淹沒 before the flood

I missed this one completely. 淹沒Before the Flood was screened in Guangzhou on the weekend. It’s also at the Los Angeles Film Festival right now.

When the Three Gorges Dam is completed, it will be the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. It will also have caused the displacement of over a million Chinese by submerging their homes—and heritages—under water. This intimate documentary captures the plight of Fengjie, a 2,000-year-old walled village that finds itself with only a few years to relocate to higher ground.

For many, Fengjie is an important historical site, the birthplace of poets and the final resting ground for emperors. For the local officials, it’s a logistical problem, which they tackle with a deft combination of civic boosterism and total denial. (One official becomes a master of the art of ditching phone calls.) For the people who live there however, Fengjie is home and, simply put, they don’t want to leave.

Directors Li Yifan and Yan Yu operate in a quiet, loose veritéstyle, juxtaposing the daily lives of laborers and innkeepers with the inner workings of the relocation committee without comment. People occasionally address the camera, but it’s not at an interviewer’s prompting. Rather it’s because no one else will listen to them. For despite their pleas and complaints and outright refusal to cooperate, ultimately they have little choice but to watch as their lives are dismantled, brick by brick, to make way for the modern world.

—LA Film Festival

shit place for a swim

The Three Gorges dam is nothing much more than a giant toilet, slowing to a grinding halt the flow of the river which by virtue of its speed managed to at least partially carry away the endless amount of shit dumped into it by people too lazy or greedy to care. Not any more. With the rising of the waters, the shit is backing up like an unruly septic tank and the amazing lack of foresight or care for the environment has come back to squat like a stinking turd on the doorstep of every town and city up-river of the dam.

Chongqing’s environmental protection bureaus predict that sewage discharge, currently 1 billion tons, will reach 2.3 billion by 2010, and that the volume of trash will increase from 1.3 to 2.6 million tons in the same period.

However, the way of dealing with it all remains relatively primitive: using fishing boats to gather the rubbish up with sticks and hooks.

“If we don’t use more effective means, 40 billion square meters of water in the area will be severely polluted and the lower reaches will be affected,” said Wu Dengming, an expert on environmental protection and president of Chongqing Green Volunteers Association.

Liu Gujun, 39, is the head of Chongqing’s Wanzhou District river trash relief team. Since last year, his team has been in charge of clearing floating litter in 27 branches and 23 bays of the Yangtze.

In just one year, his 17-boat fleet has been reduced to 4 vessels. Most of them are refitted old fishing boats with an open hold on the foredeck to load the trash.


Weeds also increasingly darken the surface, a dangerous sign that oxygen in the water is diminishing and there is more growing room for floating plants.

Liu also said the variety and quality of fish in the river mouth have diminished greatly, the remaining ones being inedible. Dead fish began to appear in the river two months ago.

Although the pollution across the area is worsening, the only people fighting against it face disbanding for lack of money.

Initially they were funded by the local relocation bureau and were able to deal with 15,000 tons of trash, once collecting over 60 tons in one day. But several months ago the funding was handed over to the district department of environmental protection and they have since run short of money.

A big stinking shithole

Last xinnian, I travelled to Sichuan with the intention of going up to Jiuzhaigou for a couple of weeks. New year transport wierdness meant we couldn’t get out of Chengdu for four days, so we decided to head east to San Xia, the Three Gorges. We spent two weeks walking, traveling on small boats that were combination courier/home/kitchen, switching to dodgy ‘cruise liners’, and one infamous all-night taxi van suicide trip that was surreal, funny and terrifying.

Aside from the sheer beauty of the place, the horrific environmental destruction left me in tears. Even before the Three Gorges Dam is completed, this is a river that is suffering unimaginable levels of degradation, which will only intensify once the dam is completed. One giant shit-filled septic tank.

Peking Duck today wrote about this catastrophe, and it reminded me of what I saw all the way from Chongqing to Wuhan: endless destuction. Imagine Lord of the Rings, and the desecration inflicted on Orthanc, then imagine it stretching for hundreds of kilometers, fueled by the monstrosity of Chinese industrialisation hysterically out of control, and western corporate greed at its most craven.

This article can’t do justice to the visceral disgust I felt at the

perpetrators of this abomination, but it’s definitely worth reading:

Despite worsening problems with pollution, there’s only one private environmental group in the upper Yangtze River region, the Green Volunteer League of Chongqing.

Its president, Wu Dengming, sympathizes with local officials who’re torn between demands by Beijing to stop dumping waste and pressures to maintain economic growth.

“Once the factories that pollute are closed, it causes big social problems. People will lose their jobs,” said Wu.

He held up pictures showing waste near factories along the river. “These photos show that the Yangtze River has turned into a garbage dump,” he said, then added: “The common people, including officials, have no awareness of environmental protection. If economic activity causes environmental damage, they don’t care. They just want to make money.”

About a quarter of the 207 tributaries that flow into the Yangtze River are so seriously polluted that the water is unfit for irrigation, local press reports say.

The Yangtze’s water quality has also deteriorated. State officials say it’s at grade three under a Chinese rating system, which means it’s of poor quality but usable for various purposes. However, the state system doesn’t include a count of coliform bacteria, a sign of raw sewage, which would drop the grade further.

Some 30,000 ships and vessels operating in the Three Gorges Reservoir dump an estimated 7 million tons of excrement into the Yangtze every year.

Moreover, cities keep dumping raw sewage into the river basin.

Last year, Gweilo Diaries wrote:

Yesterday China began filling the world’s largest open-air latrine. Ironically, the 385 mile stinking cesspool is a fitting tribute to the man behind it — the butcher of Tiananmen Square, Li Peng.

The Three Gorges Dam is terrifyingly, only one part of a continent-wide project that will dam and divert all the major rivers and tributaries in China from Tibet where they have their sources to where the the land becomes too flat or the river crosses the border. And once again, the whole mess is bank-rolled by the western banks and corporations. If you’re planning on a holiday down the river, don’t bother, just roll around in your own shit, it’s more attractive.