The Three Gorges dam was so vast and sweeping a vision that nothing could stand in its way. Not the old cities of the Yangtze valley, storehouses of human toil and treasure for more than a thousand years. Not the lush, low-lying farmlands, nor the villages, nor even the pagodas and temples that graced the riverbanks.
The cries of dissenting scientists and the lamentations of more than a million Chinese people forced to leave their ancestral lands counted for nothing.
When the waters rose to 570ft last year, drowning all these things, it marked a triumph for the engineers at the top of the Chinese Communist party.
But in the past six months a sinister trail of events has unfolded from the dam all the way up the 410-mile reservoir to the metropolis of Chongqing.
It began with strange, small-scale earthquakes recorded by official monitoring stations and reported by the Chinese media.
Mysterious cracks split roads and sundered schoolhouses and apartments in newly built towns and villages on the bluffs looking down on the river.
The local government now says that 300,000 people will have to move out in addition to the 1.4m evicted to make way for the dam.
More than 50,000 residents have already been relocated owing to seismic problems that were not foreseen when the dam was built, according to the state news agency, Xinhua.
As the boats sail by, landslides can be seen from the river — some small, some big — staining the waters of the Yangtze with minerals and sediment.
Big pleasure cruisers, tramp steamers and shoals of sampans plough through waters that switch from hue to hue as their chemical composition changes.
In Badong county, midway through the Three Gorges, celebrated in Chinese painting and poetry, the citizens are troubled by a sense of foreboding.
The local government hastily moved out of a prestigious new block after experts warned that it was unsafe.
But ordinary folk and even schoolchildren have been left to fend for themselves. More than 3,000 children attend school every day in a building dating back to 1943 that officials know to be at risk of collapse. Nothing has been done to move them, supposedly because of a lack of funds.
The playground is riddled with cracks. One ominous jagged line runs down the side of the classrooms.
“The government agrees that our whole school must move,” said a worried teacher, who asked not to be named, “but so far it’s just talk.” …