iChongqing Title

Back to the Three Gorges: Father and Son Witnessed Huge Changes During Past Decades

By CHENG KEQIAO|Nov 13,2018

Liu Hongyin, the father, and Liu Dexing, the son, during the revisiting tour to the Three Gorges

By Keqiao Cheng

“My name is Liu Hongyin, and I am 90 years old. I worked on ships in the Three Gorges for more than sixty years since the age of 12. This is the first time I have returned to the Three Gorges in more than a decade.”

Hosted by Chongqing Municipal Commission of Culture and Tourism Development, the activity of “Back to the Three Gorges” held its opening ceremony at the Yangtze Gold 6 Cruise in SW China’s Chongqing November 7. The activity invented about 200 tourists and workers, including Liu, who visited or worked in the Three Gorges 20 years ago to revisit the place and experience its changes.

Father and son witnessed huge changes during past decades

“We are arriving in Fengdu right away. The waterway was narrow, and I had to pilot the ship manually. Because it would stroke the underwater rocks if I had not paid attention.” The old man told iChongqing on the Yangtze Gold 6 Cruise, and everything outside the window was so familiar for him.

Liu Hongyin

Liu Hongyin in the interview with iChongqing

Liu Hongyin, born in Nanchong, Sichuan Province, came to Chongqing at the age of 12 to escape from the war. By the recommendation of an acquaintance, he began to work on ships in the Three Gorges, and the work lasted for over 60 years.

67-year-old Liu Dexing, son of Liu Hongyin,  joined this trip because he also worked on ships on the Yangtze River, just like his father. “Actually, I am a follower of my father’s career. I started my work in the Three Gorges in 1983. It had been 23 years when I retired in 2006.” Liu Dexing said.

“In fact, we are a family of crew. I have three sons and one daughter: Dexing is the eldest son; the second son is Deli, who was a boatswain; Deyu, my daughter, was a waitress on a cruise. They are all retired now. Except for 54-year-old Deping, the youngest son,  is still working on cargo ships.” The father told iChongqing.

Everything of Three Gorges is so familiar to me

“I was born in 1928 and I have an elder brother. In 1940, my elder brother escaped from home because of the enforced army recruitment for able-bodied men at that time. Those people would have to catch me as a substitute for my brother, so I could only escape as well.”

After arriving in Chongqing, Liu Hongyin got on a ship at Chaotianmen Port. “It was a small wooden ship and with a small engine, and at first, I worked as a waiter.”

According to him, the water route along the Three Gorges, which connected Chongqing and the downstream cities of the Yangtze River, was the busiest transport. “We carried both cargos and passengers. Usually, we departed from Chongqing and sailed to Hankou, and the round trip took 8 days.”

The Yangtze Gold 6 Cruise at nowadays Chaotianmen Port

The Yangtze Gold 6 Cruise at nowadays Chaotianmen Port

During World War II, Liu worked on the Minxi Ship. “At that time, there were constant bombards in Chongqing during the daytime, so we could not sail until night. The waterway was narrow, the flow was rapid, and there were many river beaches. There was no other way than piloting during the night. We let the two sailors hold the flashlights against the riversides to estimate the distance from the shore to the ship. I have engraved every mountain and every river beach in the Three Gorges  in my memory.” Said the old pilot.

“The conditions during the war were difficult, but the life on board was not bad. One of the advantages we had was that when the ship stopped at Fuling, Fengdu, Wanzhou or other harbors along the Yangtze River, the locals often took some chicken, duck, or fish to sell to us. Occasionally, we even had the luck to enjoy the hot pot.”

I piloted the ship for General Ye

Later, Liu Hongyin settled down with his wife in Chongqing, but he still kept working on ships. “At that time, there were few crew members who had experience in piloting in the Three Gorges. So, I could only stay one night in Chongqing every time when I came back from an 8-day Chongqing-Wuhan round trip. In the next day morning, I would have to go back to the work.” Liu recalled his memory.

In the 1950s to 1960s, the Three Gorges was not been developed into a tourist attraction yet, but there were leaders accompanying foreign guests to visit the landscape sometimes. “The best ship of our company was the Dongfanghong 33, and I was the captain. It served as a passenger ship, but when foreign guests came, it would be temporarily transformed into a special cruise. When General Ye Jianying accompanied the foreign guests to visit the Three Gorges, it was I who piloted the ship.”

I have never expected there are so many foreign tourists

In 1988, 60-year-old Liu Hongyin should have retired, but because there were too few experienced captains at that moment and under the persuasion by the company, he continued to work until 1998.

After the reform and opening-up of China, more and more tourists came to the Three Gorges, and the ships are getting better and better. However, the qualified sailors and captains were not enough, and it was when Liu started to take apprentices.

“After entering the 1990s, the Three Gorges tour has really begun to be popular, and many tourists from Japan, South Korea and the West came here. I have never expected there are so many foreign tourists.” Liu said, “In my memory, the Three Gorges was still very dangerous. Once, we had just departed from Wushan and encountered heavy winds and rains, which made the ship wobble strongly. Besides this, the waterway was still narrow, and there were mountain cliffs on the riversides. I was really nervous, but those foreigners were not worried at all. Instead, it seemed that they found it quite exciting.”

The Three Gorges Dam was completed in 1997, and the next year, Liu Hongyin officially retired. But the story with the Three Gorges continued by his son.

It should not have been “Say Goodbye to the Three Gorges”

“My name is Liu Dexing, and I am 67 years old. I worked on ships from 1983 to 2006, then I retired.” The son of Liu Hongyin told iChongqing.

Liu Dexing

Liu Dexing in the interview with iChongqing

In comparison to his father, the 23-year-work experience of Liu Dexing is not that long. However, he has been the one who witnessed the changes after the building of the Three Gorges Dam, and the popularity of the emerging Three Gorges tour.

After China’s decision of the Three Gorges project in 1992, there appeared awash ads theming with “Say Goodbye to the Three Gorges”. Fearing that the beautiful sceneries and historical sites would be immersed for good, a huge number of tourists came here at that time. However, after the Dam was built, the number of tourists decreased dramatically.

When talking about the Three Gorges of nowadays, Liu Dexing has his own opinion: “It should not have been ‘Say Goodbye to the Three Gorges’ at all. The Three Gorges is still here, and the wide waterways, the green mountains…I prefer the ‘new’ Three Gorges, and of course, the name of this activity, ‘Back to the Three Gorges’, is quite good.”

I am more than happy to revisit the Three Gorges

“Look at the landscape! It is way much better than before. It was impossible to imagine such wide waterways at that time. The new cities and towns along the riversides, the huge and luxury cruise… What a tremendous change in only two decades!”

Wushan County, Chongqing, China

The wide waterway has given the Three Gorges a new look at the section of Wushan County, Chongqing.

The 90-year-old man kept talking about the “old” and the “new” Three Gorges, and the route may have been repeated thousands of times in his mind. “I am very grateful that the government has offered me this opportunity to see the Three Gorges again. I am more than happy to revisit it and see the changes.” Said Liu.


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