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Up The Yangtze - The Film

A few days ago I finally had the chance to see the film "Up the Yangtze" at the IFC film center. There were hardly a half dozen in the audience, which was a shame because the documentary was wonderful, a dramatic parable of change in modern China.

The film follows a young boy and girl who look for work on a luxury tour boat for Western tourists coasting the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River. For both, the boat represents an escape from the drudgery of everyday life on shore, an opportunity or springboard to a better life. But unlike Huck Finn's escape from stifling sivilization, here the opportunity is to learn English, to meet foreigners and learn from them, a lucky break at earning a modern living in the service industry and entry into the middle class.

The epic backdrop of their story is the closing of the Three Gorges Dam, which tamed the mighty Yangzte, and will bring electricity and modern living standards to much of the region. It is expected to provide fully 10% of China's electricity needs when fully filled. The tough cost is that the reservoir backed up behind the dam has forced the relocation of nearly 2 million residents, inundated countless archaeological sites of China's earliest peoples, and flooded the best flat agricultural land in a mountainous region.

But in following this opportunity toward prosperity, those who live along the Yangtze cannot look back at the poverty of peasant farming and the old backbreaking work of pulling boats upstream against the rapids in the gorge. And if they want a chance to tour on those luxury boats someday as well as work on them, the river must change as well in order to align with the modern global service economy.

Up the Yangtze is playing in New York and cities in Canada, and is scheduled to be shown on POV on PBS in October.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 16, 2008 12:40 PM.

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