Note: Make sure the music is well balanced with the voiceover level – not too loud
China is the country of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.But it’s also a country of almost 25,000 lakes and as recently as two decades ago around 50,000 rivers. These include the mighty Yellow River, for which the cantata and piano concerto you can hear now was named, and the Yangtze River, the longest in the world to flow entirely in one country, and home to the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest power station and a modern feat of engineering.
From Jilin to Jiangsu, and Yunnan to Hunan, their waters connect people and communities. And where they flow, so cities and cultures have emerged and flourished, and in turn tilted the weight of the population from the countryside to the urban areas. But economic development has also given rise to industry, toxic waste and pollution, that coupled with climate change and the loss of water and soil, has caused thousands of rivers to disappear off the map.
But a new innovation could change that. Now, every lake and river in China has its own ‘chief’ at provincial, municipal, county and township levels. Together, there are more than a million of these chiefs, and what they do is ensure that the problems of the past never happen again by managing and regulating the rivers they care for. The Xiang River is part of the Yangtze River and runs through the city of Changsha in the province of Hunan, where 60 percent of its 67 million people lived along the river.
Over time, the pressure created by this population density led to serious water and metal pollution, threatening the drinking water it supplies, and creating real health risks. Reports of mercury, lead and chromium began to emerge, as well as an outbreak of cadmium poisoning. But the work of its river chiefs has helped turn this around, with the Xiang River gradually being restored to the clear waters it once knew. One by one, that story is beginning to repeat itself.
Shaoxing sits at the southern shore of Hangzhou Bay. It has many rivers and more than 10,000 bridges. People walk across them. Sit on them. Take pictures of them. Water regulation campaigns have become a norm for the people of Shaoxing, and now its waters pass through more cleanly. And there’s a local tradition as well: Shaoxing brides are said to cross three bridges on their wedding day: Fulu Bridge, Wan’an Bridge and Ruyi Bridge.
But the challenge now is to continue this work, so that the improvements being made become a standard, not an exception. Lakes and rivers are the lifeblood of any community. No promise of economic development can surely override this enormously precious resource we have been gifted.
This is James Chau for The China Current.