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Three Gorges Dam Conflict: Views and Analysis

Sarah F. Watson

Colorado State University


The Three Gorges Dam currently being built on the Yangtze River in China is forcing the resettlement of over a million people. Shipping interests, city dwellers, and the Chinese government all support the dam's construction, while archeologists, human rights organizations, and those forced to resettle do not. This paper explores and organizes the stakeholders' views through conflict tree and conflict mapping analysis methods. The AmericaSpeaks methodology is suggested as a transformation method to ease the tension between the stakeholders.

Introduction and Background

As tall as a 60 story building, storing over 11 trillion gallons of water, stopping 55 million tons of coal being burned a year, producing enough energy to equal 18 nuclear power plants and forcing the resettlement of over 1.3 million people what single building project is doing all this (Chetham, 2002; Kennedy, 2001)? The Three Gorges Dam Project on the Yangtze River in China is one of the most controversial building projects ever. The conflict between groups on opposing sides of the Three Gorges Dam truly began in the early 1930s (Gupta & Asher, 2000). However, the first suggestion for a dam in the Three Gorges area came from Sun Yet Sen in 1919 (Economy, 2004). The ground breaking ceremony was held in December of 1994 with proposed completion date in 2009 (Chetham, 2002).

The conflict between the proponents and the opponents of the dam are based around the key issue of the reservoir that the dam will create. The water will rise an average of 290 meters within the gorges themselves (Chetham, 2002). The reservoir created by the dam will be 360 miles long and an anticipated 175 miles deep (Economy, 2004). The reservoir will cause the flooding of over 12,000 acres of tangerine orchards, 150 towns, 800 historical sites, and the beautiful gorges in the area (Gupta & Asher, 2000; Chetham, 2002; Gamer, 1999). While the Three Gorges Dam will eventually be able to provide 10 percent of the energy China needs without burning coal, is this worth the forced resettlement of over a million people (Economy, 2004)?

Is there a way to transform this conflict and reduce the tension between the opposing sides? The AmericaSpeaks conflict resolution methodology, also known as a 21st Century Town Meeting combines a multitude small group discussions in a larger context that allows thousands of people to voice their opinions simultaneously. I believe this method is the best way to transform a conflict that has such a wide array of stakeholders. Additionally, this method allows the comments to be kept anonymous which would be necessary in a location where the government is known for suppressing dissenting views, like China.

Figure 1: Map of Three Gorges area (McGill University, 2001)

Stakeholder Views


The farmers who are being forced to move out of the floodin
g areas generally do not support the construction of the dam. Over 23,000 hectares of agricultural land will be flooded by the reservoir formed by the Three Gorges Dam (Veeck, Ponnell, Smith & Huang, 2007). Though most farmers are being given other land, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has estimated that five times as much land as farmers are being given to equal the productivity of the land being flooded (Chetham, 2002). However the farmers are not being given more land than they originally had. Additionally, many farmers are being asked to stop farming, unless they are moving out of the valley. The land that some of the farmers are being given is on the upper slopes of the valley and the government has concerns about increase erosion and sedimentation.

One of the most disturbing stories around the resettlement problems is the story of three farmers who tried to report corruption. These men were arrested and held for months before they were charged. The charges eventually filed include: disturbing the resettlement process; leaking of state secrets; and maintaining illicit relationships with foreign countries (Chetham, 2002). The farmers were charged with having illicit relationships with foreign countries because the international press picked up their story (Chetham, 2002). This suppression of dissenting views has caused concerns within the international community.

Human Rights Organizations

Many human rights organizations are concerned about the construction process, the restriction on opposing views, and the forced resettlement of over one million people. The Provincial Government, where a large number of those having to be resettled are from, has enacted an article that states “Resettlers compelled to evacuate by the resettlement plan and relevant agreements and contracts may not procrastinate or refuse to relocate under any excuse” (Human Rights Watch, 1995, p. 13). Most human rights organizations do not support the construction of the dam because of the rigidity of laws the immovable stance the Chinese government takes on dissenting views. In addition, there are concerns about the conditions and use of prison laborers as construction workers on the dam (Chetham, 2002).

Environmentalists Against the Dam

Ma Jun‘s quote “These large dams will have a lot of impacts, some irreversible”(¶49) gives credence to why some environmentalists oppose the Three Gorges Dam Project (Yardley, 2007). Environmental degradation concerns were reported by Chinese scientists as early as 1986 when a conference about the proposed dam project took place in Beijing (Economy, 2004). There are 144 different plant communities within the Three Gorges Dam which will be impacted by the flooding of the reservoir (Wu et al., 2004). Environmentalists are concerned over the likely loss of already endangered species including the Chinese Sturgeon, the Yangtze Dolphin and the Siberian Crane (Gupta & Asher, 2000). Other concerns of environmentalists include: deforestation, dredging, sedimentation, and contamination by toxic chemicals.


A large number of cultural and historically important sites will be flooded as the reservoir begins to fill, one of the most famous being the ghost city of Fengdu (Economy, 2004). As Chetham (2002) explained the “National Cultural Relic Bureau has identified 1,208 sites and buildings considered of key significance, but little can be done to save most of them” (p.189). This is why most archeologists do not support the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. Some archeologists and archeological organizations petitioned for funding and time to remove the artifacts, buts these requests were denied by the Chinese government (Chetham, 2002).

Forced Resettlers

It is generally believed that the local citizens, even those living in cities will not benefit directly from the construction of the dam. None of the power is intended for the local area. Only if there is access power will the local areas receive any of the cheaper energy generated by the dam (Chetham, 2002). The citizens within the areas being flooded are being forced to relocate. Some citizens are relocating to parts of the same town further upslope, while others have been given the option to move to entirely different provinces. It is hard to know how this massive group of people feels about the relocation process or about the Three Gorges Dam itself as their stories are not published or public available. Dissenting views are punished harshly in China, as evidenced by the story of the three farmers who reported corruption. It is easy to understand why this group of over a million people do not speak up. I can imagine that these individuals do not want to leave their homes and places they have lived for centuries, but they have no choice.

Dai Qing’s Story

Dai Qing is a famous Chinese journalist and has been an outspoken protestor the Three Gorges Dam since the very beginning and an advocate for the rights of those forced to relocate. Qing publicly called the Three Gorges Dam “the most environmentally and socially destructive project in the world” (Kennedy, 2001, ¶ 10). She wrote a book called Yangtze! Yangtze! about the Three Gorges Dam Project and how she did not support the dam’s construction. In 1986, she interviewed a series of people about the Three Gorges Project and then wrote newspaper articles (Economy, 2004). Newspapers refuse to print her editorials because of the government control of the media in China. Eventually, Qing found a book publisher that was too small for there to be a great deal of governmental oversight and her book was published.

Within a year of publication, Qing’s book was banned in China (Economy, 2004). In response to the book’s publishing Qing was banned from any meetings involving the Three Gorges Dam Project and then later from all environmentally oriented government meetings (Economy, 2004). Qing was arrested and spent 10 months in jail, 1989-1990, for speaking out against the dam in the time immediately following the Tiananmen Square crackdown on free speech (Chetham, 2002; Kennedy, 2001).

Chinese Government

The Chinese government supports the construction of the Three Gorges Dam; they claim that not only will the dam stop disastrous floods on the Yangtze river but provide clean energy to fuel China’s future (Gupta & Asher, 2000). On the Yangtze river, over the past 100 years, over 1 million people have died from flooding (Kennedy, 2001). It is interesting to me that the areas downstream that have historically been impacted by flooding are urban areas. Clean energy seems to be the most emphasized reason why the Chinese government is supporting the construction of a series of hydroelectric dams, mainly along the Yangtze River.

In July of 1990, the State Council in China gave the Three Gorges Dam Project their unanimous endorsement (Chetham, 2002). Interestingly, when the dam project was being voted on by the National People’s Congress, in 1992, some 177 delegates, one-third of the Congress, voted NO and 664 delegates abstained from voting (Economy, 2004; Chetham, 2002). The Three Gorges Dam resolution passed by the smallest margin in Chinese history. What makes this story most interesting, however, is that two delegates walked out of the vote (Gamer, 1999). Even within the Chinese government, there have been dissenting views about the construction of the dam on the Yangtze River, however the dam has been endorsed and approved by the government.

City Dwellers

The Chinese citizens who live in the larger cities will benefit greatly from the construction of the Three Gorges Dam and so generally support its construction (Chetham, 2002). These are the people who will be able to purchase cheaper and cleaner energy from the dam, mainly the people living in Guangzhou (Chetham, 2002). Lastly the Three Gorges Dam is a matter of pride for the people of China, it is the largest dam in the entire world. From my own travels, it appears that the people in China’s cities do not know much about the dam beyond the national pride that it brings.

Environmentalist Supporting the Dam

Some environmentalists support the construction of hydrologic dams, especially in China, because of the large amount of coal that is currently burned on a daily basis. The plan for the Three Gorges Dam is to generate 13x109 watts of power (Gupta & Asher, 2000). These environmentalists support the dam largely because it will reduce the need to burn 55 million tons of coal a year (Chetham, 2002). The statements “We believe that large-scale hydropower plants contribute a lot to reduce energy consumption, air and environmental pollution” is the best way to explain why some environmentalists support the construction of the dam (Yardley, 2007).


Through the use and creation of a Conflict Tree, Figure 2, I have been able to analyze the Three Gorges Dam conflict. The Conflict Tree has helped me to see that there are two main areas of conflict, the socio-cultural issues and the environmental issues. The socio-cultural issues include: forced resettlement, suppression of dissenting views, health concerns, and loss of archeological sites. The environmental issues include: endangered species, erosional problems and clean energy. The Conflict Tree helped me see these two broad categories of issues affected by the Three Gorges Dam. The other method for analysis that I used was the Conflict Mapping Method, Figure 3. Because of the large number of stakeholders in the Three Gorges Dam conflict, creating a Conflict Map helped to illustrate who agreed with whom.

Figure 2: Conflict Tree of the Three Gorges Dam Project
Socio-Cultural Issues

Forced Resettlement

The forced resettlement of over a million people is one of the most contentious social issues caused by the Three Gorges Dam, though the government is supposedly helping those forced to move. As one grandmother who had been farmer her entire life said “They forced us to tear everything down and move away” (Maass, 1996, ¶2). One of the reasons they resisted the resettlement once the construction began is because there was a lack of governmental assistance for the farmers (Economy, 2004). The U.S. News and World Report stated that “A five person family is supposed to get 29,000 yuan (about $4000) as compensation for the loss of (their) home” (Maass, 1996, ¶4). However, as the story about the three farmers suggests this money does not always get to those who need it or are entitled to it. According to the Chinese census, there are three times as many people living in the Three Gorges area than the national average population densities. This means that more people have to move because the dam was built in this region of China (Gupta & Asher, 2000). The village of Daqiao had 57 people move to another province as part of the relocation process in 2002, but they have all moved back to the Yangtze River area (Yardley, 2007). However, this story was not reported to the Chinese people and those who returned were harshly forced out again. The resettlement process has not gone smoothly, in the slightest, as evidenced by the fact that almost 30 percent of the plans for resettlement have failed (Kwai-cheong, 1995).

Suppression of Dissenting Views

“They don’t let us talk to journalist, they’ll punish us for saying bad things about them” is what one female Chinese citizen told CNN when she was interviewed. Dai Qing, one individual who had the courage to speak out against the dam, was arrested and spent 10 months in jail (Chetham, 2002). It is said that before Tiananmen Square more people were speaking out against the dam but since that time the voices of dissent have virtually vanished (Kennedy, 2001). Qing’s family is very well known, which some believe is the reason her story is public (Chetham, 2002). Others who voiced opposing views were not as lucky as Qing, like the three farmers. The charges, especially those of leaking state secrets and maintaining illicit relationships with foreign countries, are fabricated charges. What is very sad is that while these men did eventually return home to their families, they will be forever watched by the government because they were trying to help their families (Chetham, 2002). Many human rights organizations around the world have voiced opposition to the Chinese government’s stance on dissenting views. Meanwhile China claims that these abuses of power are rare.

Health Concerns

One of the hidden issues of the Three Gorges Dam Project are the expected changes in the health of the people who remain in the area. Malaria, which is already at epidemic levels in the area, will likely increase because of the increase in standing water which can provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes (Gupta & Asher, 2000). Large amounts of lead and mercury are dumped in the Yangtze river on a yearly basis, which, when the area is flooded will expose the people in the area to toxic chemicals (Chetham, 2002). In addition, it has been culturally acceptable to dump trash into the river most of which will not be removed before the reservoir begins filling. This parasite is already present in the Three Gorges area and will most likely increase once the dam is built. Roughly 8,800 tons of toxic pollutants go into the river every year, largely from factories and sewage (Chetham, 2002). Eighty percent of the sewage from Chongqing, a large city just upstream of the dam site, dumps right into the river untreated. Along with the trash comes parasites; schistosomiasis is a parasite that causes liver cancer (Chetham, 2002). The Chinese government has made no plans to help those in need of medical help even if their health is affected by the dam. Human rights organizations and those forced to resettle are frustrated with the government’s lack of action.

Loss of Archeological Sites

Eight hundred historic sites will be destroyed as the reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam fills with water. Four of the sites that will be flooded date back to the early Neolithic time period (Chetham, 2002). There are six historically walled cities and ancient plank roads within the area to be submerged by the water (Gamer, 1999). There are sites of Ba settlements. The Ba were a group of ancient people in the region roughly 4,000 years ago (Kennedy, 2001). Archeologists want to preserve these historic sites but the Chinese government gave them neither time nor money to perform the preservation work.

Environmental Issues

It is interesting to note that the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference issues a report in 1986 opposing the construction of the dam in the Three Gorges area and raising concerns over sedimentation of the proposed reservoir and flood control upstream of the dam (Chetham, 2002). This report led to the dam being postponed, but not indefinitely. This report suggested the consideration of tributary dams, which would decrease the environmental impacts (Chetham, 2002). Environmentalists have concerns over loss of endangered species, erosion problems caused by the dam, and the need for clean energy.

Endangered species

The Chinese Sturgeon, Yangtze Dolphin and Siberian Crane are all endangered species that inhabit the Three Gorges area (Gupta & Asher, 2000). Chinese Paddle Fish have not been caught in the Yangtze since 2003, about the time the dam construction was halfway done (Casey, 2008). There are 47 plant species that could easily go extinct from the flooding, 36 of which are found only within the Three Gorges Dam area (Chetham, 2002). Environmentalists are highly concerned about the loss of species diversity due to the dam, but the government claims that need for clean energy is more important. While I was in China, I was repeatedly told that the species would be fine, despite the lack of fish jumps or fish ladders.

Problems with Erosion

It is possible that there will be a series of erosional problem as an result of the dam. Twenty years after the completion of the dam, sediment build up will have reached Chongqing (Yardley, 2007). Dredging of the reservoir will need to take place in order to keep the shipping channels open. This sedimentation will render the reservoir nearly pointless unless dredging routinely occurs. The construction of the dam has triggered erosion along the banks of the Yangtze upstream from the dam site and may have triggered landslides (The Economist, 2007). Human rights organizations are concerned that the dam will continue to cause erosion of the banks, where people are living. Banks have already collapsed in 91 locations (The Economist, 2007). Silt and sediment build up behind the dam is another environmental concern that will affect the entire Yangtze River, not just the reservoir. There is 585,000 tons of silt coming down the river in the average year, before construction began (Chetham 2002). Human rights organizations, farmers, and environmentalists are all concerned about the possible erosional problems that will result from the dam. The Chinese government and shipping interests are mildly concerned about the sedimentation of the reservoir, but assure the public that can be fixed through continual dredging.

Clean energy

China needs energy if they want to continue to prosper and advance in the world’s economy. The hydrologic power from the power will be generated by the 26 turbines inside the dam and these turbines will generate either 18.2 million kilowatts or 84.7 million kilowatts of energy (Chetham, 2002; Associated Press, 2008). If 84.7 million kilowatts are produced, that is enough energy for Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento counties to be lit up (Associated Press, 2008). The Three Gorges Dam will reduce emissions by 150 million tons (CNN, 2008). This part of the conflict is mainly between the two differing environmental views. While some environmentalists see the harm that the dam will do diminishing the possible benefits of clean energy, others view the Dam as a way to drastically reduce China’s use of coal powered plants.

Figure 3: Conflict Map of the Three Gorges Dam
Transformation Methodology

I believe that the best strategy to transform the Three Gorges Dam conflict is the AmericaSpeaks through the use of 21st Century Town Meetings. The 21st Century Town Meeting method is based around a combination of small discussion groups and the use of modern technology. This methodology works well because it helps build the public confidence in government. “Fewer than four in ten America say they believe that ‘most elected officials care what people like me think’” (Goldman et al., 2004, p. 2). I wonder how the Chinese public views their government when such a small ratio of Americans believes the American Government care about what they think. In a culture of repression and control of dissenting views, the people in China need more of an opportunity to express their views anonymously.

One of the reasons that the 21st Century Town Meeting would work so well to resolve the Three Gorges Dam conflict is because large numbers of individuals can engage in the process at the same time. As many as 5,000 people at a single time which means that large numbers of Chinese citizens can participate, which will ease the tension that would be created if smaller groups were only allowed to participate (Holman, Devane, Cady & Associates, 2007).

Collaborative Possibilities

There are certain organizations and interest groups that have obvious collaboration possibilities. For instance, environmentalists who do not want the Three Gorges Dam built could easily collaborate with archeologists who want to protect the area or with Human Rights Organizations interested in ensuring that the Chinese people are kept safe. This type of analysis could also be formed with specific individuals like Dai Qing or with stakeholder groups such as the farmers or those individuals forced to resettle.

A less formal collaborative relationship could be created between the City Dwellers and the Chinese Government. The relationship between the Chinese Government and others cannot be as formalized as other relationships because of the imbalance of power created strength of the government. The Chinese Government has no need and probably no desire to collaborate with any interest group or organization within China’s borders because the government already has the power and does not need help to get things accomplished

Possible Problems

One of the most obvious problems associated with conflict resolution in China is the social atmosphere and government’s actions towards individuals with dissenting views. The social atmosphere of China is one in which individuals have to be highly protective of what they say because of the Chinese’s governments actions toward dissenting views. The most obvious example of the government’s actions toward dissent is the three farmers who were imprisoned for voicing their opinions. Another example is Dai Qing’s lack of access to governmental meetings and the banning of her book by the Chinese government. Both of these situations are evidence of the realistic fear held by the Chinese public.

The problem with any methodology used to transform a conflict, for the Three Gorges Dam conflict, is the extreme difference in what each group wants. The Chinese government wanted to build the dam and were willing to move over a million people to reach their aim. Environmentalists, archeologists, and human rights organizations oppose the construction of the dam, but for very different reasons. The distinct differences in the desired goals for the area and the fact that there are minimal ways to compromise makes this conflict a difficult one to solve.

Another difficulty that will have to be overcome before and during the collaborative process is the assumption, by most of the developed world, that typing and an understanding of computers is general knowledge, especially for individuals in China. However, this is not true. Logically, it makes no sense for a farmer in rural China to know how to type let alone, understand how a computer can send information to other places in the blink of an eye. If sessions are intended to include everyone regardless of who they are, it may be necessary to employ recorders, individuals knowledgeable about computers and willing to take notes on what other think.

Also, there is the issue of the language barrier. One of the desired goals is for all the participants to gain an understanding of how others feel about the dam; and so it is necessary for the discussion groups to have a diverse group of stakeholders. The desire to have a diverse group of stakeholders at a single table, with the exception of governmental officials, means that representatives from international organizations need to be inter-dispersed with farmers, archeologists, and individuals forced to resettle. A difficulty arises here, of having diverse stakeholders come in, not all international officials speak Mandarin, the official language of China, and not all Chinese citizens speak Mandarin. At the actual meetings, this may be the most difficult logistical challenge because who will show up is not known until the day and what language they speak will be undetermined as well. A large number of translators will be needed, even if they are used only to translate the group discussion computer inputs of comments.

With the goal of allowing complete anonymity for all those participating in the process there should not be a sign in or sign up sheet. The list could later be used, by the government, to persecute certain participants. The lack of a sign in sheet makes it difficult to ensure that all voices will be heard and that a wide range of demographics will be included in the mediation process. Part of this problem of lack of data about who is involved can be diminished if polls about demographics are taken at the beginning of each meeting or at each meeting location. This method will allow anonymity but still allow for increased understanding about who is participating.

Lastly the issue of the government accepting and acting on the public’s input creates a problem for the facilitator of the conflict transformative process. If the public do not feel that their ideas and input will have any impact on the decision that the overseeing body makes, then they will not want to participate in the process of making comments. This issue is going to be hard to overcome because of the historic context of China and the government’s views on public opinion.

Management Strategy

Initial Steps

There are five steps in the normal 21st Century Town Meeting method, however I have adapted this to include a sixths step (see Table 3). Step one is the development of the process through which people will be participating. This includes goal clarification, agenda creation and designing the components of what will be included during later discussion groups (Goldman et al., 2004). For the Three Gorges Dam conflict, the major goals of the meetings will be to: 1) ensure that all voices are given a chance to be heard; 2) build collaborative relationships between all groups; 3) gain knowledge about the opinions and views of others; 4) build trust between Chinese citizens and the Chinese government; and 5) reach a point where the Three Gorges Dam conflict is less contentious. Step one also includes designing the components or parts of what will become the meeting method, this is one of the areas where the plan I have deviates for the suggested method. Given the fear held by the Chinese people about what will happen if they voice dissenting views, I suggest that there be two different meeting rooms one for the public only and another for governmental officials. Usually all of the participants are in the same room.

The second step is the part of the process where stakeholders are contacted, members of the public are encouraged to come and recruitment of governmental officials occur (Goldman et al., 2004). This part of the process could be one of the most difficult because of the effort required to get the public involved. International organization have played major roles in protesting the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, including; Human Rights Watch Asia, environmental agencies, and archeologists from around the world; these organizations would most likely be willing to be involved with a collaborative project. One of the most delicate roads that will need to be navigates is convincing the Chinese public to be involved in an endeavor that could easily anger their government.


After the stakeholder groups are involved, it is time for a series of meetings. At the onset of every meeting it may be necessary for the facilitators to explain to the public that all of their comments and views will be kept anonymous. It is at this point when the process will be explained and fears assuaged about how the Chinese government feels about their participation. This time might also allow for a poll about who each individual is, which will provide data to the facilitators about who is involved without a sign in process.

A series of meetings or a single meeting with multiple sessions would allow for more people to add their input. Another option to increase the number of individuals who participate is to set up local input meetings, this option would be an effective way to get the farmers and locals opinions. During this step a large number small tables will be needed for small discussion groups to sit at. This is another place where my plan deviates from the traditional method because I plan to have a separate room for governmental officials. At each table or local input center there needs to be a computer and someone capable of operating that computer. The need for component typist might require hiring assistants to type the participants’ views. These views and comments will be directly sent to the facilitator team, though translation will be required either before the team separates the comments into specific themes or afterwards as everyone needs to be able to understand what is being discussed. The comments once separated into themes will be displayed on screens, each screen will be dedicated to a specific theme. The method of instant access to what other think will encourage thinking for other groups. The governmental officials will meet in another room, though some of the international organizations may be willing to meet with them. The opinions and views of the governmental discussions will be added to the screens the same as all other views. This separation of governmental and nongovernmental discussion groups will require more screens and computers, but will allow for freer conversations.

Post Meeting Actions

The step I am adding, is the combining of data from all of the discussion groups and its presentation to higher governmental officials. This step is necessary because combined data will encourage the Chinese government to accept the public’s views more readily. The cooperation of the Chinese government and the acceptance of the public’s opinions will not only go a long way towards getting the public to support the government’s future plans but help the public to stay safe from government repercussions.

Communication to the public, and in the Three Gorges Dam situation to the world, is the fifth step in the process. This outreach can be done in many ways including: public hearings, media outreach, meetings by stakeholder organizations, and governmental announcements. Once decisions have been made it is important to let the public know what was decided. This step is especially important when decisions may be controversial or when the issue has been controversial. A series of announcements will be necessary after the Three Gorges Dam conflict has been mediated due to the large number of stakeholders involved and the necessity of reaching everyone, in every language.

The final step in the AmericaSpeaks transformative process is, hopefully, sustaining engagement from as many individuals and groups as possible in the mediation method and evaluating how well they feel the mediation worked. In highly developed countries, like the United States, methods like online forums and community meetings work well. However, in a country like China and on an issue that affects multiple socio-economic levels, continued engagement by parties will be very difficult. Continuing involvement on the part of the farmers and those forced to resettle could result in them being targeted by the Chinese government, especially if the government does not appreciate or agree with the results of the meetings.


Evaluation of how the transformative methodology worked is difficult to complete under the conditions that have been suggested. Without a list of names of who participated in the meetings there can be no follow up interviews. A poll taken at the closing ceremonies of the meeting(s) would give the facilitators an idea bout how the participants felt. However, long term analysis would not be possible from this poll. The international organization’s views could be studied in a long term manner, but their opinions of the process could be biased based on how the result of the meeting affected their organization and the mission of their organization. The most telling and visible change after the meetings would be Chinese government’s changes or lack of changes in the environmental policies enacted and how they were enacted. Additionally, while there may not be an immediate official governmental response to the Three Gorges Dam conflict, the Chinese government may well respond differently in the future.

Table 3: 21st Century Town Meeting Steps

(Adapted from Holman, Devane, Cady & Associates, 2007)

Stakeholder Response

I believe the all of the stakeholders involved within this conflict will agree that the 21st Century Town Meeting method is an appropriate transformative method, with the possible exception of the Chinese government. If the Chinese government agrees to let facilitators run this program or a similar one, then there is a good chance that, while little will change for those individuals directly affected by the Three Gorges Dam, future policy decisions will include more of the citizens’ concerns.


In modern times, the Chinese government has made remarks both opposing and supporting the dam’s construction. Stated by the State Council‘s Three Gorges Project Construction Committee Executive Director “We can say the impact the Three Gorges (Dam) has had on the ecosystem does not go beyond what we predicted”(Li, 2007, ¶2) in response to his previous comments about possible hazards of the dam. Earlier the director said “ many threats to the environment and could lead to major hazards” (Li, 2007, ¶3). Either way the Three Gorges Dam is near completion, most of the 1.4 million people have been resettled, and some of the environmental degradation has already taken place. This conflict is diverse, with many varying opinions and views, has many facets and many issues, and is a conflict that will be examined for years to come. “A level playing field on which citizens can authentically engage” (Holman, Devane, Cady & Associates, 2007, p. 394) is created when a mediation method like a 21st Century Town Meeting is used. As anonymity is important to the citizens in China when they speak out against governmental practices, this method of mediation would work well.

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