Engineering ‘The New Wall of China’

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By Jessica Doran

Instead of searching for interesting—and sometimes easy—spring classes this week, some people still have some serious requirements to fulfill. One class that catches the eye when searching for these general education fulfillers is “The New Wall of China,” taught by Engineering Professor Ashraf Ghaly and Chinese and East Asian Studies Professor Megan Ferry.

The class is called “The New Wall of China” in reference to the Three Gorges Dam that was recently built, which is of the same magnitude in regards to physicality, architecture, social and political influence as the Great Wall. Ghaly explained the four purposes of the dam: “One, to protect against flood. Two, to store water for the dry season. Three, to be able to better control the navigation of the river, and four, to ensure preventions against downstream destruction.”

Due to the deaths of thousands of people in floods that occurred during the overflowing of the Yangtze, it was decided that something needed to be done to stop this continuous destruction. The construction of the dam was started in the early ‘90s and was completed in 2007. Since then, every other year this course has been offered to teach students about the unprecedented scope of the dam and its lingering influences.

There was a lot of opposition  to the building of the dam. Although there was a specific plan for the relocation of all people who were located too close during construction, displacement was considered to be too much by elderly citizens of the area. In addition to displacement of humans, there was also the displacement of animals, and the fear of habitat destruction. In particular, there was interest in the pink dolphin, a mammal that is only found in this area of the world. Losing such a unique species would be a great loss. Thankfully, the animals adapted to the new conditions, and dam construction was considered successful in retrospect. River tourism was made possible, increasing community tourism efforts. Communities sprung up around the dam and even though earthquakes were a fear, those that have occurred have done no damage. In fighting the construction of the dam, there were many artistic and humanitarian efforts against it. This was manifested in a subculture of creative efforts that shaped the construction of the dam as much as the actual architectural construction.

As Ghaly recognized in our interview, no project of any kind is completely positive or negative. This is understood in the learning of all aspects of the dam construction. It was a debate that lasted many years, and having a class with different perspectives is beneficial.

One of the ways that different perspectives are incorporated into the class is how it is taught through a combined effort by  Ghaly and Ferry, Associate Professor of Chinese and East Asian Studies. Professor Ghaly said, “We are always together teaching the class, and we are always on the same wavelength. But we have different teaching styles.” Ferry focuses on the artistic and humanitarian aspects of the class, showing clips of people who were struggling with the dam and the efforts made against it.

But Ghaly insists that the beauty of the class is not just in the art that is studied. “I see beauty in the way the dam is architecturally designed.” The artistic side of engineering that is seen especially by those who have been trained to see it is exposed in this class, and opens other doors for appreciation of architecture and engineering.

The class fufills SET, WAC, LCC and HUL requirements. Although a student will most likely not receive all four accreditations, it certainly can be a helpful class to take if some of these requirements are still not filled. It’s such an interesting class, so why not take it? In the words of Ghaly, “to dam, or not to dam?”

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