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
China Yunnan location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location of Three Parallel Rivers in Yunnan
China edcp relief location map.jpg
Red pog.svg
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, slightly to the west, is the river gorge of the N'Mai River, the main tributary to the Irrawaddy River. About 100 kilometers to the west and northwest is the watershed of the Lohit River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra River and the greater Ganges-Brahmaputra system. Thus, in this unique mountainous region, adjacent headwaters feed five of the most significant continental rivers; from east to west, they are: Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Irrawaddy, and the Ganges-Brahmaputra. They are all among the top 15 rivers in Asia by volume or length.


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.


The Three Parallel Rivers has been acknowledged as a natural World Heritage Site. Demographically, the region contains many of the twenty-five ethnic groups found in Yunnan province (including the Derung, the smallest of all of China's minority groups). Other minorities found in this region include the Tibetan people, the Nu people, the Lisu, the Bai, the Pumi and the 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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Three Rivers may refer to:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yunnan</span> Province in Southwest China

Yunnan is a landlocked province in southwestern China. The province spans approximately 394,000 km2 (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.

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  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.