China fact of the day

by on May 8, 2014 at 12:16 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Before the Communists came to power in 1949, China had only 22 dams of any significant size. Now the country has more than half of the world’s roughly 50,000 large dams, defined as having a height of at least 15 meters, or a storage capacity of more than three million cubic meters. Thus, China has completed, on average, at least one large dam per day since 1949. If dams of all sizes are counted, China’s total surpasses 85,000.

The source is here, via Udadisi.

1 Norman Pfyster May 8, 2014 at 12:23 pm

But what about the snail darters? Doesn’t China care?

2 Andrew' May 8, 2014 at 2:26 pm

In Communist China, snail darter is a well-respected occupation.

3 Govco May 8, 2014 at 12:27 pm


4 XVO May 8, 2014 at 12:27 pm


5 Just Another MR Blogger May 8, 2014 at 12:36 pm

More evidence that communism hinders the free flow of water.

6 Rahul May 8, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Something seems fishy. Wouldn’t that mean a large dam every 12 miles or so throughout the nation?

7 Just another MR Commentor May 8, 2014 at 12:57 pm

How could something smell fishy? I can assure you China’s waterways are completely devoid of fish or any other marine life.

8 Rahul May 8, 2014 at 12:59 pm

It’s the socks.

9 Dan Weber May 8, 2014 at 1:06 pm

China is 3.7 million square miles. That’s a dam per 148 square miles. Is that where you get 12 miles between dams?

La Wiki says that China has 420,000 kilometers of rivers, so that means a dam every 16 kilometers. I have no idea how small something can be to count as a “river” in that measure. If it’s “rivers of any size” and so we should use the “dam of any size” number, that’s a dam of some size every 4.9 kilometers.

10 Rahul May 8, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Exactly. That seems intuitively odd. If you put a large dam every 10 miles on a river the downstream reservoirs should essentially merge with the upstream dam.

11 JWatts May 8, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Well, and the obvious, “the country has more than half of the world’s roughly 50,000 large dams”. That seems a lot for a country that’s less than 4% the land area of the rest of the world.

12 rjs May 8, 2014 at 4:53 pm

you should be able to see all of them using Google earth…

13 Yancey Ward May 8, 2014 at 5:14 pm

In China, you can probably get government financing to build dams even when you don’t have rivers to put them on.

14 Axa May 9, 2014 at 7:15 am


15 Roy May 8, 2014 at 12:54 pm

In 1949 the former Japanese colony of Taiwan had more miles of railroad than all of Mainland China.

16 So Much For Subtlety May 8, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Umm, I call bullsh!t on that claim. All by itself, the Beijing-Guangzhou railway line, which was finished bar one single bridge, is some 2,300 kilometers long. As of 2003 Taiwan has just under 1,500 kilometers of railway.

So either Taiwan has closed down over half its railways, or this claim is factually wrong.

17 jtf May 8, 2014 at 1:21 pm

The better question is how many of those dams were make-work infrastructure solutions in search of problems and how many were ultimately worth it.

18 Rahul May 8, 2014 at 2:17 pm

When your population is growing at Chinese rates most infrastructure solutions will find the problem they seek. Sooner rather than later.

19 Art Deco May 8, 2014 at 2:52 pm

China’s total fertility rate is 1.66, well below replacement level. It has been below replacement level since 1993. Population growth rates have been as follows:

1949 – the Present: 1.51%
1960 – the Present: 1.37%
1978 – the Present: 1.08%
1990 – the Present: 0.87%

The corresponding figures for the U.S. have are 1.14%, 1.02%, 0.91%, and 0.89%.

I do not thing excess demographic growth is their problem, or will be in the future.

20 John Mansfield May 8, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Fifteen meters high or 3 million cubic meters of water (2,500 acre-ft) is setting the bar pretty low for a “large” dam. Boulder Dam on the Colorado is 700 feet high and stores 10 million acre-feet, but even ignoring it, there are a couple of unremarkable dams downstream, Davis and Parker that impound Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu. Davis is an earth fill dam 200 feet high and its reservoir covers 26,000 acres. Parker is 320 feet high and stores 600,000 acre-feet behind it.

21 Doug May 8, 2014 at 1:57 pm

According to there are 75,000 dams in the US on 600,000 miles of rivers, for about 8 miles per dam. These sort of numbers don’t seem all that unrealistic when you think about very small dams used for agriculture.

22 Rahul May 8, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Yes, but do people refer to them as “large dams”?

23 Michael B Sullivan May 8, 2014 at 2:00 pm

15 meters is roughly 50 feet. I get what you’re saying, but that’s not what I think of when you say “very small” dams.

24 John Mansfield May 8, 2014 at 2:22 pm

For the most part dams as short as 15 meters and reservoirs as small as 3 million cubic meters do not have names, and people living three miles away aren’t even aware they exist.

25 Roy May 8, 2014 at 3:17 pm

How many dams were there in the US in 1932? How many were built between then and 1980 when dam building just stopped?

In Texas every large non municipal dam I know of dates no earlier than the FDR period. The vast majority were built after 1949.

26 DanC May 8, 2014 at 4:01 pm

How many were replacements for dams destroyed during WWII. With better planning how many of these dams could have been consolidated into larger projects? If you can easily confiscate property and convert its use, how do you know if it is the most effective use of resources.

Mostly, who got rich from this?

27 jon May 8, 2014 at 4:09 pm

when i read this articles I think of how even after all the building that is going on in china, the density of infrastructure is far lower than in the western world. they are at least 30 years removed from any housing bubble.

28 Nicoli May 8, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Well, they had to put all the bodies somewhere…what better than in large concrete and earthen dams.

29 chuck martel May 8, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Dams are the perfect project for adolescent big governments. The technology is basic, been around for a long time, materials are cheap and plentiful, concrete and steel, and the construction requires lots of low-skill labor. Plenty to like for a state trying to put people to work and cash in on some hydro power.

30 The Other Jim May 8, 2014 at 9:25 pm

I’m not impressed, China. Here in the US, in just the past six years, we’ve had discussions about almost starting to think about beginning construction on an oil pipeline.

31 Tom T. May 8, 2014 at 11:46 pm

“Is this a God dam?”

— Butthead, upon touring Hoover Dam.

32 Benny Lava May 9, 2014 at 8:20 am


33 Nathan W May 9, 2014 at 10:39 pm

If there’s one thing I like to stress about the experience of the Chinese economy under Mao’s Communists, it is that the broad development of infrastructure such as electricity and transport and also in education and health, almost entirely developed under the CCP, provided excellent possibilities for rapid expansion as the scope for exchange and production on private markets expanded.

After 1978, and in particularly after the mid-1980s, household responsibility systems in (relatively) liberalized agricultural combined with township and village enterprise drove growth, and state-owned enterprise has declined as a share of GDP basically since then.

But absent the endowment of physical infrastructure and human capital, I highly doubt it would have taken.

34 Nathan W May 9, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Of course, lots of those local companies got big quick as the partnered with foreigners eager to get into the Chinese labour market.

35 Michael Turton May 11, 2014 at 11:10 pm

Many of those dams are not necessarily built on rivers, but may be holding storage ponds and similar.

Biggest dam disaster in history is Chinese


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