Fixing Landscape

A Techno-Poetic History of China’s Three Gorges

Corey Byrnes

Columbia University Press

Fixing Landscape

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Pub Date: January 2019

ISBN: 9780231188067

344 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $65.00£50.00

Pub Date: January 2019

ISBN: 9780231547123

344 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $64.99£50.00

Fixing Landscape

A Techno-Poetic History of China’s Three Gorges

Corey Byrnes

Columbia University Press

In 1994, workers broke ground on China’s Three Gorges Dam. By its completion in 2012, the dam had transformed the ecology of the Yangzi River, displaced over a million people, and forever altered a landscape immortalized in centuries of literature and art. The controversial history of the dam is well known; what this book uncovers are its unexpected connections to the cultural traditions it seems to sever. By reconsidering the dam in relation to the aesthetic history of the Three Gorges region over more than two millennia, Fixing Landscape offers radically new ways of thinking about cultural and spatial production in contemporary China.

Corey Byrnes argues that this monumental feat of engineering can only be understood by confronting its status as a techno-poetic act, a form of landscaping indebted to both the technical knowledge of engineers and to the poetic legacies of the Gorges as cultural site. Synthesizing methods drawn from premodern, modern, and contemporary Chinese studies, as well as from critical geography, art history, and the environmental humanities, Byrnes offers innovative readings of eighth-century poetry, paintings from the twelfth through twenty-first centuries, contemporary film, nineteenth-century British travelogues, and Chinese and Western maps, among other sources. Fixing Landscape shows that premodern poetry and visual art have something urgent to tell us about a contemporary experiment in spatial production. Poems and paintings may not build dams, but Byrnes argues that the Three Gorges Dam would not exist as we know it without them.
An intriguing study for scholars of cultural theory, particularly as it pertains to China. . . . Highly recommended. Choice
Poems and paintings build dams. This simple but powerful insight informs Corey Byrnes’ impressive book Fixing Landscape, a wonderfully detailed study weaving together 1,200 years of Chinese environmental, cultural, and artistic history. Byrnes traces representations of the Yangzi River, its surrounding landscape, and visions for its future through poems, paintings, political discourse, maps, films, and photographs, from the eighth-century poetry of Li Bai up to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in 2012. Lucid and lyrical at the same time, Fixing Landscape shows how visions of the river’s transformation have been a millennium in the making, and plans for its damming over a century. Poets, travel writers, and politicians have made and remade the Yangzi into an oscillating symbol of tradition, modernization, nation-building, and Chinese character, and their portrayals themselves have become technologies through which the landscape is perceived, understood, and physically transformed. Byrnes’ work will stand beside Richard White’s path-breaking The Organic Machine, a study of the Columbia River, in its brilliance. It rivals Raymond Williams’ The Country and the City in its theoretical and temporal sweep and Haruo Shirane’s Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons in its historical ambition. Fixing Landscape is a must-read not only for those interested in Chinese environmental and cultural history, but for all scholars in the environmental humanities. Ursula K. Heise, University of California, Los Angeles
In this groundbreaking book, Corey Byrnes looks at the Three Gorges of the Yangzi River as a landscape in contestation: poetic topos versus political imaginary; geographical site versus spatial construct; ecological marvel versus developmental crisis. Navigating sources from Tang poetry to postsocialist cinema, from colonial reportage to local ethnography, Byrnes has created a compelling study of a river, a history, and an ecological system in crisis. This is a truly stimulating work. David Der-wei Wang, Harvard University
Spanning two millennia and multiple disciplines, Corey Byrnes' Fixing Landscape offers a beautifully written, diligently researched, and provocative account of how aesthetics move the material world. This book will be of interest to scholars of the environmental humanities, cultural geography, architecture, and art history, among others. Stephanie LeMenager, University of Oregon
The Three Gorges have long inspired the cultural imagination of the Chinese people, from Du Fu and Li Bai's Tang Dynasty poetic odes to its beauty to Jia Zhangke’s twenty-first-century cinematic meditation on its ephemerality. Along the way, the region has become a symbol of natural perfection, progress and modernity, controversy and destruction, and the nation itself. In Fixing Landscape, Corey Byrnes deftly traces the intersecting political and artistic networks surrounding the Three Gorges and, through that process, brilliantly unveils a new tapestry of meaning. Michael Berry, University of California, Los Angeles
Fixing Landscape gives valuable new perspectives on the Three Gorges and far beyond, helping specialists and nonspecialists alike better understand how and why the Chinese have manipulated their environments so dramatically, as well as how and why societies around the world have been so doing for much of recorded human history. Karen Thornber, Harvard University
Byrnes performs an erudite exposition of an understudied thesis - how landscape becomes “fixed” in the cultural imagination and built environment - by examining a very wide range of historical and contemporary media focused on one geographic site: the Three Gorges. Robin Visser, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Acknowledgments
Orientation
Passage I. Departure
Part I. A Landscape of Traces
1. Tracing the Gorges
2. From Trace to Site
Passage II. One Thousand Li
Part II. Reinscribing the Three Gorges
3. Chinese Landscape
4. Chinese Labor
Passage III. One Thousand Years
Part III. For the Record
5. A Record of the Trace
6. Ink in the Wound
Passage IV. Part of the Movement
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Color Plates

Joint winner, 2018 Weatherhead East Asian Institute First Book Prize

About the Author

Corey Byrnes is assistant professor of modern Chinese culture at Northwestern University.