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Last of the Dongting Dolphins -- Yiyang 2121

The Ecotopia 2121 project looks at the urban futures of 100 cities around the world. This month we forecast the future of Yiyang, China.

Yiyang is a city of five million people on the shores of the great lake of Dongting. Postcards of the city are resplendent with lovely, romantic scenes of this famous lake and its feeder rivers.

Yiyang nowadays

In the mid-twenty-first century, though, it is quite possible that, like the rest of China, Yiyang will experience environmental chaos that could kill many hundreds of thousands of people, and leaving hundreds of thousands more homeless and millions jobless and bringing the Communist government to its knees because of the lack of resources and social unrest.

Lake Dongting, the city’s lifeblood, is likely to suffer worst of all, as this projected chronology foretells:

• In 2060, large portions of the lake are filled in with landfill materials and reclaimed. While the city of Yiyang grows, the lake gets smaller.

• In 2061, the lake is deluged with contaminated mud, toxic sludge, burning oil spills, fiery floating garbage, pesticide residue, and fertilizers, meaning that the fish population plummets, decimating the fishing industry and the lake’s biodiversity.

• In 2062, a series of episodic floods wipes out lakeside communities. The tourism industry collapses because the image of Dongting Lake has changed from that of a pristine, watery paradise to an oily, fiery, stinky hell.

• In 2063, plant and animal life seems to have all but disappeared from the lake, and Dongting is pronounced by ecologists to be biologically dead.

With free elections sprouting up all over China at about this time, it is apparent that two parties emerge in post-communist Yiyang: the Blue Party and the Green Party. The Blue Party promises high GDP and high wages brought about by selling off all state industries on the 'more efficient' free market. They also promise to implement new technologies to deal with the nasty ravages of nature.

The Green Party promises to stop the war against nature and train every Chinese person how to make a living working with nature instead of against it. In Yiyang, in the wake of the Lake Dongting eco-crises, the Greener vision wins.The path to ecotopia in Yiyang is symbolically tied to the fate of the Dongting freshwater dolphin.

At the moment, the survival of this charming, smiling dolphin is precarious at best. Some hundred individuals are all that remain in the lake, which once teemed with tens of thousands. In 2064 they are extinct, a warning about the future to the humans in the area.

But by 2121, they are miraculously alive once more...

Yiyang 2121


Somehow—probably from one of Lake Dongting’s feeder rivers—a small population is able to survive the disasters of the mid-twenty-first century and then migrate back to the lake fifty years later. For Yiyang’s Green Party, this is a symbol of their success in creating a 22nd century 'Green Utopia'.


Bell, S., and S. Morse. Sustainability Indicators: Measuring the Immeasurable. London: Routledge, 2008.

Gallagher, S. Meltdown: China’s Environmental Crises. Washington, DC: Pulitzer Center, 2013.

Ho, P., and E. Vermeer, eds. China’s Limits to Growth. London: Routledge, 2006.

Marshall, A. Ecotopia 2121: Visions of Our Future Green Utopias, Skyhorse Publ. NY, 2016.

Matsuura, T., and R. Kawamura. Water-Related Disasters, Climate Variability and Change: Results of Tropical Storms in East Asia. Trivandrum, India: Transworld Research Network, 2007.

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