The Yangtze: China’s Longest River

The 3rd longest river in the world, the Yangtze River winds its way more than 6,000 km from the western mountains of China’s Qinghai Province to the East China Sea in Shanghai. As the country’s largest and longest river, the Yangtze has long been a source of food, transport and power for China.

Like any massive river, the Yangtze goes by many names, depending on the proximity and locale. For obvious reasons, its name in Mandarin is chang jiang, which literally means “long river”. But the Yangtze also goes by other designations in different parts of China. Since the river is so long, it passes through a variety of climates and environments, changing its appearance and qualities as it goes. For instance, in Tibetan Qinghai, near the river’s source, it is called dangqu, or “marsh river”; while in the flat Sichuan Province, it is known as jinsha jiang, or “golden sands river”. Other romanized spellings of the word Yangtze include “Yangtse” or “Yangzi”.

The Yangtze River is home to several interesting animal species, like the rare Finless Porpoise. Unfortunately, heavy shipping traffic and large amounts of pollutants in the river now threaten the survival of these species. The Yangtze River Dolphin was sadly driven to extinction due to these unfortunate circumstances, and more and more porpoises are now evacuating off the river to nearby lakes.

Among the many industrial projects that flank the Yangtze River, the largest and most well known is undoubtedly the building of the Three Gorges Dam. This super-human sized power station has been under construction since 1994 and will not be fully completed until 2011. The Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydroelectric power station in the world and is situated near Yichang, along the Hubei Province section of the Yangtze.

Negative repercussions of the dam’s construction will affect the Yangtze River forever. The spectacular Three Gorges, naturally created ravines worn away by millennia of erosion, will be flooded and disappear. As well, hundreds of villages have been uprooted and evacuated to higher ground in anticipation of the flooding aftermath. Many have lost their lives and homes because of the building of the dam.

Dozens of bridges cross the Yangtze River between its origins and its mouth in Shanghai. Hundreds of tributaries also branch off from it, creating other, smaller rivers along the way. The people of China have relied upon the Yangtze for thousands of years and will continue to rely upon in, perhaps in different ways, for a long time to come.


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