（3） The Federal Interagency Stream Restoration Working Group of U.S.A., Stream Corridor Restoration, Revised August, 2001.
（4） Boon PJ, Davies B R, Petts G E., Global Perspectives on River Conservation : Science, Policy, and Practice
New Conception in Chinese Water Conservancy---
Harmonious Coexistence of Humanity with Nature
By Qian Zhengying
Water is the source of all lives and is a basic element determining the existence and development of humanity. The
ancient Chinese folklore had it that more than four thousand years ago, a Mr. Gun was given the charge to regulate the
rivers of China. He resorted to damming and diking and failed in his mission. His son, the great Yu, succeeded, however,
by adopting instead the measures of draining and dredging and finally was made the ruler of the land. This is an example,
illustrating, in the context of Chinese natural conditions, the close relationship between water conservancy and the
governing and developing of a state. This episode also illustrated the needs to keep enquiring into the objective laws
governing water and to search for the conception to guide water conservancy.
Referring to the new developments and new problems encountered in Chinese water conservancy in the nineties of
the last century, the Engineering Academy of China submitted to the China State Council, in July 2000, a document
entitled “Comprehensive Report on Strategic Study of Sustainable Development of Water Resources”. In this report,
the overall strategy to be applied to the administration of water resources in China is proposed to be “supporting the
sustainable socio-economic development of China with sustainable application of water resources”. The strategic
transformation of water conservancy is to be accomplished in eight respects. The first concerns the flood control and
flood disaster mitigation. It is proposed that in this respect “the random and reckless vying for land by human beings
against water is to be replaced by orderly and sustainable coexistence with floods in a harmonious manner”. This marks
for the first time in the Chinese history that the conception of harmonious coexistence of mankind with floods was set
forth. In January, 2003, while reporting to the China State Council on the strategic study concerning the allocation of
water resources, rehabilitation of ecological environment and sustainable development in the north-western China, the
Chinese Engineering Academy went further to propose “adopting the guideline of harmonious coexistence of humanity
with nature”. It also expounded the feasibility of adopting this guideline and its essence. It appears now that this idea
of harmonious coexistence of humanity with nature is gradually gaining common acceptance and will become a new
conception in modern water conservancy in China. The formal wording expressing this notion still remains open to
further discussion and consideration. It may be harmonious coexistence, harmonious association, harmonious
development, coordinated development and others. For the time being, the term harmonious coexistence is employed.
Ⅰ. Properly placing the status of humanity with respect to nature is the very basic issue in water conservancy.
1. Water conservancy consists basically in human modification of the natural occurrence of water in the interest of
human subsistence and development. Because of this, evaluation of any hydraulic engineering project will have to depend
on the outcome of ultimate tests by nature. Thus the very basic issue in the conducting of water conservancy is to strike a balance between humanity and nature. Human attitude towards the nature has covered a spectrum marked by complete
dependence on nature, intention to overpower nature and endeavor to keep compatible with nature. Traces of this
spectrum of evolution may be detected in the work of water conservancy all over the world.
2. China has built, since the ancient time, a great number of hydraulic works embodying all types of human
relationship with nature. Levees for flood control, ditches for drainage, various structures for irrigation, all in an effort to
reclaim landfor cultivation, represent the most common deeds accomplished on this ancient land, contributing to a
continuous growth of Chinese population, while also ushering in a multitude of problems. Grand Canal was for a long
time regarded as an
exemplary case of success, until an embarrassing situation arose and lasted through the Ming and Qing dynasties,
the Yellow River breached its levees and switched its course into the lower reaches of the Huai River, causing
sediment deposition in the Canal. As a remedy for maintaining navigation, the middle reaches of the Huai River were
dammed, making the Hongze Lake as a reservoir to provide “clear” water from the Huai to scour the Canal, thus
alleviating the harmful effects of the “muddy” water of the Yellow. This, however, had the consequence of raising the
stage of the Middle Huai River and whence brought about an unsolved problem in the regulation of the Huai River up to
now. All in all, Dujiangyan Irrigation Project built 2,000 years ago on the plain of Western Szechuan is still regarded as a
typical case of human development in harmony with the nature.
3. It was only after entrance into the era of industrialized society with the development of high dam engineering,
that it began possible for the mankind to bring about fundamental changes in rivers from their natural conditions and
thereby to cause changes of nature on an unprecedented scale. In China, extensive hydraulic construction was launched
after the fifties of the last century with the control and exploitation of rivers, thereby greatly changing the natural
environment heretofore prevailing. The problems arising from water conservancy in recent years have prompted people
to ponder on the basic relationship between human beings and nature, after summing up the historical experience. In this
process, it has gradually dawned on human beings that it is necessary to settle harmoniously with nature.
Ⅱ.Achievements in water conservancy since the New China was founded and the problems being faced currently.
1. Achievements in water conservancy
Through construction of reservoirs on rivers and streams, renovation of levees and dikes on a large scale and
exploitation of surface and ground water, the harassing attacks by alternating occurrences of floods and droughts were
substantially brought under control, thus providing a relatively secure condition for socio-economic development. Water
conservancy has played a very important role in helping solve the traditional, difficult problem of providing sufficient
food to feed the people. It has also provided water supplies needed in the growth of industries and cities on a large scale.
Of the total energy needed by the nation today, hydroelectricity has contributed 20% upwards.
2. Problems confronting water conservancy
(1) Annual loss to flooding is still very large. Although some measures are in reserve for defense against
extraordinary floods, they are still not quite ensured.
(2) In north China, shortage in water resources is constraining the socio-economic development. Overexploitation of
water resources has given rise to a series of environmental and ecological problems, including desiccation of rivers and
lakes and decline in groundwater supply.
(3) Development of industries and cities in urban areas as well as of agriculture and communities in rural areas has
resulted in serious pollution of water and deterioration in aqueous environments.
These problems post to the people in charge of water conservancy the basic question, namely, where should water
conservancy work lead to in future?
Ⅲ. Whereto should water conservancy lead
The future advance of water conservancy should be guided by the basic conception of water conservancy, namely,
by a proper relationship between humanity and nature.
1. Flood and flood damages
Humanity should establish a system for mitigation of flood damages, in which human beings may achieve
harmonious coexistence with floods. Floods are to be differentiated from flood damages. Floods in rivers are natural
events and are beyond human control. Flood damages, however, are principally due to human exploitation of land
resources of alluvial plains, and the problems arising thereby should be solved by human beings themselves. For
livelihood and development, human beings may appropriately exploit the resources of alluvial plains by building
appropriate hydraulic engineering. Excessive and irrational exploitation, however, is to be avoided. Random and reckless
reclamation of alluvial plains is to be replaced by orderly and sustainable coexistence with floods in harmony.
Engineering measures applied in the regulation of rivers may cope with floods of designated frequency but not with
large and extra-large floods. Thus, it would be necessary, in the presence of an engineering system of flood control of a
definite standard, to concede a piece of land with sufficient size for the detention of large and extra-large floods. In the
plans for flood control, this piece of land is designated as flood detention area. It may still be put to appropriate use
provided that the requirements of flood detention are observed.
2. Rational allocation of water resources
Humanity must live in harmony with the surrounding ecological system, sharing land and water resources rationally.
For socio-economic development, it is manifesting that man has to procure more land and water than he is normally
entitled to under natural conditions. But in order to ensure a sustainable development, man must not overreach himself.
Therefore, he must learn how to properly share the water and land resources with the surrounding ecological system.
On completing a study of desertification of the northwestern region in China, it was recognized that land
desertification caused by human activities was mainly due to man’s irrational or excessive exploitation of water and
land resources. As to water resources, our past attitude in planning hydraulic engineering was to pursue the full control
and development of water resources in order to satisfy the needs of socio-economic development. It was only after the
onset of desiccation of lakes and rivers and the drop of ground water level, inducing whence a series of environmental and
ecological problems, that man came to realize that water resources must be rationally apportioned. In the quest of a
solution to make the supply of water resources to meet the need, it is necessary to rely on modern science and
technology and to observe the intensive mode of economic development. The development of society and economy in
harmony with natural environment can only be achieved by way of a socio-economic model characterized by high
efficiency, water saving and freedom from pollution, along with continuous upgrading of the efficiency and benefit of
3. Mitigation of desertification
Man should try to achieve harmonious coexistence with deserts, instead of an attempt to remold, to attack or even
to “conquer” them. People living around deserts has summed up their experience with the desert as “to encroach on
the desert and the desert would encroach on you”and “to leave the desert alone and the desert would leave you
Desert is a constituent part of the earth. Desert and desertification carry different meanings. The former has come
into existence through geological ages. Man cannot and should not attempt to get rid of it. Desertification, however, is the
result of man’s improper management of water and soil resources leading to the degeneration of soil and is something
that man should and could find a remedy for it. The said improper management of water and soil resources includes
reckless reclamation, overgrazing, indiscriminate cutting and indiscriminate excavation that damage the vegetation of the
grassland. Moreover, there was also over-pumping of groundwater resulting in large depression of groundwater table that leads to the degeneration and eventually death of vegetation. In the perimeter zone of some deserts, the crops or trees
cultivated were such that their water duties exceeded what local precipitation could afford. As a result, the local soil
moisture was used up. This gave rise to the expansion of the desert, contrary to what was originally expected.
4. Ecological functions of rivers
Rivers on earth have irreplaceable ecological functions. Rivers not only render support to the ecological systems
within their flows and in the riparian corridors along both banks, but also help form on the earth various flow systems
comprising the main stem as well as tributaries of various grades. They form the principal terrestrial passages in the
earth’s overall circulation of water. Through them, mass and energy are transported among various ecological systems
on the earth and also from land to ocean. They form, so to speak, the arterial systems on the earth’s surface.
Water conservancy in the past paid little attention to the ecological functions of the rivers, neither to the laws
governing changes of rivers and their consequences from the ecological point of view. Floods of rivers for instance,
despite their harmful aspects, are indispensable in maintaining the ecological function of a river through replenishing the
groundwater, the lakes and wetlands in the riparian areas, molding the river channels and diluting any sewage. In the case
of an inland river, floods from the upstream areas also serve to maintain the ecological systems in the riparian areas along
the lower reaches as well as around its terminal lake. In the case of the Lower Yellow River, scouring by annual floods is
instrumental in maintaining a channel of a definite size. Protecting every river from being polluted is the prerequisite for
the maintenance of its ecological function.
IV. Various views on application of the conception of harmonious coexistence of man with nature to the water
conservancy in China
1. There have been two extreme views on the fundamental conception about human status in nature. On the one
hand, humanity is unduly taken as the absolutely dominating agent in nature. Consequently, it was suggested that human
beings should and could more radically change the nature to suit their own requirements of development. The conception for human beings to live in harmony with the nature is consequently regarded as a talk empty of matter. On the other,
human status in nature is so much reduced that they are regarded as a mere member of the ecological system in nature.
Any attempt on the part of human beings to change the nature would then be tantamount to disturbing the laws of nature
and would incite punishment from the nature. The natural environment accordingly must be restored to its primitive
state prior to any human development. It then follows that the conception of harmonious coexistence of humanity with
nature cannot yet help solve any problem. Both of these extreme views do not apply in the real world.
The conception of harmonious coexistence of humanity with nature confirms a moderately main role played by
human beings in nature and the need for human socio- economy to advance. In the mean time, it is to be clearly
recognized that the laws of nature must be respected and that natural resources available are limited in amount. Resort
must then be made to the modern science and technology and the modern productive capability in seeking to achieve
sustainable development of humanity through harmonious coexistence with nature.
2. In discussions involving Chinese water conservancy, both extreme views have been made known.
For example, in dealing with the inland rivers of Xinjiang, Qinghai, Ganshu and other regions, some people
maintained that, since water resources in these northwestern areas were severely limited, it would be impossible for
human beings to share them with nature. What is to be only needed is to construct and preserve the artificial oases, while the fate of the natural lakes and natural oases as well as the tail reaches of rivers devoid of direct economic value should
all be left out of consideration. There are also people who are of the opinion that without resorting to diversion of water
on extra large scale from the Lancangjiang, the Nujiang and the Yaluzangbujiang Rivers the development in the
northwestern region is impossible.
On the contrary, there are people who deny the overall necessity of hydraulic development. Some argue that in
recent years, the USA has started to dismantle some dams. We in China should also stop dam construction. These
people overlook the fact that the gross storage capacity of American reservoirs has exceeded 34% of the average total
annual runoff of American rivers, whereas in China the relevant figures are only 17% upwards. It does not make sense to
compare countries of different socio-economic background and in different stages of development in this way.
Accepting in general the conception of harmonious coexistence of humanity with nature, people may still have
different opinions about some specific problems. For instance, there are different opinions about the regulation of the
Wei River, an important tributary of the Yellow River, as related to the Sanmen Gorge Project on the Yellow River, the
justification of developing the hydropower potential of the Nu River in Yunnan Province and others.
3. In the writer’s opinion, endorsing the new conception of establishing harmonious coexistence of humanity with
nature may be regarded as the most important progress in Chinese water conservancy in recent years. Generally
speaking, any dispute in this respect is basically a debate involving sustainable protection of ecology and environment
and sustainable development of society and economy. Can the two be compatible? How should the contradiction be
treated? As to various views of some specific problems, it is simply natural and to be welcomed. Debate on the different
views would help promote national decision to higher levels of science and democracy.
For the time being, it is important to carry out further in-depth research of forward looking and instructive value
around the said new conception. In the mean time, ways and means should be found to extend the application of the said
conception to various fields of water conservancy, including evaluation, apportioning, planning, design and
administration of water resources. It is even more important to substantiate and modify the course material of hydraulic
engineering in colleges and universities, so that new generations of hydraulic engineers may be brought up in compliance
with the said new conception.
For further excellence, we shall keep looking forward and count on the institutions today to bring up brilliant new
generations of engineers and other specialists for the new century of water conservancy.
(The author should like to sincerely thank Messrs. Xu Qianqin, Lin Bingnan, Liu Changming, Shi Yulin, Chen Jiaqi
and Ning Yuan for reviewing this paper. She wishes to express in particular her appreciation to Mr. Lin Bingnan for
kindly translating the Chinese version of this summary into English.)
 Chinese Engineering Academy, 2000, Strategic study on sustainable development of Chinese water resources.
 Chinese Engineering Academy, 2003, Apportioning of water resources, rehabilitation of ecological
environment and sustainable development in the northwestern region.
 The Federal Interagency Stream Restoration Working Group of U.S.A., 2001, Stream corridor restoration
 Boon, P.J., Davies, B.R., Petts G.E., 2000, Global Perspectives on River Conservation : Science, Policy and