China 1982

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

China 1982

I missed breakfast this morning to take a walk along the street.  I found that Yichang is a city of great contrasts.  Like most cities on the Yangtze, it has a history of about 2,000 years or so, and therefore has many old, traditional dwellings and houses within the city.  However, more than most centres, even within China, construction is proceeding at a very rapid rate, and large “concrete jungle” style flats mingle with the centuries-old streetscapes.

This morning we went to visit the Gezhouba Dam project on the Yangtze.  Construction of the dam commenced in the early 1970s, and after a short break in the mid-seventies “to sort out some difficulties”, the first stage was completed last year (1981) just in time to successfully withstand a flood discharge of 72,000 cubic metres per second!!!

When the second stage is completed in 1986, the dam’s width will measure about 2.5 kilometres from bank to bank.  Apparently, this will be considerably smaller than the proposed Three Gorges Dam.  At present, about 30,000 people are working on the dam directly, and there are an additional 15,000 ancillary staff.  To place this in perspective, the total population of Yichang is about 300,000 people.  My room-mate, who is a civil engineer, estimates that in terms of effort and hydro-electrical output, the Gezhouba dam is comparable in scale to the entire Snowy Mountains Scheme in Australia – it is a truly incredible achievement.

After lunch we visited a small handicrafts factory that was established by local authorities to relieve youth unemployment.  This was the first time I had heard any mention of unemployment (youth or otherwise) in China.  We saw woodcarving, painting on bamboo, marble carving and embroidering.  Despite the relatively poor quality of the goods produced, several of my fellow travellers made extensive purchases.

We then travelled up to a monument to revolutionary martyrs who died in the liberation of Yichang from the Kuomintang in 1949.  From its elevated location, the monument overlooks the fairly grey and drab, but elongated city of Yichang.  I didn’t try to photograph the bayonetted and machine-gun equipped PLA (People’s Liberation Army) soldiers who were on manoeuvres nearby.

Our local guides in Yichang were both very young and very enthusiastic (Miss Yue and Mr Wong).  They sang Chinese love songs to us in the bus, and encouraged us to sing Australian songs in response, which we did, of course. 

After an early dinner, we set off for the Airport, which is 40 minutes drive from Yichang at Earth Gate.  I think this may be a military airport; in spite of the protestations from our guides, ours was the only civilian aircraft present.  And what a plane it was – a beautiful vintage Soviet-built CAAC-operated Ilyushin Il-14.

After climbing up the ladder at the rear of the plane, unusually on the starboard side, we enjoyed a one hour flight to Wuhan.  It was after dark by the time we were flying, and so it was difficult to judge our altitude by looking out the window, other than to note that the lights on the ground seemed to whizz pass us very quickly, especially for such a slow, old airliner.  I suspect we were flying at a fairly low altitude.  At the front of the cabin was a lovely timber panel which housed three instruments for passengers to scan – an analogue clock, an altimeter, and an oil pressure gauge.  The Soviets really DID understand in-flight entertainment!

Wuhan is a conglomerate of three separate cities separated by rivers -Wuchang, Hankow and Hanyang.   Together they have a population of 3.9 million people, and it is usually thought of as an industrial centre and transport hub.

Our hotel, the Hsüan Kung Hotel in Hankow, is 50 years hold, having been built in 1931 by four wealthy Chinese families.  It has an elegant, stately appearance.  At first sight, Wuhan has more character than other cities we have visited, and the old Chinese signage on the shops is wonderful.  In Yichang, the architecture of the outsides of the buildings was fairly uniform whether it was a residence, a factory or a school – not so in Wuhan.

Day 12

Yichang to Wuhan, China


13 April 1982