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Three Gorges Gates Close on Chinese History
T he scene at the construction site of the Three Gorges Dam on China’s Yangtze River had an eerie sort of timelessness. Mountains of concrete and other-worldly cranes towered over workers carrying water in cans hanging from poles balanced across their shoulders. On June 1, 2003, this phase of construction was completed; the click of a computer mouse closed the gates on 4,000 years of Chinese history and 2 million of pre-historical settlement. The official celebration was covered on live television, as raging white water lost its battle with closing sluice gates. The water level in what is to be a 365-mile reservoir was expected to rise to 135 meters within 2 weeks and to 175 meters by the time the entire project is completed in 2009.
Under construction since 1994, the Three Gorges project is to be the world’s largest dam and perhaps its most audacious public works project since the Great Wall. But not all Chinese are celebrating.
The Dam and the Damned
A mong the gains the government promises in return for its $50 billion investment in the great dam are: hydroelectric power, enough to satisfy 10 percent of domestic demand; flood control; enhanced irrigation and navigation; and promotion of tourism. For tourists who had packed Yangtze riverboats since 2000, the attraction was not what was to be gained with the dam, but what was so soon to be lost—soaring peaks shrouded in mist, interspersed with cascading terraces of rice paddies; hovering cliffs, crowned with pagodas, linked by gracefully arching bridges; and far below the placid precipices, a thoroughfare of rushing waters urgently going about the business of delivering boats to the settlements they service on the shoreline.
Upstream at Chongqing, already one of China’s largest cities and expected to absorb several hundred thousand of the soon-to-be-displaced, one finds a panorama of the damned gracing the walls of the Three Gorges Museum. The mural, by local artist Liu Zuo-zong, navigates in 100 meters the 600-kilometer stretch of the Yangtze over which water will be backed up by the dam, mapping peaks and valleys, islands and tributaries, cities and towns, bridges and temples, imperial halls and pavilions, and archeological sites. A dotted line running through the mural corresponds to actual markers along the shoreline, showing how much of this deeply rooted thicket of civilization is to be submerged.
Atlantis of the Yangtze
T here were plans to relocate a few of the historically most significant temples and pagodas; the 2nd -century Zhang Fei temple of Yunyang, for example, was to be rebuilt on higher ground when the densely populated center-city of Yunyang, a municipality of more than a million people, is submerged. But prehistory is another matter; archeologists have been working feverishly to document what they could from some 1,300 known sites before they are washed away. Some traces of the ancient Ba people will remain, as their “hanging coffins” were situated high on the cliffs, but the society represented by the two-million-year-old jawbone recently discovered at Dragon Bone Cave will be forever lost. For threatened plant and animal life, there is to be no Noah’s Ark. The dam project will wreak havoc on fish populations; it will destroy much of the habitat of the giant panda and the Siberian white crane, both of which are endangered species; and it is expected to cause the extinction of the Chinese alligator and the baiji, the white dolphin found only in the Yangtze. There are fewer than 100 baiji remaining and efforts to promote reproduction outside their river habitat have thus far failed.
Then there are the people. More than 700,000 have already been uprooted, most of them within the past year. Estimates of the total number to be displaced range from 1.1 to 1.9 million, with most falling into the middle range of 1.4 to 1.6. At any rate, it will amount to the largest peacetime evacuation in history. The reservoir will cover more than 630 square kilometers, flooding 13 major cities, 140 towns, and over 1,300 villages, along with 1,600 factories and mines and an unknown number of farms and plantations.
Among the first cities to go under will be Zigui and Badong. Just upstream of the dam, in the Xiling Gorge, Zigui hosts the temple of Qu Yuan, great poet of the Warring State Period (475-221 BC). Badong, with half a million people in the city and outlying settlements that comprise the municipality, is the gateway to the popular Shennongxi Canyon and Gezihe Stone Forest. Further upstream, Wushan city, hub of another municipality of a half million, is also to be totally inundated. Its Damiao Longgu Ruins are the locale of one of the earliest humanoid fossils ever found. Fengjie, just above the spectacular Qutang Gorge, a municipality of almost a million, dates to the New Stone Age and has a 4,000-year history of continuous settlement. Its city-center is to be totally submerged, along with the centers of two municipalities of more than a million just upstream: Yunyang, home of the famous Zhang Fei temple, and Wanxian, known as the Emperor City since it hosted troops of the Emperor Hanzhao.
Moving upstream toward Chongqing, two more municipalities of about a million, Zhongxian and Fuling, will lose only half to two-thirds of their densely populated centers; but Zhongxian municipality will lose a portion of ShibaoZhai, the 13-story, 56- meter Ming dynasty pavilion and the town that accommodates and thrives from its visitors. Situated between those two cities, but on lower ground, Fengdu, with a population of 740,000, is to be mostly submerged. Some of its 70 temples, the oldest dating to the Tang dynasty, will survive, however, as they climb the Mingshan Hill above the city.
The government has far-reaching resettlement plans, of course. Along the Yangtze from Chongqing to Yichang, where cities are to be submerged, new construction can be seen in progress on mountainsides above the anticipated waterline. The people to be displaced have been promised new accommodations—though often in distant and ethnically-distinct locales—or compensation for their homes and lands; but, in too many cases, new jobs were not available, new houses were not affordable, and new farmland was not arable. Some officials involved in relocation management had already been convicted of embezzling funds.
The World Commission on Dams, an international panel of experts, estimates that up to 80 million people around the world have been displaced or directly disadvantaged by dams. By these calculations, dam refugees outnumber war refugees four to one. In China as elsewhere, refugees of relocation schemes less ambitious than the Three Gorges project have often found that promised funds and facilities were not forthcoming or that the money soon ran out, leaving them at the mercy of insecure job markets in unwelcoming cities. According to the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, at least 46 percent of the 10 million Chinese previously displaced by dams and resettled now live in conditions of extreme poverty. The curator at the Three Gorges Museum laid out the pros and cons of the project with carefully crafted dispassion. Even in private, he declined to give an opinion of his own. Asked how the local people feel about it, he responded, “I don’t know for sure; but what I know for sure is that how they feel doesn’t matter.”
Hundreds of opponents of the construction of the dam have been arrested or “disappeared,” putting a damper on open criticism. But passive resistance is said to be the Chinese way and some are simply refusing to leave their villages. Greater resistance is expected from the rural population, who understand the irreplaceable value of land and from the elderly, both rural and urban. Apart from those most immediately affected, the one-to-two million who can expect to be uprooted—to lose homes, communities, livelihoods, and social, historical, ecological, and aesthetic grounding—and a few million more on the perimeter who will feel the pressure of a massive new influx of population on water and other resources, on land and housing and on demand for jobs and services, the concern most readily expressed is that of security.
To some, security concerns center on the viability of the dam, given the possibilities of incompetence, malfeasance, or just plain errors on the part of bureaucrats, engineers, or contractors. One of the country’s supposedly unbreakable dams collapsed in 1975, leaving 200,000 dead. Before the last sluice gate closed, the Three Gorges Dam had already developed hundreds of cracks, some tens of meters long. Moreover, the Three Gorges Dam site is in an earthquake-prone region. Project engineers claim the dam could withstand quakes up to a magnitude of 7 on the Richter scale and that no stronger quake had struck the region in more than a century. Yet, in the history of the Yangtze, a century is not a very long time; and a miscalculation puts at risk a floodplain population of some 300 to 400 million.
To most who expressed concern, however, even before the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Pentagon and World Trade Towers, security has had military connotations. A multi-billion-ton wall of water a mile long and hovering 40 stories high over several hundred million people on China’s richest farmland might pose an attractive target to terrorists or would-be enemy nations. What no one seems to mention is that such a potential security threat becomes an actual threat to civil liberties and human rights, as any criticism of the dam project or highlighting of its vulnerabilities can subject one to charges of treason.
Purchasing Power and Immortality
T here is no denying that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (more accurately, capitalism with statist characteristics) has produced a robust economy demanding ever more energy and from sources less pollution-prone than the currently pervasive coal. It also needs effective means of flood control. In the last century alone, floodwaters have claimed 300,000 lives. But the high-reservoir-level needs of electricity generation and the low-reservoir-level needs of flood control cancel each other out. Experience suggests that where goals are in conflict, the goal that generates money wins out. Ultimately, accumulating silt will interfere with both objectives. With respect to agriculture, it is hard to imagine that anticipated improvements in irrigation will compensate for the many acres of already productive farmland to be submerged.
As to improving conditions for navigation, flooding the gorges should certainly do that in general, but submerging factories and whole cities is bound to create new hazards for shipping even if, as planned, the cities are first demolished. Along with the garbage and sewage trapped in the reservoir rather than flowing downstream, the debris of submerged cities may introduce pollution hazards heretofore unimagined.
Are there alternative means of generating energy and promoting flood control? With drawbacks no doubt, but a quicker and cheaper means that would avoid the most dramatic threats and sacrifices and have the additional benefit of decentralizing control would be the erection of a number of smaller dams on tributaries feeding into the mighty Yangtze. Scattered smaller dams would not serve so effectively, however, as a symbol of technological superstardom, a monument to the current leadership—the mausoleum or chariot to ensure passage to immortality.
Jan Knippers Black is a professor at the Graduate School of International Policy Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. She has published 11 books on international politics and development, the most recent being Inequity in the Global Village and Development in Theory and Practice , 2nd ed., both 1999.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.