Sunday, October 17, 2004

News: The secret dam: China begins huge project in World Heritage Site, displacing up to 100,000 people and devastating unique tribal societies

The Independent

By Jasper Becker in Beijing and Daniel Howden
16 October 2004

In the shadow of the Jade Dragon Snow Peak, deep inside the Tiger Leaping Gorge, Chinese developers are operating in secret to push through a massive dam project that will wash away the section of the Yangtze river valley thought to have been the real location for the fictional Shangri-La.

Local tribesmen have revealed that work is already under way on a massive project that would flood a Unesco world heritage site, displace more than 100,000 people and destroy the way of life of the unique Naxi people, one of the world's only surviving matriarchal societies. It would also bring an abrupt end to the nascent tourism industry in the remote southwestern Yunnan province.

The battle to save the gorge, one of the deepest in the world, has pitted a David-like alliance of green groups and local tribespeople against the Goliath of the Huaneng Group, China's biggest independent power producer, working with the Yunnan provincial government. The company is run by Li Xiaopeng, son of the hardline former prime minister Li Peng, who oversaw the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Mr Li was at the forefront of the controversial Three Gorges Dam project that was pushed through in the teeth of strident opposition from environmentalists and residents.