These photos document the construction of four dams – from north to south, Wunonglong, Lidi, Tuoba, and Huangdeng (see map below) – along a 200-kilometer stretch of the upper Mekong in Yunnan, China, and the transformation of the river from a free-flowing current to a series of stagnant reservoirs. These hydropower projects are part of a larger transnational movement to build hundreds of dams on the Mekong and its tributaries, including the Nam Tha in Laos.
In 2011, I trekked along the upper Mekong from Deqen south through Tibetan and Lisu villages. The river was braided copper and bronze, churning between talus banks. Dams existed on the Mekong further south in Yunnan, but here it ran unimpeded. Construction of infrastructure and access roads for the dams had begun, however, and clouds of yellow dust rose up where earth machines raked open the valley walls.