Up the Yangtze

“It's hard being a human, but being a common person in China is even more difficult,” a merchant says, forcing back tears. Moments earlier he had praised the Three Gorges Dam Project, which sacrificed “the little family for the big family.” The dam on the fabled Yangtze River is the world's largest hydroelectric power producer. But at what cost? In its portrait of downtrodden people displaced by Yangtze floods and government corruption, Chinese Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang's poetic documentary brings to mind another recent tragedy that showed how hard it is for “common” people: Hurricane Katrina. All the while, China's move toward global capitalism chugs along, like the cruise ship up the Yangtze that provides the film's central setting. The film follows two Chinese teenagers who work on the ship, adopting English names and serving tourists eager to see old China. But as Chang realizes, this China has perished, submerged by the rushing floodwaters.

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