China is known for its monumental building projects but perhaps the most ambitious of all is under way in Shaanxi province, where 700 mountains are being flattened in order to generate more buildable land. The astonishing plan transfers untold volumes of earth into adjoining valleys, thus creating 155 square miles of flat space upon which a new super-city will be constructed.
Mountains have been removed before. The United States continues to engage in the controversial activity of mountaintop removal for strip mining, but the scale of what is happening in China has never been seen. The scheme aims to create a metropolis near the existing city of Lanzhou.
The state-run newspaper The China Daily reports that the project has already attracted almost $12 billion from corporations. Sales and leasing of the re-shaped landscape is expected to generate billions in local currency while providing new space for agriculture. The project is in one of China’s so-called state-level development zones. Another currently in development is Binhai in Tianjin, where New York’s Manhattan is being replicated. The country is also building a 700 mile concrete and steel channel to move water south to the north. It will be the longest manmade river in world history.
Concerned environmentalists point out that Lanzhou is already one of the most polluted places in the world. On the banks of the silt-choked Yellow River and home to 3.6 million people, it is also one of China’s most water-scarce cities. A former high-ranking official at the National Development and Reform Commission, Liu Fuyuan, points out that “The most important thing is to gather people in places where there is water.” Lanzhou is dominated by manufacturing, with specialities in metal, textiles and fertilizer.
The process of flattening 700 Chinese mountains to plains has caused flooding and landslides in the city of Shiyan. Water was moved from rivers into canals under the project, but soil was eroded and sediment deposited into local water sources.
“Land-creation projects … destroy forests and farmlands and endanger wild animals and plants,” reports the journal Nature. It says that such projects in China ignore environmental regulations because making money is prioritized over the protection of nature.
Some argue that the project is also financially short-sighted. Recouping the estimated $16 billion project cost after the ten year estimated construction period could take decades more, if ever. Also, it is understood that the soil will require ten years or more to stabilize before actual construction activity can commence.
China’s second wealthiest man, Yan Jiehe, whose company China Pacific Construction Group is in charge of the work, rejects charges that the project is environmentally or financially flawed. One of his officials, Angie Wong, says that the “protective style of development” China Pacific is undertaking “will make things better than before.” Mao’s Great Leap Forward in the 20th century created deforestation and soil erosion through China’s vast countryside, problems the country is still dealing with.
The desired outcome of China flattening 700 mountains is revealed in a video on the website for Lanzhou’s new area. It shows a city of green parks, glistening skyscrapers, light rail and a packed stadium. Chinese Central television writes on its own website that the project will “lead to an environmentally sustainable economy.”
By Gregory Baskin