CHINA WATCH: Trouble on the Yangtze
By Anthony C. LoBaido
The Yangtze River, with its long and storied place in the epic history of China, is host to a domestic controversy unlike any other in the nation – a mammoth water project that will fully submerge over 150 towns.
At the dawn of the 21st century, the Yangtze still holds a prominent grip on events inside China. It is the longest river in all of Asia and the third longest river in the world, at almost 4,000 miles in length.
Its river basin drains a region of almost 700,000 square miles. That basin is China’s breadbasket and gives the nation about half of its grain production and 66 percent of its rice crop. Wheat, corn, barley, cotton, beans and marijuana are also grown along the river – an area that serves as home to more than 400 million people.
The name Yangtze is the preferred European name for the river and comes from the ancient fiefdom of Yang. Ch’ang Chiang, or “Long River,” is preferred by the Chinese themselves. The term “Ta Chiang” or “Great River” has also been applied by the Chinese to this great waterway.
The source of the Yangtze is the Plateau of Tibet, and it should come as no surprise that events inside both Tibet and China play a large role in the current controversy involving the river.
That controversy surrounds the construction of China’s Three Gorges Dam – one of the great engineering marvels of modern times. Sun Yat-sen, the George Washington of China, first presented the idea for such a dam in 1919. Mao Tse-tung was a firm believer in building a dam, but China lacked the engineering know-how and finances to build it during his rule. Chinese Premier Li Peng got the go ahead to build the dam in 1992 from the People’s National Congress. More than one-third of the Congress’ members did not support the project, however.
With help from Western financing and engineering, the dam will displace more than a million Chinese when the resultant floods put scores of cities under water. Over 500,000 acres will be submerged while over 370 miles of the river are turned into a giant reservoir. Much of this area has been untouched for centuries.
What makes this project so disturbing to human-rights groups is that many of those displaced by the Three Gorges Dam will be moved by the government into Tibet, where they will continue China’s colonization of that region. (A similar event is scheduled to happen in Turkey as the government in Ankara will flood many Kurdish cities with a series of dams funded by British interests.)
This is the dirty little secret of the Three Gorges Dam project.
There is a doomsday clock in Fengdu, China, called the “City of Ghosts,” one of the towns scheduled to be destroyed. The doomsday clock is down to less than 900 days – when the great flooding of the Yangtze River is to both begin and end. Fengdu was created in dedication to the “gods of the underworld” and is the launching point for those wishing to explore the wild region of the Yangtze.
For millennia, the Yangtze was a cultural and even political demarcation between north and south China. Ethnic Tibetans have long lived in the upper basin. There is also a plethora of mineral resources along the basin, including natural gas, copper, gold, oil and coal.
The Three Gorges Dam is the largest dam in the world. It will, when completed, produce the energy of 15 nuclear power plants combined – or 50 million tons of coal or 25 million tons of crude oil. The dam is the greatest project undertaken by the Chinese people since the building of the Great Wall.
While Western transnational financiers and engineering firms were at one time happy with the project, many inside and outside China question the project’s worth. One thing is certain: The Yangtze – feared for millennia by the Chinese as an uncontrollable dragon – is finally being tamed by the dam’s construction.
But there is also the human cost to consider.
Chinese journalist Dai Quing was imprisoned shortly after Tiananmen Square after his book of essays protesting the building of the dam was published.
“Think of the millions of silenced people who cannot express their sadness and speak against this project. Think of the lost cultural history, art and destruction of the natural river,” wrote Dai in his banned book.
Under the Clinton administration, the National Security Council decided that the American government should terminate its role in funding the Three Gorges Dam project. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Export-Import Bank and World Bank all cut off funding for the project in response to protests from human-rights groups in the U.S. and abroad.
According to the Chinese leadership in Beijing, the dam will increase China’s infrastructure, industrial and energy capacity, reduce pollution and reliance upon coal and bring economic opportunities to millions of Chinese. Flooding will become controllable in the region and temperatures in both summer and winter will be less severe, say Chinese climatologists.
Says Dr. Philip Williams of the International Rivers Network, “Many of these dams are monuments in the same way that the pyramids were monuments for a particular regime or a particular ruler. Stalin had dams on the Volga named after him; we have Hoover Dam in the United States. There is this grandiosity that appeals to a megalomaniac instinct that overrides not only economic considerations, but sometimes even sound political judgment.”
Kendal Metz, a New York area representative for Students for a Free Tibet told WorldNetDaily that she opposes China’s colonization of Tibet.
“This engineering project is a disaster for the Tibetan people,” she said. “It should be stopped. More attention needs to be paid to China’s activities in Tibet.”
When Fengdu is finally flooded in 2010, all that will remain of the city is a temple dedicated to the God of Hell that sits high atop a hill above the city. The demonic images inscribed in the temple may well serve as the final epitaph for all that will be destroyed by Beijing’s ambitious project.