Dai Qing’s Yangtse! Yangtse!

Thanks to a reader’s comment, I see that the Three Gorges Probe has actually put on its site the entire text of Yangtse! Yangtse!, the 1989 book that anticipated many of the Three Gorges Dam’s worst problems, including 10 new chapters. The author Dai Qing was arrested during the post-Tiananmen Square backlash and the book was banned (though I’m not certain whether it still is).

You can browse through this for hours. It offers a wonderful look into how the CCP operated then, and I suspect it’s not dramatically different now. From the preface:

The materials in this book condemn the Chinese government’s plan to build the world’s largest dam in the scenic Three Gorges area of the Yangtze River. These documents are also an indictment of the political system that produced this decision. The contributors to this volume are generally not liberal, Westernized dissidents. Many are long-time loyal communists; others are veteran members of China’s normally compliant satellite parties. These are not the young idealists who filled Beijing’s streets in the democracy movement of 1989, but largely elderly officials with scientific and technical backgrounds who have opposed the dam out of a genuine concern for China’s economic health and political stability.

The criticisms that fill the following pages focus on a closed decision-making process that grossly distorts technical data and analyses to meet the political needs of a self-sustaining elite. Despite high-level rhetoric since the inauguration of China’s reforms in 1978 about creating more “open” (kaifang) and “democratic and scientific” policy-making, this book portrays a Party-state apparatus that remains profoundly authoritarian in structure and function. Outspoken opponents of the project have been silenced, especially since June, 1989, as key decision-making arenas deliberating on the Three Gorges dam have been packed with obedient and technically illiterate supporters.

Opposition views are not treated as mere differences of opinion, but evidence of disloyalty and “counter-revolutionary” intent. The political atmosphere surrounding the controversy over the dam is no different from the late 1950s when early critics, such as Chairman Mao Zedong’s ex-secretary Li Rui, were branded as “anti-Party.” Yangtze! Yangtze! itself has been a victim of the intense politicizing of this issue and the book was banned in 1989. Crushing students in Tiananmen Square not only allowed the communist leadership to remain securely in power, but also provided convenient cover to purge the Party and state apparatus of dam opponents.

The following documents, in short, portray a bare-knuckles political battle in which opposition to construction of the dam involves enormous risks. Western observers who portray policy-making in China as a process of “consensus-building” and “bargaining” must confront the realities described in the following pages. The fundamental lack of checks and balances in the Chinese political system is made explicit through the proliferation of committees that are used to confound and confuse rather than to enlighten. Newspapers carry only “positive reporting” on the dam; microphones at the National People’s Congress (NPC) meeting considering the issue are shut off; and prominent opponents, such as the eminent scientist Qian Jiaju, are left with no choice but exile.

In the book’s afterward, Dai Qing pleads, “There is only one Yangtze River and we have already subjected it to many stupid deeds. Such stupidity must not be repeated.” While the book is credited with delaying construction of the dam, it obviously failed: the dam is being built, and much of the misery predicted by its authors is materializing right on schedule.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

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