Tuesday, January 8, 2008

China's push for hydropower dams sparking grassroots backlash

Jan. 7, 2008 -- The Chinese government's recent decision to scrap controversial plans for a huge dam at Tiger Leaping Gorge on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River represents a milestone for growing grassroots political movements in China, suggests the author of a new book on the politics behind China's epic dam-building campaign.

Mertha, an assistant professor of political science in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, bases his book on extensive field research in some of the most remote parts of Southwest China. Filled with first-hand accounts of widespread opposition to dams in Pubugou and Dujiangyan in Sichuan province and the Nu River Project in Yunnan province, the book documents dramatic changes in critical policies surrounding China's insatiable quest for energy.

"As China has become increasingly market driven, decentralized and politically heterogeneous," he argues, "the control and management of water has transformed from an unquestioned economic imperative to a lightning rod of bureaucratic infighting, societal opposition and open protest."

Although bargaining has always been present in Chinese politics, Mertha shows how actors once denied a seat at the table — media, nongovernmental organizations and grassroots activists — are emerging to become serious players in the policy-making process.


In the final days of 2007, the Chinese government made a surprise announcement abandoning plans for a controversial dam that would have submerged Tiger Leaping Gorge on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, one of China's most renowned tourist areas. While the decision represents an obvious victory for the burgeoning Chinese environmental movement, Mertha considers the impact and occasional success of such grassroots movements and policy activism to be signals of an important and much broader shift in China's domestic politics.

Here is the full article.