Geography Reference
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collecting plant specimens for scientific analysis or conservation, sometimes spreading re-
ligion, always with a great talent for “captivating writing and self-promotion” (Harrell
2011:3)—sent back word of this wonderland to eager readers in Europe and the United
States. 10 Their writings in both scholarly journals and popular texts have played an import-
ant role in shaping the public imagination of Yunnan.
Fei Xiaotong and Zhang Zhiyi's Earthbound China (1945) is a classic study of the
Chinese rural economy, based on fieldwork in villages scattered to the west and south of
Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan. Undertaken when the authors were at National
Yunnan University in the years leading up to World War II, it argues that Yunnan was il-
lustrative of what much of rural Chinese society was like for centuries: “Since in interior
China modern industrial and commercial influence is just beginning to be felt, village folk
are still farming with the old techniques, economically more or less self-sufficient, and are
imbued with the traditional virtue of contentment. The population is dense, and resources
are limited. It is old China in miniature” (vii).
Figure 1.1 shows a map of both river basins. The Lancang River originates at 5,200
meters high on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, then winds its way for 2,200 kilometers through
Yunnan Province before flowing, as the Mekong, through five downstream riparian nations
Lancang basin is undergoing large-scale hydropower development in two phases, referred
to as the Lower Cascade and the Upper Cascade. The development plan for the Lower Cas-
cade, which is already quite far along, calls for a total of seven dams, four of which—the
Manwan, Dachaoshan, Xiaowan, and Jinghong—are now operational (Magee 2011; Dore,
Yu, and Li 2007). Their designs and operation plans vary considerably: whereas Manwan
and Jinghong are comparatively small with limited reservoirs, Xiaowan and Nuozhadu are
taller than the Three GorgesDam andhave already displaced tens ofthousands ofvillagers.
The Upper Cascade development plan, which is still under revision, calls for anywhere
between five and twelve dams in the primarily Tibetan areas of northwest Yunnan (Magee
2011); it remains speculative in part because of the excessive cost of building roads and
other associated infrastructure in an extremely underdeveloped region, although recent me-
dia reports confirm that preparatory work is under way in at least two locations, Lidi and
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