The PRC’s First Great Flood

Conquered by the Eastern Han in 200 CE, Chun'an on the Xin'an River enjoyed almost 2,000 years of cultivation, before being consigned to flooding by the new PRC.

Doesn’t matter what the how is if the why is right. Tell people today to pack up and build themselves new lives, all for the good of their country. The best reaction you can hope for is amused disbelief. But in the PRC’s infancy, the greater good was official State Religion, and cynicism rare as obesity.

So when Mao decided to set-up a hydro power station in Zhejiang’s Tongguan Valley, flooding it and forcing scores of thousands to dismantle and re-mantle their towns, it wasn’t an imposition so much as a chance for them to shine like true Revolutionary Patriots. By the Three Gorges Dam relocation boondoggle, that spirit was long gone; slim chance a vivid record ever emerges. But the Tongguan power station, 4.5 million RMB and one year in the making, a miracle of emerging Chinese can-do, elicited enough pride to merit copious documentation. Here are some of those pics – a black and white portrait of why trumping how, a mere six decades ago.

A peaceful street in He town, which along with 48 other towns, 1,377 villages, and 20,000 hectares of farmland, would be submerged to bring electricity to Hangzhou.

A peaceful ancient tower reflected in the river, months before the flooding.

It wasn’t all temples and sleepy streets in pre-flood Chun’an. Here’s an action shot from the 5th People’s Sports Meeting, Chun’an’s first and last socialist sports event.

Transplanting rice seedlings to their new homes was a top priority for agriculturally-based Chun’an.

Peasants of He town get their s**t together, collecting fertilizer en masse for the Great Leap Forward.

Chun’an County Committee cadres had plenty to smile about, on a revolutionary outing to He town’s Zhongshan Park.

No jerkwater one-horse town, He embodied classic Chinese culture, boasting three national scholars of the years, a huge accomplishment for one relatively small locale.

A street view of pre-flood Gangkou town: quaint, peaceful, and utterly redundant to socialist objectives. Today, such towns draw impressive tourist dollars. Cities fabricated according to the principles of socialist realism, not so much.

Pre-flood Weiping Shubu village, home of yet another national scholar.

Another shot of Weiping village. Pretty dead looking, right? This is where the infamous Fang La began his rebellion against the Song Dynasty, eventually capturing Hangzhou, and a semi-fictional role against a bandit horde in the Chinese classic The Water Margin.

Communist All-Star Zhou Enlai stops by to check on the Chun’an relocation. “Any complaints about tearing down your life here in the valley and rebuilding it brick-by-brick in the mountains? No? Sure?”

With Ryder trucks at a premium, the Chun’an migrants did most of their property-moving the old fashioned way.

Then again, there was some motorized transport, for politically-connected peasants.

Recycling old tiles by sliding them down strings.

Finished in 1959, the Xin’an River Dam gave millions electricity, and many farming thousands a revolutionary challenge to start over in the semi-arable mountains.

First priority went to the new County Committee and Public Security Bureau buildings, which would come in handy during the soon-to-come Cultural Revolution.

The newly white-washed, socially correct, utterly uninspired “residential area” of the new Pailing County, 1961.

A long-distance bus departs Pailing on the only level road out of town, one that quickly turned muddy and dangerous. Most transplanted residents would continue to use rafts for the next ten years.

If domestic life was basic in their new home, political life was rich. The founding of the county revolutionary committee – December, 1967. Down with capitalist roaders! Farmers and laborers will always come first!

Today, Qingdao Lake Town is a tourist destination, a garden city, and a world away from its bones, lying on the lake bottom.

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