Three Parallel Rivers

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Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas map01.png
Location of Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas indicated by a red circle
Location Yunnan, China
Criteria Natural: (vii)(viii)(ix)(x)
Reference 1083bis
Inscription2003 (27th Session)
Coordinates 27°53′42″N98°24′23″E / 27.89500°N 98.40639°E / 27.89500; 98.40639 Coordinates: 27°53′42″N98°24′23″E / 27.89500°N 98.40639°E / 27.89500; 98.40639
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Location of Three Parallel Rivers in Yunnan
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Three Parallel Rivers (China)

The Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas (Chinese :云南三江并流; pinyin :Yúnnán Sānjiāng Bìngliú) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Yunnan province, China. It lies within the drainage basins of the upper reaches of the Jinsha (Yangtze), Lancang (Mekong) and Nujiang (Salween) rivers, in the Yunnan section of the Hengduan Mountains. [1]



Meili Xue Shan--Meili Snow Mountains, in Yunnan Protected Area. Meili Snow Mountains - R0010879.jpg
Meili Xue Shan—Meili Snow Mountains, in Yunnan Protected Area.


The protected areas extend over 15 core areas, totalling 939,441.4 ha, and buffer areas, totalling 758,977.8 ha across a region of 180 km by 310 km. Here, for a distance of over 300 km, three of Asia's great rivers run roughly parallel to one another though separated by high mountain ranges with peaks over 6,000 meters. After this area of near confluence, the rivers greatly diverge: the Nujiang River becomes Salween and empties out at Moulmein, Burma, into the Indian Ocean, the Lancang becomes the Mekong and south of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, empties out into the South China Sea and the Yangtze flows into the East China Sea at Shanghai. Selected nature reserves and places of scenic beauty in this unique region were collectively awarded World Heritage Site status in 2003 for their very rich biodiversity and outstanding topographical diversity.

Running parallel to these three rivers, but to the west inside Burma, is the river gorge of the N'Mai river, the main tributary to the Irrawaddy River.


In its description, UNESCO mentions: "(It) may be the most biologically diverse temperate region on earth" and "An exceptional range of topographical features - from gorges to karst to glaciated peaks -- is associated with the site being at a 'collision point' of tectonic plates".

Due to its topography and geographical location, the Three Parallel Rivers region contains many climate types. Average annual precipitation ranges from 4,600 mm in the Dulongjian area in the west of Gongshan county to 300 mm in the upper valleys of the Yangtze river. The protected areas are home to around 6,000 species of plants, 173 species of mammals, and 417 species of birds. Many of the flora and fauna species are endemic to the region.


Although this region has been acknowledged as a natural World Heritage Site, its demographic make-up also is highly interesting as it contains many of the twenty-five minorities found in Yunnan province including the Derung, the smallest of all of China's minority groups. Some of the other minorities found in this region are the Tibetan people, the Nu people, Lisu, Bai, Pumi and Naxi. Many of these minorities still use traditional costumes as their normal daily attire.

In the same region as the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas lies the Old Town of Lijiang, which is also a World Heritage Site in its own right.

Nu Jiang Cong Yuan Fang Zou Lai where River Nu originates (543159679).jpg
Nu River (Salween)
Lan Cang Jiang Lancang River (485606714).jpg
Lancang River (Mekong)
Jin Sha Jiang upper Yangtze River (437149366).jpg
Jinsha River (Yangtze)

Protected areas

The upper reaches of the Yangtze River, bearing north having just emerged from the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Yangzi River - by Peter Morgan.jpg
The upper reaches of the Yangtze River, bearing north having just emerged from the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

The Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas consists of fifteen protected areas, in eight geographic clusters. The areas include:

Flora and fauna

A herd of takin in Gongshan Derung and Nu Autonomous County C.the takin herd.jpg
A herd of takin in Gongshan Derung and Nu Autonomous County

According to UNESCO "The area covered by the World Heritage site is claimed to be the most biodiverse and least disturbed temperate ecosystems in the world".


The protected terrestrial ecoregion areas of this biodiversity hotspot are for a large part covered with both temperate coniferous and broadleaf forests. The protected areas are home to around 6,000 species of plants, many of which are endemic to the region. More than 200 varieties of rhododendron and more than 100 species of gentians and primulas are found in the areas.


The fauna found in the areas includes 173 species of mammals, of which 81 are endemic, and 417 species of birds, of which 22 are endemic. Some of the mammals which inhabit these regions are the endemic black snub-nosed monkey, the Indian leopard, snow leopard, and clouded leopard; the Gaoligong pika, Gongshan muntjac, Chinese shrew mole, and capped langur; the stump-tailed macaque, Asiatic wild dog, black musk deer, and takin; the smooth-coated otter, hoolock gibbon, Asian black bear and red panda.

Rare bird species in the areas include chestnut-throated partridge, the Lady Amherst's pheasant, white-eared pheasant, Yunnan nuthatch, and giant nuthatch; the white-speckled laughingthrush, ferruginous duck, Severtzov's grouse, and brown-winged parrotbill; the Ward's trogon, black-necked crane and Verreaux's monal-partridge.

See also

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Yunnan Province in Southwest China

Yunnan, is a landlocked province in the southwest of the People's Republic of China. The province spans approximately 394,000 square kilometres (152,000 sq mi) and has a population of 48.3 million. The capital of the province is Kunming. The province borders the Chinese provinces of Guizhou, Sichuan, autonomous regions of Guangxi, and Tibet as well as Southeast Asian countries: Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. Yunnan is China's fourth least developed province based on disposable income per capita in 2014.

Salween River Major river in Southeast Asia

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Jiuzhaigou is a nature reserve and national park located in the north of Sichuan Province in southwestern China. A long valley running north to south, Jiuzhaigou was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1992 and a World Biosphere Reserve in 1997. It belongs to the category V in the IUCN system of protected area categorization.

Shangri-La City County-level city in Yunnan, Peoples Republic of China

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Tiger Leaping Gorge River canyon in China

Tiger Leaping Gorge is a scenic canyon on the Jinsha River, a primary tributary of the upper Yangtze River. It is located 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Lijiang City, Yunnan in southwestern China. It is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas World Heritage Site.

The Yun Range are a mountain range running north–south in northwestern Yunnan province, China. They were formerly romanized as the Yun Ling and tautologically as the Yun-ling Mountains. The Yun Range runs between the Lancang River (Mekong) to the west and Jinsha River (Yangtze) to the east. The range is a major component of the greater Hengduan Mountains.

Hengduan Mountains Mountain range in southwest China

The Hengduan Mountains are a group of mountain ranges in southwest China that connect the southeast portions of the Tibetan Plateau with the Yunnan–Guizhou Plateau. The Hengduan Mountains are primarily large north-south mountain ranges that effectively separate lowlands in northern Myanmar from the lowlands of the Sichuan Basin. These ranges are characterized by significant vertical relief originating from the Indian subcontinent's collision with the Eurasian Plate, and further carved out by the major rivers draining the eastern Tibetan Plateau. These rivers, the Yangtze, Mekong, and Salween, are recognized today as the Three Parallel Rivers UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Haba Snow Mountain Mountain in Yunnan, China

Haba Snow Mountain is a mountain rising above the northwest side of Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, China. It rises opposite the higher Yulong Xueshan, and towers 3,500 metres above the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, also known as the Jinsha River. The summit of the mountain is a popular destination for amateur mountaineers and its lowest slopes are crossed by the popular Tiger Leaping Gorge trail.

Kawagarbo Highest mountain in Yunnan, China

Kawa Garbo or Khawa Karpo, as it is known by local residents and pilgrims, or Kawagebo Peak, is the highest mountain in the Chinese province of Yunnan. It is located on the border between Dêqên County, Yunnan, and the counties of Zogang and Zayü of the Tibet Autonomous Region. It rises about 20 kilometres (12 mi) west of Shengping (升平镇), the seat of Dêqên County, which lies on China National Highway 214. What is now Dêqên County has been part of Yunnan since the 1720s, when the current border with Tibet was established by the early Qing Dynasty. Kawagarbo is one of the most sacred peaks in the Tibetan world and is often referred to as Nyainqênkawagarbo to show its sacredness and avoid ambiguousness with the other Kawagarbo in the Anung-Derung-speaking Gongshan County.

Yunnan–Guizhou Plateau Highland region located in southwest China

The Yunnan–Guizhou Plateau or Yungui Plateau is a highland region located in southwest China. The region is primarily spread over the provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou. In the southwest, the Yungui is a true plateau with relatively flatter highland areas, while in the northeast, the Yungui is a generally mountainous area of rolling hills, gorges, and karst topography.

Potatso National Park

Potatso National Park or Pudacuo National Park is a 1,300-square-kilometre (500-square-mile) national park located in Shangri-La County, Yunnan Province in the People's Republic of China. The park was announced on June 25, 2007, and is notable as the first national park in China to meet International Union for Conservation of Nature standards. It incorporates the Bita Lake Nature Reserve and the Duhu Scenic Area in the Hongshan region. As such they are part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas World Heritage Site.

Jinsha River Chinese river, part of the Yangtze

The Jinsha River is the Chinese name for the upper stretches of the Yangtze River. It flows through the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan in western China. The river passes through Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Gongshan Derung and Nu Autonomous County Autonomous county in Yunnan, Peoples Republic of China

Gongshan Derung and Nu Autonomous County is an autonomous county located in Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, in the northwest of Yunnan province, China. It has an area of 4,506 km2 (1,740 sq mi) and a population of about 37,894 according to the 2010 Census. The county government is stationed in Cikai Town

Gaoligong Mountains Mountain range in Asia

The Gaoligong Mountains are a mountainous sub-range of the southern Hengduan Mountain Range, located in the western Yunnan highlands and straddling the border of southwestern China and northern Myanmar (Burma).

The Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve (GNNR) is a protected area comprising the Gaoligong Mountains and the nearby Nu Jiang Reserve in the western Yunnan Province of China, near the international boundary of Burma. It covers a vast stretch of the junction of Baoshan City, Tengchong and Lushui County, towards the west side of Nu (Salween) River.

Nujiang Lancang Gorge alpine conifer and mixed forests Ecoregion in Southwestern China

The Nujiang Lancang Gorge alpine conifer and mixed forests are a temperate coniferous forests ecoregion in Southwest China and northeastern Myanmar. The forests cover mountains and valleys in the western Hengduan Mountains and because of the extreme topography and relative remoteness, remain one of the best preserved habitats in China.


  1. UNESCO World Heritage Centre 1992-2016. "Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas". World Heritage List. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  2. "Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, China". 2008-08-25. Retrieved 2012-11-07.