The River Dragon Has Come

The River Dragon Has Come

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The River Dragon Has Come is a highly controversial compilation of essays amassed by the dynamic Dai Qing which shed light on the Three Gorge Dam project. The scientist turned investigative journalist has become the most outspoken voice against the billion dollar, environmentally devastating hydroelectric river dam. This governmental backed project is set to be the largest endeavor undertaken by man in China since the construction of the Great Wall whose mind boggling feat would attempt to tame the Yangtze River with the use of a 7,575 foot long, 607 foot high concrete wall with twenty-six turbines that would create one ninth of the electricity needed in all of China. Envisioned at the start of the 20th century by Chinese political thinker Sun Yat-sen, this project took over 80 years to finalize and execute leaving much room for opponents to gain momentum in a campaign against it. The popularity of the dam in the eyes of the government took about 30 years to develop, after the initial proposal in 1912; full scale planning did not begin until the 1950's under the leadership of Mao Zedong. The dam's fundamental purpose was a massive national campaign that would arouse support for their developing institutions and country. The government believed projects that would assert the power of the Chinese people over the power of nature would gain them the admiration of the Chinese people themselves, along with countries abroad. Not only was this developing nation dealing with issues of legitimacy, but they also were facing the growing pains of an expanding national population. In part, the design of this project was to address the rising demand for electricity and power, along with the concerns of massive flooding of the Yangtze River.

Long before the 1992 endorsement by the National People's Congress, activists had begun asking questions about the motivations behind this project and the effects it would have in the future. In 1989, Dai Qing was jailed for voicing her criticisms of this project. She has stated that the Three Gorges Dam is the most "environmentally and socially destructive project in the world" (Kennedy, 2001). Throughout the River Dragon, the collective voice speaks of irreversible environmental damages, the upheaval of a long lasting society, and the unforeseen consequences of an undertaking of this size. Dai believes that if the project is to go through as planned without consideration for the future, the outcome will leave China with an imbalance of humankind and nature with disastrous results which will put them in a worse place than before.

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The collection of authors warn of an uprising of the inhabitants who will have to eventually give up their fertile lands for less fruitless endeavors when the water levels in the reservoir drown their homes (Dai, 16). They warn of toxic waters, eventual landslides, silt build-up, erosion and habitat endangerment (Dai, 161). They also warn of government corruption, violations in human rights issues and the loss of a society that has long been in the location of the dam. The struggle to cope with current conditions, supplying for a growing society, does not go unaddressed in the book, many alternative solutions from building smaller less invasive dams, to slow gradual change are offered to help slow the issue of the dam. In general, the consensus of these authors is the Three Gorges Dam will ultimately harm the prospects of this up-and-coming society rather than advance it to where it should be economically, environmentally and socially.

After reading The River Dragon has Come, many environmental issues can be addressed. It can be noted that the creation of the dam will help to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, the twenty-six hydro turbines will account for the reduction of 40 to 50 tons of coal per year. This would reduce air pollution in many parts of China due to the fact that hydro electric power is virtually pollutant free. This is a step in the right direction in terms on environmental issues, but as a whole, this one good step is not enough to counteract the many issues China is likely to face in the Yangtze Valley. When considering the dam project, one must take into account that man is attempting to tame nature, change and mold it to his own will. These alterations which include the creation of a 370 mile long reservoir will change the habitat and eco-system of all living things that reside in this area. The building of the dam will put the already endangered Siberian Crane and Chinese Water Dolphin in greater peril, with extinction close at hand. Also, in the gradual process of raising the water levels, officials would face other issues such as toxins being added to an already polluted river which carries coal and is awash with acid rain. When the water beings to rise, pollution and waste from towns on the once water-free land will mix with the slowly moving waters, and present the possibility of creating a melting pot of contaminated water which would render it unsafe to be near and especially use as drinking water (Dai, 168). Despite the best intentions of those creating this project, nature always has a way of taking its course. Another one of the goals of the dam was to decrease the risk of flooding by limiting the amount of water that flows through the gorge. A potential problem that all involved have been keeping their eyes on is the build up of silt and sedimentation. Silt is being deposited into the river at an alarming rate due to the erosion of trees and the disappearance of inhabitance due to the building of the dam. The dam would largely block the flow of the river's natural sediment which in its natural course would flow downstream to be deposited on lower banks. If too much silt is allowed to remain on one side of the dam, it could render the turbines useless and create flooding upstream, thus counteracting the idea that building the dam would reduce flooding. An issue that was brought up in The Three Gorges River video in lecture was that the dam is built on many seismic faults which can start movement at any time. If this were to happen, there's no telling how many lives would be lost downstream if the dam were to burst, drowning many without warning.

At the onset of the construction of the dam, little thought was given to a significant issue: Where the inhabitants of this area would relocate. In 1992 when it was decided to go forth with the Three Gorges Dam, the State Council sited that only 725,500 people would have to be relocated to make way for the new dam (Dai, 51). This turned out to be a vastly underrepresented number. Current calculations have estimated that by the time the project is finished and the reservoir is full, upwards of 1.3 million people will have been forcefully moved from their ancestral grounds. Beginning in 1997, the migration of inhabitants from the lower Yangtze Valley to high lands began, which brought this boarder line human rights violation issue to the world stage. Masses are being forced from lands their families have owned for generations to inhabit new locations where they have no ties and are guaranteed to be overpopulated. These new locations will have many people without land, being under compensated by the government, and unemployed. The land from which they are being extracted is the most fertile in the area, so people with little or no skills other than to farm are being placed in arid, dry lands which is far different from where they have come. In some places, people who were prosperous before are forced to begging on the street and digging through garbage to find their next meals. Along with problems of employment, the Chinese government is flooding land of rich history which gives people ties to the past. When the reservoir is finally filled, 1,300 important historical sites will be under water, washing away entire generations of Chinese civilization. To attempt to squelch the complaints of historians, archeologist and citizens in general, the Three Gorges Construction Committee has allocated funds to attempt to excavate and preserve the past for future generations (Dai, 133). This has come with mixed results because families still have generations buried under ground considered this area their spiritual home. Together, these issues could spell disaster for the Chinese officials. Social unrest, as it has been seen before in Chinese history, has led to revolutions and protest from disgruntled citizens. Poor living conditions and the greed of government officials could lead to an uprising of the peasantry that China could not be well equipped to deal with.

After having read The River Dragon has Come!, the vast difficulties China faces as a nation has been brought to the forefront of my mind. Dealing with the desire to assert themselves as a major power paired with the problems of declining resources and weak infrastructure leaves China with many problems to face along the road to success. To deal with their ever growing population, they must come up with creative means to produce for as many people as they currently have without running the land ragged. It is good to see that there are environmental activists like Dai Qing who are strong enough to stand up for what they believe and wish to put an end to the degradation and abuse of the land. The environmental and social issues that I have addressed in my essay were issues at the time the book was written, 1998, and continue to remain issues now ten years later after the opening of the Three Gorge Dam in 2006. It is now estimated that 1.4 million people will be relocated by the completion of the project in 2009, two times the original figure given in 1992. In the New York Times series, Choking on Growth, the Chinese government has admitted to saying the dam could potentially be one of the largest environmental mistakes (Zhang, 2007). The legacy that will be left by the Three Gorges Dam has yet to be seen, only time will tell what difficulties China will face both environmentally and socially. The River Dragon has Come has made a clear distinction that had Chinese officials and party leaders listened to those who had more in mind than economic gain, China might be in a different situation today. It's thanks to people like Dai Qing who are courageous enough to speak out when their voices are being stifled, that we have the ability to asses where we have come from, what we did wrong, and where we can change in the future.
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