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Gongshan 2121 -- River Running Free

The Ecotopia 2121 project details the future of 100 cities around the world as if they had somehow overcome all social and environmental problems to become superecological. This week we highlight the future of Gongshan, China.


The Salween River Valley in China is a landscape of rare beauty, often called the Grand Canyon of the East. It is the last great free-flowing river in China; all the rest have been dammed, diverted, or disappeared in the drought. The Salween begins at the Tibetan Plateau and winds through China, then Burma, then along the Thai border, then into Burma again before ending in an estuary in the Andaman Sea. Along its banks are five million people, many of whom are subsistence farmers who depend on the river's water and its fish.

Today, when China proposes a series of dams on the river, people near the Salween know that the river could soon change forever. They also fear a major disaster if a dam breaks during an earthquake or flood. For these reasons, and due to difficult negotiations with Burma and Thailand downstream, the dams have been suspended, for now.

Fast forward to the next century. On the first day of January 2121, Gongshan City residents are told to evacuate their homes and leave immediately. The dam project has finally started and your little town will be submerged. At first, they refuse to budge. They were to meet with lawyers on January 2 to work out a way to stop the dam. It appears that the evictions started early to get ahead of the meeting. Meanwhile, construction of the dam begins upstream.

For a year, residents refuse to leave their homes; they are afraid of being demolished if they go outside. Supporters and relatives from other riverside towns come to deliver food and offer moral support. The government knows that forced evictions could make them look bad, but they are eager to move forward with the project. However, on December 31, 2121, a day before the Chinese army's order to attack the Gongshan protesters came, a week of heavy rain caused a massive landslide right where the dam is being built. The landslide crushes machinery and infrastructure beneath a mountain of rocks, but sets the Salween free. No one is injured, but the project is in shambles and must be abandoned. Gongshan survives in peace and residents leave their homes to thank nature for its help.

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