China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper introduces an ecological history of the Xin’anjiang River Valley in east China. Extending across southern Anhui and western Zhejiang provinces, the river valley was known for its timber, tea, water transportation, wealthy Huizhou merchants, and spectacular ancestral halls during the late imperial times. At the height of the Great Leap Forward movement, the river was chosen by the government to host China’s first “self-designed and self-manufactured” hydropower plant. The construction of the Xin’anjiang Hydropower Plant in the river’s middle reach in 1959 split the river in halves. Behind the dam the soaring water drowned two counties, forced three hundred thousand people into migration, and created the largest man-made lake in east China. Before the dam, there emerged a small city where engineers and technicians from north China, volunteer workers from various parts of the country, and refugees escaping floods and schistosomiasis endemics gathered to form a multi-dialect, multi-culture society. During the past six decades, as the hydropower plant’s Communist symbolism and economic value gradually faded away, changes to micro- and macro-climate, water temperature, forests, aquatic species, and human livelihoods have continued unravelling to reshape the hyper manufactured landscape. This paper presents the initial effort of a large project to explore complex multispecies encountering and interactions in the making of a riverine ecosystem and communities. The research interrogates the issue of historical subjectivity by demonstrating various ways in which human and non-human actors co-act and co-evolve to produce history.