Three Gorges Probe
November 3, 1997
As officials prepare to divert China’s mighty Yangtze River to build the world’s largest dam, Chinese journalist Dai Qing is releasing a new book of critical essays about the controversial Three Gorges project. The River Dragon Has Come! is a stern warning to China’s leaders from prominent Chinese intellectuals, engineers, and journalists about the dam’s potentially disastrous effects on China’s economy, people, and venerable Yangtze River.
Chinese officials are planning to divert the Yangtze River on November 8, allowing construction of the two-kilometer-wide main dam at the Three Gorges to begin.
The River Dragon Has Come! contains the first ever independent studies of the effects of pilot resettlement projects in the Yangtze Valley, describing in vivid detail the suffering that may befall the more than 1.3 million Chinese who will eventually have to be moved; it includes the most comprehensive description of the collapse of the Banqiao and Shimantan dams in 1975, a disaster that Chinese officials successfully hid for years even though it claimed over 200,000 lives; and it details the often bitter struggle between China’s government-appointed archaeologists and Communist Party officials over the future of more than 1,200 ancient sites, most of which will be forever drowned by the dam’s massive reservoir.
The book, according to Daniel Beard, former Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (the U.S.’s largest dam-building agency), “tells the story of how government officials and dam boosters are manipulating common sense, economics, and politics to promote the world’s largest dam project.”
The River Dragon Has Come! is Dai Qing’s second volume on the dam. Her first, Yangtze! Yangtze!, was published in 1989, and gave birth to China’s fledgeling green movement. However, the book also earned Dai Qing the wrath of Chinese officials, a ten-month prison sentence, and a life-time ban against publishing in China. Today, only “positive reporting” about the Three Gorges dam is allowed in China.
If completed, the controversial dam will stretch two kilometers across the Yangtze River, create a reservoir more than 600 kilometers long, cause the forcible resettlement of more than 1.3 million people, destroy the habitat for a number of endangered aquatic species, and flood over 1,200 cultural antiquities and archaeological sites. The dam could cost over U.S.$70 billion.
The daughter of a revolutionary martyr, Dai Qing was a journalist with the Guangming Daily until publishing Yangtze! Yangtze! in 1989. Now forbidden to publish in China, Dai Qing lives in Beijing where she continues her struggle for freedom of the press, government accountability, and an open debate over the Three Gorges dam. She has been honoured with Fellowships from Harvard, Columbia, and the Australian National University, with the International PEN Award for Freedom, and the Goldman Environmental Prize.
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