Up the Yangtze

After taking a "farewell cruise" up the Yangzte, Yung Chang returned to document the experience before time ran out. What the Chinese-Canadian filmmaker saw in 2002 will disappear in subsequent years as the rising waters of the Three Gorges Dam submerge the villages along the riverbanks. Chang takes a two-pronged approach in shadowing a pair of luxury liner workers, petite 16-year-old Yu Shui (renamed Cindy) and rangy 19-year-old Chen Bo Yu (Jerry), concentrating most of his attentions on the former. While the shy Yu Shui caters to the needs of well-heeled Westerners in order to assist her poverty-stricken family, her relations make plans to leave Fengdu before the Yangtze swoops in (the outspoken Chen Bo Yu hails from the similarly threatened Kai Xian). As the landscape around them turns into a second Atlantis, the teenagers change, as well, in ways both positive and negative. To survive in modern-day China, it appears, Westernization is inevitable, which Chang (third-generation Canadian) neither celebrates nor condemns. Instead, he questions the ways in which economic progress erodes—sometimes even destroys—personal and cultural values. In the illuminating booklet interview that accompanies the DVD, Chang admits he was inspired by the large-scale Three Gorges photography of fellow Canadian Edward Burtynsky, which makes the more intimate Up the Yangtze an ideal companion piece to the Burtynsky-oriented Manufactured Landscapes—and a terrific feature in its own right. Further extras include time-lapse river footage, a 2006 demo reel, and substantial deleted scenes, which play almost like short films. —Kathleen C. Fennessy
Year Released
Running Time
93 minutes
Eye Steel Film
Average: 4 (2 votes)


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Should You Still Use Up The Yangtze in the classroom?

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies
Posted On: 01/13/2020

My name is Zachary Palmer, and for my review, I screened Up The Yangtze, directed by Yung Chang. I am a high school social studies teacher at Oakland Catholic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I teach early world history to freshman, and AP United States History to juniors. This film shows the changes brought about in the Yangtze River valley as a result of the building of the Three Rivers Dam. Overall, I found this to be an interesting film, but it may be tricky to use in class due to the topical nature of its content.
Focusing on the positives of this film, it is a compelling story that should resonate with high school aged students. A large focus of the story is growing up and coming of age. Thematically, the story also focuses on dealing with change, and the inevitability of that change.
There are some reasons to avoid using this story. While it is compelling, it is also dated. The film premiered in 2008, and focuses on events that took place in 2006. As someone who was not very globally aware at that time, the impact of the change on the Yangtze valley was lessened for me, and I feel that students may have the same problems. Additionally, if you choose to show the movie please be aware that there is a scene that depicts some of the characters in the story drinking together and taking shots. In the same scene, around the 19-minute mark, the “F” word is in the subtitles.
Overall, I did enjoy watching Up The Yangtze. It is an interesting film, but I feel the fact that the content is somewhat topical and dates make it less compelling for use in today’s classrooms.

Great look at changing towns and values in contemporary China

Field of Interest/Specialty: Asian Studies
Posted On: 01/19/2012

Despite the fast pace of Chinese society's changes, this film stands out as a great look at any number of subjects: west vs east, rich vs poor, middle class aspirations, rural decline, attitudes towards school and financial security, etc. The film follows two teenagers who have taken jobs working on a cruise boat that is traveling to show off the Yangtze river valleys before the Three Gorges Dam cuts off many of the water routes. One subject is a girl, appearing about 12 or 13 years old, from an incredibly destitute family that has lost their land and now subside in a ramshackle shelter growing crops along the riverbank for food and taking hard physical labor to survive. Because the family cannot afford to pay her schooling fees, they have gotten her the position on the cruise in hopes of teaching her the skills needed to find a good job and get a better education as she grows older, despite her own dismay at having to leave her family and embarrassment at being the 'country bumpkin' among the staff, not knowing basic things about clothing and makeup and becoming the pet project of the other young female staff who pity her and try to teach her these things so she no longer embarrasses them.
The other subject is an arrogant teenage boy of around 17 who likes to pretend to be from a very well-off family (although the fact that he has taken this job seems to indicate that there may be financial issues he is struggling to conceal) who quickly becomes sucked in to the world of flattering old women to get tips, practicing his English, and trying to look like he's in control.
In the meantime, we also get a glimpse at a number of older white American/European couples who are traveling on the cruises, and see how they react to China (including attending song-and-dance shows that are a bit casually racist) and how the Chinese working on the ship react to them. This could be a great film to use in discussing modernization, attitudes towards education and work/financial freedom, cultural values and "real feelings" vs "public face", etc.