Accepted paper:

Mencius said: "The tendency of man's nature to good is like the tendency of water to flow downwards": a solidarity network in water-stressed rural China


Andrea Enrico Pia (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

In rural Yunnan water access is a crucial concern of local villagers due to the limited availability of water. The local state often falls short on delivering sufficiently clean water on time, thus prompting villagers to establish informal solidarity network that can redistribute water autonomously.

Paper long abstract:

In Yancong, a drought-prone agricultural rural Township of North-East Yunnan, access to water is a crucial concern of local villagers. Irrigation and drinking water comes to the community from a reservoir located fifty km north, and the local Water Bureau - a government office under the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources where I conducted 16 months of fieldwork - is in charge of delivering it to the 27 villages under its jurisdiction, securing that all villages get their share. Developing the water supply network so that the Chinese citizens' right to domestic water can be fulfilled is one of the main objectives sought after by the Water Bureau. This however with ambivalent results. Despite the many efforts to keep the drinking water flowing, Yancong's distribution network has been affected since its completion by severe disruptions. Furthermore, with the construction of a hydro-power station in the late '80s, the old water infrastructures collectively excavated by the local villagers have been definitely encroached upon by the state, being converted to uses which were not supported by or even discussed with the local community. The dispossession of collectively owned infrastructures prompted local villagers to find alternative ways to secure drinking water, creating a network of illegal wells from which anyone can collect clean water without charge. This paper investigates the moral significance and social implications of this water management counter-practice, investigating the local notion of solidarity it enacts and how this directly challenges the state governance of water and the entwined notion of legal right protecting its access.

panel P01
Enlightenment's third pillar: solidarity and solidarity economies