Up the Yangtze

Director: Yung Chang
Screenwriters: Yung Chang

Institute History

  • 2008 Sundance Film Festival


Upon completion, China’s mammoth Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River will be the largest hydroelectric power station in the world. Progress, though, comes at a price: the dam will displace more than a million residents and destroy numerous cultural and archaeological sites, upending a way of life. In Up the Yangtze, filmmaker Yung Chang sensitively examines the effects of this massive project on personal lives as he follows two young people, each one transformed by the construction.

Sixteen-year-old Yu Shui and her family are dismantling their tiny shack along the river’s edge to make way for rising waters. She longs to continue her education, but financial circumstances force her to work for Farewell Cruises, a company that ferries tourists to catch a glimpse of the river region before it’s too late. The irony of her employment becomes clear as the boat glides along the river, revealing a landscape changing at an alarming pace. Meanwhile, the journey’s significance is lost on her coworker Chen Bo Yu, whose good looks and English skills make him an ideal hire. He merely sees his job as an opportunity to make some money.

Beautifully photographed, the film provides a final snapshot of a rapidly disappearing cultural landscape. Juxtaposing the Yangtze’s stunning panorama with the reality of Yu Shui’s poignant story, Chang shows the tenuous balance between China’s rich cultural past and its modernized future.

— Rosie Wong

Screening Details


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