Yangtze River
"River Passing Through Heaven"

Yangtze River, third longest in the world extends from Tibet to East China Sea flowing through spectacular Three Gorges. Since forever Yangtse has been inspiration for poets, now it is a challenge for engineers building Three Gorges Dam and favorite cruise destination.

Page 1

Yangtze River:   …. or Chang Jiang

      Yangtze River with its length of 3,964 miles (6,380 km) is the longest river in Asia and 3rd longest in the world after Amazon and Nile.

But regardless the length, it is also one of the most “geographically dramatic” and mysterious rivers in the world. The name Yangtze itself is the first example of “weirdness” surrounding this mighty river.

Like many other very long rivers crossing vast territories and geographically distinctive regions, Yangtze over its course is known under different local names.

For example at its source, Yangtze is called Dangqu (Marsh River). Downstream it gets poetic names like Tongtian River (meaning “River Passing Through Heaven”) and farther down its course - Jinsha River (Golden Sand River)…..

The lowest section of the river crossing lowlands and then emptying into China East Sea was known as Yangzi. Some assume that this name was given to the river to honor Emperor Yang – at the time the ruler of this territory. Others claim that it comes from an ancient ferry crossing next to the village Yangzi – hence the name Yangzi Jin (Yangzi Crossing).

Yangtze River map

Yangtze River - The area of Three Gorges and the Middle and Lower sections of the Chang Jiang (Long River)
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Threegorges.png
Author: Rolfmuller

      Whatever was the case, British traders made (so-far) lasting decision by christening the whole river as Yangtze (Yangtse). Now, from the perspective of time we can say that actually it was not that bad decision. There are so many examples throughout the world where native names were replaced by “superior” ours – like Mt. Everest, McKinley and the list can go long…).

Well, for Chinese the river is still known as “Chang Jiang” - meaning The Long River. Indeed it will be hard to find more appropriate name. Surprisingly for us, it seems that only English speaking Chinese nationals will recognize the western name “Yangtze” despite the truly Chinese “sound” of that word…..

Based on the topography of traversed regions, Yangtze River is usually divided in three sections.

Tibetan section of the Yangtze River

The upper section starts high on the central Tibetan Plateau at an altitude of more than 16,500ft (5,050m) in the Tanggula Mountains and ends near the city of Yichang (Province of Hubei).

Yangtze River as seen from the Beijing-Lhasa train, on the so-called "First Bridge". In this section Yangtze is known as Dangqu (Marsh River)
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Yangtze_at_First_Bridge.jpg
Author: Luo Shaoyang from Beijing, China

     This is the most picturesque and wild section of the river. Mountainous landscape initially dominated by snow capped peaks reaching up to 16,000 ft (4,900m) does not change much its dramatic character till Yichang.

Only mountains become lower and snow caps disappear from peaks for major part of the year replaced by green vegetation.

Along the upper section the Yangtze River meanders through deep gorges and narrow valleys often changing direction…. Over the distance of some 1,600 miles (2,600km) the river sharply drops from the Tibetan "Roof of the World" to an altitude of about 1000 ft (305m) near Yibin (Province of Sichuan). Inevitably, the upper section of the river is very turbulent, in many places water is rushing through dangerous rapids. Some gorges are so steep, deep and narrow that not many over centuries of Chinese civilization ventured to explore them.

Yangtze, Mekong and Salween in Three Parallel Rivers area

Map of the Three Parallel Rivers area with Yangtze, Mekong and Salween flowing in close proximity over a long stretch of land...
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ChinaGeography.png
Author: Alan Mak 

      Indeed for major part of its upper course Yangtze still manages to keep her secrets out of the eyes of an outside world…..

It may be worth to mention that Tibet is the birthplace of greatest Asian rivers. Brahmaputra, Indus, Yellow and Yangtze Rivers as well as Mekong – they all share Tibetan Plateau and its glaciers as the birthplace.

Yangtze river Three Gorges

But truly amazing is the fact that over the distance of few hundred miles across the Hengduan Mountains (Yunnan Province), three great rivers – Yangtze, Mekong and Salween flow in very close proximity with mutual distance within 15 to 30 miles (25 to 50 km). For this reason the region is often called “Three Parallel Rivers Area”.

And the lesson for human beings: The Mother Nature clearly shows us that “Might” can peacefully coexist in this world …..

Yangtze River - Scenic section of Three Gorges....  

      After crossing the Hengduan Mountains, Yangtze says “goodbye” turning northeast towards Chongqing while sisters Mekong and Salween continue southward to Burma (Myamar) where they split following their final destinations. 

     Along the last few hundred miles of the upper section starting from Chongqing, the Yangtze River enters the mountains Wan Xian where it flows through the spectacular area called San Xia (Three Gorges).

It is astonishing scenery of narrow gorges flanked by steep limestone cliffs, towered by mountains peaks, adorned by strange rock formation, covered by thick carpet of forests and in places veiled in mist…..

Then to make it even more magnificent - these heavenly surroundings of San Xia extend over local tributaries of Yangtze - Daning River (to the area called Three Lesser Gorges) and the Shennong Brook (part of Shennongija Reserve).

Yangtse River and Lesser Three Gorges


Yangtze River - Three lesser Gorges and the "modern" Plank Road along the cliffs

     And just for the completeness of Yangtze’s description – the Middle Section of the river extends across flat plains from Yichang to Hukou (Jiangxi Provence).

The last one - Lower Section starts from Hukou. From there Yangtse traverses the area of alluvial lowlands and lakes then after forming a delta it empties to the East China Sea next to Shanghai.

Along these sections Yangtze River drastically changes its character. Wild course from the upper section transforms to more or less “lazy”, broadly flowing waters.

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

full size: 1.58MB 1.97MB 2.08MB

Scenery of the Three Gorges (Qutang, Wu and Xiling)

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

full size: 2.59MB 1.79MB 2.03MB

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

full size: 2.44MB 3.54MB 2.06MB

Signs of modern times (bridge over the river) and the past (little lighthouse)....

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

full size: 1.94MB 1.15MB 1.46MB

Shennong Brook gorges - From the left: Karst Cave, Suspended Bridge and cruise boat (small cruise ships are allowed to the main part of the gorge but further upstream motorized boats are forbidden).

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

full size: 1.81MB 2.86MB 2.94MB

Yangtze River - Scenery from the Shennong Brook gorges....

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

Yangtze River

full size: 2.63MB 1.60MB 2.08MB

Both sections are navigable even by large boats and China fully takes advantage of this waterway. For this reason Yangtze is nicknamed as the “Main Street of China”. 

Indeed in terms of the volume of water Yangtze River is a Super-highway. The volume of water reaches about 530,000 cubic feet (15,000 cubic meters) per second at the end of the Three Gorges and correspondingly about 1,000,000 cubic feet (28,300 cubic meters) per second at the Yangtse's mouth.

Interestingly – due to large amount of deposits carried by water (around 470 millions tons per year)the Main Street of China is growing in length by about one mile every 100 years. But I guess since last few decades we are already well accustomed to the fact that China is growing in every dimension!

     To continue exploring the secrets of the Yangtze River please follow the link: Yangtse River in Poetry - next (page 2)


This video takes you for the short trip along the Three Gorges

      After this short but I hope picturesque introduction to Her Majesty Yangtze River it is time for some poetic touch. Since forever the beauty of the wild nature was an inspiration for humans.

Yangtse River (or rather Chang Jiang as it is known in China) was not an exception…..


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