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THE THREE GORGES DAM
           --by Peter Neville--Hadley


THE THREE GORGES DAM
  Monumental works of civil engineering undertaken by Chinese emperors, often at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, are strewn across China's landscape and history alike. The Qin Yangtze riverorganized the Great WaIl and the Ming re-routed it and clad thousands of kilometres with stone, the Sui built the great canal network of the Imperial Highway, and various emperors constructed labyrinthine palaces and vast mausoleums, principal tourist attractions today.

  China's modern leaders have not been slow to conceive super-projects of their own, although cement has replaced stone, and the raw muscle power of thesurpIus agricultural laborers known as the 'army of sticks' has been partly supplemented by machines. The greatest of these projects is undoubtedly the new San Xia (Three Gorges) Dam, a 17--year, US$70 billion operation involving the transporta1ion of more than ten billion cubic metres (350 billion cubic feet)of rock and earth and the displacement of over 1 million people from the 60,000hectares of Iand which will gradually be flooded by the resulting 640-kilometre(397-mile) long reservoir.

  The dam is located near the mouth of the lowest of the Three Gorges, where the current was divided in two by an island. In November l997, the first stage was completed with the blocking of two-thirds of the river's width. The waterleaves had risen l8 metres (59 feet) by the end of l998, will rise a further 52metres (171 feet) by 2003, 30 metres (98 feet) more up to 2009, and a final ten metres (33 feet) that year, when the dam will come into operation. Smaller ships will use a single stage lift, and larger ones a stair of five locks. The waters in the Three Gorges will rise a total of l l0 metres (36l feet), gradua1ly changing the scenery forever.

  The chief justifications offered for so much dislocation and destruction are twofold: the production of l8,200 megawatts of electricity, and the ending of frequently disastrous flooding of cities and farmland along the Yangtze. For centuries China's rivers have been a source both of immense fertility and massive destruction. Silt--Iaden, they can change course abruptly, and need ever higher levees to Testrain them. In heavy rains they burst through, often with great loss of life. ln restraining the river the Communists are again trying to take their place in history--figures who were even partially successful in flood control for the emperors are so revered as to have joined the Daoist (Taoist)pantheon.

THE IMPACT OF THE DAM
  The final effect of the dam on river contro1 is disputed. For more than 600kilometres (372 Yangtze rivermiles) upstream the Yangtze will become more lake than river, but many experts argue that a slower flow rate will lead to an even more rapid build-up of silt, especially against the dam itself, causing floods to flow over the top of it. Some say more effective flood control would be provided by replacing the more than 800 lakes, vital for storing and dispersing flood waters, which have disappeared beneath unchecked urban expansion. Despite impressive forecasts for electricity generation, some argue that a series of smaller dams would have been more cost--effective, less dangerous and more productive.

  The dam is only part of a larger project to alleviate poverty in rural areas, which until now have relied almost solely on the river for transport. Local governments have been working to attract fresh investment to soak up surplus agricultural labor, and new roads and railway Iines are being built, with new bridges across the gorges of Yangtze tributaries.

  Compensation of 40 billion yuan (about US$4.82 billion) has been allocated for those forced to move--as much as 3000 yuan per head in some small towns where average annual incomes are as little as 1500 yuan (US$l80). Nevertheless the mass forced Relocation has attracted widespread criticism. Relocation projects are running well behind schedule, and Chinese sociologists have criticized poor planning, falsified figures, corruption and inadequate resources.

THE FUTURE OF YANGTZE CRUISES
  Already the experience of passing through the gorges is changing. Gradual1y,the narrow ribbons of paths will disappear, and many temples and pagodas are reappearing on higher ground, some escaping from tactless deveIopment around them. In some ways the scenery will actually improve--several dark, Satanic concrete factories and mills wi1l disappear below the waters as wi1lbrutally ugly accommodation blocks, their new modern counterparts on higher ground unlikely to win architectural awards, but still visually far more appealing. The colossal dam itself and the five-stage ride up or down it will be among theTiver's main attractions, and schedules will become more convenient as the deepening waters make night navigation possible on formerly dangerous reaches. Most travellers often feel the Three Gorges trip to be the perfect break from the clamour of China, and a cruise on the Yangtze is likely to remain one of the most pleasant memories of many China trips to come.

  The energetic visitor may climb to the summit of Wushan (Witches Hill), a two-hour hike. Worshippers still come to a small shrine here, built within the ruins of an old Buddhist monastery. From the summit the views of Wu Gorge and the river are spectacular. A less strenuous outing may be made to the newly opened limestone cave complex in Wu Gorge high up on the cliff face above the north bank of the river. This involves a short boat ride from Wushan town, an easy scramble up the rocky slope and then a walk along the old towpath. Around the cave complex there are the usual teahouse and ornamental pavilions. The cave complex, Luyou Dong, is named after a Song-dynasty official who visited Wushan and left an appreciative record of his stay.

Xiling Gorges

• The Three Gorges Dam

Tracking Through The Rapids