文章 Articles

The real Nu River story

A Chinese television series was intended to inform the public about controversial hydropower projects in the country’s southwest. But the programmes ignored half of the story, writes Ding Yuanfang.

Article image

In December last year, the state-run China Central Television (CCTV) network broadcast a five-part television series called “Nu River story” (watch in Chinese here) as part of their “Green Space” series. The programmes left me shocked.

“Green Space” aims to provide informative programming about environmental issues, yet the broadcasts clearly welcomed the development of dams in the Three Parallel Rivers area: a UNESCO World Heritage site in southwest China known for its precious ecological resources. (To read more about the controversy over the Nu River dams, see “Fog on the Nu River”, by Liu Jianqiang). The series silenced five years of debate and ignored principles of journalistic balance, coming down firmly on the side of the developers and local government. It claimed that the hydropower projects would present no threat to World Heritage sites, local culture, plant or animal life, and that relocated residents would be treated well, with guaranteed homes and food. The programmes claimed the dams would do nothing more than bring bridges and roads, create jobs, improve housing, provide water and electricity, increase tax revenues, relieve poverty and bring economic development.

If only that were true. The series was not objective and the viewer was not presented with all the facts about the Nu River debate. The information was filtered selectively, and no consideration was given to long-term development or the environment. Its stance was in complete agreement with the interests of the local government and dam developers. How credible is a journalistic voice when it speaks solely for the interests of political or business groupings?

The programme acknowledged that no other water engineering project has caused this level of debate in China. Since 2003, a range of academics, journalists, individuals, central and local government officials and NGOs have come forward to express their views. The Chinese premier Wen Jiabao called for the project to be “seriously reviewed and decided scientifically.” The causes for the debate were mentioned, but in an incomprehensive and unbalanced manner.

This is a list of the experts, academics and officials interviewed during the series:

• Xu Dingming.

Although described as chair of the National Expert Committee on Energy, Xu also has two other important roles: he is deputy head of the National Energy Office and head of the State Council’s Energy Bureau.

Zhang Boting.

Zhang is deputy secretary of the China Power Generating Engineering Society. This group was formerly under the State Grid, and is now a part of the China Hydropower Engineering Consulting Group, a subsidiary of which – Hydrochina Beijing Engineering Corp. – is one of the major planners behind the Nu River dam project.

• Gu Hongbin

Gu is a senior engineer at the China Water and Hydropower Planning Institute.

• Yang Yongping

Yang is a researcher at the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

• Chen Xiaoyong

Chen is a deputy researcher at the Kunming Institute of Botany.

• Hou Xinhua

Hou is governor of Nu River prefecture.

• Yang Canzhang

Yang is head of Yunnan’s Migration and Development Bureau.

• Liu Yun

Liu is head of the Three Parallel Rivers Scenic Area Management Bureau.

Of these eight interviewees, four are local government or water management officials and two are experts from the water management authorities; the remaining two are experts from other disciplines. It is clear that the water management authorities and local government are pushing for the hydropower projects to go ahead. Sure enough, those interviewees gave the projects their full support. The only opposing voices were set up as targets for attack. What hope did the audience have of drawing a reasoned conclusion?

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the project is a major focus of the debate over the Nu River. However, nobody from the Ministry of Environmental Protection – the ministry responsible for carrying out the report – was interviewed for the programmes. Only the water management experts were invited to comment on this issue. “How can the public participate on the basis of a report about aquatic life?” said the senior engineer. “Those kinds of opinions will just result in mistakes for future policy-making. They would not be of any help.” Was this contempt for public participation the best the series could offer us?

Only the academics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences were more neutral. One of the researchers said, albeit hesitantly, that if the entire length of the river was developed the consequences would be “very serious”.

Issues such as the development of the Nu River represent an ideal opportunity to raise public environmental awareness and education. The debate may appear to be simply between a few environmentalists and those with an interest in building dams. In fact, the discussion is a wider one about different views of the river: should it only be valued in economic terms, or in terms of its ecological aspects? It is a struggle between short-term and long-term interests; local and central priorities; departmental and public concerns. Resolving these questions requires public participation, reasoned input from scientists and wise decision-making. The media’s role should be to provide rational, comprehensive, fair and objective information.

Had “Nu River story” provided the public with in-depth information and an understanding of both sides of the debate about ecological protection and economic development, then it could have scored a victory for environmental education.

Unfortunately, the programme failed in these objectives, and I will not speculate as to the reasons why. I sincerely hope that if the projects do go ahead, the results will be as positive as the programme predicted. But this has not been the case for previous dam projects.


Ding Yuanfang is a Beijing-based journalist.

Homepage photo by Josua_and_Eva

Now more than ever…

chinadialogue is at the heart of the battle for truth on climate change and its challenges at this critical time.

Our readers are valued by us and now, for the first time, we are asking for your support to help maintain the rigorous, honest reporting and analysis on climate change that you value in a 'post-truth' era.

Support chinadialogue

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



I saw one episode

I saw one episode. The speakers' arguments are one-sided, and it seems that hydropower brings hundreds of benefits and absolutely no harm. For me, the "Green Space" is a space belonging to only a handful of people now, and it isn't green any more. Either rename it or stop broadcasting it, don't continue to bring shame on yourself in front of the public.(Translated by Tian Liang)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Dams are already being built

I was in that area at Christmas (see http://drjosephrock.blogspot.com/) and there are already power stations being built on the dams. Power is diverted to the national grid rather than being used to help local people. The dam construction will also have a massive impact on the already fragile local environment.
The programme should have asked for the opinion of local people, including Lisu minority peoples and Tibetans, from different areas of the country.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Is there a hope?

I am studying in Norway now. My program is International Environmental Studies. This issue is really good for discussion. However, nowhere I would like to raise another question. Is there a hope for us to utilize the hydropower potential there in China while having less environmental impact on nature, and less social impact as well?
Norwegian people could have most of their electricity coming from hydropower, more than 95%, with less destruction of the environment!!! How could Norway make it?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous





It is pity that the media lost its neutral role in this controversy.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Just saying what everyone else says, disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing

I have been to Nujiang, I think a lot of people on the internet are just yes-men, disagreeing with building dams just to disagree, they don't understand Nujiang at all. If dams aren't built, that area will be even more backward. Not exploiting Nujiang's water resources is something that cannot happen, unless China's economy is not developing or a substitute energy source is found, which are issues that will come sooner or later.
Translated by Jacob Fromer

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


Jacob Fromer翻译

from http://www.renewableenergy.no

Norway has utilized approximately 60 per cent of its accessible hydropower potential. Installed capacity in Norwegian hydropower plants is around 28 300 MW, and approximately 620 power plants have an installed capacity over 1 MW. At the end of 2005 the average annual production capacity was about 120 TWh. Most power plants were built before 1990. As a result of shrinking demand in Norway, the Norwegian supplier industry is increasingly looking abroad. In addition to turbines and electromechanical products, the deliverables to other countries include consultant services within planning, projecting and other engineering tasks. There is also an increasing demand for Norwegian competence in system operation and preparation for a power market.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Be Rational

This friend from Norway takes a pretty objective and rational view. People who disagree with constructing dams should first search their hearts and ask themselves, how many natural resources do I consume, and where do these resources come from? Can I accept extreme poverty in return for preserving the natural ecology of people like the Lisu ethnicity? If everyone in the country returned to the slash-and-burn farming era, not only would we not need to build dams, but thermal power plants could shut down, and coal mines wouldn't need to kill so many people, so many good things! (Translated by Jacob Fromer)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



More information could be found via www.nve.no

Is there anyone knowing whether the coperation has been made between Chinese government and Norwegian consulting companies or any other institute? I contacted with an expert of geography in Norway. He told me that the geographic conditions could be quite different between two nations. However, the technology may still bring a hope. By the way, rumors could be heard that Norwegian Green Fund put large amount of money into Chinese coal-based powerplants. If it is true, it will be crazy...

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


地方人民可受益于微型水力发电和普通水力发电 (供应电力用于点灯和简单电器品)。 这对地方环境生态和人民农作生活有很少或是毫无影响。小型水力发电正已使用。这些设备所发出的电力已经超过怒江人民的需求,因而可转运到云南的其他地区。要看更多,请见http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcCHwyPLP2U – sustainablejohn


large hydropower brings little or no benefit for local people

The local people can benefit from microhydro and run of the river hydro (to supply electricity for lights and simple appliances) which will have little or no impact on the local ecology and the local people's livelihood of farming.

Small hydro is already being used and the power produced from these facilities already surpasses the needs of the Nu Jiang people and is thus being exported to other parts of Yunnan.

Watch more here:

- sustainablejohn

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Re: Comment 9

I don't agree with local people's opinions about there being little benefit. Building hydroelectric plants in Nujiang can bring many employment opportunities, spur the development of related industries, cause economic development, and ultimately lift the masses from poverty. The crux lies in how to implement the win-win situation of environmental protection and economic benefits.
(Translated by Jacob Fromer)