There is so much going on right now in China’s media, society and politics right now that no single person or project could possibly keep up. We’re barely halfway through this week, and there are already a few notable stories that deserve more attention than we can possibly pay them as we slog through Hu Jintao’s remarks on “innovating social management” (创新社会管理). The following is just one.
Revisiting the Three Gorges Dam. Even as noted critics of the Three Gorges Dam — including economist Mao Yushi (茅于轼), who has recently come under fire for openly questioning the legacy of Mao Zedong — note that its link to environmental problems, such as this year’s severe drought, has not been established clearly by climate experts, the project is being subjected to a level of public criticism not seen in China since construction of the project began in 1992.
One important reason for this, of course, is that the State Council is debating the passage of a “Three Gorges Follow-Up Work Plan” (三峡后续工作规划) and a “Yangtze Middle and Lower Reaches Water Contamination Prevention Plan” (长江中下游流域水污染防治规划), exposing a number of serious issues with the Three Gorges Dam Project. Media have seized on this as an opportunity to probe deeper into the project and its impact (including the history of its approval).
In a recent interview with Southern People Weekly, Mao Yushi criticized the way the assessment of the project by experts in the 1980s was subordinated to political will. And in the boldest move yet, Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post ran a series of reports and opinions running to 12 pages under the topic of “Re-investigating the Three Gorges” (三侠再调查). The front page of the newspaper featured a large photo of scientist Huang Wanli (黄万里), the Chinese engineer and hydrologist who in 1957 openly opposed the idea of a dam at the Three Gorges and was labeled a “rightist” that same year.
[ABOVE: Front page of May 31, 2011, edition of Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post, with a large photo at center of engineer Huang Wanli, who opposed the Three Gorges Dam in 1957 and throughout his life.]
In a 1993 interview with writer and CMP fellow Dai Qing (戴晴), the author of Yangtze! Yangtze!, Huang said: “Damming the Three Gorges might well have been Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s grand view of the future, and it might well have fit Mao Zedong’s poetic fantasy, but we engineers must treat the issue with a sense of responsibility. I have never been given a chance to speak out.”