Up the Yangtze, a documentary by Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang, provides a glimpse of the building of the Three Gorges Dam, the two million people it displaced, and the “farewell cruise,” a luxury river boat that provided Westerners a tour of the “old” Yangtze area before it flooded. The film mainly follows Yu Shui, a teenage girl sent to work for Farewell Cruises to help her displaced parents. Her family was removed from their riverside farmland and must now pay for food and electricity in their new home. Visually, Yung Chang’s film offers beautiful images of the Yangtze. However, at the same time, you are always reminded that this river will change. It will rise and claim marshes, homes, and villages.
I was troubled by seeing Yu Shui’s family watch their home disappear into the river, but elements of the Farewell Cruise were extremely strange, especially management’s training, tours of the new homes of the displaced farmers, and the social activities on board. My only issue with the documentary itself is it lacked enough historical information. I wanted to learn more about the villages and the history of the dam. Yung Chang provided a little narration (about three sentences in the film), but I wanted more. It seemed like he wasn’t sure what his role as a storyteller should be. That aside, I highly recommend it.
As China undergoes rapid social and economic change, a number of recent films, such as Young and Restless in China, China Rises, and China Inside Out document this transformation and its affect on its people and society.