Gaoji Causeway blasted for environmental protection

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Engineers Thursday used explosives to blast part of a causeway on China's southeast coast, a relic from the era of confrontation between the mainland and the Taiwan-based KMT decades ago.

The 2,212-meter-long Gaoji Causeway in Fujian Province linked the mainland and Xiamen island, which is close to Taiwan. It was Xiamen island's lifeline, along which goods and personnel moved to-and-fro.

The causeway, completed in 1955, reflected the then-popular "man conquers nature" notion. Today, Chinese officials say they are tearing it down to protect ecosystem in nearby sea area.

Engineers will remove about 800 meters of the causeway and connect the remaining parts with a 24-meter-wide bridge. The two-year project will allow the sludge that has accumulated on either side of the causeway to wash away, said Wang Wenjie, a local official oversees coastal cleanup projects.

Increased water flow and an improved ecosystem will help save endangered animals in the surrounding ecosystem, like Chinese white dolphins, the official say.

The causeway was a major project for New China in the 1950s, even amid the shellings from the Taiwan-based KMT.

Chairman Mao Zedong personally ordered the causeway's construction, setting aside 13 million yuan (1.95 mln U.S. dollars) -- a huge amount for then-war-torn country -- for it.

Nearly 10,000 Xiamen residents were mobilized to carry 750,000 tons of rock on their shoulders to build the dike from 1953 to 1955.

"Conditions were tough. We used our bare hands and hammers. We had to wait for low tide to lay the foundation," said 81-year-old Wang Bingyao, who participated in the causeway's construction. "Our legs swelled after soaking in water for many hours. But we were determined, and Chairman Mao's instructions encouraged us."

Some workers lost their lives during construction.

In January 1955, 76 workers were killed when KMT war-planes bombed a boat ferrying workers home from the construction site.

The causeway was strategically important because it allowed the efficient transport of supplies to the island's residents and the thousands of soldiers stationed there, local residents say.

After the Communist Party of China won the civil war in 1949, the defeated KMT fled to Taiwan and engaged in a decades-long confrontation with the mainland, with shellings and air strikes frequent during the 1950s and 1960s.

But even as hostilities eased and development accelerated, the causeway remained Xiamen island's lone link to the mainland until 1991, when a bridge to the island was built.

Today, four bridges and an underwater tunnel link the island with the mainland, and the causeway no longer serves as Xiamen island's lifeline.

The causeway's demolition is also a metaphor for changes in the way China thinks about nature -- the modern notion of living in harmony with nature has replaced the past "man conquers nature" mentality.

Pan Shijian, a deputy mayor in Xiamen, said that although it contributed much to Xiamen's development, the causeway is not in harmony with nature and has caused ecological damage in the waters near it.

Xiamen University researchers have shown that large swathes of silt started piling up along the causeway in 2003. They also proved that the bay to the west of the causeway is a dead sea without any life in it. Moreover, the causeway has caused beaches to shrink and water quality to deteriorate.

"We have realized the sea is Xiamen's lifeblood and necessary to sustain economic development," Pan said. "We should take care of the sea and make use of its resources wisely."

China has realized the importance of environmental protection, and it is now starting to live in harmony with nature.

In 2007, thousands of residents took to Xiamen's streets to protest the construction of a multi-million-dollar chemical plant after a depty to the National People's Congress voiced concerns about the plant's affect on residents health. The protests forced the Taiwanese-funded PX chemical plant to be relocated.

The newly-issued Communique of the Fifth Plenum of the 17th CPC Central Committee that maps out the nation's development path for the next five years has called on the people to build a resource-saving and environment-friendly society.

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