China: Three Gorges Dam, A Time To Reflect

At a State Council steering committee meeting on May 18, 2011, a statement was issued acknowledging serious flaws in the Three Gorges Dam project.

Through 17 years of construction until its completion in October 2008, China lauded the project as one of the engineering marvels of the world. The dam raised water to 172.5m above sea level by the end of 2008 and necessitated the relocation of 1.4 million people.

According to local reports, the State Council has admitted a number of negative impacts of the project, including on the livelihoods of those who were displaced, ecological and geological issues, the impact on river transportion, devastation wrought by drought and flooding in downstream provinces.

Three Gorges Dam, Yichang. Image taken from Flickr user: DigitalGlobe-Imagery under CC license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Three Gorges Dam, Yichang. Image taken from Flickr user: DigitalGlobe-Imagery under CC license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Three Gorges Dam and water resources

Recently, provinces downstream from the dam on the Yangtze River, such as Hubei and Jiangxi, have been hit by severe drought which affects a population of more than a million and millions hectares of farmland. Moreover, the water level of China's largest freshwater lake, Poyang Lake, has dropped to the lowest point in its recorded history. Freshwater Finless Porpoises which inhabit the Yangtze River are now on the verge of extinction. Much online public opinion has begun to see a connection between the Three Gorges Dam Project and the ecological disasters such as earthquakes, landslides, flooding and droughts which have occurred over the past several years.

Below is a selection of Sina Weibo comments [zh] from a thread on news of the drought in Hubei and Jiangxi provinces:

这就是伟大的山峡工程的巨大作用:珍稀鱼类无路可走而灭绝,上游泥沙堆积导致航道堵塞,大坝蓄水导致下游湖泊消失,环境巨变导致气候异常,还能发生些什么?这些仅仅是个开始??? 当我们在为人类伟大的创造力而自豪的时候是不是该尊重下自然?不要因为部分人所谓的伟大理想而荼毒子孙!




-This is the function of our grand Three Gorges Dam Project: the most precious fish species have come to extinction. The upstream river is blocked by sediment buildup which affects river transportation. The dam has stopped water flow and led to the disappearance of downstream lakes. The environmental changes have affected the weather… what else we will be confronting? Is this only the beginning [of further disasters]?? At the same time that we feel proud of humanity's power, have we shown respect to nature? Do not harm our offspring just for some people's dream of the ideal!

-A province with more than a thousand lakes has ended up in drought. We have lost our respect for nature, for our mother earth, in order to chase after GDP. Eventually, we will lose everything. Children, what kind of future we have left for you?

-This explains why democracy is so important. When the dam project was turned into the will of the nation and local governments, the real experts and ordinary people could not get involved in the decision-making process; the disasters will be eternal and cannot be fixed.

-China has a very serious fresh water shortage problem. Now that serious drought is occurring in the south, how can we channel water to the north? Beijing has a water shortage problem, no matter how high the property market is there. Without water, people's daily lives will become a nightmare.

A satire on the world's greatest dam

Prominent writer and blogger Han Han has responded to the issue with his satirical style—by arguing that the Three Gorges Dam is the greatest in the world:






Those in opposition said: the Three Gorges Dam will affect the upstream and downstream ecology. My argument is, even before the project has completed, the ecology has lost its balance. They have missed the point.

Those in opposition said: the Three Gorges Dam will be a target for military attack. Once the enemy forces hit the dam, electricity will be disrupted and people downstream will face great disaster. I think we have solved the problem: we have already placed global corporations such as FoxConn in the downstream cities. If the dam leaks and drowns the cities, the world would no long enjoy China's cheap labour. Most important of all, the U.S could not produce more iPhones. In consideration of that, enemy forces will not attack the Three Gorges Dam.

Those in opposition said: the Three Gorges Dam will cause an earthquake. This is pure speculation and cannot be proven. Even if the Wenchuan earthquake was caused by the Three Gorges Dam, on the third anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake, the grand TV show called it a China miracle. There is nothing for us to reflect upon. The earthquake shows that we have had a great victory. If we follow this logic, we can conclude that the Three Gorges Dam will bring more miracles and victory to China. Who else in the world can compete for such glory?

Those in opposition said: the Three Gorges Dam will lead to drought. This year, the water surface of Poyang Lake, the greatest fresh water body in China, has been reduced to one-tenth of its volume in an average year, and many people are very worried about this. They think the Jiangxi government will have a headache over this. Actually, you are too ignorant. The financial income of local landlords is based on the selling of land. Water surface cannot be sold. The Jiangxi government should take the opportunity to build a dam in the water entrance and drain away all the water. Then the Jiangxi government will suddenly have an extra few thousands square kilometers of land for sale. They even have a selling point: the relic of Poyang, the source of water in the vast base land area, a treasure holding bowl for the beginning of your wealthy life. They can also invite the old man who pushed through the Three Gorges Dam project to draw a circle in the Poyang relic and build a special economic zone there. This will be another legendary move for promoting economic development in the central China region.

Some people used the Three Gorges Dam to attack our leaders, putting words into their mouth such as, “I won't see any floods after I pass away.” I want to tell all these ill-hearted people that they are completely wrong. The leaders are concerned about flooding after they die. That's why they build the dam. After they die, only the upstream will be flooded while the downstream won't. They still have many shrimp to eat. Hence, this argument cannot stand. [Translation note: the meaning of flood means opportunity to make money. Water is related with money in daily usage…]

Environmental problem turns into conspiracy theory

The Chinese Community Supporters from the Maoist Utopia website, however, believe that the discussion about the Three Gorges Dam is another plot hatched by the right wing to discredit the older generation of leaders:





Let's leave aside the discussion about the pros and cons of the Three Gorges Dam for a moment. Even if it had more defects than achievements, such that we had to demolish it, we could not turn the issue into a political struggle and denounce the older generation central government collectives led by Jiang Zemin. Only running dogs thirsty for power and their own interests would use history to denounce a historical figure. They don't know how to learn from history and show respect from historical figures.

The Chinese nation is now in a difficult period of transformation. In this process, power struggles within the party will escalate. In this historical moment, we have to open our eyes and see that the villains are now seemingly flawless, uncontroversial and globally famous people, while the true heroes suffer defamation. Real heroes would not talk just to receive applause and cheers; only politicians with a hidden agenda would build their fame by getting people's support and through controlling the media.

The Three Gorges Dam is an excellent example of socialist collectivism. The idea comes from older generation revolutionists—Sun Yat-sen, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin—who devoted their lives to the revival of the Chinese nation. It cannot be compared with image engineering projects carried out by bureaucrats. It is a contemporary achievement that will change Chinese history. Therefore, we should condemn and criticize comments that merely stress the negative side of the project.

We should be aware that a minority of liberal elites, who are now in power but see themselves losing their position, are trying to use the Three Gorges Dam Project to badmouth socialism and the older generation of leaders. We have to unite and unveil their secret plot.


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  • Mitiouto

    After the dam is filled the water over the dam is no different than before the dam is built. Am I wrong?
    So, what does the dam have to do with drought below its reservoir? How would this affect the general weather? Perhaps it can affect aquatic life below its great wall, but only if the life would be affected anyway. One should understand the concept of the dam. After the reservoir is filled to its design level and water is allowed to pass through the spillways, the water through the dam is at its normal flow.

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