Three Gorges Probe

Chapter 3

(May 31, 1994)

THE COMEBACK OF THE THREE GORGES DAM (1989-1993)1

by Shi He and Ji Si

As Yangtze! Yangtze! was being prepared in early 1989, dam proponents and opponents were marshaling forces to sway delegates at the March-April meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Opposition had gained attention in 1986 following the report of the Economic Committee of the CPPCC on its 38-day field trip to the dam site, which concluded that the dam should not go ahead in the short term because its cost would be three times the official estimate, it would not solve flooding problems, it would not effectively flush sediment out of the reservoir, and it was similarly flawed in the areas of navigation, power generation and safety.
The NPC had responded in 1986 by calling for further deliberations on the project and excluding it from the Seventh Five-Year plan (1986-1990).


Despite this setback, between 1986 and 1989 project preparations continued. The Leading Group For the Assessment of the Three Gorges Project, established under the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power, continued the preparation of its 14 studies, which the YVPO then used to compile a favorable feasibility report that it submitted to the State Council for approval in early 1989. Just prior to the YVPO’s submission, a Canadian engineering consortium-commissioned by the World Bank, the Canadian Government and the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power-completed and submitted its own favorable feasibility report. Despite this continuing preparatory work by dam proponents, opposition in both the NPC and CPPCC was gaining momentum. (EDITORS)

On January 23, 1989, at the fourth session of the Seventh Standing Committee of the CPPCC, Yao Yilin, vice-premier and director of the State Council Examination Committee of the Three Gorges project,2 issued the following statement on behalf of the State Council:

It is impossible to begin the project within the next five years; therefore, it is not necessary to devote a lot of energy to debating it now. The debate over and the assessment of the Three Gorges project has been going on for quite some time. Those in favor possess ample reasons for their views, while those opposed also have their reasons. Again, since it is impossible to launch the project at the present time, our interests would be best served by not engaging in too much debate. When, in the future, a decision has to be rendered, ample debate will of course occur and proposals will be made to the NPC.

Despite its being published in the Hong Kong press, very few people on mainland China heard about this speech. Given only within the small circle of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, this pronouncement did not stop dam proponents or dam opponents from pressing forward. Only two months later, at the tenth (enlarged) meeting of the Leading Group for the Assessment of the Three Gorges Project (February 27 to March 7, 1989), it approved in principle the “Feasibility Report on the Three Gorges Project,” conducted by the YVPO.3

Meanwhile, on February 28, the People’s Publishing House of Guizhou held a press conference announcing the publication of Yangtze! Yangtze! The book had been churned out as quickly as possible in order to ensure that delegates to the NPC and CPPCC conferences (who were to vote on the dam project) would be fully informed about the opposition opinions on the project.4

When the NPC met in March, its opposition to the Three Gorges project was quite pronounced. Some 272 delegates, led by Xu Caidong, delivered a joint petition to the NPC titled “[We suggest that] the Three Gorges Project be Postponed Until the 21st Century and that the Upper Reaches and Tributaries Be Developed First.” But this proposal, though presented by one-tenth of the delegates, was not even included in the meeting’s formal “Collection of Proposals.”

Meanwhile, at the CPPCC, opposition was also mounting. Three hundred CPPCC members presented eighteen different proposals demanding further assessment of the project. Also in March, Tian Fang and Lin Fatang’s second collection of opposition opinions, A Second Look at a Long-Range Strategy For the Three Gorges Project, was published by the Hunan Science and Technology Publishing House. Since Tian and Lin’s book was not accepted by the secretariat of the conference, the two editors bought a few hundred copies with their own money and personally delivered them to the hotel rooms of delegates.

On April 3, 1989, at a press conference held by the State Council, Yao Yilin reiterated that:

A debate has been held over the Three Gorges project. Those in favor have adequate supporting evidence, and those opposed have a reasonable basis for their doubts. Therefore, this matter needs further and more detailed assessment. I personally think that there is no way the project can be launched in the next five years. No large-scale projects related to the Three Gorges will be submitted in either the present period of planned administrative reform nor in the upcoming Eighth Five Year Plan [1991-1995]. Thus, there is no point in putting a lot of effort into debating it. If, however, the Three Gorges project is to be launched in the future, it has to be approved by the NPC. So, once again, I suggest that we drop the topic for now.5

The next day, Yao’s speech was reported in the People’s Daily. At almost the same time (mid-April to the end of May), organizations including the Sichuan provincial government, the Chinese Society of Territorial Economic Studies, the Chinese Society of Hydro-electric Power Engineering, the Society of Energy Resources Studies, and the Society of Hydro-power Economic Studies became dissatisfied with their lack of influence in the decision-making process for the Three Gorges project and began to oppose it and other disastrous projects on the mainstream of the Yangtze. As a result, they began to promote the development of hydro-electric power stations on the upper reaches and the tributaries. These views were put forth in a report titled, “A Comprehensive Investigation of Hydro-electric Power Development of the Three Rivers (the Jinsha, Yalong, and Dadu rivers) in Sichuan” and in the book titled Discussion of the Development of the Upper Reaches of the Yangtze River.

Despite the State Council’s public position (as elaborated by Yao) that “there is no way the project can be launched in the next five years…and there is no point in putting a lot of effort into debating it,” the work of the leading group did not subside. In October, 1989, five months after the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, Yangtze! Yangtze! was officially banned and two members of the leading group sent a letter to the Party Branch of the State Planning Commission accusing the book and its authors of advocating “bourgeois liberalization.”6

Then, in July, 1990, a State Council meeting was held at which Qian Zhengying and Pan Jiazheng reported on the assessments of the Three Gorges project conducted by the leading group and the YVPO. Despite Yao Yilin’s speech of April, 1989, the view favoring rapid implementation of the project was still prominent in government circles.7

While those with opposition views did have a chance to express themselves at the meeting, they were allocated only one-third of the time to speak. Also, it was at this meeting that the second Examination Committee, this one headed by Zou Jiahua, was set up. The committee was created to reexamine the YVPO’s Feasibility Report for the project.

At the end of the meeting Yao gave a speech that was decidedly different in tone from the one in April, 1989. He said:

The decision as to when the project will be launched should be made after examining the assessment report and based on results of a systematic analysis of the overall economy jointly conducted by various departments and on the country’s actual economic capacities.

Yao especially emphasized that “we should continue at the present time with construction of the various engineering and non-engineering projects for flood control on the plains as decided in 1980.”
Li Peng’s attitude was summarized as follows: “In my opinion, whether and when the project will be launched involves both technological and economic issues, namely, whether it is beyond the nation’s (economic) capacity.”

At this point (mid-1990), the domestic political atmosphere was no longer as stringent as it had been a year earlier and thus journals published by the democratic parties such as Voice of the Masses started to once again publish articles by dam opponents Sun Yueqi, Hou Xueyu, Yang Jike, Lu Qinkan, Lin Hua, and Qian Weichang.8

Yet this somewhat mild atmosphere containing scanty elements of debate irritated two “old leaders”: the 83-year-old native of Hunan, Vice-President Wang Zhen, and the 75-year-old native of Hubei and vice-chairman of the CPPCC, Wang Renzhong. Their irritation resulted in the now famous “Spring Festival Forum Promoting the Early and Rapid Launching of the Three Gorges Project,” in 1991. Ten experts participated in this Guangdong meeting, which was convened by the two Wangs. The “Summary” of the meeting was published in the Bulletin of Internal Trends by the Xinhua News Agency. Although the two men were not personally in charge of the Three Gorges project, the summary stated in a rather authoritative tone: “The Three Gorges project should be started in the second half of 1992 and should come on line at the end of this century or the beginning of the next. By 2010, the entire project will be completed.”

Dam supporters were greatly encouraged. In response to a question about the project during a press conference held during the April, 1991, CPPCC meeting, Qian Zhengying noted: “It’s better for the Three Gorges project to be started rather than delayed, and the earlier, the better!” That reply conveyed a much more positive attitude than was generally held by the State Council. Nevertheless, Qian was likely able to make this statement, which by all means exceeded her authority, because of support from the “old leader”-Wang Zhen, who, while visiting Guangdong, had criticized those opposing the dam. He noted: “Li Rui opposes the Three Gorges project but he is by all means a black sheep among us Hunanese. And he is a contemporary counter-revolutionary!” This comment was not included in the meeting’s summary, but it was communicated through the grapevine back to Beijing. In the face of such criticism, Li remained calm, replying: “I a counter-revolutionary? Then arrest me.”

Despite the efforts by dam opponents,9 it seemed that the decision to “launch the project as early and rapidly as possible” was assumed to be the final decision.

Zou Jiahua’s Examination Committee reinforced this view when, in August, 1991, after concluding their examination of the YVPO’s Feasibility Report, the committee approved the project. It stated that if funds could be acquired in time, it was feasible for the preparation work on the project to begin in 1993 and the entire project to be launched in 1996. The committee also decided to recommend to the State Council an early start to the project.

For supporters of the project, the next hurdle was to gain swift approval from the NPC. In pursuing this goal, they closely abided by one of Mao Zedong’s instructions: “Never engage in unsure battles, and never be unprepared to fight.” To insure that they gained the support of critical VIPs, dam-supporters spent several hundred thousand yuan from October, 1991, to March, 1992, organizing inspection tours to the Three Gorges for NPC members and others.10
Over a period of six months, more than 20 delegations comprising about 3,500 members participated in these inspection tours. Words of praise for the Three Gorges project gushed from their lips. Chen Muhua’s report to the seventh NPC is illustrative:

Members of the inspection group held a unanimous view on the significance of the project for carrying out the four modernizations. We also came to the conclusion that the project is feasible from a technological point of view and reasonable from an economic perspective. We agree that it’s better to carry it out than to delay it: the earlier, the better. Thus, we would like to suggest that the State Council submit the project to the NPC for approval as soon as possible.

In adherence to the strict qualifying rules for membership in the inspection groups, anyone described as having “bourgeois liberal tendencies” could not join in. “Discipline requirements” imposed on the members also meant that only a few tidbits of information were made available to them.

These discipline requirements were used to keep Taiwanese NPC Standing Committee member Huang Shunxing from joining in the inspection group. When Huang asked why he was not included he was told: “We thought that given your health problems, you would not agree to participate.”

Discipline requirements were also used to influence some members of the inspection groups. For example, the members of the education delegation were instructed, upon their return, to “spread the greatness of the Three Gorges project to the entire body of their respective schools in accordance with the unified position outlined by the Education Committee.”

Similarly, when a member of the education delegation asked Li Tieying (State Education Minister) “Since the project has been approved by the State Council, the advantages must outweigh the disadvantages. However, since every issue has two sides, why not allow people to point out the defects in order to prevent future problems.” After a moment of silence, Li finally replied: “Only the June Fourth [1989] elites in exile oppose the project!”11

In late 1991, following a government order, every newspaper in China, including the Enlightenment Daily,12 began “guiding public opinion” by filling entire pages with reprints of “Questions and Answers On the Three Gorges Project,” which had been compiled by the Preparation Group of the Three Gorges Project Development Corporation.13 In the next two months, the People’s Daily ran numerous front page articles on the project by various VIPs, including one by Liu Guoguang that was a complete reversal of his previous view that the national economy could not support the project.14 The scale of the propaganda effort was unprecedented, even for such an important Party-controlled newspaper. It was even greater than the propaganda campaigns during the Resistance War (1937-1945), the anti-Rightist campaign (1957), and the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960).

The real target of this strategy to mold opinion was three upcoming meetings: the January 17-18, 1992, “Working Conference of the Standing Committee of Vice-Premiers of the State Council “; the February 20-21 “Enlarged Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Politburo”; and the March 20 to April 3 examination by the NPC. At the NPC examination, the Three Gorges Project Feasibility Report, which had been in preparation for the past decade, was to be examined and the “Resolution on the Construction of the Three Gorges Project on the Yangtze River” was to come up for a vote. This was where the real decisions would be made.
The January vice-premiers’ meeting agreed to construct the Three Gorges project, but it also proposed that:

[the Three Gorges project] be carried out under a unified plan together with other hydrology projects including management of the Huaihe River, Tai Lake, the Xiaolangdi on the Yellow River and in coordination with the project to channel water from the south to the north.15

Zhu Rongji especially emphasized “the issue of achieving a balance between the national economy and the various hydrology projects,” and Yao Yilin held the view that “the state should consider this from an overall perspective.”
Unfortunately, the Ministry of Water Resources did not share Zhu’s opinion. The ministry remained both supportive of the Three Gorges project and lukewarm towards the other projects. Moreover, without specific instructions from the leaders to abort the project, the remarks were all in vain. In June, 1992, the erroneous policies and failure to implement flood-control measures resulted in catastrophic floods along the Huaihe River and Tai Lake. Instead of engaging in a self-criticism over its failure to follow the warnings given at the vice-premiers’ meeting, the ministry used the floods as an opportunity to advocate the Three Gorges project.

At the enlarged meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee in February, 1992, Qian Zhengying and Yang Zhenhuai presented reports on the project. Noting the country’s energy shortages, Qian placed great emphasis on the importance of electricity generation. However, the high-level cadres listening to her report were different from Mao Zedong, in that they were able to ask very intelligent questions about the project. For example, Li Ruihuan (Standing Committee member of the Politburo in Charge of Media and Culture) was able to pose questions about flood control, population relocation, and sedimentation, while emphasizing that “propaganda work should not be one-sided.”
It was at this Politburo meeting that Yao Yilin fully discarded his view of 1989-that the project could not be started for at least five years-by agreeing to the go-ahead of the project. Yet, he also warned that the Three Gorges project “must be part of the general plan, and flexibility must be retained.”

Qiao Shi also mentioned the issue of “one-sided propaganda” and emphasized that “opposition views should be voiced.” His biggest concern was that people in the water resources and electricity area would be hot-headed and “oversimplify the issue of resettlement.”

Bo Yibo also agreed to the construction of the project, but he stated that in the interim “a great deal of work must be done” and that adequate explanations must be made to four people: Li Rui, Zhou Peiyuan, Sun Yueqi, and Qian Jiaju.16
Yang Zhenhuai reported on the issue of investment by stating that “revenues from the Gezhouba dam would be sufficient to pay for the Three Gorges project, along with additional revenues from such sources as an increase in the price of electricity and the issuing of state bonds, etc.” Li Peng made it clear to Yang that revenues from the Gezhouba dam “belonged to the state,” and not to the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power, nor to the Three Gorges project. Li Peng reiterated that this was not a “slush fund” for the ministry.

Yang Shangkun took a conservative view. In his opinion, further study was needed on when the big project would be launched. He also pointed to the problems in propaganda work. As a soldier, he was more concerned with national defense, and noted that the Academy of Military Sciences had expressed opposition to launching the project on the basis of the current state of preparation.

Wan Li merely agreed with an “early launch.” Song Ping, given his work experience in industry, immediately focused on the key issue of technology. He stated that “the sedimentation model is only qualitatively sound, but not yet quantitatively acceptable.” As for the question of when to launch the project, Song emphasized that it “must be part of an overall plan.” In the opinion of Ding Guang’en, such a grand project “must be guided by more powerful leadership.” However, he refused to comment on the character of the present leadership.

Finally, in his summary of the Politburo meeting, Li Peng discussed China’s “Ten-Year National Economic and Social Development Program (1991-2000),” and noted that “the Three Gorges and the Pudong [development zone in Shanghai] were primary.” The Party general secretary, Jiang Zemin, urged everyone “to end the debate.” He also stated that he “had received many opposition views from abroad” and that “the issue posed financial difficulties-it could be launched only if there was adequate funding” and that “the biggest concern at the recent provincial governors’ meeting was that the Three Gorges project would squeeze out other provincial-level projects.” Jiang Zemin also warned against “putting political labels on those holding opposition views.”

On March 20, 1992, the seventh NPC and the seventh CPPCC were begun simultaneously. During these meetings, in addition to the positive news reports on the Three Gorges project in the major newspapers, there was also a large-scale exhibition on the project at the Military Museum in East Beijing, where experts, now in their later years, acted as guides.

Before the vote to approve the “Resolution on the Construction of the Three Gorges Project on the Yangtze River,” the Water Resources and Electric Power Publishing House provided each delegate to the two conferences with a finely printed volume titled A Small Series on the Three Gorges Project. (It is worth noting that the text was printed on glossy paper, something not even used for the selected works of Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping). Since all the delegates were required to vote and since 90 percent of them knew nothing about hydrology, they asked that they be provided with opposition views. But this request was conveniently overlooked.17 In the words of the delegates themselves: “The fate of the Three Gorges project was in the hands of people who knew nothing about it.”

At the CPPCC meeting, 20 members gave speeches while 267 people presented 30 separate proposals, all on the subject of the Three Gorges project.18

While the NPC provided little in the way of opposition opinions for the delegates to its meeting, documentation challenging the feasibility of the project did make its way into the meetings. A delegate from Hong Kong brought 200 copies of articles (by Zhou Peiyuan, Xue Baoding, Li Rui, and Duan Nianci) that had recently been published in the magazine Contemporary Monthly. Another delegate brought along 500 copies of the first, second, and third 1992 issues of Science and Technology Herald (these issues contained articles with opposition views) that had been published jointly in China and the United States. Huang Shunxing was also able to photocopy and distribute a few copies of Yangtze! Yangtze! at the meeting.

The common practice at NPC meetings is for the general secretary of the Communist Party to give a speech calling on all Party members to unify their thought, which Jiang Zemin did. However, in his speech on the project, he did not require Communist Party members to vote their approval of the project, as is usually the case. Instead, Wan Li, chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC, despite having previously said that “opposition views could be expressed,” commented three days prior to the casting of votes that:

This project is of a tremendous scale and involves numerous fields. This is why the State Council has been so cautious in organizing the assessment by experts over the past 40 years. The result of the assessment is that the advantages far outweigh the defects and thus [we] should not continue to debate and postpone it.

Then, on March 21, Zou Jiahua gave a speech on the examination of the project that his committee had undertaken. Nowhere in that speech, however, did he compare the benefits of the immediate launch of the project with the possibility of postponing it. He also failed to address the key issue of whether it is more feasible to build a dam on the mainstream of a river or on its tributaries, and he offered no comparisons between high and low dams. His speech focused on only one issue: the superiority of the 175-meter plan.19

Later on in the NPC meeting, Huang Shunxing attempted to address the meeting and present a petition opposing the dam that had been signed by Chinese students studying overseas. Although he was registered to speak, the chairman refused. Huang stormed out of the meeting, held up his pass and said: “This is the last time.”20

Huang later complained, and many other delegates agreed, that the resolution on the Three Gorges project had virtually taken him by surprise.

Vice-Premier Yao Yilin announced two years ago, apparently on behalf of the central authorities, that debate on damming the Three Gorges was to be shelved for at least five years. Why, without advance notice, did the program suddenly appear on the NPC agenda?

Wang Ao, a delegate from Sichuan, said:

Vice-Premier Zou Jiahua reports that the designers of the Three Gorges project collected opinions from all sources. In reality they did not. In the past year, there have been no discussions on the project by either Sichuan’s provincial level authorities, or the NPC. It was not until this session was about to meet that I received certain relevant materials. A very tight schedule was arranged for the NPC inspection tour around the Three Gorges. It covered many places, but sometimes they could only afford to listen to one 20 minute report for an entire county. There was no time to hear opinions other than those of the officials.

In the view of Yang Xinren, a delegate from Jilin province: “The majority of the delegates are not fully informed of the technical aspects of the project. So no matter how we vote, we vote in blindness. How can we vote at all?”
Delegates from Zhejiang province concurred that it was “too difficult” to pass judgment on an issue of such complexity and consequence. Wu Wenqian said: “There have always been opinions against the project, however, neither the resolution nor the explanatory report that accompanied it mentions those opinions. How can my colleagues and I, with such a lack of information, determine how we shall vote?” Wei Runshi and two other delegates demanded in clear-cut terms: “Let the opposition come here to talk to us!”

Some delegates suggested that by having the resolution passed by the NPC in such haste, those who were in charge of the project had successfully shifted responsibility for it to the national legislature. Zhou Lang, a delegate from the city of Tianjin, commented:

I do not understand why the issue is being presented to the NPC. If it is because this is a major project, then why has the NPC not been allowed to examine other major projects, such as the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, the Shanghai Pudong Development Zone, and the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station?

Zhou then proposed that a plenary session be convened to hear opinions from well-informed opposition representatives. “Otherwise,” he said, “the delegates would be intellectually handicapped from deciding whether to vote for or against the resolution.”

Delegate Qian Guoying, from Qinghai province, opposed the one-sided nature of the debate on the project. He said: “Asked to vote while poorly informed, I have no choice but to abstain.”

In the end, many delegates chose, despite their doubts, to consider the interests of the state and vote for the passage of the resolution. As Liu Yuanzhang, from Anhui province, said: “The material on such an important project should have been presented to delegates much earlier. It appears to be perfunctory to have us pass judgment on the issue with so little time for consideration.” Nevertheless, he finally conceded:

“From a long-range view, I agree that China should embark on the proposed Three Gorges project.”

Some delegates from Guangdong province, having thumbed through the Three Gorges assessment report, claimed they had complete confidence in its “scientific and practical quality, “simply because it was the result of “many years of research, testing and investigation.”

On April 3, the vote was finally taken. According to the Taiwanese media, when the NPC delegates faced the electronic voting machine to cast their votes, nearly all of them looked “cold and indifferent.” Cold and indifferent not because of the “opposition” by Huang, but because a vote was being taken at all.

In the end, 1,767 NPC delegates voted in favor, 177 opposed the resolution, 644 abstained, and 25 did not cast their votes. The resolution was therefore passed. Based on suggestions from the Chongqing (Sichuan) delegation, the resolution was modified with the addition of a line that reads: “Research shall continue towards the proper solution of the potential problems that have been identified.”21

But analysts said the conflicting statements made during the debate reflected the confusion in the delegates’ reasoning and indicated the fragility of the consensus actually achieved. No matter how the delegates voted, most could only have made their decision, as a Chinese saying goes, as if in “clouds and mist.”

Criticism of the plan to dam the Three Gorges did not end with the favorable vote. The voices of opposition have been suppressed, but not vanquished.
In elaborating on the resolution, Vice-Premier Zou Jiahua emphasized that:

In future work, ample estimation and attention must be given to possible difficulties and problems. Caution and earnestness must be adhered to, and views from all fields must also be heard in order to ensure more stability and reliability.

Those remarks were subsequently used by opponents of the project to demand that the government not violate the resolution the NPC had passed.
Without further investigation or research, and without specific answers to the questions and concerns raised by NPC delegates during the meeting, the Three Gorges project was launched with unprecedented speed.

A major step towards the launch of the project was taken by the State Council on January 2, 1993, when it established the Three Gorges Project Development Corporation. Despite the State Council’s claim that “this autonomously managed economic organization would serve as the proprietor of the Three Gorges project and would be in charge of the overall construction and management of it,” no explanations of the terms “proprietor” and “autonomously managed” have been forthcoming. Up to now, the source of funding for this “corporation” has come mainly from “state investment.”22

Two organizations exist under the corporation: “The Three Gorges Project Construction Committee” and the “Population Relocation Bureau.” As a high-level decision-making organ of the project, the construction committee is directed by Li Peng himself. In addition to State Council Vice-Premier Zou Jiahua and member Chen Junsheng, former Hubei province governor Guo Shuyan (vice-chairman of the State Planning Commission), Li Boning (Ministry of Water Resources), and Xiao Yang, governor of Sichuan province, were also appointed vice-directors of the committee.

The general manager of the corporation is Lu Youmei, a hydro-electric engineer and former vice-minister of the Ministry of Water Resources and of the Ministry of Energy. Lu is a daring man who, prior to the formal approval of the corporation, encouraged his subordinates to “not be afraid and just do it [i.e., build the dam]. If they make some mistakes, I will take full responsibility.” Following the old practice of viewing technical projects from a political perspective, he came up with slogans for speeding up the dam, such as: “Complete the work of blocking the river a year in advance and make it coincide with the year of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland so as to turn 1997 into a year of double celebration!”

Following the establishment of the Three Gorges development corporation, Guo Shuyan announced, in April, 1993, that the State Council would invest Y2.02 billion for preparation work for construction of the project, including money for the first phase of rechanneling the water with a cofferdam, and the provision of water, electricity, and transportation supplies to the construction site. Construction on these projects was scheduled to begin at the end of 1994.

Then, on May 26, 1993, the document “Some Issues Regarding the Preliminary Design of the Three Gorges Project” was approved by the Examination Committee, including Zhang Guangdou.23 The report concluded that both static and dynamic24 investment estimates of the cost of the project were inadequate. Estimated static investment rose from Y36 billion in 1986, to a new figure of Y75.1 billion in 1993. Based on this newest figure, and including inflation and interest rates, estimated dynamic investment rose to Y224 billion.25

On June 1, Li Boning, director of the corporation’s Population Relocation Bureau, formally announced that an eight-year experiment in population relocation had been completed and that further relocation work had begun. He also gave as a target the relocation of 20,000 residents and assets worth Y500 million for 1993. He noted that the resettlement plan emphasized local relocation and labeled as “sheer rumor” reports in the overseas press about relocation to far-away places. These reports had suggested that the plan had become a United States-China joint venture to relocate local residents to Weihai city in Shandong province.

As the resettlement continues, opposition views towards the project are becoming even more scarce. Some of the dam opponents have passed away, some have withdrawn from social life completely due to age, and some have been removed from their former positions with the Central Advisory Committee or the CPPCC. Others have become dam supporters by arguing that “decisions already made by the Party must not be debated further and [we] should maintain our integrity in our late years.” Finally, many of the younger generation who had contributed a great deal to the dam opposition have decided to stop “fighting the project to the death” and give up their positions as opponents of the project.

Neither the eighth NPC nor the eighth CPPCC (held in March-April 1993) discussed the Three Gorges project. It was left to Liu Caipin-a delegate from Taiwan who, with Huang Shunxing, had objected so vocally when the resolution was passed-to deliver a written statement to the newly elected chairman of the NPC demanding that it “uphold the dignity of the law and earnestly study the issue of the Three Gorges project in accordance with the resolution decided at the previous NPC meeting.” At that time (March, 1993), Li Rui submitted another written statement to Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin requesting that opposition views be heard.26Others including Huang Wanli, Lu Qinkan, Tian Fang, Lin Fatang, and Dai Qing also delivered written letters and telegrams challenging the assessment report.

The final decision on whether the project is built as planned will be based not on its merits but on the ability to raise the necessary funds. It is therefore necessary to investigate the possible sources of funding.
According to a statement by Yang Yi, chief secretary of the Examination Committee of the Three Gorges project, as of June, 1993, nine possible sources of funds exist.

1. Gezhouba Dam Electricity Fee: It was decided at the end of 1992 that all profits generated at the Gezhouba dam hydro-electric plant should be turned over to the state. That amounts to Y200 million per year, which in 20 years’ time is expected to rise to Y4 billion per year. The plant will be turned into a share-holding enterprise and issue shares on the United States financial markets.
2. The Revenue from the Attached Electricity Generation Project of the Three Gorges Project:27 This has yet to be acted on.
3. Special Project Fund Financed by the State: This has yet to be announced.
4. Capital Construction Investment Funds From Within the [State] Budget: According to a rough estimate, since the leading group’s assessment in 1986, the state has invested nearly Y1 billion, and in 1993 it will invest Y2.02 billion.
5. Bank Loans: These have yet to be announced.
6. Foreign Investment: According to the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee, foreign investment will involve bids and will be used in: 1) partial construction projects; 2) partial construction of accessory equipment; 3) purchasing equipment including the 680,000 kW turbine power generators and 500,000 volt high-pressure direct power switching equipment; 4) advisory and consultation services; and, 5) supplementary investigation of environmental issues. So far, the following have expressed interest in the project: the United States, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, France, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
7. Advanced Sale of Electricity Use Rights (equivalent to the sale of shares): This has not yet been put into operation.
8. Issuing Construction Bonds: The Three Gorges Bond Company was established and approved by the China People’s Bank with registered assets of between Y150 and Y300 million. This company is in charge of selling bonds and shares of enterprises located in the Three Gorges area, and issuing project bonds, exchanges, and transactions. The estimated shares for the first phase that will be sold to financial institutions and to large- and medium-sized enterprises in Hubei province are valued at Y50 million.
9. Fund for Hydro-electric Construction: This has not yet been announced.28

In addition, the group favoring an early and rapid launch of the project put considerable effort into urging the State Council to issue “policies” favorable to the local residents in order to make fund raising convenient. These “policies” include:

  • A suggestion for turning Yichang, Wanxian, and Peiling cities into open cities;29

  • Various kinds of favorable policies enjoyed by Special Economic Zones along the coast should be implemented in counties and cities where relocation will take place.

  • Outside enterprises that establish businesses within the Three Gorges area should enjoy the same treatment as do foreign companies or joint ventures.

As of 1993, foreign enterprises that have publicly announced direct involvement with the Three Gorges project include:

  • The Zhengda Group of Thailand-Owner of the Yichang Fodder Plant for Pigs and Chickens (Y1.7 billion in investment committed), and of the Yichang real estate company.

  • Nippon Heavy Machinery Corporation;

  • Construction Enterprise Association (president Huang Taiping), Taiwan;

  • Yongshan Group, Hong Kong;

  • Sanhuan Enterprises, South Korea;

  • Merrill Lynch, USA

    Despite such preparations, opposition continues. In July 1993, opponents gathered together to analyze the project and decided to once again publicize their opposition views.
    “The Three Gorges project is not yet built, unlike wood already made into a boat,” commented one analyst. “The NPC session is unlikely to be the end of the Three Gorges controversy, because it is unlikely to have an end at all. Once a new wave of reform rises it will further expose all the contradictions of the project, and arouse further debates.”


Sources and Further Commentary

1This chapter, written after the 1989 publishing and subsequent banning of Yangtze! Yangtze! in China, was not part of the original book.

2The examination committee, led by Yao, was set up to examine the leading group and YVPO reports. In 1990, a second examination committee, with Vice-Premier Zou Jiahua as its director, was set up to once again review the YVPO report. Both committees were staffed with dam supporters whose primary function was to legitimize the project.

3At this meeting, members of the CPPCC, including Tan Xiudian, Wu Jing, Kang Daisha, Chen Shaoming, Lin Hua, Xu Guangyi, Yang Hanzhao, Lu Qinkan, Yu Siying, Luo Xibei, Zhao Weigang, Qiao Peixin, and Sun Yueqi, made speeches voicing opinions in opposition to the report, while Wang Xingrang delivered a written statement of opposition

4Many believe that the publication of Yangtze! Yangtze! helped stop the project in 1989.

5This speech, unlike the one made by Yao on January 23, was reported by the Party-controlled media on the mainland, and thus can be argued to represent the consensus of the top leadership.

6See Chapter 2 for a more detailed explanation of this event.

7In fact, it appears that this meeting was convened by Premier Li Peng specifically to officially revive the discussions on the Three Gorges project.

8For more on the types of articles published at this time, see Barber and Ryder, eds., Damming, pp. 17-18.

9At this time, these included Zhou Peiyuan and Lin Hua in Beijing as well as Zhang Guangqin, Yang Shangming, Deng Mingcong and Xu Shangzhi and others in Sichuan who had submitted a letter to the top leadership describing the defects of the project in a very mild way (merely mentioning the possible suspension of the project).

10These tours included: The National CPPCC delegation headed by Wang Guangying, 27 members, 12-day tour; The Standing Committee of NPC Three Gorges Delegation, 25 members, 12-day tour; The All China Provincial Governors Delegation, 47 members; The Inspection Group of Officials from Education, Science and Technology, and Sports, headed by Li Tieying, more than 140 members; and, The All-China Journalist Delegation, organized by the Central Propaganda Department, over 100 members, from 50 media organizations

11Li was warning the delegate that anyone who expressed opposition to the project would be considered a counter-revolutionary on par with the pro-Democracy leaders.

12While it is unclear exactly when the development corporation itself came into being (see reference later in this chapter), the Preparation Group apparently preceded the corporation by a number of years.

13Authors of other articles included: Shen Hong, Huang Yicheng, Zhang Guangdou, Tao Ziliang, Tao Shuzeng, Chen Bangzhu, Guo Shuyan, Yan Kai, Shen Gencai, and Mo Wenxiang.

14A plan to divert water from the Yangtze River northward, through a channel under the Yellow River, to provide water to the dry northeastern area of China.

16Likely because they were the most influential and powerful of the dam opponents.

17In contrast to the wealth of pro-dam material, each delegation was given only one set of opposition opinions for all of their members to share. Also, at the time of the debate, there was an information blackout on the project. This prevented the media from carrying opposition opinions that would have been useful for the debate.

18Some of the speakers included: Feng Zhenwu, Miao Yongmiao, Liu Kunshui, Cheng Yuqi, Ma Yuhui, Lu Qinkan, and Liu Bangrui.

19Over the years many different dam heights have been considered. There is confusion and debate concerning the hydrological, environmental, social, and economic issues surrounding the various dam height proposals. For more on different dam heights see Chapters 16, and 23.

20In fact, the chairman had the sound system in the auditorium turned off to prevent Huang’s address. For more on Huang’s opposition at the NPC meeting see Chapter 10.

21A portion of the resolution, as reported by the Xinhua News Agency, is found in Appendix D.

22Dai Qing argues that the organization is simply the Yangtze Valley Planning Office in sheep’s clothing, set up as a business rather than a state agency.

23The original Chinese text does not specify whether this is the committee headed by Zou Jiahua or whether it is a new committee set up to examine the assessment and feasibility studies once again. This document is found in Appendix E.

24Static investment excludes interest and price increases during construction. In 1992 the official estimate for total static investment was Y57 billion-Y29.8 billion for construction, Y18.5 billion for resettlement, and Y8.7 billion for power transmission projects. Dynamic investment includes interest charges during construction, until power production begins, as well as state-stipulated discount rates and shadow prices. See Three Gorges Project: Key to Development of the Yangtze River, compiled by the Beijing Review (Beijing: New Star Publishers, 1992), pp. 34-36.

25Having gained NPC approval for the project, the government likely used this committee to provide more realistic budget estimates. The tactic of using artificially low budgets to approve projects is one that many of the authors of the chapters written in 1989 feared would be used.

26This statement is found in Chapter 6.

27This is revenue that will be garnered by low-powered generation of electricity before the completion of the dam.

28In the midst of fund-raising efforts for the Three Gorges dam, it was announced in June, 1993, that the Great Wall Investment Company, licensed by Li Peng, had been engaged in fraudulent activities. The governor of the China People’s Bank, Li Guixian, who was involved in the scandal, was removed from his position, and a nation-wide investigation of the field of finance was launched. The Party subsequently issued documents substantially reducing the number of unnecessary projects sponsored by the state.

29These are economic zones that enjoy privileges regarding foreign investment and taxes.

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s