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China, Traces: Yellow River

Few rivers have captured the soul of a nation more deeply than the Yellow River in China. It is to the Chinese what the Nile is to Egypt: the cradle of civilization.
The fall of this famous river is a tragedy whose consequences extend far beyond the 150 million people it directly sustains. The Yellow's plight highlights the dark side of China's economic miracle, an environmental crisis that has led to a shortage of the one resource no nation can live without: water.

Nothing, however, has hastened the water crisis more than three decades of rampant industrial growth. China's economic boom has, in an ironic symmetry, fueled an equal and opposite environmental collapse. In the past the Chinese government’s attitude towards the country's water problems has been to focus on engineered solutions that increased its supply. When water ran out or became polluted, they drilled deeper wells or built longer diversion channels to tap new resources. But that approach has had its limitations and it has in recent years forced a change in attitude that blends science, conservation, old-style communist centralised control and modern market cap-and-trade mechanisms.
These efforts have managed to resuscitate the river whereas in 1997, at its lowest point, the river was so overexploited that it failed to reach the sea for 226 days a year.

"Traces: Yellow River" represents a journey starting in Lanzhou, the river’s largest and first city ever built along its 3,395-mile length situated in the North Western region of the country. It explores the changing landscape in the river’s basin and also along its banks. Expanding industry, a retreating agricultural landscape that sees new infrastructural developments and growing cities that encroach upon an area that was once predominantly rural.

These physical changes to the topography hint at the underlying forces and issues at play in today’s China.
They are an expression of the economic boom that has so far lasted 30 years and is a meditation on man’s impact on his surroundings. Here the landscape has become a kind of repository, symbolising humanity’s endeavours and is fundamentally a testament to our material desires.

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