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Yangtze River
Dusk on the Yangtze River.jpg
Dusk on the middle reaches of the Yangtze River (Three Gorges) 2002
Yangtze River drainage basin map.svg
Map of the Yangtze River drainage basin
Country China
Provinces Qinghai, Yunnan, Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu
Municipalities Chongqing and Shanghai
Autonomous region Tibet
Cities Luzhou, Chongqing, Yichang, Jingzhou, Yueyang, Wuhan, Jiujiang, Anqing, Tongling, Wuhu, Nanjing, Zhenjiang, Yangzhou, Nantong, Shanghai
Physical characteristics
Source Dam Qu (Jari Hill)
  location Tanggula Mountains, Qinghai
  coordinates 32°36′14″N94°30′44″E / 32.60389°N 94.51222°E / 32.60389; 94.51222
  elevation5,170 m (16,960 ft)
2nd source Ulan Moron
  coordinates 33°23′40″N90°53′46″E / 33.39444°N 90.89611°E / 33.39444; 90.89611
3rd sourceChuma'er River
  coordinates 35°27′19″N90°55′50″E / 35.45528°N 90.93056°E / 35.45528; 90.93056
4th sourceMuluwusu River
  coordinates 33°22′13″N91°10′29″E / 33.37028°N 91.17472°E / 33.37028; 91.17472
5th sourceBi Qu
  coordinates 33°16′58″N91°23′29″E / 33.28278°N 91.39139°E / 33.28278; 91.39139
Mouth East China Sea
Shanghai and Jiangsu
31°23′37″N121°58′59″E / 31.39361°N 121.98306°E / 31.39361; 121.98306 Coordinates: 31°23′37″N121°58′59″E / 31.39361°N 121.98306°E / 31.39361; 121.98306
Length6,300 km (3,900 mi) [1]
Basin size1,808,500 km2 (698,300 sq mi) [2]
  average30,146 m3/s (1,064,600 cu ft/s) [3]
  minimum2,000 m3/s (71,000 cu ft/s)
  maximum110,000 m3/s (3,900,000 cu ft/s) [4] [5]
  locationDatong hydrometric station, Anhui (Uppermost boundary of the ocean tide)
  average30,708 m3/s (1,084,400 cu ft/s) (2019–2020) [6]
Basin features
  left Yalong, Min, Tuo, Jialing, Han
  right Wu, Yuan, Zi, Xiang, Gan, Huangpu
འབྲི་ཆུ་ 1312 of the nation's revenues.

The Yangtze has long been the backbone of China's inland water transportation system, which remained particularly important for almost two thousand years, until the construction of the national railway network during the 20th century. The Grand Canal connects the lower Yangtze with the major cities of the Jiangnan region south of the river (Wuxi, Suzhou, Hangzhou) and with northern China (all the way from Yangzhou to Beijing). The less well known ancient Lingqu Canal, connecting the upper Xiang River with the headwaters of the Guijiang, allowed a direct water connection from the Yangtze Basin to the Pearl River Delta. [63]

Historically, the Yangtze became the political boundary between north China and south China several times (see History of China) because of the difficulty of crossing the river. This occurred notably during the Southern and Northern Dynasties, and the Southern Song. Many battles took place along the river, the most famous being the Battle of Red Cliffs in 208 AD during the Three Kingdoms period.

The Yangtze was the site of naval battles between the Song dynasty and Jurchen Jin during the Jin–Song wars. In the Battle of Caishi of 1161, the ships of the Jin emperor Wanyan Liang clashed with the Song fleet on the Yangtze. Song soldiers fired bombs of lime and sulfur using trebuchets at the Jurchen warships. The battle was a Song victory that halted the invasion by the Jin. [64] [65] The Battle of Tangdao was another Yangtze naval battle in the same year.

Politically, Nanjing was the capital of China several times, although most of the time its territory only covered the southeastern part of China, such as the Wu kingdom in the Three Kingdoms period, the Eastern Jin Dynasty, and during the Southern and Northern Dynasties and Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms periods. Only the Ming occupied most parts of China from their capital at Nanjing, though it later moved the capital to Beijing. The ROC capital was located in Nanjing in the periods 1911–12, 1927–37, and 1945–49.

Anonymous-Ten Thousand Miles of the Yangtze River.jpg
Ten Thousand Miles of the Yangtze River, a Ming dynasty landscape painting

Age of steam

The first merchant steamer in China, the Jardine, was built to order for the firm of Jardine, Matheson & Co. in 1835. She was a small vessel intended for use as a mail and passenger carrier between Lintin Island, Macao, and Whampoa. However, the Chinese, draconian in their application of the rules relating to foreign vessels, were unhappy about a "fire-ship" steaming up the Canton River. The acting Governor-General of Kwangtung issued an edict warning that she would be fired on if she attempted the trip. [66] On the Jardine's first trial run from Lintin Island the forts on both sides of the Bogue opened fire and she was forced to turn back. The Chinese authorities issued a further warning insisting that the ship leave Chinese waters. The Jardine in any case needed repairs and was sent to Singapore. [67]
Subsequently, Lord Palmerston, the Foreign Secretary decided mainly on the "suggestions" of William Jardine to declare war on China. In mid-1840, a large fleet of warships appeared on the China coast, and with the first cannonball fired at a British ship, the Royal Saxon, the British started the first of the Opium Wars. Royal Navy warships destroyed numerous shore batteries and Chinese warships, laying waste to several coastal forts along the way. Eventually, they pushed their way up north close enough to threaten the Imperial Palace in Peking itself. The Chinese imperial government quickly gave in to the demands of the British. British military superiority was clearly evident during the conflict. British warships, constructed using such innovations as steam power combined with sail and the use of iron in shipbuilding, wreaked havoc on Chinese junks; such ships (like the Nemesis) were not only virtually indestructible but also highly mobile and able to support a gun platform with very heavy guns. In addition, the British troops were armed with modern muskets and cannons, unlike the Qing forces. After the British captured Canton, they sailed up the Yangtze and seized the tax barges, a significant blow to the Imperial government as it slashed the revenue of the imperial court in Beijing to just a small fraction of what it had been. [66]

In 1842 the Qing authorities sued for peace, which concluded with the Treaty of Nanking signed on a warship in the river, negotiated in August of that year and ratified in 1843. In the treaty, China was forced to pay an indemnity to Britain, open five treaty ports to all foreign nations, and cede Hong Kong to Queen Victoria. In the supplementary Treaty of the Bogue, the Qing Empire also recognized Britain as an equal to China and gave British subjects extraterritorial privileges in treaty ports. The China Navigation Company was an early shipping company founded in 1876 in London, initially to trade up the Yangtze River from their Shanghai base with passengers and cargo. Chinese coastal trade started shortly after, and in 1883 a regular service to Australia was initiated. [66]

Yangtze River steam boats filmed in 1937

U.S. and French conflicts

The US, at the same time, wanting to protect its interests and expand trade, ventured the USS Wachusett six hundred miles up the river to Hankow sometime in the 1860s, while the USS Ashuelot, a sidewheeler, made her way up the river to Yichang in 1874. The first USS Monocacy, a sidewheel gunboat, began charting the Yangtze River in 1871. The first USS Palos, an armed tug, was on Asiatic Station into 1891, cruising the Chinese and Japanese coasts, visiting the open treaty ports and making occasional voyages up the Yangtze River. From June to September 1891, anti-foreign riots up the Yangtze forced the warship to make an extended voyage as far as Hankou, 600 miles upriver. Stopping at each open treaty port, the gunboat cooperated with naval vessels of other nations and repairing damage. She then operated along the north and central China coast and on the lower Yangtze until June 1892. The cessation of bloodshed with the Taiping Rebellion, Europeans put more steamers on the river. The French engaged the Chinese in war over the rule of Vietnam. The Sino-French Wars of the 1880s emerged with the Battle of Shipu having French cruisers in the lower Yangtze.

USS Luzon USSLuzonPG-7.jpg
USS Luzon

The China Navigation Company was an early shipping company founded in 1876 in London, initially to trade up the Yangtze River from their Shanghai base with passengers and cargo. Chinese coastal trade started shortly after and in 1883 a regular service to Australia was initiated. Most of the company's ships were seized by Japan in 1941 and services did not resume until 1946. Robert Dollar was a later shipping magnate, who became enormously influential moving Californian and Canadian lumber to the Chinese and Japanese market.

Yichang, or Ichang, 1,600 km (990 mi) from the sea, is the head of navigation for river steamers; oceangoing vessels may navigate the river to Hankow, a distance of almost 1,000 km (620 mi) from the sea. For about 320 km (200 mi) inland from its mouth, the river is virtually at sea level.

The Chinese Government, too, had steamers. It had its own naval fleet, the Nanyang Fleet, which fell prey to the French fleet. The Chinese would rebuild its fleet, only to be ravaged by another war with Japan (1895), Revolution (1911) and ongoing inefficiency and corruption. Chinese companies ran their own steamers, but were second tier to European operations at the time.

Yangtze in 1915 Yangtze kiang 1915.jpg
Yangtze in 1915
Cruise boats on Yangtze Cruise boats on yangtze.jpg
Cruise boats on Yangtze
A vehicle carrier on Yangtze A vehicle carrier on yangtze.jpg
A vehicle carrier on Yangtze
A container carrier on Yangtze A container carrier on yangtze.jpg
A container carrier on Yangtze

Steamers came late to the upper river, the section stretching from Yichang to Chongqing. Freshets from Himalayan snowmelt created treacherous seasonal currents. But summer was better navigationally and the three gorges, described as an "150-mile passage which is like the narrow throat of an hourglass," posed hazardous threats of crosscurrents, whirlpools and eddies, creating significant challenges to steamship efforts. Furthermore, Chongqing is 700 – 800 feet above sea level, requiring powerful engines to make the upriver climb. Junk travel accomplished the upriver feat by employing 70–80 trackers, men hitched to hawsers who physically pulled ships upriver through some of the most risky and deadly sections of the three gorges. [68] Achibald John Little took an interest in Upper Yangtze navigation when in 1876, the Chefoo Convention opened Chongqing to consular residence but stipulated that foreign trade might only commence once steamships had succeeded in ascending the river to that point. Little formed the Upper Yangtze Steam Navigation Co., Ltd. and built Kuling but his attempts to take the vessel further upriver than Yichang were thwarted by the Chinese authorities who were concerned about the potential loss of transit duties, competition to their native junk trade and physical damage to their crafts caused by steamship wakes. Kuling was sold to China Merchants Steam Navigation Company for lower river service. In 1890, the Chinese government agreed to open Chongqing to foreign trade as long as it was restricted to native crafts. In 1895, the Treaty of Shimonoseki provided a provision which opened Chongqing fully to foreign trade. Little took up residence in Chongqing and built Leechuan, to tackle the gorges in 1898. In March Leechuan completed the upriver journey to Chongqing but not without the assistance of trackers. Leechuan was not designed for cargo or passengers and if Little wanted to take his vision one step further, he required an expert pilot. [69] In 1898, Little persuaded Captain Samuel Cornell Plant to come out to China to lend his expertise. Captain Plant had just completed navigation of Persia's Upper Karun River and took up Little's offer to assess the Upper Yangtze on Leechuan at the end of 1898. With Plant's design input, Little had SS Pioneer built with Plant in command. In June 1900, Plant was the first to successfully pilot a merchant steamer on the Upper Yangtze from Yichang to Chongqing. Pioneer was sold to Royal Navy after its first run due to threat from the Boxer Rebellion and renamed HMS Kinsha. Germany's steamship effort that same year on SS Suixing ended in catastrophe. On Suixing's maiden voyage, the vessel hit a rock and sunk, killing its captain and ending realistic hopes of regular commercial steam service on the Upper Yangtze. In 1908, local Sichuan merchants and their government partnered with Captain Plant to form Sichuan Steam Navigation Company becoming the first successful service between Yichang and Chongqing. Captain Plant designed and commanded its two ships, SS Shutung and SS Shuhun. Other Chinese vessels came onto the run and by 1915, foreign ships expressed their interest too. Plant was appointed by Chinese Maritime Customs Service as First Senior River Inspector in 1915. In this role, Plant installed navigational marks and established signaling systems. He also wrote Handbook for the Guidance of Shipmasters on the Ichang-Chungking Section of the Yangtze River, a detailed and illustrated account of the Upper Yangtze's currents, rocks, and other hazards with navigational instruction. Plant trained hundreds of Chinese and foreign pilots and issued licenses and worked with the Chinese government to make the river safer in 1917 by removing some of the most difficult obstacles and threats with explosives. In August 1917, British Asiatic Petroleum became the first foreign merchant steamship on the Upper Yangtze. Commercial firms, Robert Dollar Company, Jardine Matheson, Butterfield and Swire and Standard Oil added their own steamers on the river between 1917 and 1919. Between 1918 and 1919, Sichuan warlord violence and escalating civil war put Sichuan Steam Navigational Company out of business. [70] Shutung was commandeered by warlords and Shuhun was brought down river to Shanghai for safekeeping. [71] In 1921, when Captain Plant died tragically at sea while returning home to England, a Plant Memorial Fund was established to perpetuate Plant's name and contributions to Upper Yangtze navigation. The largest shipping companies in service, Butterfield & Swire, Jardine Matheson, Standard Oil, Mackenzie & Co., Asiatic Petroleum, Robert Dollar, China Merchants S.N. Co. and British-American Tobacco Co., contributed alongside international friends and Chinese pilots. In 1924, a 50-foot granite pyramidal obelisk was erected in Xintan, on the site of Captain Plant's home, in a Chinese community of pilots and junk owners. One face of the monument is inscribed in Chinese and another in English. Though recently relocated to higher ground ahead of the Three Gorges Dam, the monument still stands overlooking the Upper Yangtze River near Yichang, a rare collective tribute to a westerner in China. [72] [73]

Until 1881, the India and China coastal and river services were operated by several companies. In that year, however, these were merged into the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company Ltd, a public company under the management of Jardine's. The Jardine company pushed inland up the Yangtsze River on which a specially designed fleet was built to meet all requirements of the river trade. Jardine's established an enviable reputation for the efficient handling of shipping. As a result, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company invited the firm to attend to the Agency of their Shire Line, which operated in the Far East. Standard Oil ran the tankers Mei Ping, Mei An and Mei Hsia, which were collectively destroyed on December 12, 1937, when Japanese warplanes bombed and sank the U.S.S. Panay. One of the Standard Oil captains who survived this attack had served on the Upper River for 14 years. [74]

The Imperial Japanese Navy armored cruiser Izumo in Shanghai in 1937. She sank riverboats on the Yangtze in 1941. Japanese cruiser Izumo in Shanghai.jpg
The Imperial Japanese Navy armored cruiser Izumo in Shanghai in 1937. She sank riverboats on the Yangtze in 1941.

With the Treaty Ports, the European powers and Japan were allowed to sail navy ships into China's waters. The British, Americans, and French did this. A full international fleet featured on Chinese waters: Austro-Hungarian, Portuguese, Italian, Russian and German navy ships came to Shanghai and the treaty ports. The Japanese engaged in open warfare with the Chinese over conquest of the Chinese Qing Empire in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894–1895, and with Russia over Qing Empire territory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. Incidentally, both the French and Japanese navies were heavily involved in running opium and narcotics to Shanghai, where it was refined into morphine. It was then transhipped by liner back to Marseille and France (i.e. French Connection) for processing in Germany and eventual sale in the U.S. or Europe.

In 1909 the gunboat USS Samar changed station to Shanghai, where she regularly patrolled the lower Yangtze River up to Nanking and Wuhu. Following an anti-foreign riots in Changsha in April 1910, which destroyed a number of missions and merchant warehouses, Samar sailed up the Yangtze River to Hankow and then Changsa to show the flag and help restore order. The gunboat was also administratively assigned to the Asiatic Fleet that year, which had been reestablished by the Navy to better protect, in the words of the Bureau of Navigation, "American interests in the Orient." After returning to Shanghai in August, she sailed up river again the following summer, passing Wuhu in June but then running aground off Kichau on July 1, 1911.

After staying stuck in the mud for two weeks, Samar broke free and sailed back down river to coal ship. Returning upriver, the gunboat reached Hankow in August and Ichang in September where she wintered over owing to both the dry season and the outbreak of rebellion at Wuchang in October 1911. Tensions eased and the gunboat turned downriver in July 1912, arriving at Shanghai in October. Samar patrolled the lower Yangtze after fighting broke out in the summer 1913, a precursor to a decade of conflict between provincial warlords in China. In 1919, she was placed on the disposal list at Shanghai following a collision with a Yangtze River steamer that damaged her bow.

The Spanish boats were replaced in the 1920s by USS Luzon and USS Mindanao were the largest, USS Oahu and USS Panay next in size, and USS Guam and USS Tutuila the smallest. China in the first fifty years of the 20th century, was in low-grade chaos. Warlords, revolutions, natural disasters, civil war and invasions contributed. Yangtze boats were involved in the Nanking incident of 1927 when the Communists and Nationalists broke into open war. The Chiang Kai-shek's massacre of the Communists in Shanghai in 1927 furthered the unrest, U.S. Marines with tanks were landed. River steamers were popular targets for both Nationalists and Communists, and peasants who would take periodic pot-shots at vessels. During the course of service the second USS Palos protected American interests in China down the entire length of the Yangtze, at times convoying U.S. and foreign vessels on the river, evacuating American citizens during periods of disturbance and in general giving credible presence to U.S. consulates and residences in various Chinese cities. In the period of great unrest in central China in the 1920s, Palos was especially busy patrolling the upper Yangtze against bands of warlord soldiers and outlaws. The warship engaged in continuous patrol operations between Ichang and Chungking throughout 1923, supplying armed guards to merchant ships, and protecting Americans at Chungking while that city was under siege by a warlord army.

The Royal Navy had a series of Insect-class gunboats which patrolled between Chungking and Shanghai. Cruisers and destroyers and Fly-class gunboats [ citation needed ] also patrolled. The most infamous incident was when Panay and HMS Bee in 1937, were divebombed by Japanese airplanes during the notorious Nanking massacre. Westerners were forced to leave areas neighboring the Yangtze River with the Japanese takeover in 1941. The former steamers were either sabotaged or pressed into Japanese or Chinese service. Probably the most curious incident involved HMS Amethyst in 1949 during the Chinese Civil War between Kuomintang and People's Liberation Army forces; and led to the award of the Dickin Medal to the ship's cat Simon.

Contemporary events

In August 2019, Welsh adventurer Ash Dykes became the first person to complete the 4,000-mile (6,437 km) trek along the course of the river, walking for 352 days from its source to its mouth. [75]


Periodic floods

Tens of millions of people live in the floodplain of the Yangtze valley, an area that naturally floods every summer and is habitable only because it is protected by river dikes. The floods large enough to overflow the dikes have caused great distress to those who live and farm there. Floods of note include those of 1931, 1954, and 1998.

The 1931 Central China floods or the Central China floods of 1931 were a series of floods that occurred in the Republic of China. The floods are generally considered among the deadliest natural disasters ever recorded, and almost certainly the deadliest of the 20th century (when pandemics and famines are discounted). Estimates of the total death toll range from 145,000 to between 3.7 million and 4 million. [76] [77] The Yangtze again flooded in 1935, causing great loss of life.

From June to September 1954, the Yangtze River Floods were a series of catastrophic floodings that occurred mostly in Hubei Province. Due to unusually high volume of precipitation as well as an extraordinarily long rainy season in the middle stretch of the Yangtze River late in the spring of 1954, the river started to rise above its usual level in around late June. Despite efforts to open three important flood gates to alleviate the rising water by diverting it, the flood level continued to rise until it hit the historic high of 44.67 m in Jingzhou, Hubei and 29.73 m in Wuhan. The number of dead from this flood was estimated at around 33,000, including those who died of plague in the aftermath of the disaster.

The 1998 Yangtze River floods were a series of major floods that lasted from middle of June to the beginning of September 1998 along the Yangtze. [78] In the summer of 1998, China experienced massive flooding of parts of the Yangtze River, resulting in 3,704 dead, 15 million homeless and $26 billion in economic loss. [79] Other sources report a total loss of 4150 people, and 180 million people were affected. [80] A staggering 25 million acres (100,000 km2) were evacuated, 13.3 million houses were damaged or destroyed. The floods caused $26 billion in damages. [80]

The 2016 China floods caused US$22 billion in damages.

In 2020, The Yangtze river saw the heaviest rainfall since 1961, with a 79% increase in June and July compared to the average for the period over the previous 41 years. A new theory suggested that abrupt reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, caused by shutdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic, was a key cause of the intense downpours. Over the past decades rainfall had decreased due to increase of aerosols in the atmosphere, and lower greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 caused the opposite effect - a major increase in rain. Such a dramatic reduction of aerosols caused a dramatic change in the various components of the climate system, but such sudden change of the climate system would be very different from changes in response to continuous but gradual policy-driven emissions reductions. [81]

Degradation of the river

Barges on the river Yangtze-Ships.JPG
Barges on the river

Beginning in the 1950s, dams and dikes were built for flood control, land reclamation, irrigation, and control of diseases vectors such as blood flukes that caused Schistosomiasis. More than a hundred lakes were thusly cut off from the main river. [82] There were gates between the lakes that could be opened during floods. However, farmers and settlements encroached on the land next to the lakes although it was forbidden to settle there. When floods came, it proved impossible to open the gates since it would have caused substantial destruction. [83] Thus the lakes partially or completely dried up. For example, Baidang Lake shrunk from 100 square kilometers (39 sq mi) in the 1950s to 40 square kilometers (15 sq mi) in 2005. Zhangdu Lake dwindled to one quarter of its original size. Natural fisheries output in the two lakes declined sharply. Only a few large lakes, such as Poyang Lake and Dongting Lake, remained connected to the Yangtze. Cutting off the other lakes that had served as natural buffers for floods increased the damage done by floods further downstream. Furthermore, the natural flow of migratory fish was obstructed and biodiversity across the whole basin decreased dramatically. Intensive farming of fish in ponds spread using one type of carp who thrived in eutrophic water conditions and who feeds on algae, causing widespread pollution. The pollution was exacerbated by the discharge of waste from pig farms as well as of untreated industrial and municipal sewage. [82] [84] In September 2012, the Yangtze river near Chongqing turned red from pollution. [85] The erection of the Three Gorges Dam has created an impassable "iron barrier" that has led to a great reduction in the biodiversity of the river. Yangtze sturgeon use seasonal changes in the flow of the river to signal when is it time to migrate. However, these seasonal changes will be greatly reduced by dams and diversions. Other animals facing immediate threat of extinction are the baiji dolphin, narrow-ridged finless porpoise and the Yangtze alligator. These animals numbers went into freefall from the combined effects of accidental catches during fishing, river traffic, habitat loss and pollution. In 2006 the baiji dolphin became extinct; the world lost an entire genus. [86]

In 2020, a sweeping law was passed by the Chinese government to protect the ecology of the river. The new laws include strengthening ecological protection rules for hydropower projects along the river, banning chemical plants within 1 kilometer of the river, relocating polluting industries, severely restricting sand mining as well as a complete fishing ban on all the natural waterways of the river, including all its major tributaries and lakes. [87]

Contribution to ocean pollution

The Yangtze River produces more ocean plastic pollution than any other, according to The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch environmental research foundation that focuses on ocean pollution. Together with 9 other rivers, the Yangtze transports 90% of all the plastic that reaches the oceans. [88] [89]

Reconnecting lakes

In 2002 a pilot program was initiated to reconnect lakes to the Yangtze with the objective to increase biodiversity and to alleviate flooding. The first lakes to be reconnected in 2004 were Zhangdu Lake, Honghu Lake, and Tian'e-Zhou in Hubei on the middle Yangtze. In 2005 Baidang Lake in Anhui was also reconnected. [84]

Reconnecting the lakes improved water quality and fish were able to migrate from the river into the lake, replenishing their numbers and genetic stock. The trial also showed that reconnecting the lake reduced flooding. The new approach also benefitted the farmers economically. Pond farmers switched to natural fish feed, which helped them breed better-quality fish that can be sold for more, increasing their income by 30%. Based on the successful pilot project, other provincial governments emulated the experience and also reestablished connections to lakes that had previously been cut off from the river. In 2005 a Yangtze Forum has been established bringing together 13 riparian provincial governments to manage the river from source to sea. [90] In 2006 China's Ministry of Agriculture made it a national policy to reconnect the Yangtze River with its lakes. As of 2010, provincial governments in five provinces and Shanghai set up a network of 40 effective protected areas, covering 16,500 km2 (6,400 sq mi). As a result, populations of 47 threatened species increased, including the critically endangered Yangtze alligator. In the Shanghai area, reestablished wetlands now protect drinking water sources for the city. It is envisaged to extend the network throughout the entire Yangtze to eventually cover 102 areas and 185,000 km2 (71,000 sq mi). The mayor of Wuhan announced that six huge, stagnating urban lakes including the East Lake (Wuhan) would be reconnected at the cost of US$2.3 billion creating China's largest urban wetland landscape. [82] [91]

Major cities along the river

Map of the Yangtze river locating the Three Gorges Dam Threegorges.png
Map of the Yangtze river locating the Three Gorges Dam
Satellite map showing the lake created by the Three Gorges Dam. Compare Nov. 7, 2006 (above) with April 17, 1987 (below). ThreeGorgesDam-Landsat7.jpg
Satellite map showing the lake created by the Three Gorges Dam. Compare Nov. 7, 2006 (above) with April 17, 1987 (below).


Chang Jiang
Yangtze River (Chinese characters).svg
"Yangtze River (Cháng jiāng)" in Simplified (top) and Traditional (bottom) Chinese characters
Map all coordinatesin "Yangtze River bridges and tunnels" using: OpenStreetMap  
Download coordinates as: KML

Until 1957, there were no bridges across the Yangtze River from Yibin to Shanghai. For millennia, travelers crossed the river by ferry. On occasions, the crossing may have been dangerous, as evidenced by the Zhong'anlun disaster (October 15, 1945).

The river stood as a major geographic barrier dividing northern and southern China. In the first half of the 20th century, rail passengers from Beijing to Guangzhou and Shanghai had to disembark, respectively, at Hanyang and Pukou, and cross the river by steam ferry before resuming journeys by train from Wuchang or Nanjing West.

After the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, Soviet engineers assisted in the design and construction of the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge, a dual-use road-rail bridge, built from 1955 to 1957. It was the first bridge across the Yangtze River. The second bridge across the river that was built was a single-track railway bridge built upstream in Chongqing in 1959. The Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, also a road-rail bridge, was the first bridge to cross the lower reaches of the Yangtze, in Nanjing. It was built after the Sino-Soviet Split and did not receive foreign assistance. Road-rail bridges were then built in Zhicheng (1971) and Chongqing (1980).

Bridge-building slowed in the 1980s before resuming in the 1990s and accelerating in the first decade of the 21st century. The Jiujiang Yangtze River Bridge was built in 1992 as part of the Beijing-Jiujiang Railway. A second bridge in Wuhan was completed in 1995. By 2005, there were a total of 56 bridges and one tunnel across the Yangtze River between Yibin and Shanghai. These include some of the longest suspension and cable-stayed bridges in the world on the Yangtze Delta: Jiangyin Suspension Bridge (1,385 m, opened in 1999), Runyang Bridge (1,490 m, opened 2005), Sutong Bridge (1,088 m, opened 2008). The rapid pace of bridge construction has continued. The city of Wuhan now has six bridges and one tunnel across the Yangtze.

A number of power line crossings have also been built across the river.


The Three Gorges Dam in 2006 Three Gorges dam.jpg
The Three Gorges Dam in 2006
Diagram showing dams planned for the upper reaches of the Yangtze River Yangtze longitudinal profile upstream.JPG
Diagram showing dams planned for the upper reaches of the Yangtze River

As of 2007, there are two dams built on the Yangtze river: Three Gorges Dam and Gezhouba Dam. The Three Gorges Dam is the largest power station in the world by installed capacity, at 22.5 GW. Several dams are operating or are being constructed on the upper portion of the river, the Jinsha River. Among them, the Xiluodu Dam is the third largest power station in the world, and the Baihetan Dam, planned to be commissioned in 2021, will be the second largest after the Three Gorges Dam.


A shipyard on the banks of the Yangtze building commercial river freight boats Yangzi river ship yard on river bank.jpg
A shipyard on the banks of the Yangtze building commercial river freight boats

The Yangtze River has over 700 tributaries. The major tributaries (listed from upstream to downstream) with the locations of where they join the Yangtze are:

The Huai River flowed into the Yellow Sea until the 20th century, but now primarily discharges into the Yangtze.

Protected areas


The Yangtze River has a high species richness, including many endemics. A high percentage of these are seriously threatened by human activities. [92]


The two sturgeon species in the Yangtze (here Chinese sturgeon) are both seriously threatened. Acipenser sinensis.JPG
The two sturgeon species in the Yangtze (here Chinese sturgeon) are both seriously threatened.

As of 2011, 416 fish species are known from the Yangtze basin, including 362 that strictly are freshwater species. The remaining are also known from salt or brackish waters, such as the river's estuary or the East China Sea. This makes it one of the most species-rich rivers in Asia and by far the most species-rich in China (in comparison, the Pearl River has almost 300 fish species and the Yellow River 160). [92] 178 fish species are endemic to the Yangtze River Basin. [92] Many are only found in some section of the river basin and especially the upper reach (above Yichang, but below the headwaters in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau) is rich with 279 species, including 147 Yangtze endemics and 97 strict endemics (found only in this part of the basin). In contrast, the headwaters, where the average altitude is above 4,500 m (14,800 ft), are only home to 14 highly specialized species, but 8 of these are endemic to the river. [92] The largest orders in the Yangtze are Cypriniformes (280 species, including 150 endemics), Siluriformes (40 species, including 20 endemics), Perciformes (50 species, including 4 endemics), Tetraodontiformes (12 species, including 1 endemic) and Osmeriformes (8 species, including 1 endemic). No other order has more than four species in the river and one endemic. [92]

Many Yangtze fish species have declined drastically and 65 were recognized as threatened in the 2009 Chinese red list. [93] Among these are three that are considered entirely extinct (Chinese paddlefish, Anabarilius liui liui and Atrilinea macrolepis ), two that are extinct in the wild ( Anabarilius polylepis , Schizothorax parvus ), four that are critically endangered Euchiloglanis kishinouyei , Megalobrama elongata , Schizothorax longibarbus and Leiocassis longibarbus). [93] [12] Additionally, both the Yangtze sturgeon and Chinese sturgeon are considered critically endangered by the IUCN. The survival of these two sturgeon may rely on the continued release of captive bred specimens. [94] [95] Although still listed as critically endangered rather than extinct by both the Chinese red list and IUCN, recent reviews have found that the Chinese paddlefish is extinct. [96] [97] Surveys conducted between 2006 and 2008 by ichthyologists failed to catch any, but two probable specimens were recorded with hydroacoustic signals. [98] The last definite record was an individual that was accidentally captured near Yibin in 2003 and released after having been radio tagged. [12] The Chinese sturgeon is the largest fish in the river and among the largest freshwater fish in the world, reaching a length of 5 m (16 ft); the extinct Chinese paddlefish reputedly reached as much as 7 m (23 ft), but its maximum size is labeled with considerable uncertainty. [99] [100] [101]

The silver carp is native to the river, but has (like other Asian carp) been spread through large parts of the world with aquaculture. Hypophthalmichthys molitrix Hungary.jpg
The silver carp is native to the river, but has (like other Asian carp) been spread through large parts of the world with aquaculture.

The largest threats to the Yangtze native fish are overfishing and habitat loss (such as building of dams and land reclamation), but pollution, destructive fishing practices (such as fishing with dynamite or poison) and introduced species also cause problems. [92] About 23 of the total freshwater fisheries in China are in the Yangtze Basin, [102] but a drastic decline in size of several important species has been recorded, as highlighted by data from lakes in the river basin. [92] In 2015, some experts recommend a 10-year fishing moratorium to allow the remaining populations to recover, [103] and in January 2020 China imposed a 10-year fishing moratorium on 332 sites along the Yangtze. [104] Dams present another serious problem, as several species in the river perform breeding migrations and most of these are non-jumpers, meaning that normal fish ladders designed for salmon are ineffective. [92] For example, the Gezhouba Dam blocked the migration of the paddlerfish and two sturgeon, [94] [95] [100] while also effectively splitting the Chinese high fin banded shark population into two [105] and causing the extirpation of the Yangtze population of the Japanese eel. [106] In an attempt of minimizing the effect of the dams, the Three Gorges Dam has released water to mimic the (pre-dam) natural flooding and trigger the breeding of carp species downstream. [107] In addition to dams already built in the Yangtze basin, several large dams are planned and these may present further problems for the native fauna. [107]

While many fish species native to the Yangtze are seriously threatened, others have become important in fish farming and introduced widely outside their native range. A total of 26 native fish species of the Yangtze basin are farmed. [103] Among the most important are four Asian carp: grass carp, black carp, silver carp and bighead carp. Other species that support important fisheries include northern snakehead, Chinese perch, Takifugu pufferfish (mainly in the lowermost sections) and predatory carp. [92]

Other animals

The critically endangered Chinese alligator is one of the smallest crocodilians, reaching a maximum length of about 2 m (7 ft). ChineseAlligator15.JPG
The critically endangered Chinese alligator is one of the smallest crocodilians, reaching a maximum length of about 2 m (7 ft).

Due to commercial use of the river, tourism, and pollution, the Yangtze is home to several seriously threatened species of large animals (in addition to fish): the narrow-ridged finless porpoise, baiji (Yangtze river dolphin), Chinese alligator, Yangtze giant softshell turtle and Chinese giant salamander. This is the only other place besides the United States that is native to an alligator and paddlefish species. In 2010, the Yangtze population of finless porpoise was 1000 individuals. In December 2006, the Yangtze river dolphin was declared functionally extinct after an extensive search of the river revealed no signs of the dolphin's inhabitance. [109] In 2007, a large, white animal was sighted and photographed in the lower Yangtze and was tentatively presumed to be a baiji. [110] However, as there have been no confirmed sightings since 2004, the baiji is presumed to be functionally extinct at this time. [111] "Baijis were the last surviving species of a large lineage dating back seventy million years and one of only six species of freshwater dolphins." It has been argued that the extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin was a result of the completion of the Three Gorges Dam, a project that has affected many species of animals and plant life found only in the gorges area. [112]

Numerous species of land mammals are found in the Yangtze valley, but most of these are not directly associated with the river. Three exceptions are the semi-aquatic Eurasian otter, water deer and Père David's deer. [113]

The entirely aquatic Chinese giant salamander is the world's largest amphibian, reaching up to 1.8 m (5.9 ft) in length. 2009 Andrias davidianus.JPG
The entirely aquatic Chinese giant salamander is the world's largest amphibian, reaching up to 1.8 m (5.9 ft) in length.

In addition to the very large and exceptionally rare Yangtze giant softshell turtle, several smaller turtle species are found in the Yangtze basin, its delta and valleys. These include the Chinese box turtle, yellow-headed box turtle, Pan's box turtle, Yunnan box turtle, yellow pond turtle, Chinese pond turtle, Chinese stripe-necked turtle and Chinese softshell turtle, which all are considered threatened. [115]

More than 160 amphibian species are known from the Yangtze basin, including the world's largest, the critically endangered Chinese giant salamander. [116] It has declined drastically due to hunting (it is considered a delicacy), habitat loss and pollution. [114] The polluted Dian Lake, which is part of the upper Yangtze watershed (via Pudu River), is home to several highly threatened fish, but was also home to the Yunnan lake newt. This newt has not been seen since 1979 and is considered extinct. [117] [118] In contrast, the Chinese fire belly newt from the lower Yangtze basin is one of the few Chinese salamander species to remain common and it is considered least concern by the IUCN. [118] [119] [120]

The Chinese mitten crab is a commercially important species in the Yangtze, but invasive in other parts of the world. EriocheirSinensis1.jpg
The Chinese mitten crab is a commercially important species in the Yangtze, but invasive in other parts of the world.

The Yangtze basin contains a large number of freshwater crab species, including several endemics. [123] A particularly rich genus in the river basin is the potamid Sinopotamon . [124] The Chinese mitten crab is catadromous (migrates between fresh and saltwater) and it has been recorded up to 1,400 km (870 mi) up the Yangtze, which is the largest river in its native range. [122] It is a commercially important species in its native range where it is farmed, [121] but the Chinese mitten crab has also been spread to Europe and North America where considered invasive. [122]

The freshwater jellyfish Craspedacusta sowerbii , now an invasive species in large parts of the world, originates from the Yangtze. [125]

See also

Related Research Articles

Yellow River Major river in China

The Yellow River or Huang He is the second-longest river in China, after the Yangtze River, and the sixth-longest river system in the world at the estimated length of 5,464 km (3,395 mi). Originating in the Bayan Har Mountains in Qinghai province of Western China, it flows through nine provinces, and it empties into the Bohai Sea near the city of Dongying in Shandong province. The Yellow River basin has an east–west extent of about 1,900 kilometers (1,180 mi) and a north–south extent of about 1,100 km (680 mi). Its total drainage area is about 795,000 square kilometers (307,000 sq mi).

Sichuan Province of China

Sichuan is a landlocked province in Southwest China occupying most of the Sichuan Basin and the easternmost part of the Tibetan Plateau between the Jinsha River on the west, the Daba Mountains in the north and the Yungui Plateau to the south. Sichuan's capital city is Chengdu. The population of Sichuan stands at 83 million. Sichuan neighbors the Qinghai to the northwest, Gansu to the north, Shaanxi to the northeast, Chongqing to the east, Guizhou to the southeast, Yunnan to the south, and the Tibet Autonomous Region to the west.

Three Gorges Dam Dam in Sandouping, Yiling District, Hubei, China

The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric gravity dam that spans the Yangtze River by the town of Sandouping, in Yiling District, Yichang, Hubei province, central China, downstream of the Three Gorges. The Three Gorges Dam has been the world's largest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW) since 2012. The dam generates an average 95±20 TWh of electricity per year, depending on annual amount of precipitation in the river basin. After the extensive monsoon rainfalls of 2020, the dam's annual production nearly reached 112 TWh, breaking the previous world record of ~103 TWh set by Itaipu Dam in 2016.

Hubei Province of China

Hubei is a landlocked province of the People's Republic of China, and is part of the Central China region. The name of the province means "north of the lake", referring to its position north of Dongting Lake. The provincial capital, Wuhan, serves as a major transportation hub and the political, cultural, and economic hub of central China.

Three Gorges Series of natural gorges on the Yangtze River in China

The Three Gorges are three adjacent gorges along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, in the hinterland of the People's Republic of China. With a subtropical monsoon climate, they are known for their scenery. The "Three Gorges Scenic Area" is classified as a AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration.

Chongqing Megacity and provincial-level municipality in southwest China

Chongqing, alternately romanized as Chungking, is a municipality in southwest China.

Chinese paddlefish Species of fish

The Chinese paddlefish, also known as Chinese swordfish, was a species of fish that was native to the Yangtze and Yellow River basins in China. At maturity, the species measured an average length of 3 m (9.8 ft), making it one of the largest species of primarily freshwater fishes. It was the only species in the genus Psephurus and one of two living species in the paddlefish family (Polyodontidae), the other being the American paddlefish. It was an anadromous species, meaning that it spent part of its adult life at sea, while migrating upriver to spawn.

Yibin Prefecture-level city in Sichuan, Peoples Republic of China

Yibin is a prefecture-level city in the southeastern part of Sichuan province, China, located at the junction of the Min and Yangtze Rivers. Its population was 4,588,804 inhabitants, according to the 2020 census, of whom 2,158,312 lived in the built-up area comprising three urban districts.

Yichang Prefecture-level city in Hubei, Peoples Republic of China

Yichang, alternatively romanized as Ichang, is a prefecture-level city located in western Hubei province, China. It is the third largest city in the province after the capital, Wuhan and the prefecture-level city Xiangyang, by urban population. The Three Gorges Dam is located within its administrative area, in Yiling District.

Sichuan Basin Basin in Sichuan, China

The Sichuan Basin, formerly transliterated as the Szechwan Basin, sometimes called the Red Basin, is a lowland region in southwestern China. It is surrounded by mountains on all sides and is drained by the upper Yangtze River and its tributaries. The basin is anchored by Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, in the west, and the direct-administered municipality of Chongqing in the east. Due to its relative flatness and fertile soils, it is able to support a population of more than 100 million. In addition to being a dominant geographical feature of the region, the Sichuan Basin also constitutes a cultural sphere that is distinguished by its own unique customs, cuisine and dialects. It is famous for its rice cultivation and is often considered the breadbasket of China. In the 21st century its industrial base is expanding with growth in the high-tech, aerospace, and petroleum industries.

Qing River

The Qing River is a right (southern) tributary of the Yangtze River in Hubei province of south-central China.

Xiling Yangtze River Bridge

The Xiling Yangtze River Bridge, is a suspension bridge over the Yangtze River, just a few kilometers downstream from the Three Gorges Dam. The bridge is located within Yiling District of the prefecture-level city of Yichang, connecting the towns of Taipingxi and Letianxi with Sandouping.

Wu River (Yangtze tributary)

The Wu River is the largest southern tributary of the Yangtze River. Nearly its entire length of 1,150 kilometres (710 mi) runs within the isolated, mountainous and ethnically diverse province of Guizhou. The river takes drainage from a 80,300-square-kilometre (31,000 sq mi) watershed.

Bridges and tunnels across the Yangtze River

The bridges and tunnels across the Yangtze River carry rail and road traffic across China's longest and largest river and form a vital part of the country's transportation infrastructure. The river bisects China proper from west to east, and every major north-south bound highway and railway must cross the Yangtze. Large urban centers along the river such as Chongqing, Wuhan, and Nanjing also have urban mass transit rail lines crossing the Yangtze.

Chongqing–Lichuan railway

The Chongqing–Lichuan railway, or the Yuli railway is a railway connecting central Chongqing with the Hubei city of Lichuan. The 244-km long railway, connecting Chongqing North railway station with the Lichuan Station on the Yichang–Wanzhou railway, is a section of the Shanghai–Wuhan–Chengdu passenger railway, which extends to Wuhan, Nanjing, and Shanghai.

Shanghai–Wuhan–Chengdu passenger railway

Shanghai–Wuhan–Chengdu passenger railway, is a fully completed high-speed railway corridor operated by China Railway High-speed. The Chinese name of the railway line, Huhanrong, is a combination of the abbreviations for Shanghai, Wuhan, and Chengdu, three major cities along the line.

G42 Shanghai–Chengdu Expressway

The Shanghai–Chengdu Expressway, commonly referred to as the Hurong Expressway is an east–west bound expressway that connects the eastern metropolis of Shanghai to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan. The expressway passes through six provinces and serves major cities such as Suzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou, Nanjing, Hefei, Wuhan, and Yichang. The eastern terminus of G42 is at the Wuning Road Interchange of Shanghai Middle Ring Road. At its western terminus, the expressway intersects the East 3rd Ring Road and connects East Erxianqiao Road in Chenghua District, Chengdu. The expressway spans 1,960 km (1,220 mi) in length.

Sichuan River

The Sichuan River or Chuan Jiang, is the upper portion of Yangtze River from Yibin to Yichang. It is named because the river flows through Sichuan & Chongqing, which was part of Sichuan, in this stretch. The total length of Sichuan River is 1,040km. Major cities along Sichuan River include Yibin, Luzhou, Chongqing, Fuling, Wanzhou and Yichang.

The Xiaonanhai Dam was a proposed dam on the Yangtze River in Chongqing, China. It was to have an associated 1,760 MW hydroelectric power station. Preliminary construction on the dam began on 29 March 2012 and earliest completion was expected in 2019. However, it was cancelled in March 2015 due to environmental concerns.

Samuel Cornell Plant

Samuel Cornell Plant was a British sailor who is best known as the first to command a merchant steamer plying on the Upper Yangtze River in 1900. The Upper Yangtze is the section of river stretching through gorges from Yichang to Chongqing. Plant later collaborated with Chinese merchants and the government to create Sichuan Steam Navigation Company, serving as Captain of SS Shutung and SS Shuhun, providing the first regular merchant steam service on the Upper Yangtze. He is further recognized for his contributions as Chinese Maritime Customs’ First Senior River Inspector on the Upper Yangtze. Plant installed the river's navigational marks, established signaling systems, wrote a manual for shipmasters, and trained hundreds of foreign and Chinese pilots.


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