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The New Great Wall Of China

The Great Wall of China: one of the greatest construction projects of all time. It's a source of enormous pride for the Chinese. Now the current leadership is building a new wall that will rival this wonder.

Sixty stories high, one-mile across, the project is known as the Three Gorges Dam. A project to dam the Yangtse River. It's so ambitious that when it is completed in 11 years, it will dwarf any man-made structure in the world, provide the power of 18 nuclear plants, and cost anywhere between $20 billion and $50 billion.

The setting of the dam is some of the world's most spectacular real estate. The three gorges are China's Grand Canyon, and when the work is done, these canyons that inspired poets and artists for centuries, will be underwater.

More than a million people are being forced to move, many of them accustomed to ancients ways of life.

The boatmen who navigate the sometimes treacherous Yangtse are doing the jobs their fathers and grandfathers did before them. But when the project is complete, the whole region will be underwater, and there will be little need for their skills.

"I don't like leaving here," one man says. "I enjoy living and working here. I'm used to this place."

The Chinese government is determined to build the dam, because it wants better flood control, hydroelectric power, and better navigation.

The vice director of the project said that its main purpose is to control flooding problems.

But this project is primarily about power. And if it works, the outcome will be significant. The dam will supply electricity to about a third of China's people.

A giant lake will cover about 400 square miles of land, submerging 19 cities, hundreds of villages, ancient temples, and thousands of acres of China's most fertile farmland.

"All the people who live in the area are happy to move," said the vice director of the project.

Of course since it's against the law to say anything negative about the Three Gorges Dam, who would complain?

When environmental activist Dai Ching tried to publish some articles critical of the dam project in 1989, she went to jail for a year. She says it's not just an engineering project, it's a political project as well.

"The advanced person should have some new sense about the environment," she says. "Not, we are so powerful we can do anything for the nature. But we are powerful, we are wise enough to protect it."

There are concerns that pollution and silt from the muddy Yangtse, now flushed into the ocean, will be trapped and eventually clog up the works. And there are concerns about the wildlife in the region too.

But the project rumbles on, as does the building of a new city for relocating the population.

The Chinese leadership is well versed in the harnessing of human freedoms. Now it's harnessing one of the world's most powerful rivers. This project is a symbol of the new industrial China.

At best, they are crating a source of non-polluting power that will transform the country. At worst, a great wall that will stand as a monument to themselves, at an immeasurable cost.

For CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather's full report, click above.

Reported by CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather

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