(May 31, 1994)
Historical Chronology of the Three Gorges Project
1919: First mention of the Three Gorges dam project in Sun Yat-sen’s “Plan to Develop Industry.”
1932: Construction Committee of the Nationalist government proposes the building of a low dam at the Three Gorges.
1944: American design engineer J. L. Savage of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation presents a plan for the construction of a dam at the Three Gorges site.
1947: Nationalist government terminates all design work on the Three Gorges dam.
1949: Communist takeover of China.
1951: A flood-diversion project for the Yangtze River is approved and implemented.
1953: Mao Zedong proposes building a dam at the Three Gorges site to control floods.
1954: The largest flood along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze in over 100 years causes destruction in the cities of Wuhan and Nanjing, and kills 30,000 people.
1955: Planning for the comprehensive utilization of the Yangtze River begins.
June, 1955: Soviet experts arrive in China and assist Chinese engineers in the systematic survey, design, and study of the Three Gorges site.
1956: Lin Yishan, a supporter of the Three Gorges project, and Li Rui, an opponent, engage in published debate over the feasibility of the Three Gorges project. The Yangtze Valley Planning Office (YVPO) is established.
May-June, 1957: During the Hundred Flowers Movement, critics of the Three Gorges project take the opportunities created by short-term press freedom to castigate proponents for ignoring difficult technical issues and for seeking to build the dam solely for reasons of national prestige.
June, 1957: Anti-Rightist Campaign involves the persecution of critics of the Communist Party including engineers who had spoken out against the Three Gorges project. Dam opponents within the YVPO are labeled as “rightists.”
October, 1957: “Report on Major Points of the Outline Plan for Comprehensive Utilization of the Yangtze Valley” is issued.
January, 1958: Mao Zedong convenes a Central Committee meeting in Nanning and hears the contrasting views of Li Rui and Lin Yishan. The Central Committee agrees that construction of the project should begin only after “enthusiastic preparation and complete reliability.” Mao appoints Zhou Enlai to take personal charge of planning along the Yangtze River valley.
February, 1958: The Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Electric Power are merged into the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power (MWREP).
March, 1958: Central Committee meeting in Chengdu at which Sichuan province receives the “Report on the Main Design Features of the Three Gorges Project.” The meeting concludes that preliminary work for the project be completed by the early 1960s, but sets no deadline for construction.
June, 1958: Three Gorges Scientific Conference is convened in Wuhan.
May, 1959: YVPO completes a draft of “Report on the Main Points of Preliminary Design” and decides to locate the dam at the Sandouping site.
1960s: Disastrous policies of the Great Leap Forward delay for several years further preparation work on the dam. The dam at Danjiangkou is halted after discovering the use of substandard concrete in the construction.
1966: YVPO issues “Report on Design Issues on the Yangtze Three Gorges,” but all work is halted by the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution (1965-1975).
1969: Mao Zedong voices opposition to the construction of the Three Gorges dam “when the country is preparing for war”; evidently a reference to ongoing tensions with the Soviet Union.
December, 1970: The Central Committee decides to build the Gezhouba dam as a “preparation for the actual battle of the Three Gorges.”
1972: A fundamental redesign of the Gezhouba dam is ordered, delaying its completion until 1989.
1973: The Danjiangkou dam construction is completed, 15 years after it started.
March, 1976: YVPO submits “Report on Supplementary Studies on the Three Gorges Dam Sites.”
November, 1977: MWREP asks the State Council to convene a meeting on the Three Gorges dam.
February, 1978: MWREP convenes a “Preparatory Meeting for Site Selection.”
February, 1979: MWREP is broken up into two separate ministries, the Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Electric Power.
April, 1979: Lin Yishan is appointed by the State Council to preside over site selection meetings with the active participation of Madame Qian Zhengying. Li Rui is rehabilitated after years in political disgrace.
May, 1979: Site selection meeting is convened in Wuhan where opposition views on the construction of the Three Gorges are expressed and submitted in a report to the State Council.
July, 1979: Li Rui writes a proposal to Party leaders endorsing the construction of a series of smaller dams on the tributaries of the Yangtze.
March, 1980: American specialists visit the Three Gorges dam site and express serious reservations about the entire proposal to Ministry of Water Resources minister Qian Zhengying.
August, 1980: The Standing Committee of the State Council calls for evaluation meetings on the Three Gorges project to include diverse views of experts from the State Construction Commission and the State Science and Technology Commission.
January, 1981: YVPO endorses phased development of the Three Gorges dam.
April-June, 1981: A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation team revisits Three Gorges dam site and proposes a full-scale feasibility study for the project.
March, 1982: MWREP is reestablished out of the Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Electric Power. The Ministry of Finance is ordered to undertake the first financial analysis of the Three Gorges dam after several large-scale projects, such as the Baoshan Steel Plant in Shanghai, sustain huge cost overruns.
March, 1983: “Report on the Feasibility Study of the Three Gorges Water Resources Project” endorses a 150-meter-high dam while also acknowledging that solving various technical problems would require “long years of study.”
May, 1983: The State Planning Commission convenes an evaluation meeting of 350 representatives from concerned ministries and commissions under the State Council, and the provinces of Sichuan, Hubei, and Hunan. The majority endorses the dam project, but also recognizes the severity of sedimentation and shipping problems.
February, 1984: MWREP endorses “recommending immediate commencement of the construction of the Three Gorges project.”
April, 1984: State Council formally accepts the view of the State Planning Commission, approving the construction of a 175-meter-high dam with a 150-meter water level to begin in 1986.
March, 1985: Preliminary design work on the dam is completed by the YVPO. The State Council stipulates that the project be made part of the Seventh Five Year Economic Plan (1986-1990).
Spring, 1985: National People’s Congress (NPC) puts off discussion of the Three Gorges project until 1987 because of growing economic difficulties.
July, 1985: An American consortium, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers, the American Consulting Engineers Council, Bechtel Civil and Mineral, Inc., Coopers and Lybrand, Merrill Lynch Capital Markets, and Morgan Bank, submits a proposal to the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power recommending a cost-benefit analysis acceptable to potential financiers be conducted and that the dam be built by a joint venture between the Chinese government and the American consortium with funding from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, Sweden, Japan, and Canada.
Mid-1985: Leading Group for the Assessment of the Three Gorges Project is formed.
1986-1990: Seventh Five Year Economic Plan.
Early 1986: State Planning Commission and the State Science and Technology Commission are entrusted to study the cost/benefit analysis of each proposed dam height from 150 to 180 meters. The Economic Construction Group of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), led by Sun Yueqi, conducts a 38-day field trip to the dam site. Upon their return they submit a report titled “The Three Gorges Project Should Not Go Ahead in the Short Term.”
July, 1986: Canada announces that its aid agency, the Canadian International Development Agency, will grant $8.74 million for a feasibility study of the proposed Three Gorges hydro-electric project to be carried out by a Canadian consortium of engineering companies and electric utilities, and supervised by the World Bank. The purpose of the study is to “firmly establish, on bases acceptable to international financial institutions, the technical and economic feasibility of the Three Gorges project.”
March, 1988: YVPO produces “Supplementary Report on the Comprehensive Development of the Yangtze River Basin.”
April, 1988: MWREP is once again divided into the Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Power, with Electric Power as part of the latter.
August, 1988: Canadian-World Bank Three Gorges Water Control Project Feasibility Study is finished. It recommends the Three Gorges dam be “carried out at an early date” with a dam crest level of 185 meters and a normal pool level of 160 meters. However, the World Bank also states in the document that evidence indicates “increasing the normal pool level from 160 meters to 170 meters and higher would not be an economically viable proposition.”
Autumn, 1988: Dai Qing reads in the Hong Kong press that the project will be started in 1989. She begins compiling Yangtze! Yangtze!
February 28, 1989: Dai Qing and colleagues hold a press conference to release Yangtze! Yangtze!
March, 1989: NPC and CPPCC meetings begin. At the NPC meeting, 272 delegates release a report titled “[We Suggest That] the Three Gorges Project be Postponed Until the 21st Century and the Upper Reaches and Tributaries be Developed First.”
April 3, 1989: Yao Yilin, director of one of the Examination Committee’s on the Three Gorges project and a member of the State Council, states that “No large-scale projects related to the Three Gorges will be submitted in neither the present period of planned administrative reform nor in the upcoming Eighth Five Year Plan.”
April-June, 1989: Democracy movement engulfs Beijing and over 100 other major cities in China.
October, 1989: Yangtze! Yangtze! is officially banned.
July, 1990: Meeting of the State Council. Qian Zhengying reports on the leading group and YVPO assessments. Many consider this the official revival of the project after Yao Yilin’s comments of 1989.
1991-1995: Eighth Five Year Economic Plan.
1991: “Spring Festival Forum Promoting the Early and Rapid Launching of the Three Gorges Project” is convened by Wang Zhen and Wang Renzhong. The forum is a boost for dam proponents.
August, 1991: A State Council Examination Committee, headed by Zou Jiahua, approves the dam, stating that preparation work should begin in 1993.
January, 1992: Vice-premiers’ meeting agrees to construct the project.
February, 1992: Amsterdam-based International Water Tribunal rules against Chinese and Canadian governments stating that “due to expediency, the very high ecological and socioeconomic risks of the [Three Gorges] megadam have not been adequately assessed by the defendant’s feasibility studies.” Until the populations at risk “have rights to information and consultation before the project is decided upon and implemented,” and “the right to effectively participate in processes affecting their habitats and livelihoods,” implementation of the project should be halted.
February, 1992: The Politburo Standing Committee agrees to the construction of the project. Yao Yilin fully discards his view of 1989 and also supports a go-ahead for the project.
March, 1992: Seventh NPC and CPPCC meetings are convened.
March 5, 1992: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation signs an agreement with the Ministry of Water Resources to “provide to the [ministry] technical consulting services on technical and economic issues during the design, construction and operation of the Three Gorges project.”
April 3, 1992: The “Resolution on the Construction of the Three Gorges Project on the Yangtze River” is passed. 1,767 delegates vote in favor, 177 oppose the project, 644 abstain and 25 do not cast votes.
April 27, 1992: The Canadian government announces in the House of Commons that due to “conflicting priorities…we can no longer use our limited development assistance funds for [the Three Gorges] project.”
August 29, 1992: Nikkei Weekly reports that the Chinese government gave special approval to a foreign financial consortium (including a Taiwanese investment firm, the Lippo Group of Indonesia, and U.S. securities firm Merrill Lynch and Company) for financial and investment business in China, on condition the consortium provides financial support for the construction of the Three Gorges dam.
January, 1993: The Three Gorges Project Development Corporation, headed by Lu Youmei and Li Peng, is set up to manage the construction.
July 27, 1993: Three Gorges project officially enters the preparatory stage after the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee of the State Council examines and approves the project’s preliminary design report, which was completed in March 1993.
August 9, 1993: China Daily reports that the People’s Construction Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and the Three Gorges Security Company (approved by China’s central bank) are preparing to raise funds to build the Three Gorges dam from government investment, domestic bank loans, issuing shares and bonds, and taking out foreign loans. Also, electricity rate hikes will help raise Y3 billion per year for the Three Gorges project.
September 14, 1993: To enhance the China Yangtze Three Gorges Project Development Company’s ability to raise more cash for the Three Gorges project, the central government puts the Gezhouba hydro-electric power station under the company’s management, and allows money earned from Gezhouba’s electricity sales to be used for the Three Gorges dam.
November, 1993: The Economist reports that the Chinese government is so short of cash that infrastructure projects, among them the Three Gorges dam, are on hold until they can be paid for.
December 14, 1993: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation informs the Ministry of Water Resources that it is terminating its agreements to provide technical consulting services for the Three Gorges dam, “effective this date.” A Bureau spokesperson explains that “it is now generally known that large-scale water retention dam projects are not environmentally or economically feasible….We wouldn’t support such a project in the U.S. now, so it would be incongruous for us to support a project like this in another country.”
December 28, 1993: China Daily reports that Vice-Premier Zou Jiahua announces that the government’s pilot resettlement project will end and the full-scale evacuation will begin in 1994.
: Bidding for contracts for work related to the Three Gorges project is underway.
Categories: Three Gorges Probe