Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
1997). Confucianism sees humans and nature as intimately connected, embedded in histor-
ical fields of praxis and political relationships of hierarchy (Tu 1998).
The influence of this philosophical tradition on Chinese environmental practice is not
hard to find. Less than 50 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, the provincial capital of
Sichuan, is Dujiangyan, the great water-engineering project constructed more than 2,200
years ago. Its ingenious design was self-consciously Taoist, and Taoist temples still dot the
banks of the river today. The Qin Kingdom (778-207 B.C.E. ), a feudal state that emerged
victorious from the Warring States Period and unified all of China under its rule in 221
B.C.E. , was the administrative power in the region during the construction of Dujiangyan.
Li Bing, an administrator during the waning years of the Warring States Period, initiated
construction to put an end to the seasonal floods that made life along the Min River so pre-
carious. Under his command, thousands of workers constructed the project, which consis-
ted of two levees for flood prevention and one channel carved through solid bedrock that
could divert part of the river's flow into a series of canals, bringing reliable irrigation to
several thousand square kilometers of fertile farmland on the Chengdu Plain. This single
feat is arguably what allowed the Qin Kingdom to surpass all other feudal states in terms of
agricultural output and ultimately secure its place as the unifying force of the country. Her-
alded as an engineering marvel, Dujiangyan is still used effectively today for flood control
and irrigation in the Min River basin. 17
In modern times, however, these philosophical precedents exist in tension with a
resource-management paradigm that is decidedly technocratic. There are currently hun-
dreds of large dams under construction in China. The Three Gorges Project, the
South-North Water-Transfer Project, and other similarly ambitious feats of engineering
show China's propensity to frame resource problems as technocratic in nature, continuing
a long and storied legacy of what might be called the “dictatorship of engineers.” Reflect-
ing on the Three Gorges Dam, the largest single site of electricity generation anywhere
in the world, the environmental historian Donald Worster calls it “nothing new” (2011:5).
Of course, to the 1.3 million people displaced by the reservoir, which extends hundreds of
kilometers upstream, the dam is indeed something new. But Worster's point is well taken:
this technocratic drive to harness the power of nature in the service of human needs con-
stitutes more of a continuity with the past than a radical break from it. Sun Yatsen, father
of modern China and first president of the Republic of China, had a vision in the 1920s
of 100,000 miles of highway crisscrossing the nation and a hydropower dam spanning the
middle reaches of the Yangtze River. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in collaboration
with the Nationalist government, helped conduct some of the feasibility and engineering
studies for the project in the 1940s.
The capacity to control and regulate the nation's great rivers—for flood protection, for
irrigation, for draught mitigation, and for navigability—has long held particular cultural
significance within the collective memory of China's citizenry and long been a hallmark
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