Dai Qing and Three Gorges

Dai Qing comments on ‘completion’ of the Three Gorges dam

Dai Qing
May 16, 2006

Dai Qing delivers a talk on the Three Gorges dam at Sanwei Bookstore in Beijing (Oct. 15, 2005).

In early 1989, acclaimed Chinese journalist Dai Qing published Yangtze! Yangtze!, a groundbreaking collection of interviews, essays and statements by Chinese scientists, journalists and intellectuals opposed to the Three Gorges dam. This pioneering critique was later banned in China for allegedly “abetting the turmoil” in Tiananmen Square. Dai Qing was arrested in July 1989 and spent 10 months in solitary confinement in Qincheng political prison on the outskirts of Beijing. For the next 16 years, Dai Qing was not allowed to publish her work or to speak publicly in China, until a talk she gave in October 2005 at a Beijing bookstore. She has, however, been able to publish abroad, including the 1998 book The River Dragon Has Come! The Three Gorges Dam and the Fate of China’s Yangtze River and its People. Below, China’s most ardent campaigner against the Three Gorges dam comments on its imminent “completion.”

I’ve been receiving a lot of calls lately from correspondents in Beijing, who keep asking me about the “completion” of the Three Gorges dam. I understand that the dam authority has invited the foreign correspondents to gather at the dam site to witness this great event Ð a chance to show the world their grand achievement.But has the Three Gorges project actually been completed? The answer is no. The project has three important components: the dam structure, the generators and the navigation facilities. It’s true that the construction of the physical dam itself may be finished, with the dam built to 185 metres above sea level. But what about the generators and the navigation facilities? Installation of the turbine-generator units in the left-bank powerhouse has been finished, but workers are still busy installing the right-bank generators. Then there are the additional generators in the underground powerhouse, which was not part of the original project design, and those wont be put into operation until the end of 2008. Furthermore, there are problems with the navigation facilities. The five-step shiplock, touted by project proponents as a boon for navigation on the Yangtze, has instead become a bottleneck that takes both passengers and freight at least three hours to squeeze through. For freight in general and roll-on/roll-off ships in particular, moving cargo around the dam by land was supposed to be a temporary approach but unfortunately it has turned out that this will have to be done on a permanent basis. For more than a dozen years, I have been waiting to see when and in what form the shiplift will materialize, but so far very little information has come out about it. We were told that German companies would be responsible for the design and construction of the shiplift. However, no timetable has been announced, so we really have no idea whether the shiplift Ð the largest and most complicated of its type in the world Ð will be or even can be put into operation, to get the impatient passengers moved around the dam within half a hour.

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