Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Up the Yangtze

Upon recommendation from my parents, Dave and I recently screened Up the Yangtze in our apartment.  The film was a visually stunning telling of a family forced to move uphill due to the flooding of the Yangtze.  The Three Gorges Dam is a gigantic hydroelectric dam stopping the Yangtze River, and causing the height of the river to raise dramatically.  This rise has led to the resettlement of over 1.4 million people and the environmental loss of the Three Gorges, scenery no less dramatic than the Grand Canyon in the United States.

The portrayal followed a young lady, no more than a girl, as she leaves her family to work on a cruise ship riding the Yangtze River toward the dam.  The dramatic scenery, the documentation of the rising waters, and the emotions they capture from the people affected by this forced migration make for a very interesting movie and is well worth adding to your Netflix queue.  Frankly, we were surprised that we were able to find it in China.

Yung Chang, the director, grew up in Canada but his grandparents had migrated from China, presumably in the 1940s.  The China his grandparents escaped differs greatly from modern China, the last 70 years having encompassed the Communist Liberation of China with its catastrophes (the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution) and its rise into practical capitalism and dramatic economic growth.  The narrator often notes that his grandfather would not recognize today's China, a point which I have been thinking about all week.

I often feel that I would enjoy life in China more if it had more to offer.  The drawbacks to life in Shanghai are numerous - wild pollution, crazy congestion, people everywhere, a lack of green space and beauty;  and the struggles for me within Shanghai are numerous as well - difficulty communicating, difficulty cooking and shopping, difficulty finding suitable medical care and safe pharmaceuticals.  Watching a movie set in Europe, I noted that Shanghai offers very little back to me.  No strong sense of culture or history envelopes the city, very few charming alleys or ancient little shops.  The charming, ancient and culturally rich were all destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.  And the people living in China are the survivors, those who have pulled themselves through the chaos of the recent past and into an era of growth.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that Shanghai offers little in the way of culture and history.  To enjoy my experience here, it is incumbent upon me to find the charms of this city and nation as they are and not as they were.

Those charms exist, in the food and the travel, the people and the dynamic growth.  For history and culture, I can read a book.

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