Life in limbo in Chinese village that does not exist

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Media captionMartin Patience visits Blue Dragon Village

The men of Blue Dragon village are taking in their autumn harvest, fanning out in small teams across their fields.

Corncobs litter the land. The men pick them up by hand and throw them into waiting tractor trailers.

It is a typical scene in China's countryside. But this is no ordinary village. As far as the authorities are concerned, it does not exist.

You cannot find it on any map. The power cables have all been cut.

None of the dozens of families in Blue Dragon village has official ID cards required for social services, and to travel and work around the country.

"I just want my identity back," says Liang Qiquan, a farmer. "The government promised that it would address this issue but it never did."

'Won't move'

The villagers' problems date back over a decade, to when the authorities built a reservoir on their ancestral lands.

It provides fresh drinking water to the rapidly expanding city of Harbin, famed for its huge ice sculptures displayed during the harsh winters.

More than 200 homes lie submerged beneath the reservoir's surface.

The villagers say they received little or no compensation for their homes. They were supposed to live in neighbouring districts.

It is a story that you hear time and time again across China - farmers swept off their land in the rush for economic development.

But this story has a different ending. A group built a new village beside the reservoir's edge without official permission.

It was an act of defiance - the villagers standing up against the authorities.

Image caption Farmer Liang Qiquan says he and his family have not done anything wrong

But they were to be punished for their actions.

When we contacted the Harbin authorities they said they were "fully aware of the issue".

One official - who declined to give his name - said the farmers had received "a lot" of compensation money.

Despite this they had chosen to "illegally" return to their lands.

He said the area was prone to flooding and that was why the authorities wanted the Blue Dragon residents to leave the area.

'Constant struggle'

Back in the village, it is the issue of official ID cards and resident papers that weighs most on people's minds.

Without these papers the villagers live in limbo.

Qi Yahui has a four-month baby and a young son. Neither has a birth certificate. Officially, they do not even exist.

Image caption Qi Yahui says having no formal papers will have a big effect on her children's lives

Mrs Qi says her son attends school in a faraway village. He boards during the week and returns to the family's two-room home at the weekends.

But the family must pay for his education rather than getting it free.

She worries that her children's lives will be a constant struggle without official papers.

"When they are born, when they grow up, when they to school, get married, find a job, there is no way to show they exist," she says. "When they die we just bury them."

After returning from the fields, farmer Liang Qiquan and his family huddle around the stove at home.

This is the only life he has known. But he is not prepared to leave the village.

"They are trying to force us out but we have done nothing wrong," he says.

"The government cannot tell us that you have to give up your land and leave. We're not going to do it."

As dusk falls they prepare their beds over a raised platform which is kept heated by the fire enclosed underneath.

They will spend another night as strangers in their own lands.

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