Set against the backdrop of China's Three Gorges Dam project, which aims to harness the power of the Yangtze River to help meet the country's growing need for electricity, Up the Yangtze examines the climate of political and social change in China through the lives of two young people. The project, due to be completed in 2009, is touted by the government as serving the need for more electricity, while at the same time alleviating the death toll caused when the river floods. But progress is never completely without cost; some two million people, many of them already living in extreme poverty, are being displaced by the dam as the waters rise.