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Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam
Often hailed as one of China’s engineering feats of the 20th century, the Three Gorges Dam project is the world's largest and grandest water conservancy project. Many of its records break through the world record of water conservancy project. The effectiveness of water control is most notable in the world. The Three Gorges Dam does well in controlling flooding from the upper reaches of Yangtze River. It enhances the capacity of flood-fighting. The Three Gorges Dam is the worldwide largest power station.


Chairman Maozedong, on his Yangtze River inspection tour, 1958
Chairman Maozedong, on his Yangtze River inspection tour, 1958
The idea of building a dam on the Yangtze River was first proposed by Dr. Sun Yat-sen in 1919 for power generation purposes. But the idea was soon forgotten given the extremely unfavorable political and economic conditions in the turbulent era of the Republic of China (1912~1949). At the turn of autumn in 1954, a major flood hit the regions along the middle & lower reaches of Yangtze River, causing huge economic disruption and human casualty. Death toll exceeded 33,000, over 18 million people were rendered homeless, and the Beijing-Guangzhou Railway, the main transport artery across the central China regions, were destructed and remained out of service for over three months. Greatly impressed by the flood of 1954, as well as the major floods over the past millennia which had “regularly” taken place around once in a decade, the ruling CPC reintroduced the idea of building a dam to tame the Yangtze River. Chairman Mao Zedong was so obsessed with the idea that he spoke mockingly to Lin Yishan, head of Yangtze Valley Planning Office, that he would rather find someone to substitute for him as President of China so that he might serve as assistant to Lin in the dam building project.
Despite early debates, CPC officials optimistically pushed forward the plan. Technical studies soon began, and experts, from both home and abroad, joined the research. However, as in the first half of the 20th century, the costly grand plan was again subject to China’s political and economic conditions. The Depression of 1960 halted the preparation work until 1963 when new policies of building a “third front” of industry in the inland, southwest China regions brought the idea back to life. However, the Cultural Revolution (1966~1976), coupled with the fear of sabotage by the hostile Soviet Union, resulted in a delay. As an “auxiliary” project, construction ofGezhouba, a smaller dam 38 kilometers downstream from today’s Three Gorges Dam, began, which was to become operational in 1981.
The Three Gorges Dam came back on China’s agenda with the economic reforms introduced in 1978 which underlined the demand for more electric power. The project got its first approval from the State Council in 1979, and two feasibility studies were conducted in the 1980s in response to the increasing criticisms, which ranged from environmental impact, economic effect, to resettlement of habitants of the reservoir areas. 
Seasonal flooding of Yangtze River kept plaguing regions along its middle & lower reaches for millenia.
Seasonal flooding of Yangtze River kept plaguing regions along its middle & lower reaches for millenia.

Despite much pressure which even prompted the State Council to suspend the construction plans for five years, the dam was approved by the National People’s Congress, the highest authority of P.R.C., in April, 1992, with 1767 votes in favor, 177 oppositions, and 664 abstentions. Resettlement soon began, and Premier Li Peng announced the official commencement of the project on October 14th, 1994.

Basic Statistics of the Three Gorges Dam Project

Location: Township of Sandouping, Yiling District, Yichang City, Hubei Province
Dam Height: 185 meters (607 ft) above sea level
Dam Length: 2,335 m (7,661 ft)
Installed Power Generation Capacity: 18.2 million kilowatts, equivalent to 84.7 billion kWh annually
Generators: totally 32 generators (14 on the north side, 12 on the south side, and an additional 6 underground), Francis turbines each with a capacity of 700 MW
Project Investment: RMB 203.9 billion (US$ 24.65 billion)
Concrete Consumption: 27,200,000 cubic metres
Steel Structure: 463,000 tonnes (63 times the weight of Eiffel Tower)
Earthwork: 102,600,000 cubic metres (134,200,000 cu yd)
Sketch map of the Three Gorges Dam
 Sketch map of the Three Gorges Dam

Construction Milestones:
1994.12.14 Official commencement of the Three Gorges Dam project
1997.11.08 Yangtze River successfully dammed at the Three Gorges, water being diverted through the diversion channel
1998.05.01 Temporary ship lock opened to navigation
2002.05.01 The Dam started capturing water
2002.10.26 Northern section of the dam concreted to 185m level
2002.11.06 Close-off of the diversion channel
2003.06.16 Permanent ship lock opened to navigation
2003.07.10 Power generating began with Generator No. 2
2006.05.20 Completion of concreting to the entire dam to 185m level
2010.10.26 Water level reached 175m for the first time

World Records Set by the Three Gorges Dam

The world’s largest and grandest water conservancy project, the Three Gorges Dam has set a series (over 100) of world engineering records by various indices. It is, or has:-
- the world’s most effective multi-functional water control system, consisting of a dam, a five-tier ship lock, and 26 hydropower turbo-generators;
- the world’s largest power station, total installed capacity reaching 18.2 million kW and annual power generation 846.7 billion kWh;
- the world’s grandest engineering project for water conservancy, earthwork (excavation & backfilling) totaling 134 million m3, concrete consumption 279.4 million m3, steel reinforcement 463,000 tonnes;
- the world’s greatest floor discharging capacity, up to 102.5 m3/s;
- the world’s largest number of stages of ship locks (staircase locks, nos. two, each with five stages and a total water head of 113m);
- (yet to be completed) the world’s largest ship lift (dimension of the basin: 120×18×3.5m), maximum vertical travel distance being 113m, capable of lifting ships of 3000t;
- the world’s largest human resettlement program associated with an engineering project, total population having to be relocated being estimated at 1.13 million.

Effects of the Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam project plays a key role in flood control in the midstream and downstream reaches of Yangtze River. It is also used for flood control, electricity generation, shipping, tourism and ecological protection, environmental purification, irrigation and south-north water transfer. It is an unparalleled power plant in the world nowadays.

Water being discharged from the Three Gorges Dam.
Water being discharged from the Three Gorges Dam.
Flood Control: Controlling flood is one of the most important functions of the Three Gorges Dam. With a water storage capacity of 39.3 cubic kilometers, the reservoir of the Three Gorges Dam is expected to reduce the frequency of major flooding downstream from once every ten years to once every 100 years. In rainy seasons, the Dam captures large quantities of water while reducing the water-flow downstream, preventing flooding to the prosperous, more developed regions on the middle & lower reaches including important cities such as Wuhan, Jiujiang, Nanjing, Shanghai, etc. When dry season comes, then, the Dam discharges the reservoir, increasing water supply to downstream sections for agricultural and industrial use. A recent test of the Three Gorges Dam’s flood control function is the 2010 South China Floods, when the Dam effectively reduced the riverflow from 70,000 m3/s to 40,000 m3/s, successfully alleviating serious impacts on the middle and lower reaches.

Totally 32 turbine generators will operate in the Three Goreges Dam.
Totally 32 turbine generators will operate in the Three Goreges Dam.
Electricity Generation: Power generation is another important purpose of building the Three Gorges Dam. The latest annual power generating record (84.7 billion kWh) was set in October 2010, when the Dam reached its design-maximum reservoir water level of 175m for the first time. As of August 16, 2011, the accumulated power generated by the Three Gorges Dam reached 500 billion kWh. As hydro-electric power is deemed a clean energy, the Three Gorges Dam is also a environment protection project. The total generating capacity of the Three Gorges Dam equals those of seven thermal power stations (2.6 million kW) combined, which means an annual total of 50 million tonnes of standard coal is saved and emissions of CO2, SO2, CO and NOx cut by 100 million, 2 million, 10,000, and 370,000 tonnes respectively.

The five-tier, two-way ship lock of the Three Goreges Dam
The five-tier, two-way ship lock of the Three Goreges Dam
Navigation: The Three Gorges Dam greatly upgraded the navigation conditions of the Yangtze River section between the Dam and Chongqing, a southwestern Municipality with strategic significance in China’s grand program of developing the western regions. Before the dam was constructed, the maximum freight capacity at the Three Gorges site was 18.0 million tonnes per year. Thanks to the Dam, ships of 10,000 tonnes, as compared with 3,000 tonnes formerly, are able to sail directly upstream from Shanghai to Chongqing, increasing the annual freight capacity of the Yangtze River almost sixfold to 100 million tonnes while reducing costs of shipping by a quarter.



Negative Effects of the Three Gorges Dam






The idea of building the Three Gorges Dam experienced much complication before its final endorsement by the National People’s Congress in 1992, as scientists have kept debating for decades over the potential negative effects of the project.

Topping the criticisms were social & cultural concerns, for the rising water level upstream were sure to flood a vast number of townships and counties, evicting tens of thousands of local residents. Funds were allocated by the state to relocate these people to other provinces. The reservoir also flooded numerous archeological sites and changed the looks of the Three Gorges. Cultural and historic relics as had been discovered were moved to higher grounds or “reproduced” elsewhere, but some sites were impossible to move and it would never be known how many undiscovered relics were flooded.

More critics would point their fingers at the Dam’s potential negative impact on environment. Pollution, silt and algae that used to be flushed away are captured by the Dam, which would mean an ecological disaster waiting to happen. Water control may have been among the factors for the droughts in the regions along the middle & lower reaches of the Yangtze. The gravity of extra water held by the reservoir is being blamed for having affected the geology of the Three Gorges area, and increasing the possibility of landslides and erosion of slopes. More appalling risks, as some experts charge, lie in the fact that the Dam happens to be built in a seismically active region - a severe test of the structural quality of the Dam.


Tourism & Cruise


Feeling the grandeur of water sluicing dwon from the Three Goreges Dam under your feet will be a most unforgettable experience.
Feeling the grandeur of water sluicing down from the Three Goreges Dam under your feet will be a most unforgettable experience.
The best place for enjoying the scenic beauty of the Three Gorges Dam is Tanziling Scenic Area. At an altitude of 262.48m, Tanziling used to be the surveying point for the engineering project of the Dam. A bird’s-eye view of the whole Dam area is available, including the world’s largest multi-tier, two-way ship lock.

The 185 Viewing Platform (named after the height of the dam crest) and the Dam bring the visitor closer to the roaring torrent sluicing downward. The feel of grandeur of the surge under your feet while standing on the Dam will be a most unforgettable life-long experience. 
Cruise ship service offers access to the picturesque scenery of the Three Gorges.
Cruise ship service offers access to the picturesque scenery of the Three Gorges.
Exhibition Hall of Three Gorges Dam Project was opened in 1992 with a whole coverage of 6600 square meters. The exhibition could be divided into the special zones of the construction of Three Gorges Dam, environmental protection, emigration, advancement of science and technology, power production, calligraphy and painting as well as photography.

The 193 km long Three Gorges is the most spectacular section of the Yangtze River, and has become the flagship of Yangtze River cruise tours. Regular cruise ship service is available between Chongqing and Yichang or further destinations. Visitors are now able to enjoy the full view of the dam with both natural scenery and cultural heritage visible from the cruise ship.
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