Three Gorges Probe

Jewels of Chinese civilization to be destroyed by Three Gorges dam

Three Gorges Probe
September 17, 1996

In an extraordinary move, more than 50 prominent Chinese writers, academics and former government officials have written to the Chinese government warning that archeological sites and cultural relics "are about to be destroyed on a large scale" by the Three Gorges dam.


The authors of the letter, including the man in charge of protecting the relics, Yu Weichao, well-known writer Bin Xing, and China’s former ambassador to the United States, Chai Zemin, ask the government to provide enough money to save more than 1,200 archeological sites that will be flooded by the dam’s reservoir. Such invaluable sites are "admired at home and abroad as the jewels of Chinese civilization," say the authors of the letter to Chinese president Jiang Zemin, noting that the area to be flooded is "the site of some of the earliest civilized developments in Chinese history."

Some ancient graves and cultural relics have already been destroyed by earth moving equipment, according to the letter, and the "dire situation" confronting all cultural relics in the reservoir area must be addressed.

Public opposition to the dam is strictly forbidden in China. In 1989, a prominent Chinese journalist, Dai Qing, was jailed for 10 months after publishing a book of essays condemning the project. Although critical of the lack of funds to protect archeological sites, the letter’s authors do not condemn the dam outright.

The Three Gorges dam on China’s Yangtze River will be the world’s largest, creating an inland sea the length of North America’s Lake Superior and submerging more than 100 towns and villages. The project will forcibly resettle 1.3 million people and flood thousands of hectares of the best farmland in China. The area to be flooded is the cradle of Chinese civilization and an inspiration to China’s most famous artists and poets.

Although several archeological sites have already been chosen for preservation, including a number of stone temples that will have to be taken apart and then reassembled in new locations, it is unlikely that China’s archeologists will have the time, the people and the money to excavate the hundreds of square kilometres of river bank that remain unexplored. Chinese archeologists estimate that up to US$360 million is needed to save just 10 percent of the most important ancient sites and monuments. To date, however, the Chinese government does not have a specific budget for the preservation of relics in the Three Gorges area.


Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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