Three Gorges Probe

Preface (Chinese Edition)

(May 31, 1994)



by Wu Guoguang1

In China, nothing is free of politics. Although it should be a scientific issue, the Three Gorges project has, unfortunately, been dragged into the political arena. The tragedy of the “Li Rui anti-Party Gang”2 is just one example of the extent to which “pervasive politicization” affects a society where political power is so highly concentrated that it overwhelms all considerations of consciousness and scientific standards.3

Such despotic and almighty political power can ruthlessly destroy the most upright personality. This is what has happened to the Three Gorges project over the past decades. An invisible political hand has twisted facts and smothered voices of scientific debate: it has turned a topic of popular concern into fearful taboo. Now, we begin to hear a work song along the Yangtze River, that, unlike ordinary work songs, challenges absolute political power. It is coming from Chinese intellectuals, who have broken long years of silence, calling the attention of all Chinese people to this issue which touches their lives.

I believe that science will reveal its objectivity and justice only when it is free of the yoke of political power. Of course, those scientists who favor the Three Gorges project have their reasons; however, the disagreements among scientists should always be solved within the discourse of science itself. When science is forced to serve political interests, it becomes hypocritical, weak and uncertain. I am not saying that science and politics should always be at odds, but that they can only form an alliance for the benefit of mankind when science is in control. In the past decades and even centuries, the tragedy for the Chinese lies in the fact that political issues have always been in control. Politics has not only dominated science, but all aspects of social life, including the human mind and conscience. This is what results from totalitarian dictatorship.

As for the Three Gorges project, the question is not whether the idea of such a project is a poetic fantasy, but why the project should be presented as a mandate from heaven. We have discovered that this craving for the grandiose is a common weakness for all wielders of absolute power. Science is definitely unwelcome when the holder of unrestricted power enjoys manipulating everything. Thus, we should not be surprised to hear of so many “great projects” such as, “Let West Water Flow East,” “Build a Dozen More Oil Fields like Daqing”4 and now “Let the Three Gorges Project Begin Now.”

The fact that scientists are breaking the political shackles by expressing their different opinions is important. In China, the major official newspapers never carry a second opinion. But, today, many journalists have initiated their own dialogues with scientists, expressing their own personal perspectives. Confronting the changing face of China, they have courageously called for a scientific approach to various plans for the Yangtze river, the main artery of their motherland. With their comrades in the field of science, they are trying to bring about, however feebly, the separation of politics from other aspects of social life. This is an important historical act on the part of Chinese intellectuals, who in singing their “Work Song” raise a question that all Chinese must face: “Do you have the wisdom, the courage, and the ability to be responsible for your own nation?”

Sources and Further Commentary

1Wu Guoguang is a former staff member at the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

2Li Rui is a former secretary to Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong and a long-time opponent of the Three Gorges project who was purged in 1959. For more on Li see Chapters 6 and 11. Also, see his own book, Lun sanxia gongcheng (On the Three Gorges Project), (Hunan: Hunan Scientific and Technological Publishing House, 1985).

3“Politics” (zhengzhi) in this context means an emphasis on ideological orthodoxy, arbitrary administrative control and the exercise of absolutist authority rather than the dialogue, give and take, and efforts at compromise characteristic of democratic political systems. For an excellent analysis of the intrusion of politics into scientific matters in China, see “Lysenkoism in China: Proceedings of the 1956 Qingdao Genetics Symposium,” in Chinese Law and Government, ed. Lawrence Schneider (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe Inc., Summer 1986).

4Daqing was an oil field idealized in the Cultural Revolution as a model of the nation’s self reliance.

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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