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China Is Evicting Over 9,000 People to Build a Telescope for Aliens

A version of this post originally appeared on Timeline. Go check them out on Medium.

China is building one of the world’s largest telescopes in a bid to find alien life. That’s good news for science, but bad news for the almost 10,000 people being forcibly evicted to make way for the project.

The eviction (or forced relocation) is just the latest government-dictated heave-ho. Since the founding of People’s Republic in 1949, 45 million people — about the population of New York and Texas put together — have been turfed out of their homes, more than a quarter of them for hydroelectric projects.

The most famous of those, the Three Gorges Dam, cost $59 billion, took 17 years to finish, and resulted in the relocation of 1.4 million people. More recently, the government evicted an estimated 1.5 million people for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Many complained of inadequate compensation, including two women in their 70s who were forced to go through “re-education through labor” after trying to arrange a protest.

Under the United Nation’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights — which China has ratified — forced evictions are illegal. But the Chinese government has continued to maintain that these evictions occur for the common good, effectively making them legal.

Since China’s lightning-fast economic boom began in the 1990s, the pace of relocations has ramped up and a wave of unrest, some of it violent, has swept the Chinese countryside. By one count, there are 180,000 protests a year in China — 65 percent of them related to land grabs by the government.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been a human quest for some time. Scientists are still searching. China seems to believe its new telescope — its 500-meter diameter is nearly twice as long as the largest radio telescope in the world — will make a difference. And nearly 10,000 Chinese are taking $1,800 to get out of the way. Not that, historically, they have a lot of choice.

“If the government says you have to move, you move,” said Shuai Linxiang, a 57-year-old woman relocated twice for the Three Gorges project, speaking to Reuters in 2012. “We can’t oppose them.”