The severe flooding along the Yangtze has turned the clock in China back to 1954 when the 'Long River' swallowed some 30,000 lives. Almost half a century later, Chinese authorities are still fighting a losing battle against this longest river in Asia. The Yangtze stretches 6,300 kilometres eastward from Geladandong, the main peak of the Tanggular Mountains, to the East China Sea through a vast delta near Shanghai. Known as the golden waterway, it has served as an artery for commerce for centuries. Works on the Grand Canal to link the Yangtze with other waterways started as early as the fifth century BC. Over the years, about half its length has been dyked to avert floodwaters from the surrounding agricultural and industrial developments. The Gezhou Dam near Yichang, in particular, has been hailed as a major defence against fluctuating water levels in the Yangtze and made it possible to tap its hydroelectric potential. In 1993, preliminary works on the Three Gorges project also started upriver. The controversial scheme is supposed to enhance efforts in both taming and harnessing the Yangtze, next only to the Nile in Africa and the Amazon in South America in length. However, official efforts to protect the people from the rage of the Yangtze have failed. To deflect criticisms of their disrespect for civil liberties, the leadership in Beijing has upheld the people's right to live as the most fundamental for the 1.2 billion Chinese on the mainland. But the country's helmsmen have fumbled even in delivering such basic protection. Five million homes are estimated to have been destroyed, affecting more than 240 million people. Cadres have denied rumours of thousands of floating dead bodies, after a dyke collapsed near Jiujiang. The Deputy Minister of Civil Affairs, Fan Baojun, was quoted as saying about 2,000 people had died in landslides and mud flows this year. The official English-language China Daily also reported that more than 200 people had been washed away when a dyke burst in Jiayu County on the weekend. The People's Liberation Army, which has been using primitive methods to contain the floods, has yet to reveal how many soldiers have died in action. The People's Daily, supervised directly by the party central, has compiled an electronic data base on its reports since early June. As of yesterday, the paper's 'Flood Control' file contains a total of 181 reports. They can be classified into three main categories: instructions from the Central Government, heroic acts on the frontline, as well as relief initiatives including those launched by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The official media, however, has steered away from the sensitive issue surrounding the cause of the tragedy and who should be held responsible. The Xinhua News Agency has offered natural causes as a reason. In its dispatch on July 8, the agency explained that a cold snap from the north had met warm and humid air from the south, boosting rainfalls in the lower middle Yangtze region to as much as four times normal levels. Meanwhile, the propaganda machine has remained conspicuously silent about complaints against deforestation and over-development along the Yangtze banks. There were also reports about foreign journalists being turned away from some of the worst areas. Instead, last Friday, the People's Daily devoted its space to an ill-timed article declaring Jiangsu province had established a belt of new and high technology development zones along the Yangtze to promote rapid economic progress. The Yangtze has not only submerged homes and villages, but also the people's right to know why millions have to be uprooted in the first place.