(September 18, 2002) ‘No matter how severely the Yangtze River is damaged, and no matter how miserable local people’s lives become as a result, these high-level backers of the dam will be quite unscathed,’ says celebrated environmental journalist Dai Qing.
The following is an excerpt from a talk given on Sept. 5 by environmental journalist and dam critic Dai Qing at a conference in Brisbane, Australia (Riversymposium 2002).
Given that there are so many problems with the Three Gorges dam, who on earth wants it to be built anyway? And how is it that the project could go forward under such circumstances?
The Three Gorges dam has been a pet project of several top Chinese leaders, including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, who saw the dam as a historical monument in which their greatness could be recorded by bending nature to their will.
The project has also handed several technocrats the opportunity to achieve personal goals such as political promotion or academic glory, followed by a comfortable retirement. These individuals don’t really care about the people displaced, the rivers affected or the environment damaged by high dams and big reservoirs.
Li Peng, one of the most powerful backers of the Three Gorges project, was promoted from his position as a bureau director within a government ministry to the premier of the country in less than 10 years.
Qian Zhengying, a former minister of water resources and now 79 years old, not only became a senior member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences — a great honour for an official who quit college to become a revolutionary — but was also given a high-ranking position (vice-chairperson of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee) after her retirement. Though officially she is in charge of cultural, educational and public health affairs within the CPPCC, she is still a powerful figure in China’s water resources and electric power industry.
Prof. Zhang Guangdou, now 90 years old, holds two of the highest academic honours in China: He is a senior member of both the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering. Because of his status within China’s scientific community, he has helped to persuade younger scientists and engineers to follow the dictates of the Party and to defend government polices on this and other large dams.
None of the consequences of the Three Gorges dam are likely to affect any of these individuals or their families. No matter how severely the Yangtze River is damaged, and no matter how miserable local people’s lives become as a result, these high-level backers of the dam will be quite unscathed.
Other groups of people also have an interest in seeing this disastrous project go ahead: hydropower engineers who lack even a basic knowledge of other scientific fields, including social science; corrupt officials in love with power and wealth; companies inside and outside China eager to profit from project-related contracts; foreign politicians and bankers who seek to obtain political and economic advantage in exchange for their support for the dam; and, within China, a group of radical nationalists keen to have the world’s biggest dam in their country.
China’s undemocratic political system and semi-capitalist economic environment have combined to allow the Three Gorges dam to be built. But the project is bringing irretrievable loss and harm to ordinary people and the environment.
And, in the absence of changes to China’s political and economic systems, the Three Gorges dam won’t be the last such megaproject in the country; the Yangtze won’t be the last of China’s rivers to be dealt such a blow; and the ordinary people who are being hurt by this project will not be the last group to suffer in this way. Encouraged by the Three Gorges example, arbitrary politicians and greedy businessmen are already extending their grasp to other rivers, such as the Heilong, Yalu, Leng, Nu, Min, Yaluzhangbu and the Lancang (or Mekong) rivers.
China has more dams than any other country in the world. Just in terms of large dams, Australia has fewer than 500, while China has 22,000. I live in the “most dammed” country in the world, and am part of the “silenced majority.” We feel sorry for our rivers as we don’t have the right to protect them, to express ourselves freely or to criticize the government openly, let alone the ability to monitor and curtail the government’s actions.
Press, Dai Qing, September 18, 2002
Categories: Articles by Dai Qing