Dave and I stand outside a temple on the Yangtze River in 2004. Dave is pointing to a mark by the temple door. We were told the waters of the river would reach that height on the temple when the Three Gorges Dam project was complete. The project was finally declared complete this past July according to this Reuters article. The Chinese government built the dam to provide hydro-electric power and to control the flooding of the Yangtze.
I was reminded of our trip down the Yangtze River by a photo taken by Edward Burtynsky called Feng Ji #9. It is on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and I often point it out to visitors on the tours I give at the gallery. It is one of a series of photographs taken by Burtynsky to show the effects of the Three Gorges Project. Burtynsky is a photographer who specializes in capturing the landscapes created by what he calls the ‘plunder of the earth.’ You can see Burtynsky’s Three Gorges images, on his website.
Four hundred year old houses and eight hundred year old bridges were demolished.Terraced fields that represented centuries of hard labor by local farmers were washed away along with palm trees, lush vegetation, factories, schools and apartment buildings. Winding mountain access roads which communities worked together for generations to build with pick axes and shovels are gone.
Also tragic is the loss of thousands of cultural and historical relics. Temples, statues and monuments disappeared under the rising waters. We saw White Crane Ridge a rocky outcrop near the city of Fuling. It contains twenty carved pictures and over 300,000 Chinese characters which record the history of the river beginning in the year 763. It is now underwater although the Chinese government has turned it into an underwater museum.
At one point our river guide pointed to writing on the cliff walls. These are recently painted versions of original poems which have already been submerged by the flooding. Each Chinese emperor penned some literary verse after observing the beauty of the Yangtze’s Three Gorges. Artists then carved their words into the rock. All this poetry dating back thousands of years, now lies under the water, to be viewed only by fish and the occasional fool hardy scuba diver.
In the city of Chongqing we met artist, Lui Zuo Zhong. For twenty years he hiked the regions that were to be flooded taking thousands of photographs and doing hundreds of sketches of the people, scenery and landmarks. Mr. Zhong has worked tirelessly to create a painting as long as a football field which depicts the riverbank of the Yangtze before the flooding began. Although he does not have the proper funding to display the mural in a climate controlled setting, he has opened a small outdoor museum where his work of art hangs under a tin roof.
This art piece is said to show the Chinese people fighting with the Yangtze. Over the years the river has caused flooding and destruction. In building the Three Gorges Dam China believes that at last they have conquered the Yangtze, harnessing its power to provide electricity to a nation. But at what cost?
Other posts about our Yangtze River Experience………