Three Gorges Probe

June 4 incident, Dai Qing and the Three Gorges dam project

(June 30, 2009) Originally posted on Observe China (a US-based Chinese web site, run by the China Information Centre) on Jun 9, 2009

(Selected translation by Three Gorges Probe)

Abstract: This article by Chinese engineer Dr. Wang Weiluo marks this year’s 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen “Incident” by linking the events of that fateful day to the Three Gorges dam project. Dr. Wang provides insights, never heard before, into the behind-the-scenes political machinations and the power brokering over Three Gorges dam in the aftermath of Tiananmen. He describes how the fate of Three Gorges was sealed, which Chinese leaders and scholars opposed the project, and which Chinese politicians got what they wanted at the expense of the Chinese people and their environment. This article also explains why Probe International Fellow Dai Qing’s book, “Yangtze!Yangtze!” was banned and why China’s top leaders are now seeking to distance themselves from the project.

As Dai Qing has written in her book Tiananmen Follies, she had nothing to do with the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Incident because during that time she was with a visiting delegation group from Taiwan. Furthermore, Ms. Dai disagreed with the actions taken by the students, such as street demonstrations and hunger strikes, believing that the student movement would put China’s democratic reform in jeopardy. But why then did the Chinese authorities detain her in Qincheng Prison for ten months?

I believe it was Li Peng who did this, behind the scenes.

Before the student movement, Dai Qing published the book “Yangtze! Yangtze!” together with Li Rui and Zhou Peiyuan, a collection of views and opinions by opponents of the Three Gorges dam project, many of whom were senior officials in the Communist Party. Through the published book, they spoke their mind; requesting that the government make decisions on big projects in a scientific and democratic manner.

It was Li Peng who put Dai Qing in jail and banned her book “Yangzte! Yangtze,” by taking advantage of the crackdown on the student movement. Li Peng went further to politically crack down on all the people who were connected with Dai Qing and against the Three Gorges dam, silencing them in order to push the project forward.

What Li Peng did, clearly worked: neither the opponents of the project in particular, nor anyone in general, openly voiced any opposition to the proposed big dam from 1989 until 1998, when big floods occurred in the Yangtze River. It was in those nine years that the dam project was pushed forward really smoothly, from the completion of both the feasibility study and the second EIA report to the approval by the National People’s Congress; and from the official start to the damming of the Yangtze River in 1997. Technically, or from an engineering point of view, there was no way to stop the big project, since the river was already dammed, without serious problems occurring while building the dam.

Though both expressed their support for the Three Gorges project, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were not in favour of making a quick decision on the project and favoured leaving it for the next generation to decide. Li Rui and Zhou Peiyuan, leading opponents of the dam project, were following a similar line. But Huang Wanli, Hou Xueyu and a few others were openly and firmly opposed to the construction of the Three Gorges dam.

According to information provided by Yuan Hongbing, when Deng Xiaoping and other old revolutionaries who were making the decision to crack down on the student movement in the Tiananmen Square and forcing Zhao Ziyang to step down from the position of general secretary of the CPC (Communist Party of China), they set a requirement for Zhao’s successor: the person who would be hand-picked as the boss of the CPC should support the plan to build the Three Gorges project.

This was why Jiang Zemin, the successor of Zhao Ziyang, rushed to the Three Gorges dam site and even stayed there for four days only one month after he took power. It appeared that Jiang Zemin was trying to show Deng Xiaoping and other top Chinese leaders his commitment to support the plan to build the Three Gorges dam.
From then on, Jiang Zemin did whatever he could to push the project forward. He asked the CPC’s propaganda department to focus on the positive aspects of the project and persuaded the CPC’s officials and delegates from both the NPC (National People’s Congress) and the CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) to support the dam project. Thus the proposal was approved by the NPC on April 3rd, 1992 with 1,767 votes in favour, 177 votes against, 664 abstentions, and 25 votes not counted.

It seemed that the Three Gorges project was used as a political instrument, and both Jiang Zemin and Li Peng got what they wanted. Jiang fulfilled his commitment to support the Three Gorges dam and was picked as the party’s boss, while Li made his dream of “turning the deep gorges into a smooth lake” come true.

But it is interesting to note that neither Li Peng nor Jiang Zemin made another visit to the dam site after June 2003, when the Three Gorges reservoir started filling and more and more problems were revealed to the Chinese people. Especially in 2007, when Jiang Zemin burned joss sticks at the Ghost City of Fengdu in the Three Gorges reservoir area (upstream of the dam) and then prayed to Buddha at the Guiyuan Temple in Wuhan (downstream of the dam), he didn’t even bother to take one more look at the dam site while on a tour of the Three Gorges area.

As far as I know, except for when vice premier Zeng Peiyan went to the dam site for a ceremony opening the dam’s ship lock for navigation, no other top Chinese leaders have traveled to the dam site since June 2003. Why? As one of the Tang poems put it, “if a person gets seriously ill, he will have few visitors.” The Three Gorges dam is in a similar situation: because of so many illnesses (problems), nobody wants to visit it for fear they will be assigned responsibility for the wrong decision.

Dr. Wang Weiluo, a water resources engineer, and one of the Chinese engineers who participated in the Three Gorges Project Feasibility Study in the 1980s, now resides in Germany.

Glossary of Players:

Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), was a prominent Chinese politician, leader of the CPC (Communist Party of China), a reformer who led China towards the market economy. While Deng never held office as either head of the party or head of the government, he nonetheless served as the paramount leader of the country from 1978 to the early 1990s.

Hou Xueyu (1912-1991), a botanist, member of the CAS (Chinese Academy of Sciences), member of the Standing Committee of the CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference), and an advisor to the Experts’ Group on Ecology and Environment (of the TGP feasibility study).

Hu Yaobang (1915-1989), was a leader of the People’s Republic of China, and supported economic and political reforms. In 1987, socialist hardliners forced him to resign for his “laxness” on “bourgeois liberalization” and he was humiliated with “self-criticism”. His death led to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

Huang Wanli (1911-2001), professor in the Hydraulic Engineering Department of Qinghua University, Beijing since 1953. After obtaining his doctorate in engineering from the Engineering Institute of Illinois, he returned to China in 1937, and was famous for his opposition to the construction of the Sanmenxia dam on the Yellow River in the 1950s.

Jiang Zemin, 83-years-old (in 2009), was the “core of the third generation” of Communist Party of China leaders, serving as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China from 1989 to 2002, as President of the People’s Republic of China from 1993 to 2003, and as Chairman of the Central Military Commission from 1989 to 2004; Jiang came to power in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, replacing Zhao Ziyang, who was purged for being too conciliatory towards the protestors as General Secretary.

Li Peng, 79-years-old (in 2009), was the Premier of China between 1987 and 1998, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from 1998 to 2003. Before that, Li was deputy minister of the state power industry in 1979 and then minister in 1981.

Li Rui, 91-years-old (in 2009), previously Mao Zedong’s secretary on industrial affairs, was also vice-minister of the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power, also a longtime advocate of faster political liberalization.

Yuan Hongbing, 56-years-old (in 2009), graduated from Beijing University with a masters degree in criminal procedure in 1986, an ethnic Mongolian jurist, novelist, and dissident; in 2004 he traveled to Australia and sought political asylum.

Zhao Ziyang (1919- 2005), a politician, Premier of the People’s Republic of China from 1980 to 1987, and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China from 1987 to 1989. He was accused of his sympathetic stance toward the student demonstrators in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, then stepped down and spent the rest of his life under house arrest, which lasted until his death fifteen years later.

Zhou Peiyuan(1902-1993), was a physicist who studied under Albert Einstein and later headed Beijing University, and was vice-chairman of the CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference).

Dr Wang Weiluo, Probe International, June 30, 2009

Edited by J. Berkow, Probe International

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Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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