The Three Gorges Dam and the demiurges

Le Mentec, Katiana. The Three Gorges Dam and the demiurges : the story of a failed contemporary myth elaboration in China. Water History, 2014, vol. 6, n° 4. Pré-publication en ligne, 24 décembre 2014. URL :  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12685-014-0118-2 #springerlink (Consulté le 24 décembre 2014).

This article analyses the elaboration and modes of diffusion of official narratives about the past and the present following the construction of the Chinese Three Gorges Dam (1993–2008). After the vote on the Three Gorges Project, alongside a myth of progress, a narrative relying upon ancient legends linking the Dam to the past was widely transmitted by the official discourse. The aim of this paper is to analyse this narrative, and in particular the parallel developed between the Dam’s construction and the myth of Yu the Great, a famous hero-demiurge. The first two parts of the article are dedicated to the main facets of Yu’s myth associated with the Dam: the political control brought by successful water management and the demiurgic action of reshaping the territory. The contemporary uses of songs, poems, metaphors, statue settings, tourist sites, temples, and public engravings are emphasized. The last part of the essay introduces a shift in the government discourse and focuses on the population’s reactions to the official narrative. It presents the lack of efficiency of the official narrative and the cultural tools (such as rumors and legends) mobilized by the people to propose their own interpretation of the Dam. The conclusion reflects on issues related to the use of the past in the context of big construction works: How efficient are myths and legends in conveying positive or negative interpretations of such structures? Can these tools be involved in processes of resilience? This work relies on qualitative long-term ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Wuhan (Hubei), Chengdu (Sichuan) and the Three Gorges Area (Chongqing) between 2002 and 2014. The data also includes printed and electronic (internet) media.

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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