Zhongdian, and Lijiang, which are already popular tourist destinations. In the midst of this
construction boom, the subsistence economy based on crop production and wild-resource
harvesting is gradually giving way to wage-labor jobs, migration to cities and towns, and
tourism-related work. These changes are commonplace in many picturesque locations in
rural China as middle-class people with newly acquired disposable income seek novel tour-
ist experiences; but in the Nu River Gorge, villagers also must cope with a hydropower-de-
In contrast to the Lancang basin, where dam development is quite far along, the pace in
the Nu basin is much slower, and development is proceeding in fits and starts. Villagers
who live along the Nu River, among the most economically and culturally marginalized
people in the nation, face an uncertain future as they seek to understand the hydropower-
development plans for their region and to anticipate the effects on their lives.
GEOGRAPHY, ECOLOGY, AND ETHNICITY IN THE NU RIVER GORGE
Like the Lancang, its neighbor to the east, the Nu River originates at more than 5,500
meters high on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. But the Nu cuts a straighter path southward
through Yunnan for several hundred kilometers, carving through the deep gorges of the
Gaoligong Mountain Range. Downstream, the river continues its course through Myanmar,
whereitformspartoftheborderwithThailand andisknownastheSalween(referto figure
tems from north to south, including glacial scree, alpine meadow, alpine conifer, decidu-
ous forest, pine forest, mixed forest, savannah, and riparian habitats (Xu and Wilkes 2004).
For most of its course in Yunnan, the river flows almost due south, flanked by 4,000-meter
mountains on either side. Ferns, lichens, and epiphytes, many of which the local people
gather as food, thrive in the foggy depths of the gorge, as do many species of bamboo, or-
namental orchids, and camellias.