Alexis Hooi

Taming the building beast within

By Alexis Hooi (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-06-26 07:42
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Two weeks ago, I visited one of the most beautiful areas in the country's western region. Deep in a lush green valley, Kazak herdsmen grazed their sheep and cattle. A glacier-fed river roared next to the road as snow-capped mountains towered before a deep-blue sky.

But most of the Chinese travelers on our minibus seemed indifferent to the breathtaking scenery - until they spotted an enormous bridge under construction ahead.

The suspended structure, looming about 20-stories high, was set to link the two sides of the valley and significantly reduce traveling time to the local scenic spots. Nearby residents would also stand to gain from better transport and a faster provision of supplies.

So it was understandable that my fellow travelers whipped out their digital cameras and clicked away at the uncompleted bridge, accompanying their shots with exclamations of awe and admiration.

The Chinese people seem to have a considerable urge to tame nature with monumental building projects in a bid to improve their lives.

The Great Wall itself stands as an epitome of Chinese engineering, winding through the mountain ranges of northern China centuries after its construction.

In more recent times, other herculean feats of Chinese building include the Three Gorges Dam spanning the mighty Yangtze River and the South-to-North Water Diversion Project, which aims to feed the country's drought-prone northern areas with water from the resources-rich south.

Launched in 1993, the Three Gorges project mainly includes a 185-meter-high dam and 32 generators. The world's largest hydroelectric undertaking has already generated about 367 billion kWh since its first generator was put into operation in July 2003.

But more than 1 million people have been relocated to make way for the dam, with at least 54 billion yuan ($8 billion) designated to facilitate the relocation and rehabilitation of the people.

The authorities point to geographic hazards which threaten the project's reservoir area. Nearly 4,000 new sites are potentially in danger because of water accumulation and rainfall, latest reports from local authorities show. Bank erosions and landslides threaten the area, too.

Still, the immediate cost of the water diversion project is considered to be more than twice the investment in the dam.

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