This documentary shows a segment of tourism in China today. It shows the changing family life and widely divergent cultures of American tourists and the Chinese who are supporting the travel cruises. I’ve always been fascinated with the culture of China; developments and modernization have certainly taken a toll on revered traditions and history. Up the Yangtze could be described as the mirror reverse of many popular dramatic stories in which a hero is searching the world to rediscover or rebuild a home. Set in China as the massive Three Gorges Dam was completed, this haunting documentary is the story of a teen-age girl, Yu Shui, who has a warm and loving home but winds up homeless in the rapidly shifting landscape of modern China.
There wasn’t enough said about the necessity of the Dam, and there was some fine footage of regular citizens’ protest over the whole ordeal. I bring that up because the creation of the dam caused million people to be displaced. This video is expertly done and gives a phenomenal picture of the struggles of a poor peasant family coming to grips with a developing nation. Nothing sugar coated here. Watching the family dynamics play out as the family makes the difficult decision to send their daughter off to work is fascinating. The great hing about this film is it is not hard to track down as I see it on PBS all the time.
Economists praise the project as a sign of social progress, while environmentalists point to the disastrous effect it’s had on the landscape. After all, it IS the thrid largest river in the world. Despite a couple of moments that feel too good or too narrative to be true, Chang’s camera captures many other moments that are weighted with truth and honesty. The occasional voiceover by the filmmaker is sometimes a little awkward, but the cinematography is compelling.
With all documentaries, they only tell one side of a story. What about the millions of downstream displaced and tens of thousands killed every 10 years when the Yangzte floods? Some could argue the dams are necessary. When it was done, I just thought that so many filmmakers could have had a very textbook approach to this idea, a kind of good-versus-evil presentation. My feeling in watching it was that by focusing on the cruise ship, you were able to tackle these big topics with a kind of sideways approach. The film presents a side of the world few are offered the chance to see outside of a tour boat and a documentary that I can’t help but to recommend to all who read this.