2,400 years of China's vast water engineering projects

The Three Gorges dam on China's Yangtze River, pictured here, is one of the world's great engineering marvels. It's just one of many structures people have built to transform and contain China's massive rivers for the past 2,400 years.

Foreign Policy's Suzanne Merkelson has a fascinating photo essay about how China's dam projects and water pollution are remaking the nation's landscape.


During its construction, the Three Gorges Dam in the Hubei province was world's biggest consumer of earth, stone, and concrete. It's also the most flood-resistant complex of its kind, with an enormous capacity for water overflow discharge (you're seeing one of its biggest discharges ever, during 2010 floods). 1.3 million people had to move when the dam diverted water to a new location.

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All images via Getty

Merkelson explains:

One of the oldest surviving examples of China's water diversion projects is the Grand Canal, which in some sections dates back nearly 2,400 years. The canal connects Beijing with Hangzhou, 800 miles to the south. Its original purpose was to transport rice, and parts of it are still in heavy use today. By the 19th century, the canal fell into disrepair thanks to neglected maintenance, a major flood, and heavy pollution.


This image is of a police boat navigating a lake full of garbage after the recent earthquakes, near Zipingpu Dam on the Yangtze River. Merkelson writes:

The Yangtze River — the world's third-longest and China's main waterway — begins in the Tibetan plateau and travels eastward across China, providing fresh water for 400 million people before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai.


These giant projects often bury Chinese history as well as uprooting citizens from their homes. Merkelson explains:

Among the millions displaced by China's water projects are the 22,000 former citizens of Gongtan township in Chongqing municipality. The 1,700-year-old town had some of the most well-preserved ancient residential architecture in the Yangtze River area. Gongtan was completely submerged after the Pengshui hydropower plant was constructed along the Wujiang River, one of the Yangtze's tributaries. The township was rebuilt about a mile away.


In this picture, a Gongtan resident moves stone from historic buildings to the town's new location.


Here is a view of the incredible amounts of garbage that float in some parts of the Beijing canal.

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