border review | 30 March 2012

Myitsone spirits

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, has written a three-part series on the suspended Myitsone dam for The Economic Observer. A revised version of the text is now accessible at chinadialogue. Qin argues that while ecological problems are usually foregrounded in the opposition against the dam, the real reason for the fierce and widespread opposition lies elsewhere:

Everywhere in Kachin, you see photos or paintings of Myitsone, the confluence of the Mail and N’Mai rivers and source of the Irrawaddy. The iconic image is visible in any public space and is a familiar sight even in non-Kachin areas (a “Myitsone Restaurant” near the Chinese embassy in Yangon is adorned with the image). It seems that Myitsone is to this region what Mount Fuji is to Japan or Mount Kumgang to North Korea: an emblem of the nation.

Why is this place so significant? Kachin legend has it that Father Dragon and his two sons, Hkrai Nawng and Hkrai Gam, were born here. Locals believe that, if the mountains are damaged, the dragons will awaken and bring disaster. Of course, many people don’t believe this, but the point is the Kachin do – and this is their land isn’t it?

In the third part, the author concludes:

I left Kachin state with two clear impressions. First, the people who cooperated most closely with China in the past (former Burmese Communist Party members, for example) are the fiercest critics of China today. They commonly feel that China cannot be trusted and that the Kachin should seek western support.

This is a very informative piece. Highly recommended.