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Published: March 1st 2007
City of Ghosts
City of Ghosts is a temple with a more than onethousand year long history. About half of the houses on the picture will become submerged in a few years when the water rises another 20 meters.
The Three Gorges are Gorgeous
Still I could add. But I guess they aren't what they used to be.
Let me explain: In the south of China the Yangtze River flows though a mountainous area. The river has over millions of years cut out a series of deep gorges through the mountains. These gorges are well known for their scenic beauty. The combination of the fast flowing water of the river and the more than one kilometer high mountains towering on either side makes a scenery that is absolutely breathtaking. Add to it a little picturesque hamlet here and there, a few onethousand-year-old temples and clouds hugging the mountainsides and you get a marvelous landscape. No wonder that many ancient, and also more modern, Chinese painters and poets have drawn inspiration from the Gorges of the Yangtze River or The Three Gorges as they are usually called.
But the Three Gorges are in a state of change. In the mid 90-ies a hydropower project was launched in the lowest of the gorges - the Xiling Gorge. This is truly a gargantuan project since they are going to raise the waterlevel as much as 110 meters when it is
City of Ghosts
This temple is above the highwatermark. But it is possible that the City of Ghosts will close down anyway since many of the other buildings will disappear.
finished. They are not finished yet but so far they have raised the water 90 meters from the original level. By doing that they have created a gigantic dam that eventually will have a length of 550 km. This dam will submerge the homes for well over a million people, it will forever hide hundreds of historically and/or archeologically interesting places and change the scenery in the Three Gorges. For obvious reasons the Xiling Gorge will change a lot. There is now a 2 km plus wide and 115 meter high concrete barrier right across the gorge. But even the other two gorges, the Wu Gorge and the Qutang Gorge, have been effected in spite that they are both far away upstreams from the dam. I think Qutang Gorge have been affected more than Wu Gorge. Qutang Gorge used to have several rapids that made traffic there difficult and even dangerous in the wet season. Those are now submerged in the reservoir together with several historical landmarks such as an ancient tow road, a plank road dating back several hundreds of years and a wall with thousands of chinese characters of unknown age inscribed in it.
The Three Gorges
This statue is naughty, isn't it? Is this really allowed in China?
Dam Project has been a tragedy for all the people that has been forced to move because their old homes were below the new high water mark. Well over one million people have been relocated to new cities and new houses. Many of them had to leave not only their homes but also the graves of their ancestors behind. But before anyone starts criticizing the Chinese for forcing so many people to leave their homes it is important to know that the dam is also built to prevent floodings downstream the Three Gorges. The Yangtze River is very prone to flooding and every other year or so thousands of people have either had their homes destroyed or even drowned in the floods from the Yangtze River. The dam will now, if it works the way it is supposed, end these floods and thus it will save thousands of homes and thousands of lives every year.
But as I mentioned above the dam will also affect cultural heritage. The three gorges have been populated for thousands of years. Since the Yangtze River is an important trade route the towns along the river have long been very wealthy. Part of the
Houses ready to be demolished
The houses closest to the water front are abandoned and will get demolished before the water level is raised further. The houses higher up are new houses built for people to be relocated into.
wealth has been invested in securing a good afterlife, or next life rather since the majority of the people around the Yangtze River are buddists and thus believing in reincarnation. So hundreds of temples and shrines have been erected along the river. Some of these temples have been moved but many of them were simply demolished after the important artefacts were removed.
But there is much history in the three gorges that will never be discovered. There were hundreds of places were archeologists wanted to dig before the dam was filled. But the funds for saving historical sites weren't large enough to cover all the necessary archeological surveys. Since many places were never excavated at all we'll never find out what might be hidden under ground.
One of the things the archeologists wanted to study more was the Ba People. They used to inhabit the Three Gorges from roughly 700 BCE and maybe as long as 1500 years after that. Not very much is known about them. Many of the finds that have been discovered are yet to be deciphered. They are famous for their burial rituals. They buried their dead in coffins hanging from the mountain sides
Virtually all of the city of Wushan had to be relocated. The original site of the city is now under water and the houses you see on the picture are all newly built.
or in caves and hollows high up on the mountains. The hanging coffins is therefor what everybody associates them with. Now since the Three Gorges Dam project has put so much of the Ba People's land under water is is quite possible that important objects and sights that could help us understand the Ba People better are gone forever.
One historical site that will not survive is the City of Ghosts. It is a temple complex near Fengdu City. Today parts of the temple has been abandoned already even though it is still safe from the water. But when the water is raised another 20 meters several of the temple buildings will get submerged. City of Ghosts is a onethousand year old temple devoted to evil spirits and death. It is an odd place but nice to visit.
One temple that will survive in the White King City. It is sitting on top of a high hill that a few years back was a peninsula. Today they have dug away the ridge that connected the hill to the mainland because it would get flooded when the water is raised. Instead they are replacing it with a bridge.
This temple has been stripped of all its valuables and been abandoned. In a few years it will get submerged when the water level is raised another 20 meters.
Is the dam safe? Yiching is a city with three million people just downstream from the Three Gorges Dam. I would not like to live there simply because I don't want to live downstream from any dam. If the dam burst Yichang city will suffer the first and the mightiest blow. A massive wall of water 100 meters high will hit the city. The tsunami that devastated Banda Aceh in Indonesia in 2004 was only 30 meters high. You make the math and think what a 100 meter wave does to a city. So could the dam burst? It could. Cracks have been found in the dam and it is not even filled all the way up yet. Even if the dam holds up for the normal water pressure it might not hold for extreme conditions. China is prone to earthquakes. Even though this area is supposed to be safe you can never be sure. The Yangtze River has, like most rivers, seen its fair share of landslides. If a major landslide occurs in the vincinity of the dam a tsunami wave could damage the dam enough to make it burst.
I made this trip because I wanted to
This city has been demolished and all the people have been relocated.
see the Three Gorges before it was too late. But since so much already has changed, the water level has already been raised 90 meters of the proposed 110, I guess I in a way am already too late. But I still don't regret going here. The Three Gorges are still worth a visit. And since I went now before the last section of the dam project is finished I get to see at least some of the old glory of the Three Gorges and that was well worth all the trouble of going here.
In my next entry I plan on writing a little bit about what it is like to travel in China and what Chinese people are like. But now I quit for this time or the blog gets too long and too boring.
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