This is the story of how Tiger Leaping Gorge (hu tiao xia) dam was stopped, drawn from an excerpt from Liu Jianqiang's book, China and the Environment: The Green Revolution . Tiger Leaping Gorge is a canyon on the Jinsha River, a primary tributary of the upper Yangtze River , located 60 kilometres north of Lijiang City. It is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas World Heritage Site. The Jinsha is the upper stretch of the Yangtze River in Yunnan Province, means “Golden Sand” in Chinese.
There are many local movements to stop dams by fierce public opposition. Chinese NGOs, the media and people displaced by dams. Sometimes they are successful. Although the hydropower companies had long wanted to dam Tiger Leaping Gorge, work here never started . The campaign to protect Tiger Leaping Gorge, which ran from 2004 to 2006, not only safeguarded one of China’s most magnificent landscapes, but it also saved the homes of more than 100,000 ethnic minority peoples, making the campaign one of the biggest success stories for China’s green defenders . Liu Jianqiang covered this story as a reporter for Southern Weekend. On 27 July 2004, the state news agency Xinhua reported that the NDRC had reviewed and passed the Planning Report on the Damming of the Middle Reaches of the Jinsha River. It had recommended that work should start soon on the Tiger Leaping Gorge dam.
In the plan, hydropower stations, forming an eight-dam cascade starting at Tiger Leaping Gorge, would be built on the middle reaches of the Jinsha River . It would forcibly displace 100,000 people and about 13,333 hectares of good agricultural land would be submerged .
The main public opponent of the dams at Tiger Leaping Gorge was a man named Xiao Liangzhong. He was an anthropologist and an editor at a Beijing-based publishing house, who hailed from the Tiger Leaping Gorge area. His grandmother, parents and brothers all still lived there. He was 31 years old and full of energy.
The plan to turn the middle reaches of the Jinsha River into an eight-dam cascade had Tiger Leaping Gorge at the top, and the Jinanqiao hydropower station as the fifth dam. Jinanqiao was owned by the Beijing Huarui Investment Group, and preparatory work on the dam had started in 2002. The dam was to be 156 metres high, with a total installed capacity of 2,500 megawatts. According to the plan, the river would be dammed by 2005.
Local villagers said they suspected that construction work on the Jinanqiao dam was illegal: that it had begun without approval from the central government. A journalist, with help from the Lisu ethnic group, bypassed the guards and saw various cargo trucks busying back and forth like ants, two of the dam’s diversion tunnels starting to take shape, and the main building works, such as the cofferdam, already under construction.
The journalists also found out from a government source that the town of Lijiang would earn about 4 million yuan in tax revenues from the dam – and that this was why the local government there had warmly welcomed the project. .
Back in Beijing, the project had definitely not yet been approved. Journalist phoned an official from the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA, now the MEP) and he sounded shocked: ‘That’s a world-famous site of natural beauty. How could anyone build a powerstation there?!’ .
The journalists' article was published on the front page of Southern Weekend on 29 September 2004, with the headline ‘Emergency at Tiger Leaping Gorge’. It focused public attention on the issue. Following this report, Chinese and international media began to cover the story. It became the biggest environmental story since the campaign to stop the Nu River dam.
The article quoted environmentalists who said that the Tiger Leaping Gorge dam could wipe out whole species. The resettlement of the Naxi ethnic group, who live along the banks of the Jinsha River, would mean the irreversible loss of the traditional sites and accumulated wisdom of their Dongba ritual culture. But supporters of the dam stressed its economic benefits. Director of the Management Bureau of the Three Parallel Rivers, Ma Suhong, said: ‘We need to lift the people out of poverty.’
His view was challenged by anthropologist and editor Xiao Liangzhong. Land in the Jinsha River Valley above Tiger Leaping Gorge was both fertile and flat, he said. It was a traditional farming community with excellent quality soil. The compensation fund for relocation was far less than what the local people would really lose. High-quality farmland would be submerged. Clearly, the skilled farmers of this river valley would be impoverished if they were evicted from their land. The plan for the Tiger Leaping Gorge dam estimated that 100,000 people would need to be relocated. When these people were moved, they wouldn’t be able to find land as good as that they had been farming. Once-prosperous villages would sink into poverty.
Moreover, the Southern Weekend report confirmed two important points. First, construction work on the Jinanqiao hydropower station was unlawful. Second, the 100,000 local people hadn’t been informed about what would happen to them, and were categorically opposed to being resettled .
Li Xiaoxi was an associate professor at the Air Force Command Institute, and knew an official in the office of the premier, Wen Jiabao. She called that official the day after our article was published and said that Wen should read it – and see that a dam was being built illegally at Tiger Leaping Gorge. The official replied: ‘We’ve seen this article. It’s a good story with solid facts.’ Shortly afterwards, Wen Jiabao ordered the project suspended, while the NDRC investigated the situation .
However, the building plans was continued. According to source  in early 2006, hydro companies and the local government started preliminary work on Tiger Leaping Gorge. Helicopters flew in the sky, and surveyors appeared in the fields. The surveyors would put down markers in the fields at night, and in the morning the farmers would pull them out again. The conflict kept escalating until March 21, 2006, when farmers seized a group of seven surveyors and held them hostage in the fields. The villagers did not think that the surveyors had the central government’s approval. The next morning, a government official said he was taking a surveyor to breakfast, and then helped him escape. The villagers were enraged. According to an old Naxi woman, "“The official was chased by the angry villagers from the field all the way to the river. He had no choice but to jump in!” she laughed. “He was saved later, but even then the police wouldn’t fight us. They said, ‘How can we fight our own parents?’”
The angry villagers began gathering in front of the local government building. Soon, 10,000 people from the surrounding area showed up. They brought metal bars and rocks with them. However, local leaders received a tip from a local official: the provincial government wanted to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible. The government was ready to make concessions, but armed police would be sent in if the protest continued. In the morning, the provincial government posted a statement all over town: the Tiger Leaping Gorge dam was to be stopped, and any further dams will not be built without the consent of the locals. The jubilant villagers took the flyers home to keep as evidence. A violent conflict had been avoided, and their homes were saved .