Mar. 23, 2023
Decade River project 2010(10) A smooth lake rises in the high mountains

Decade River project 2010(10) A smooth lake rises in the high mountains
Author: Wang Yongchen
Camera man: Wang Yongchen

Less than 20 years have passed since the 1980s, when I sighed with wonder at the turbulent flow of the Dadu River. As I look across the placid lake in the valley that once held the Dadu River, it is hard to imagine such a great change.

(insert website)

On December 3 2010, we started our journey from Xichang. We saw the Yaan-Lugu expressway construction, and the crumbling mountains surrounding the new road made it hard to believe that Yihai had once been a romantic place.


Dredging on the river.

Hydropower plant on the river.

How many rivers have come to this?

I don’t know how many others can focus on this issue with the journalistic objectivity of the Decade River Project.

Today, the car that we rented in Pan Zhihua, broke down when we passed by Shimian. This is the second time this year, the fifth year of the Decade River Project, that we have had vehicle problems. The drivers are unwilling to continue with us because of concerns about lack of fuel and mechanical breakdown.

We have no alternative but to rent two minibuses to take us to Hanyuan. When I came to report about Hanyuan in 2008 the dams had not yet flooded the  reservoirs, and the turbulent flow of Dadu River remained before my eyes.  Now, there is only a lifeless lake under an overcast sky.

Smooth lake formed by the Dadu River


Construction on the Dadu River.

Old town of Hanyuan already submerged in the reservoir.


Hanyuan (website address!)

Originally, the Decade River Project didn’t travel to Hanyuan. However, after the 2008 earthquake we added Dadu River to our rivers of focus. We are paying particular attention to the the Hanyuan county section of the Dadu River, because the Pu Bugou water power plant will submerge this area.

Hanyuan County was originally located beside the Dadu River. Following construction of the Pu Bugou hydropower station, the county was relocated to the neighboring Luobu ridge. The old town had not been restored for many years and had decayed from the prosperous place that it once had been.
Following the dam construction, the old town of Hanyuan was demolished and rebuilt in a higher place. The town’s original location will be 800 meters under water once the reservoir is filled. In 2009, we saw the partially flooded old town and the new town in the midst of construction.
There is an expression in the internet community: Hanyuan’s old town would be submerged before March 2010, so the Luobu Ridge would become the new home for the Hanyuan people. The contradictions, extremes, harmony, gratitude and grudges produced in the process of relocating will be submerged in the long river of history.


Satellite image of Hanyuan

I believe that new lives and new contradictions will not be so easily submerged in the long river of history.
The relevant government agencies escorted our vehicle all the way from Shimian to Hanyuan, so we failed to take photos of today’s Hanyuan.I hope that old Hanyuan town, once a fertile and affluent place, is not forgotten.


The old town of Hanyuan.


The Eco Tour of Green Earth program in 2005

Hanyuan County is located in the southeast mountains of Sichuan, in the southern part of Yaan. It has six districts, eight towns, 32 townships, 225 villages and 1851 villager groups. It has a population of 350 thousand residents who make up 17 ethnic groups including Han, Yi, Tibetan and Hui. The minority ethnic groups account for ten percent of the total population. It is a successful region of the Chengdu economic sphere and Panxi economic belt, and is known as ‘the land of wild peppers’. Its unique climate and abundant natural resources endow it with a great potential for future development. Hanyuan also has a long history and splendid culture. The Fulin and Shi Zishan cultures are famous in China and beyond. The Silk Road of South China and the Ancient Tea Road have enjoyed widespread renown in both ancient and modern times.

(website of origin)

Hanyuan County is located on the banks of the middle reaches of the Dadu River, between the Sichuan Basin and the Tibetan plateau. It lies at 29°05′ -29°43′ north and 102°16′-103°00′ east, bordered by the industrial and agricultural zones of Leshan city and of Meishan city’s  Hongya county to the east, Guoluo county of Liangshan prefecture to the south, Luding county of Ganzi prefecture and Shimian county to the west, and Xingjing county to the north.


History and Culture


With a history of more than two millennia, Hanyuan was established in 97B.C. The ancient yak road has witnessed the many developments that have accompanied South China’s Silk Road. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, the Revolution of 1911 and the Long March are all parts of Hanyuan’s story.

Ancient sites


Hanyuan ancient sites include the stone age relics of Fulin and Shi Zishan, and relics of smelting in Er Banshan of Datian in the era of Qin and Han. The relics of ancient culture include ancient Li zhou relics, Yujian relics, relics of Qing Xi ancient tracks, Castle relics of Dashu, Qing Xian fortress relics, Menghuo relics and Sanjiao relics.

Hanyuan has a multitude of historic inscriptions, including the Yuyuan Inscriptions, the Stone Inscription of Stretched mountains and Vast Sea, the Inscriptions of Liu Tingmo Cliff, the Inscriptions of Wen Changgong Calligraphy, the Inscriptions of Wild Pepper Tribute Free, the Gravestone of Three Superbs and the Inscriptions of Long March.


Ancient Architecture





The Confucian temple, located in the northeast corner of Qingxi Ancient City, was the main place where writers and scholars of various dynasties offered sacrifices to Confucius. The temple was constructed in 1799 and rebuilt in 1870. It is the best preserved timber structure in southwest China, and is included in the county-level cultural relic protection program.Ancient architecture of Hanyuan.

Jin Zhongshan Temple.

Deep gorges of Dadu River

The deep gorges of Hanyuan County’s Dadu River have attracted the attention of geologists and the media both inside and outside of the Sichuan province. Geologists involved with the Sichuan Geological Survey were please to discover that the splendor and cragginess of the deep gorges of Dadu River are comparable to the internationally famous Yangtze Gorges. The deep gorges start from Wu Sihe Town of Hanyuan County in the west and end at the Baixiong George of Yongli Township in the east, a total length of seventeen kilometers. Before the Dadu River poured into the Sichuan Basin, it cut through Washan Mountain, which towered in the southwest Sichuan basin like a last mountainous threshold. The river’s gradual erosion through Washan Mountain created spectacular deep gorges and a perfect geological profile of thousands of meters. The beauty of the rugged landscape is breathtaking.




Hanyuan county




Natural resources


Hanyuan is rich agriculturally, and produces rice, wheat, corn, sweet potatoes, peppers, golden pears, Guangdong oranges, cherries and kidney beans, all of which are famous both at home and abroad. Fresh fruit is available all year. The myriad of wonderful fruits produced in the region is dazzling and includes pears, apples, peaches, cherries, oranges, longans and grapes.

Hanyuan also produces a variety of vegetables. Its tomatoes, onions, garlic stems, garlic and peas are sold all over China. Hanyuan is also home to a diverse assortment of rare trees such as ginkgos, nanmu, cinnamomum camphora and spruce, as well as some of the world’s rarest animals, such as the panda and the buaorcas taxicolor.

Migrant woman selling cakes on the street.

Old houses were flooded by the reservoir before the new housing was completed.

In 2009, we interviewed a woman who was selling cakes on the street. She told us her family once had a two-storey house, chickens, ducks and fruit trees. One year’s harvest could support the family for three years, so they never worried about food and clothing.

State construction projects like the giant Pu Bugou hydropower station are drawn here by the abundant water resources in Hanyuan. The completion of the giant hydropower plant changed old Hanyuan and started a new life in new Hanyuan.





The National Geological Park did not escape damage from the exploitation of the Dadu River’s water resources. The Shen Xigou and Zhou Touba power plants were built in the gorges of Dadu River in the National Geological Park.


Losses of the Earthquake


2:30 in the afternoon on May 12, 2008, was a moment that astonished the world. The 8.0 Wenchuan Earthquake struck, impacting almost half of the Asian continent. At about the same time, Hanyuan also suffered a severe earthquake. In the blink of an eye, the buildings began shaking violently and Hanyuan was clouded in horror and dust. The wounded were everywhere and crumbled houses created a terrible scene of devastation. In no time at all, the peaceful town had become a heap of ruins. According to the survey of the people’s government after the earthquake, the distance, as the crow flies, between Hanyuan and Wenchuan is 200 kilometers. However, even more devastating destruction occurred by Hanyuan than elsewhere, and the force of the quake by the Du Jiangyan is estimated at 8.0-9.0. Experts explain this unique phenomenon as an instance of abnormal intensity of a distant earthquake.


The devastated area of Hanyuan county.

Hanyuan is not only in a zone of high earthquake risk but also in a zone of high landslide and mudslide risk.
On December 3, we went to the gorges of Dadu River in a car we had rented in Shimian. As we passed by an immigrant village in the gorges, we were told to not leave the car for fear of landslides. The nearby villages of Wan Gongji and Shuanghe had collapsed around 5:00a.m. on July 27 after several consecutive days of torrential rain.
According to the preliminary reports, there were 58 damaged houses and 21 missing persons. The volume of the mudslide caused by the torrential rain was about 100,000 cubic meters. Because of continued danger, the rescue group had withdrawn from the scene of the disaster. Although the landslide had been stopped by houses, it had potential to continue sliding and resume its path of destruction.






When I was returning to the hotel that the local publicity departments had arranged for us, I saw an article in South Weekend about the prevention of mudslides in Sichuan’s Hanyuan county.

The article said that Hanyuan County had a population of more than ten thousand people. As Hanyuan County is surrounded by water on three sides, its landmass is saturated with water. It is also located in the danger zone of the reservoir. Geologists suggest that this presents a serious safety hazard, as the changeable water table could influence geological stability and potentially cause a large scale landslide.

The people of Wan Gongji town, in Hanyuan County, are haunted by fear after the horrible mudslide in Zhouqu, Sichuan province, because Wan Gongji is located in a landslide danger area similar to that of Zhouqu. Wan Gongji residents are worried that Hanyuan could be the next Zhouqu.

According to the South Weekend report a year before this town was constructed, local villagers appealed to the government on the basis of the town’s potentially hazardous location. As a result, construction was delayed for a year. Ultimately, the construction and location continued as planned.

In reality, the geology of Hanyuan is as complicated as that of Zhouqu. The new power plant will undoubtedly change the ecological environment that has existed for thousands of years. After resettlement, the complexities of this geology will continue to unfurl.

A county full of disaster
Luobu Ridge has been under large scale construction since 2008, and will be home to more than thirty thousand people in the future.

Plans for these developments were initiated in 2001, when the cascade hydropower development on the Dadu River Valley in Sichuan and the Pu Bugou hydropower plant were outlined in the Tenth Five-Year Plan.

After  the large hydropower station is completed, sections of the valley under 850 meters will be submerged. Nearly one hundred thousand people will be relocated including thirty thousand who will be moved to areas outside the region, with the rest remaining in the region.
Take the bull by the horns

The serious safety hazards of the hydropower development worried a  cadre of the people‘s congress. He repeatedly submitted statements to the higher authorities and finally received a reply.

In response, three academics from the Chinese Academy of Engineering came to Luobu Ridge to conduct a special survey. The results showed that there were serious problems with the previous geological survey. The more recent survey found nine potential landslide masses. The academics also discovered that the resettlement plan, which involves 45 construction projects, 149 thousand square meters and nineteen thousand people, needed to be redesigned.

However, at this point it was too late - the construction in Hanyuan County had progressed beyond a feasible stopping point.

In order to reduce investment, the State Power Corporation of China, in coordination with the National Development and Reform Commission, had decreased the budget drastically.


The landslide of Luanshi Ridge ultimately caused 360 million in damages. The vulnerable geological structure of Luobu Ridge is sensitive to water. In the event of water seepage, landslides or mudslides are highly probable.

To ensure timely initiation of power production, the new county had to work against the clock to complete the power plant according to the original plan.

On November 1 2009, Pu Bugou finally closed its gate to begin impounding water.

However, evidence of landslides has also begun to appear on Luobu Ridge. Workers have had to reinforce piles, because nine out of the eighteen piles which are behind one of the rows of buildings at the top of Luobu Ridge were broken. Additionally, there has been evidence of settlement tilt near construction sites.

Fanxiao, an engineer from the Geology and Minerals Bureau, believes that Hanyuan’s basic geological structure is weak, and its development potential is thus limited. In fact, the majority of landmass has hidden geological hazards.
From this perspective, landslides, mudslides, and other potential geological hazards are inevitable in Hanyuan . He thought Wan Gong wouldn’t be the last place to suffer such damage.

Secondary geological disasters caused by hydropower developments included disasters in Zhouqu and Hanyuan, as well as the massive mudslide that occurred on July 23 in Sichuan. reported that the mudslide, which happened in Kangding, Sichuan, hindered the rescue efforts of aid workers and policemen.

A catastrophic mudslide also happened at the Xiang Shuigou section of the Chang Heba hydropower plant construction site, in the Shelian township of Ganzi prefecture, Sichuan, at 2:57pm on July 23, 2009. It resulted in five deaths, 49 missing persons, and four injuries. The mudslide buried and shattered a one thousand meter long section of provincial highway S211. Additionally, the ballast and gabion of some sections of the highway was destroyed, and the stability of the slope was affected.

 The alluvial flood debris covers an area of half a square kilometer. The Dadu River was originally nearly 100 meters wide, but now the Xiang Shuigou river mouth is only 20 meters wide. The rapid flow splashes on the banks with waves up to four meters high.

We did not visit Hanyuan county during the Decade River visit in 2010. Regretfully leaving Hanyuan, we realize that our hopes for Hanyuan are the same as those of the local government: instead of having to hide development problems from journalists, we hope that the local government could invite experts  from different fields to work together to solve Hanyuan’s potential geological problems.
The stability of the Dadu River and people on both banks rests on the stability of nature.
Do you officials agree that?

Dadu River became a smooth lake in the mountains.

Tomorrow, we will go to the juncture of the two rivers.

Translator:  Jiangtao
Proofreader: Jane Chipman;Karen