In the 2007 documentary Up the Yangtze, Yu Shui, a young Chinese girl from a rural peasant family, has finished middle school, and wants to go to high school. But her parents' future is uncertain, thanks to a massive government project—the construction of the Three Gorges Dam—that will soon flood their home on the Yangtze River and force them (and two million others) to relocate. The massive disruptions means Yu Shi's parents not only have to move their meager belongings by hand before the flood waters surround their modest home, but they can't afford to help their daughter pay for school.

But Yu Shui is determined: She finds a job as a dishwasher on a luxury ship that takes Westerners on voyeuristic "Farewell Cruises" to check out parts of the country that will soon be under hundreds of feet of water. She also takes an Americanized name, Cindy, and learns just enough phrases in English to help the tourists enjoy the river that's ruining her family's life. The juxtaposition is compelling: Director Yung Chang deftly captures one family's struggle amid rapid and dramatic change, while simultaneously offering a peek at a contemporary China rarely seen on screen.