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‘The Yellow River Comes from Our Hands’: Silt, Hydroelectricity, and the Sanmenxia Dam, 1929–1973

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Focusing on the planning and construction of the Sanmenxia hydropower project, this article analyses the dynamics and tensions between energy demand and the nature of the Yellow River in the twentieth century. From the late 1920s, Japanese engineers aimed to develop hydroelectric power by building dams on the Yellow River. They viewed the Yellow River as an important source of hydroelectric power for building the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. When Chinese Communists took control, they claimed that the primary function of the Sanmenxia project was flood control. Yet, influenced by the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist state’s industrialisation efforts, the engineers also emphasised the generation of electrical power, which resulted in a high dam design. The silting of the reservoir, however, frustrated the ambition of the Chinese leaders and engineers and resulted in the production of much lower and unstable power output upon the dam’s completion.
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Keywords: Sanmenxia Dam; Yellow River; hydroelectricity; silt

Appeared or available online: September 3, 2019

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