Sunday, July 13, 2008

大江 (The "Great River")

Here's a multimedia summer project for you...

First read Peter Hessler's River Town, a phenomenal account of life in Fuling, a small city (by Chinese standards, that is) along the Yangtze River. The city was about to change forever, due to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam and the resulting lake (hundreds of miles long and hundreds of feet deep) that was going to flood portions of Fuling.

Then go check out Up the Yangtze, a gripping documentary film by Yung Chang that in effect provides the visual accompaniment to Hessler's text. The movie visits many of the same locations that the book talks about, including the city of Fengdu, which is built anew, higher up on the opposite bank of the great river.

This is such a complex issue and both River Town and Up the Yangtze do a good job of avoiding the trap of totally villainizing (or heroizing, for that matter) the Three Gorges project. For sure, there are moments that enrage or fill one with sadness (like when the peasant family's home is finally flooded and washed away forever by the rising lake). But then you see all of the Western tourists and realize that we ourselves are not disconnected from the larger political and economic forces that have pushed China and the Yangtze River to this historic moment...

~Steve

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