Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Great Wall Across the Yangtze

Broadcast Schedule



Three Gorges Dam

Great plans are afoot:
A bridge will fly to span the north and south,
Turning a deep chasm into a thoroughfare;
To hold back Wushan's clouds and rain
Till a smooth lake rises in the narrow gorges.
The mountain goddess if she is still there
Will marvel at a world so changed.
- poem by China's former Communist Leader Mao Tse-tung
Dam Construction

Deep in China's rural heartland, along the third longest river in the world, a massive construction project is underway. Once completed, the Three Gorges Dam will be the largest and most powerful hydro-electric project in the world. Towering 610 feet high and stretching 1.3 miles wide, the dam will create a reservoir that extends nearly 400 miles upstream, forever changing the landscape of one of the most beautiful regions in China.

The project has been under consideration by various leaders in China since the idea of a dam was first proposed in 1919. The Three Gorges Dam is both a marvel of engineering and the greatest challenge its designers have ever faced. When finished, the dam will contain twice the amount of concrete of the Itaipu project in Brazil, currently the world's largest dam. The Three Gorges project has been engineered to store over 5 trillion gallons of water and to withstand an earthquake of 7.0 on the Richter scale. The reservoir will allow 10,000-ton freighters to enter the nation's interior, which currently limits access to boats under 1,500 tons. In addition to increasing commercial shipping access to China's interior, the government says the dam will control devastating floods and provide much-needed electrical power to China's growing cities.

People in the street

But critics question whether both effects can be achieved at the same time. Flood control requires the reservoir maintain low levels of water to allow for the inflow of flood waters, while power generation requires high levels of water in the reservoir. In addition, critics doubt that the human and cultural losses are worth the projected benefit, and they say both flood management and power generation could be achieved by faster, less expensive means. When the dam becomes operational, over a million people will have been relocated, over a thousand archeological sites will be submerged beneath the reservoir, and endangered species may be driven to extinction.

Regardless of the differing perspectives, everyone agrees that the Three Gorges Dam is an incredible undertaking. Like China's Great Wall, it will be one of the few man-made structures visible from space. The Chinese government and the dam's engineers view the project as a symbol of national pride, proving China's participation in new global markets.

Home | Story | Yangtze | Three Gorges Dam | Controversy | Film | Talkback | Resources | ITVS