The Three Gorges enjoy the reputation of being a world-famous art gallery, providing inexhaustible source material for poets, dramatists, and historians. Men of letters and famous calligraphers have frequented the region since earliest times. Many forms of classical poetry and drama have found expression in verse and tragedy about this region. To mention the Sanxia (Three Gorges) is to evoke awe in the Chinese. The myths associated with the gorges are compared with those of the Yellow, Min and others of China’s great rivers. These epics are cultural DNA, the unconscious programs that influence the way many Chinese see “reality” and respond to it.
Venturing into the funnel-like gorges, the ancient Chinese claimed, is like entering “the dragon’s mouth.” Precarious and awesome, hidden in the caverns of inaccessible mountains or finally uncoiled in the depths of the sea, this Chinese dragon unpredictably breaks forth into a torrent of activity. He unfolds himself in the storm clouds and washes his mane in the blackness of seething whirlpools. His claws are bursts of lightning and his scales glisten in the bark of rain-swept pine trees. His voice is heard in wind howling through chasms, scattering the forest’s withered leaves and so quickening a new spring.
From his first trip as a young child in 1946 through a succession of visits in the 1980s and 1990s, Ben Thomson Cowles charts the significance, the beauty, and the poetry of the Three Gorges, and describes what was lost in the construction of the colossal dam that now bears that name.