by Probe International

The most dammed country in the world

Legendary Chinese journalist-turned-environmental activist, Dai Qing, becomes a pocket warrior in the new Penguin Classics series, Green Ideas.

“I live in the ‘most dammed’ country in the world, and am part of the ‘silenced majority’,” writes Dai Qing, China’s iconic investigative reporter best known for her opposition to the country’s crown jewel mega-project, the Three Gorges Dam.

In “The Most Dammed Country in the World,” Dai’s speeches and writings throughout the years have been collected in pocket form by the newly launched Penguin environmental series, “Green Ideas”. The result is a powerful summary of why the Chinese Communist Party acts as it does and of China’s rise to economic power. A rise, Dai boldly concludes, is no rise at all.

Under Mao Zedong, class struggle became the central focus, under Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, the focus changed to the “glorious” pursuit of wealth.

In today’s China, Dai writes:

“The Chinese know that they are free to do anything, as long as they remain silent about politics. They can chase money – no matter how immoral. The rulers get the lion’s share of the spoils and hand out small morsels to those who follow the rules of the game and know enough not to challenge them.”

With the decline of traditional values, the absence of rule of law, citizens unable to speak freely or hold their leaders to account, “money has become a be-all and end-all for almost everyone,” says Dai, and the cost of that is borne by China’s resources and environment.

The construction of the Three Gorges Dam to tame the Yangtze is an ultimate example of that cost, writes Dai. From the flooding of cultural artifacts to the embezzlement of project funds by government officials – and the suffering and lives lost to corruption – the project moved forward thanks to, what Dai calls, “the most undemocratic procedures imaginable.”

At the heart of the matter is an autocratic tick that has set the pace of China for two thousand or so years. The emperors of old, “of every dynasty” have exploited “the ordinary people,” writes Dai, and the modern-day example is no different. From emperors to “President, Chairman, General Secretary,” China’s ancient ‘Qin system of Rule’ (the control of all by one) has “lived on through the iron hand and centralized rule.”

China has more dams than any other country in the world. It also has more people. The latter is where Dai, a self-described “pessimistic activist,” places her hope for the rise of an altogether different China:

“What can we, as residents, citizens and netizens* in China, do in this kind of political environment? The only way, I think, is to tell the truth about the costs of the ‘rise’; to act not only as a netizen but as a true citizen with the basic right to free speech, assembly and public oversight of government, to fight the twenty-first-century’s Qin-style dictatorship; and to insist on fighting for our constitution, and not for rebellion or revolution.

Though the battle will be long, we will not give up.”

Dai Qing was imprisoned for 10 months for her role in the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square. Her writings are banned in China. She turned 80 in August. She lives under constant watch. She has been able to travel abroad at times and, at other times, interrogated and forced to remain. In Penguin’s “Green Ideas,” her courage and vision run free.

* Unable to participate openly in civic matters, Chinese citizens interact with each other and express their opinions and hold debates on the Internet.

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