Peak Dam? China and a Global History of Dam Building

Sun Yat-sen was perhaps the first modern Chinese leader to wax rhapsodic about water. In June 1894 letter to the official Li Hongzhang, he had celebrated its possibilities, observing that, unlike coal, it was an inexhaustible source of electricity. It would take another two decades for China’s first hydro-electric dam to appear. Built with German expertise and machinery, the Shilongba—Stone Dragon Dam—came online in the first year of the new Republic (1912) powering the street lights of nearby Kunming. In the one hundred years since, China has become the world’s leader in dam building: there are an estimated 90,000 dams in China today. This exploratory talk will discuss of how we might quantify China’s dam building since 1912 and situate it within a larger global history. Answering the question will require an exploration of the various ways in which dams are measured: number, height, volume, design, technology, materials, discharge, installed capacity, economic impact, environmental impact, etc. Such analysis can help us track not just material changes, but also the evolution of attitudes regarding dam-building.

Date and Time:
March 14, 2019 - 4:00pm to 6:00pm
Coor Hall