Dujiangyang Irrigation Project – ancient ecological /cultural infrastructure

This image is of the Dujiangyang Irrigation Project (256BC) in Sichuan, China, one of the oldest still operational pieces of hydro-infrastructure in the world. This over two-thousand-year-old project was traditionally made of local materials, an ancient gabion form constructed out of bamboo and local stone – it was able to be maintained regularly by the local community, and its flexible modular form allowed it to be rebuilt easily after earthquakes or major floods. The flow dynamics of the system are designed on Taoist principles to keep the water flowing, “to sluice deep – and dam low”. The fish mouth at the head of the project diverts the water into two rivers, moving most of the silt and sediment into the outer river, creating a natural dredging effect. The Dujiangyang Irrigation Project is a national heritage site. On the hillside above the project is a temple precinct with ancient Taoist temples that people across China make pilgrimages to visit. In this class we read the project as a complexity model, a model of infrastructure that is simultaneously cultural, ecological, economic and cosmological space. In the complexity paradigm the Dujiangyan Project performs as an organising energy field or ‘attractor’, allowing multiple streams to exist simultaneously, both in terms of water flows, social movement and economic flows generating a range of positive outcomes across layers of Sichuan culture.


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