Reporter: Jane Hutcheon


Construction workers at dam site



Hutcheon:  In the Yangtze River valley, China's modern day Great Wall.








Hutcheon:  It's a dam that will dwarf any other in the world.




The size and scale is breathtaking. Seven years in, ten thousand workers will toil for another decade before the monumental Three Gorges scheme is complete.



It needs to be big. It's designed to tame the great Yangtze River - to prevent floods and power China's industrial heartland.







Hutcheon:  And what's now emerging is that this epic project has brought epic corruption and mismanagement.



Dai Qing

Dai Qing:  The project is too full of money.  It's like a piece of meat - all the flies want to eat it.



Map China/River shots

River FX/Music




Hutcheon:  Since the beginning of China's civilisation, the Yangtze River has been the divide between north and south -- the lifeblood of a nation.







City on side riverbank


Hutcheon:  The river irrigates one third of the nation's crops, and carries three-quarters of its shipping.  It's fertile banks are home to more than 200 million people.




The Chinese Government says the Three Gorges Dam will harness the river's power and change the course of history.  But at what social cost?



Hutcheon gets into chairlift over Fengdu

In Fengdu, a chairlift takes you up above the future waterline to a temple which pays homage to the God of the Underworld.  Local calls this the city of ghosts.





Temple grounds

Hutcheon:  In ancient times, superstitious sailors refused to dock here for fear the ghosts would board ship and haunt the journey through the gorges.




In a few years time, life will imitate folklore and Fengdu, like hundreds of other cities and  towns along the river, will become a ghost-town, drowned by the Three Gorges reservoir.



Mrs Zhao chopping chicken

On the surface, life appears to go on as it always has.  Street hawkers like Mrs Zhao are  seemingly oblivious to the inevitable. But in reality there's a deep fear of the future.




Mrs Zhao:  We hope that if you go to Beijing or somewhere else you will help our citizens to speak out about this.  Please give us a little more compensation.  We're not asking for a better house - ordinary people would be satisfied with simply a house to live in!



Hutcheon on street with Mrs Zhao and crowd

Hutcheon:  The people of Fengdu believe the relocation effort being engineered by the government, will change their lives for the worse. Compensation for the past won't pay for their future.




Mrs Zhao:  We can't afford to buy a new house with the money they plan to compensate us with.  There are some corrupt officials in the resettlement bureau.  We want them to correct this injustice.



New city of Fengdu under construction

Hutcheon:  An hour's drive away and high above the watermark, the new city of Fengdu rises brick by brick. Oddly, there are no homes for the people --  first served here -- government  corporations. Mr Wu, the official in charge of foreign journalists, points out the significant landmarks -- the Bank of China, local government offices, even the tobacco monopoly has been catered for. Money has moved in first.




Wu:  The tobacco company has money - it's a wealthy organisation.  In Fengdu, the rich companies could come here and buy the land with their own money and build their own offices.




Hutcheon:  What's the reason for this?



Wu:  For example, if you are rich you can buy land and build - then you can sell off houses to the ordinary people.



City on hillside

Hutcheon:  But ordinary people aren't getting their due. An accusation echoes throughout the Three Gorges area -- local officials are  failing to pass on resettlement funds to residents. In many cases, officials have been removed from office or even jailed.



Hutcheon with Dai Qing

According to Dai Qing, the only opponent of the Dam who agreed to appear on camera, the entire project has been tarnished by corruption.




Dai Qing:  The officials you met in the project area - officials involved in shoddy construction, or those working for the resettlement bureau - all gain money from this project. It's the best way for them to take and accept bribes. So officials from top to bottom benefit from the project.  The river, the environment and migrants who are forced to leave will suffer.



Three Gorges Corporation building

Hutcheon:  Not surprisingly,  the Three Gorges Corporation is keen to down play the scale of the corruption.



Lu Youmei

Lu Youmei:  It's probably a small amount. So far we've allocated relocation funds  of nearly three billion dollars - so the money that's been embezzled is a small figure.



Earthmoving equipment

Hutcheon:   But even the Central Government doesn't believe that.  Just half way through, the dam project has a five billion dollar blow out. It's so cash-strapped extra funds are needed.  In an extraordinary twist, Beijing has sanctioned criticism of the project.



Hutcheon to camera




Hutcheon:  So serious have been the allegations of corruption and mismanagement, China's state media has run an unusual campaign of controlled criticism.  One magazine aimed at China's intellectuals went as far as to say that if relocation wasn't handled properly, it could become an explosive source of instability for the next 50 years.



Construction workers

Hutcheon:  It's not just social instability that's now a concern, but the possibility of an unstable dam. The Three Gorges Corporation says the dam is being built to the highest international safety standards.



Footage of floods





Hutcheon:  But in the wake of last year's devastating floods, safety checks revealed one third of the country's 80 thousand dams, were so defective, they're in danger of collapse.




China's charismatic Premier Zhu Rongji has even coined a phrase for it -- Beancurd or Tofu construction -- work as flimsy as a serving of beancurd.



Dai Qing

Dai Qing:  A good construction company will spend more money on the project and there won't be any left to give the officials.  The officials can't get money.  And a bad company will use half the money for construction  and the other half will be given to the officials who are in charge of the project.



Floodwaters/TV reporter

Hutcheon:  Chinese television has been investigating how the government's money has been spent repairing unsafe dykes after last year's floods.



A building contractor appointed to repair this levee had sub-contracted the job, pocketing a proportion of the reconstruction funds. It was sub-contracted yet again, more money creamed-off for the officials.



The journalist laughs in amazement at the sloppy work. This bank is supposed to be  impregnable.



Lu Youmei

Lu Youmei:  After considering this thoroughly for many years the Chinese people believe this project must be carried out.  There are dissenting voices in western countries - it doesn't matter.  Any large-scale project attracts opposing voices.  But I didn't say those problems with corruption and poor quality are not important at all.  It isn't the case.  They should be handled very seriously. But it's not true if you claim that the entire relocation has been corrupt.



Construction workers

Hutcheon:  The leadership hopes by allowing the  media to expose corruption during the building of the world's greatest dam  it will keep it  on track  and prevent future disaster.




But the Three Gorges Project isn't simply a concrete dam -- it's hundreds of infrastructure projects, new roads and bridges.   And fraud and ineptitude along the Yangtze has already had devastating consequences.



If you look carefully, you can see the remains of what used to be a concrete bridge.  Last year, the bridge collapsed into a ravine.  Eleven people working on it fell to their deaths, 14 others were seriously hurt.


Jane in boat

Since then, Jiao Jia Bay has only been accessible by boat.  Officially, it is off limits to foreign journalists.








Hutcheon:  The day the bridge collapsed, Feng Guozhen's family was shattered forever.



Her brother died in the accident.  A few months later, Mrs Feng's mother also passed away -- the family says she died from grief.



Feng Guozhen

Feng Guozhen:  I was so sad... I nearly cried myself blind. My son was injured, so he's unable to support me.  He can't even look after himself.  I can honestly say we have no money to spare.



Son shows injury to ankle

Hutcheon:  Mrs Feng's son broke his ankle in the fall.  He says the reason for the mishap was well known to all the locals -- the  construction company knowingly used sub-standard building materials.



Jiao Shilin

Jiao Shilin:  The wood was bad. The company was short of money.  Even up to now, wages for the peasant workers haven't been paid yet.  Take me for instance - I worked for them for fourteen months and only got $220 in total.  I was supposed to get $80 a month.



Bridge site

Hutcheon:  Sixteen months after the accident, the bridge is a mass of steel and concrete.  Surveyors sent by the Central Government say the land here is too steep, the bridge should never have been built in the first place.




Jiao Shilin:  This is one of the shoddy construction projects on the No. 209 National Road. Most of the bridges along that road have had to be rebuilt. We blasted them and built them again because the quality was substandard.



Bridge over river





Hutcheon:  Corruption hasn't only consumed  construction funds, it's eaten away all possible hope for some of China's poorest people.



In the distance, the banner proudly proclaims ‘Constructing the new township of Gaoyang.'



Over the next few years, up to ten thousand people, most of them farmers, or peasants as they're known in China, will be forced to move here.



A farming community for as long as it  can remember, many are being told to find factory jobs in the new city.



People fixing roof

Hutcheon:  They're united in anger against their local government which, they claim, owes them hundreds of thousands of dollars in resettlement compensation.




Jiang Qingshan:  Take the resettlement money for instance...the Central Government distributed it to the Local Government -


Jiang Qingshan

But we only got a little bit, and nothing else - so we feel less desperate. If they don't solve the problem soon  we don't know what we are going to do.




Hutcheon:  They've already angered local officials by taking their complaints to the Municipal government and to Beijing.  Now they say, they have nothing else to lose.




Jiang Qingshan:  They are cheating people... they are deceiving their superiors and duping their subordinates.



People on dam site tour

Man:  Where's the actual dam going to be? In between the cranes?




Tour guide:  Yeah, between the four high cranes...




Hutcheon:  As the dam's completion draws closer; millions of tourists from all over the world come to witness the construction of a Chinese miracle.




Tour guide:  After the form of the reservoir, this place will become a very beautiful scenery spot. And all these small houses, all this mess will be moved away.




Hutcheon:  But how many more dark secrets lie obscured by the political imperative to succeed? And how many more people must suffer the consequences?




Ends: 15.20


ABC Australia c.1999

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