Hans Fruehauf is an engineer working for Germany's financial export bank, Hermes-Bauermann. The prestigious bank has invested several billion euros in China's Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, and Hans is being sent to China to evaluate progress on this giant dam and conditions for a final loan.
The twenty-gigawatt dam on the Yangtze has been a controversial project since its inception in the early 1980s; but when the twenty-five-year-old Hans arrives in China, the conditions at the Three Gorges Dam have been complicated by a severely depleted Himalayan snowpack and an unusually dry spring. The Yangtze is running at a drastically reduced volume, and the dam's three hundred-mile long reservoir is less than half full. Many of the criticisms against the dam are dramatically aggravated by the diminished flow, particularly the problems of silt build-up and pollution. The river is just moving too slowly, and the reservoir has become little more than an enormous cesspool.
Fruehauf is aghast by the situation he discovers at the dam. In an effort to find some reason for Hermes-Bauermann to continue its investment in the dam or perhaps learn some way to solve the dam's problems, Hans purchases a ticket on a Yangtze tour boat to travel upstream to evaluate the altered watershed. His first night on the boat, he sees a young Chinese woman who captures his imagination and later his heart. Hans' survey of the Great River rapidly transforms into a difficult courtship that will not only compromise his position with the German export bank, but also his life.
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