River Town documents Peter Hessler’s Peace Corps teaching assignment in Fuling. The reason he chose Fuling is just like one of my teachers, who don’t like megacities which full of laowai:

I longed to figure out how the city worked and what the people thought, especially since no foreigner had done this before. It wasn’t like living in Beijing or Shanghai, where there were plenty of waiguoren who had discovered what the city had to offer. As far as foreigners were concerned, Fuling was our city—or it would be once we figured it out.

River Town

Although what the book covers are more than 20 years ago and China has developed rapidly in these years, the people and the culture are still the same. He has witnessed two important events happened in China during that time: the construction of the Three Gorges Dam and the Handover of Hong Kong. I don’t know much about them either.

The Dam

It was under construction since 1994; the reservoir was filled and the first generator started in 2003; the dam body was completed in 2006; completed and fully functional in 2012(except the locks); the ship lift was complete in 2015.

The dam provides power to nine provinces and two cities, namely Hubei, Hunan, Henan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Sichuan, Guangdong, as well as Chongqing and Shanghai.1 In 2012, it generated 98.1 TWh of electricity, which accounts for 14% of China’s total hydro generation. It was expected to provide 10% of China’s power. However, because of the rapidly growing demand, it supported only about 1.7% of Chinese electricity demand(4692.8 TWh) in 2011. That number came to 5920 Twh in 2016. China is the largest electricity consumption country now,2 and the dam is also the largest station in the world.3 In 2016, 66% of Chinese electricity came from coal, and that figure was 78% in 2014.

Electricity Production in China
This image is created by Wikimedia user Tallungs.

After all, making sure electricity supply has a higher priority. Just as Peter said, when you come across power outage, all you want is restoring power right now. China’s development needs that power, if not build it, China will build more thermal power stations anyway.

From 2003 to 2007, power production equaled that of 84 million tonnes of standard coal, reducing carbon dioxide by 190 million tonnes, sulfur dioxide by 2.29 million tonnes, and nitrogen oxides by 980,000 tonnes.


Uh, it still has an environmental impact. You can find videoes and images of the difference before and after the dam was built at here and here.

What interests me most is whether the reservoir can cause earthquake and landslide. It does significantly increase the frequency and intensity of seismic activity after filling the reservoir in June 2003.5 Most of earthquakes are micro-earthquakes; with shallow focal depths; located within 5 km; mainly affected by the water level.

TGD also affects temperature and rainfall. The temperature decreased by an average of 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit (0.67 degrees Celsius) in the daytime.

The larger mass of water created a “lake effect,” causing cooler temperatures and increased rainfall between the Daba and Qinling mountains, but less rainfall in the immediate vicinity of the reservoir.


The Handover

On 30 June 1997, all classes were canceled at He Wei’s college. Students were forced to watch ten hours tv until midnight and the dormitory was locked. It was like a holiday, but for CCP. Now we have another similar holiday to celebrate: 19th National Congress. As for Hong Kong, after 20 years, it finally has its first prisoners of consciences.7 Now we can say Hong Kong is truly returned. A few days ago, Hong Kong football fans boo and turned their backs during the Chinese anthem. Maybe that’s their last chance. In mainland China, a new anthem law just took effect on Oct. 1. That law will award you 15 days in jail if you mock the anthem; altering the lyrics or the parodies. It has not applied to Hong Kong now, but who knows the future(damn!). By the way, “counter-revolutionary” Tian Han was jailed and died in prison, maybe he shouldn’t “mock” the national anthem.

Fun fact about the anthem: After being sung 17 years as the national anthem, the March of the Volunteers was only permitted playing instrumental during the Cultural Revolution. The East Is Red gradually became the actual anthem. It’s was restored in 1982 and written in the Constitution in 2004. They must had read Animal Farm.

During the ongoing 2019-2020 Hong Kong protest, someone uses the first sentence of the national anthem lyrics as protest slogan. I wonder when will the anthem get banned again. It’s not that ridiculous like it sounds, you already can’t use some words or sentences of the constitution on the Internet.