The Great Floods of 1931 at Gaoyou

By Steve Harnsberger

This page last updated 09/26/07

The Remembrance

The Grand Opening

On December 30th, 2005, Steve Harnsberger's hard work and dedication paid off as the Exhibition Recalling the Great Floods of 1931 opened in Gaoyou.

The Story Returns to Gaoyou from America

What happened when the Grand Canal levees broke at Gaoyou in 1931 is a tragedy that went largely overlooked until 2001. Then Harnsberger family returned to the Gaoyou dikes, lead by Thomas’ two sons Hutch and Jim, who were raised in China and lived on the family houseboat at the site of the dike project as young missionary kids. This visit set in motion a series of events that resulted in the creation of the Gaoyou Flood exhibit by the city government. Through the personal friendship of the writer and the Vice Mayor of Gaoyou City, Mr. Ni Wen Cai, the legacy returned to the people of Gaoyou City. The entire records of the dike project were found well-preserved in the Nanjing archives by Shu Xiaojuan, a graduate student in medicine who volunteered to do perform the research. Over 100 photographs and hundreds of pages of letters and design documents were unearthed there and will be shared as part of the flood exhibit.

Steve Harnsberger & Ni Wencai

Vice Mayor of Gaoyou City, Mr. Ni Wen Cai meeting Steve Harnsberger in San Francisco to plan the new Flood exhibit, 5-25-05, the day after Lindbergh’s Photos were re-discovered

On Oct 12th,2005 I returned to Gaoyou to finish the exhibit planning with the Gaoyou Government. I was again the only foreigner in Gaoyou and the people turned their heads to see what type of strange creature strolled their streets. Before we completed the meetings, I was given a DVD of the recently aired Chinese TV documentary on the 1931 flood. The film recounts the return of the Gaoyou flood story through 3 generations of our American family, told the story of the re-discovery of the lost Lindbergh photos and culminated with the announcement of a permanent exhibit to remember the history great levee breaks of 1931, 75 years later. The story had passed into the hands and hearts of the local people of Jiangsu again. The circle had been closed and my father’s dream realized.

New Orleans 2005

In 2005, the world witnessed the people of New Orleans endure a similar flood tragedy, also caused by a predictable levee failure a hurricane and a negligent government, and now many Americas struggle to recover. The 1931 flooding of Lake Gaoyou can serve as an example for the rest of the world and New Orleans. Those who lead the way, persevered and recovered will be honored at the year’s end with a new exhibit, which also pays tribute to those who perished and to the masses who suffered.

The 1931 China flood is a story of unimaginable catastrophe. It is also a story of action and sacrifice by Buddhists and Christians, religious men and engineers, Americans and Chinese, all of whom cooperated to aid those who were destitute. This story lives on today as an example the force of life overcoming tragedy. It is a story of one man’s quest to fulfill the dream and the destiny of his fathers, for all to recall and share.

Links and resources

Documentary and Museum Project

We are seeking persons interested in donating to further expand the museum exhibit and complete the funding of a US documentary –

Please contact:

Steve Harnsberger

PO Box 2056

San Anselmo, CA 94960

(415) 987-2674


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