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Yangtze Facts

The mighty Yangtze River, or Changjiang, is the third largest river in the world. (The Nile is the longest, followed by the Amazon) At 6,300 km (3,900 miles), the Yangtze is closest in length to the Mississippi. Among the Chinese, the name Yangtze is not as commonly used as Changjiang – simply, Long River.

This extensive waterway cuts through the heart of China, and is regarded by the Chinese as marking the division of the country into north and south, both geographically and culturally. The river rises in the far western part of China and flows through eight provinces before disgorging its waters into the Yellow Sea. Over 700 tributaries draining a further six provinces join the Yangtze along its course.

The Yangtze is divided into three parts:
The Upper Reaches from the source in Qinghai province to Yichang in Hubei province, a distance of some 4,400 km (2,700 miles). This stretch is one of great beauty, with wild mountain ranges, unknown ravines, unnavigable rapids and rushing torrents. The Three Gorges are included in this section, as is the Sichuan Basin.

The Middle Reaches from Yichang to Hukou at the mouth of Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province, a distance of about 1,000 km (620 miles). Here, the river widens and flows through flat, low-lying land and is fed by waters from two huge lakes, the Dongting and the Poyang. This is the region where the battle against flooding has been carried on for centuries; earthen dikes and paved embankments tell of past and present heroic struggles.

The Lower Reaches from Hukou to the esturary, a distance of some 900 km (560 miles). The landscape in the river’s lower course is typified by a flat delta plain crisscrossed by canals and waterways, with soil so rich and water so abundant that the region has been known for centuries as the ‘Lang of Fish and Rice’/

The wet season begins in April, bringing heavy rain in the middle and lower reaches. By July and August the wet weather reaches the Sichuan Basin where the prevalence of mountainous terrain causes widespread rainfall. Then, as the water level starts to subside, the ‘Sichuan waters’ begin to threaten again.

The rich Yangtze River Basin, according to current statistics, produces 40 per cent of the national grain (including 70 per cent of all paddy rice), one-third of the country’s cotton, 48 per cent of its freshwater fish and 40 per cent of the total industrial output value. Its hydroelectric energy potential is almost boundless: Gezhou Dam at Yichang is one of the biggest low-water dams in the world and the Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydroelectric project. One-third of China’s 1.2 billion people live in this prosperous basin, which also boasts a rich cultural heritage.

One would imagine from the impressive statistics that the river would be chocked with vessels of all descriptions, but this is not the case. Ocean-going ships do frequent the river from Wuhan down, and the traffic consists mainly of cruise ships, merchant vessels, ferry boats, lighters, barges, tugs and logging rafts. Before 1990, political instability had taken its toll on economic development, but it was the building of railroads in the hinterland that really changed the life of the river. When rail freight proved to be cheaper than transportation along the Yangtze and its tributaries, the heyday of river transport was over.

Attempts are being made to revitalize the river transport system. Studies point out that it is cheaper to dredge than to build branch railways. Over 1000 billion yuan of state investment has been fed into the Yangtze shipping industry over the last 60 years. Today, with the building of the Three Gorges Dam, the watercourse through the Gorges is deeper and safer, allowing larger vessels to sail to and from Chongqing.

Table of Distances between Main Yangtze River Ports (Distance in kilometers)

Chongqing Chongqing
Wanxian 327 Wanxian
Fengjie 446 119 Fengjie
Yichang 648 321 202 Yichang
Shashi 815 488 369 167 Shashi
Wuhan 1354 1027 908 706 539 Wuhan
Jiujiang 1623 1296 1177 975 806 269 Jiujiang
Wuhu 1991 1664 1545 1343 1176 637 368 Wuhu
Nanjing 2087 1760 1641 1439 1272 733 464 96 Nanjing
Zhenjiang 2174 1847 1728 1526 1359 820 551 183 87 Zhenjiang
Shanghai 2479 2152 2023 1831 1664 1125 856 488 392 305 Shanghai

Our Hot Yangtze Cruise Packages

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