by provincial government. Provided by Cun Yaping

Er Lake and Cangshan Mountain are world famous. In particular, Er Lake is the face of Dali and also a prominent tourist spot in China. Unfortunately, a recent trip made by the reporter to Dali, Yunnan revealed that Er Lake is being commercially developed at the expense of its ecosystem. Little by little, rich people are encroaching upon this area, converting it into their personal backyard.

A lake that has disappeared altogether
Yesterday I toured the Tuanshan Hill,
After return, upon my clothes the tears spill,
Everywhere the rich build mansions as they will,
Where is the Lover's Lake?

This poem was composed by Dali citizen Cun Yaping (寸亚平), who during one visit to Er Lake Park discovered with dismay that the Lover's Lake is completely gone. Luxurious villas now take its place by the side of Er Lake, at the foot of Tuanshan Hill. Since then, Cun Yaping has been on a mission to stop the destructive development currently undergoing there. His pleas were ignored.

Er Lake Park sits on the south bank of Er Lake. It is the first stop in the Cangshan/Er Lake tourist route. Inside the park is a round-top hill. Because of its shape, locals named it Tuanshan (团山, "round hill"). During the Tang Dynasty, monarchy of the Kingdom of Nanzhao used this region to raise deers. The current park was constructed toward the end of 1970s. It occupies more than 800 mu in area and offers some amazing views.

The Lover's Lake in the park was a natural extension of the Er Lake. However, a dam built in the 1970s separated it from the main body of water. At the Lover's Lake, weeping willows provide natural shades, and boats move about leisurely. It is where Dali citizens go for recreation and also a lovers' favored spot. Hence its name.

In 2005, Dali City applied to become a provincial garden city. According to the city government's proposal, park expansion would constitute a major leverage to their gaining the garden city status. In July 2005, plans to renovate the Er Lake Park were approved. A report in Dali Daily indicates that the park was to become a green floating island. Together with West Er River Park (西洱河公园), Zhuhai Park (珠海公园), and Manjiang Wetland Ecological Park (满江滨海湿地生态公园), they would form a natural green ecological defense at the south end of Er Lake.

In October 8, 2007, just when park renovations were about to be completed, Duan Jie (段玠), member of the standing committee of Dali Bai Tribe Autonomous Region and Dali city secretary, announced the goal of making this park one of the best in the province or even in the nation. The park will enhance Dali's image and provide a perfect spot where locals can go for recreation. According to news reports, the project budget totaled 68.75 million yuan.

To everyone's acute disappointment, when the park re-opened in 2008, it actually shrank in size. Moreover, its main attraction, Lover's Lake, vanished. In its place stands a villa called "Erhai Paradise" (Erhai Tianyu, 洱海天域).

When conducting an on-site interview in the villa, China Youth Daily reporter saw numerous luxurious townhouses. Located directly on top of the vanished lake is a grand five-star hotel, still under construction. The famous Lover's Lake rests underground ever after.

Nearby villagers told the reporters that starting in 2005, "some company, name unknown, somehow obtained the government's permission; they came in with excavators and bulldozers to fill up the lake. Our villages vehemently opposed the destruction. Some tried to stop them. Some sought the government. Later on, we realized that the government was behind all this. We witnessed the death of the beautiful lake, and it was like watching our loved ones getting murdered."

To commemorate the lake's disappearance, one angry poet wrote an elegy:
My beautiful Lover's Lake,
The killers left you no time to play the farewell song,
Even your mother Er Lake, nestling close,
Lies like a broken string.
Er Lake transformed into villas

And thus, under the villagers' sorrowful, angry eyes, this mysterious company quickly constructed houses. The buildings grew from the grave of Lover's Lake.

Starting in 2007, the real estate company, Tianjian Shuifeng Co. Ltd.(中建穗丰置业有限公司), started to heavily advertise Erhai Paradise. Their main selling point: villas with a view of the sea on top of Lover's Lake. The promotional pamphlets show the house as waterside pavilions surrounded by waters. Yet, the reporter could find any liquid amidst the crowded buildings. There was maybe a little bit of water left next to Binhai Avenue (滨海大道).

According to Dali Bureau of Urban Planning, utility of lake surface by the project was less than 37%. But where is the remaining 63%? It was clear to all city residents that Lover's Lake had, for all purposes, disappeared.

In actuality, the filled-up Lover's Lake constitutes only a small portion of Erhai Paradise's development plan inside the park. The reporter learned from the sale department that Erhai Tianyu villa used up 300 mu of land. The constructions include 300 townhouses, a 2 km long international-style shopping street, a five star international hotel, and China's one and only freshwater lake yacht club.

The salesman said that these townhouses costs 10,000 yuan per square meter. The total price range from 2 million to 5. More than 100 townhouses have already been sold.

In the old days, Dali resident Mr. Zhang loved to take his child to the park on the weekends. The family would sit by the lake, enjoy the landscape, and eat a bowl of cold rice noodle. Now, he does not want to visit to park at all. "The lake is gone, and the area is dotted with townhouses. What do we come here for? To see someone else's backyard?"

To Mr. Zhang, the park expansion project was merely a cover-up for destroying the lake. The money that funded this project came from taxpayers' pocket and paid for the construction and equipment of Erhai Paradise.

On one side, real estate companies cut down trees to make room for commercial housing. On the other side, the government spent large amount of money to renovated some of the outdated park facilities, with the constraint that it did not impede the real estate companies in anyway. In 2008, just as the "park expansion" projects were finished one after another, Erhai Paradise began selling their house units.

Who legalized Er Lake villas?

In the end, how did these rows upon rows of townhouses obtain approvals of the government?

Dali Bureau of Urban Planning gave the following response: Erhai Paradise was one of the city's major investment projects. The main hotel is built according to the requirements of a five star hotel. Upon its completion, this hotel will conclude the city's long history of not having its own five star hotel. Dali, as one of the first 24 Historical and Cultural Cities approved by the State Council, one of the 44 National Scenic Spots, and a National Excellent Tourism City, needs badly to invest in a five star hotel. "This hotel will further consolidate the city's tourism-supporting infrastructure. It will enrich urban functions and enhance the city's image. It fits into the city's plans to develop its tourism industry. Its construction is very timely."

The Bureau of Urban planning claims that, because the geographical location of the constructions is so crucial, the Bureau was very cautious in planning out the project as well as every single one of the later modifications. The building only began after the project passed through stringent examinations by the committee. The Bureau organized 4 meetings--review meetings, hearings, technical consultations--and the site selection and planning were results of ample discussions. Departments include land planning, construction, environmental protection, forestry and others assigned detailed, strict requirements, in order to ensure this project has the "in harmony with landscape, humans being one with nature" effect.

However, many Dali residents have never heard of such hearings being held for Erhai Paradise. They did not know when the land was stripped from the park and sold to the real estate company. They never even knew the land was listed for auction.

The "Scenic Area Ordinance," which went into effect in December 2006, prohibits commercial real estate development of scenic areas. Construction of hotels, hostels, training centers, nursing homes and any other buildings unrelated to protection of scenic resources are strictly forbidden. Any project that violates the law will be halted by the administration. Violators must revert everything back to its original state or implement remedial measures. Profits gained from the project shall be confiscated. A fine of 50,000 yuan to 100,000 yuan (Note: this is really a small amount) applies. For serious situations, a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 yuan applies.

The reporter talked to the park management team. Employees told him that they only manage the park. The details of how the land was sold and developed were not revealed to them.

On June 2, 2006, former Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued an order to Yunnan provincial department to investigate and stop all commercial land exploitation in Cangshan and Er Lake regions. A task force formed to deal with these cases and install preventive measures. Results of the investigations were reported back to the ministry.

Yet, during this time, construction of Erhai Paradise was going full-swing, the pace not at all affected by the order. Judging by the applications submitted to the Bureau of Urban Planning, Erhai Paradise was divided into several sub-projects, scenic street, mobile fishing village, hotel, etc, and the permissions for them were obtained in different stages. The last application was dated June 2007. The housing sales permits were granted in 2006, 2007, and 2008. In other words, despite of orders from the province, Erhai Paradise proceeded with their applications in an orderly manner, and the company successfully obtained sales permits.

What is interesting is that a separate commercial development project, "Dali East Coast International Eco-Garden," was stopped in July 2007. And the reason was the said order issued by the National Ministry. The fate of these two projects, though similar in nature, could not be more different.

Head of Dali Bureau of Urban Planning told the reporter that the villa is indeed built atop the former Lover's Lake, but most of the water surface has been preserved. Currently, the disciplinary committee is investigating this matter.

Reporter Junxiu Wang (王俊秀), April 12, 2010


  1. I enjoyed this post.....Its reallyGreat detail about the Hotel and the Beautiful destination..!!

  2. Hostels have washing machines to clean your clothes.

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  3. I think you’ve made some truly interesting points. Not too many people would actually think about this the way you just did.


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