Saturday, February 23, 2008


In Mandarin with English subtitles

With the stated aim of generating much-needed electrical power and alleviating dangerous annual flooding, construction of China’s mammoth Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River began in 1993. It is the biggest engineering endeavour in the world since the Great Wall. Upon completion (scheduled for 2009) it will be the largest hydroelectric power station in the world.

Critics have alleged that corruption has led to potentially lethal construction shortcuts and that insufficient care has been taken in flooding nearly 400 square miles, some of which contained old factories and accumulated toxic chemicals.

The dam will displace more than a million residents (flooding 137 cities and towns, 1,000 villages) and destroy numerous cultural and archaeological sites including 40,000 gravesites. The flood waters will contain the refuse of at least 178 rubbish dumps containing 3 million tons of garbage in addition to the radioactive debris from more than 100 different sources.

As predicted the river is silting up due to the reduced flow of water and the human and industrial waste gathering behind the dam is causing water quality to deteriorate. Of most immediate concern is erosion, with the hillsides suffering a series of landslides and the Three Gorges Reservoir's shoreline collapsing in more than 90 places, according to one study. In early 2008 a government report admitted: "There exist many ecological and environmental problems concerning the Three Gorges Dam. If no preventive measures are taken, the project could lead to catastrophe."

100 yuan = $15 (approximately)

16-year-old Yu Shui aka Cindy
19-year-old Chen Bo Yu aka Jerry

The filmmaking crew has purposely ignored dwelling upon the negative aspect this project is having on the country. Although there are several brief references to some of the criticism levied by others, the main theme is that of the impact the Three Gorges dam has on one family. And by extension, how it affects the lives of others.

The subtle play of contrasts is often apparent and there are moments of brief hilarity. Some of the photography is stunning with the DP having chosen the right moment and making use of the polluted atmosphere has created many beautiful images.

Informative, well researched and balanced the overall impact is quite a revelation. The spontaneous applause by the audience would suggest it’s a must-see for anyone interested in the changing world in which we live.


After the screening, I spoke with Yung Chang, the Director, who said he first got the idea of the film back in 2002 when taking one of the so-called Farewell cruises on the Yangtze to visit the area before it became completely flooded. As he travelled with family members up the river he began to realise there was a connection between the boat and those on shore.

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