Dams and Development in China

The Moral Economy of Water and Power

Bryan Tilt

Columbia University Press

Dams and Development in China

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Pub Date: December 2014

ISBN: 9780231170116

280 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $32.00£27.00

Pub Date: December 2014

ISBN: 9780231170109

280 Pages

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List Price: $95.00£79.00

Pub Date: December 2014

ISBN: 9780231538268

280 Pages

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Dams and Development in China

The Moral Economy of Water and Power

Bryan Tilt

Columbia University Press

China is home to half of the world's large dams and adds dozens more each year. The benefits are considerable: dams deliver hydropower, provide reliable irrigation water, protect people and farmland against flooding, and produce hydroelectricity in a nation with a seeimingly insatiable appetite for energy. As hydropower responds to a larger share of energy demand, dams may also help to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, welcome news in a country where air and water pollution have become dire and greenhouse gas emissions are the highest in the world.

Yet the advantages of dams come at a high cost for river ecosystems and for the social and economic well-being of local people, who face displacement and farmland loss. This book examines the array of water-management decisions faced by Chinese leaders and their consequences for local communities. Focusing on the southwestern province of Yunnan—a major hub for hydropower development in China—which encompasses one of the world's most biodiverse temperate ecosystems and one of China's most ethnically and culturally rich regions, Bryan Tilt takes the reader from the halls of decision-making power in Beijing to Yunnan's rural villages. In the process, he examines the contrasting values of government agencies, hydropower corporations, NGOs, and local communities and explores how these values are linked to longstanding cultural norms about what is right, proper, and just. He also considers the various strategies these groups use to influence water-resource policy, including advocacy, petitioning, and public protest. Drawing on a decade of research, he offers his insights on whether the world's most populous nation will adopt greater transparency, increased scientific collaboration, and broader public participation as it continues to grow economically.

Tilt presents an even-handed discussion of dam development in China that clearly describes the governance structure and challenges behind how and why the dams are being built at a breakneck pace. It is quite refreshing to have someone clearly describe not only the complexity of this decision making but also the various stakeholders involved (or left out) of the process.

Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum, Woodrow Wilson Center

With the clear-eyed objectivity and inquisitive mind of an anthropologist, Tilt explores the prospects for reshaping the political economy of Chinese dam building—where planning has for too long been dominated by a 'dictatorship of engineers'—by infusing a moral economy in which culture, heritage, equity, and natural ecosystems are given due consideration. With more than 2,000 dams being built in China each year, a transformation of dam development is urgently needed.

Brian Richter, director of Global Freshwater Strategies, The Nature Conservancy

Dams and Development is a highly readable and wide-ranging account of hydropower development in China, providing insights on topics ranging from the relationship between state capitalism and the building of dams, to new data on the effects of resettlement on livelihoods, attitudes and social networks, his reflections as an anthropologist on bringing together different epistemologies of expertise in a large, interdisciplinary project on hydropower decision-making, and information on China's new dam construction overseas. Carefully avoiding black and white characterizations, Tilt instead explores water management as a struggle over competing values among groups and differential access to resources and power. Dams and Development is a welcome addition to the anthropological literature on China's environment, and will be excellent for classroom use.

Emily Yeh, University of Colorado at Boulder

A practical look at some of the most interesting challenges of our time.

Sinead Ferris, Asian Review of Books

A good book for a course related to cultural geography and anthropological themes of development.

Richard Louis Edmonds, The China Quarterly

An ambitious book on the complexities inherent in China's quest for cleaner sources of energy and power through the development of hydropower—and its effects.... It should be read by students, scholars, and policy analysts as they wrestle with the complexities and contradictions China faces in the development versus conservation conundrum.

Andrew Mertha, The China Journal

A succinct and very useful introduction.

Pacific Affairs

An in-depth research on the problems and issues related to large hydropower projects in China. For those who have an interest in this field, this is definitely a work that must be read.

American Anthropologist
List of Illustrations
Preface
Abbreviations
1. The Moral Economy of Water and Power
2. Crisis and Opportunity: Water Resources and Dams in Contemporary China
3. The Lancang River: Coping with Resettlement and Agricultural Change
4. The Nu River: Anticipating Development and Displacement
5. Experts, Assessments, and Models: The Science of Decision Making
6. People in the Way: Resettlement in Policy and Practice
7. A Broader Confluence: Conservation Initiatives and China's Global Dam Industry
Conclusion: The Moral Economy Revisited
List of Chinese Terms
Notes
Works Cited
Index

Read the fourth chapter, "The Nu River":

About the Author

Bryan Tilt is an associate professor of anthropology at Oregon State University. His research focuses on sustainable development, agricultural systems, pollution control, and water resources in China and the United States. He is also the author of The Struggle for Sustainability in Rural China: Environmental Values and Civil Society.