Yangtze River Facts

The Yangtze River, also called Chang Jiang River, is the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world. It flows for 6,418 kilometers from the glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in Qinghai eastward across southwest, central and eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is also one of the biggest rivers by discharge volume in the world. The Yangtze drains one-fifth of the land area of China and its river basin is home to one-third of China's population.

Yangtze Three Gorges

The Importance of the Yangtze River

Along with the Yellow River, the Yangtze is the most important river in the history, culture and economy of China. The prosperous Yangtze River Delta generates as much as 20% of the PRC's GDP. The Yangtze River flows through a wide array of ecosystems and is itself habitat to several endemic and endangered species including the Chinese alligator and the Yangtze sturgeon. For thousands of years, people have used the river for water, irrigation, sanitation, transportation, industry, boundary-marking and war. The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River is the largest hydro-electric power station in the world.

Yangtze Cruises Tour

The Source of the Yangtze River

Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Qinghai, China 

The Mouth of the Yangtze River

East China Sea, near Shanghai 

The Discharge of the Yangtze River

30,170 m³/s


The Yangtze River is important to the cultural origins of southern China. Human activity was found in the Three Gorges area as far back as 7 thousand years ago, initiating debate over the origin of the Chinese people. In the Spring and Autumn Period, Ba and Shu were located in the western part of the river, covering modern Sichuan, Chongqing, and western Hubei; Chu was located in the central part of river, corresponding to Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, and southern Anhui. Wu and Yue were located in the eastern part of the river, now Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai. Although the Yellow River region was richer and more developed at that time, the milder climate and more peaceful environment made the Yangtze River area more suitable for agriculture.

From the Han Dynasty, the region of the Yangtze River became more and more important in China's economy. The establishment of irrigation systems (the most famous one is Dujiangyan, northwest of Chengdu, built during the Warring States period) made agriculture very stable and productive. Early in the Qing dynasty, the region called "Jiangnan" (that includes the southern part of Jiangsu, the northern part of Zhejiang, and the southeastern part of Anhui) provided 1/3-1/2 of the nation's revenues.

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. Many battles took place along the river, the most famous being the Battle of Red Cliffs in 208 AD during the Three Kingdoms period.

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 smaller countries in the Northern and Southern 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 capital to Beijing. The ROC capital was located in Nanjing in the periods 1911-1912, 1927-1937, 1945-1949.


In recent years, the river has suffered from industrial pollution, agricultural run-off, siltation, and loss of wetland and lakes, which exacerbates seasonal flooding. Some sections of the river are now protected as nature reserves. A stretch of the Yangtze flowing through deep gorges in western Yunnan is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Spectacular Oriental Pearl TV Tower Shanghai

Major Cities along the Yangtze River

Panzhihua, Yibin, Luzhou, Chongqing, Fengdu, Yichang, Jingzhou, Shashi, Shishou, Yueyang, Xianning, Wuhan, Ezhou, Huangshi, Huanggang, Chaohu, Chizhou, Jiujiang, Anqing, Tongling, Wuhu, Hefei, Chuzhou, Ma'anshan, Taizhou, Yangzhou, Zhenjiang, Nanjing, Jiangyin, Nantong, Shanghai.

Major Tributaries of the Yangtze River

1. Yalong River (Panzhihua, Sichuan Province)

2. Min River (Yibin, Sichuan Province)

3. Jialing River (Chongqing)

4. Wu River

5. Qing Jiang (Yidu, Hubei Province)

6. Yuan River

7. Lishui River

Dams Built on the Yangtze River

Three Gorges Dam and Gezhou Dam

Three Gorges Dam

Top Attractions along the Yangtze River 

1. Qutang Gorge

The Qutang Gorge is the shortest and most spectacular of China's Three Gorges. Administratively, the location is in Fengjie County of the Chongqing Municipality. Immediately downstream of the ancient village Baidicheng the Yangtze River passes between the Chijia Mountain on the north and the Baiyan Mountain on the south. The point where the river passes between these mountains is called the Kuimen Gate and it is the entrance to the Qutang Gorge - the first of the three Yangtze gorges. The Qutang Gorge is only 8 kilometers long, but it is also the narrowest of the Three Gorges. The widest point measures only 150 meters wide. The mountains on either side reach as high as 1,200 meters. This combination of narrow canyons among high mountains with several switchbacks in only 8 kilometers creates spectacular vistas, and the Qutang Gorge is often considered the most beautiful of all the Three Gorges.

2. Wu Gorge

Wu Gorge, sometimes called Great Gorge, is the second gorge of the Three Gorges system on the Yangtze River, People's Republic of China. Formed by the Wu River, it stretches 45 km from Wushan to Guandukou, and is located downstream of Qutang Gorge and upstream of Xiling Gorge. The gorge straddles the boundary between Wushan County of Chongqing Municipality (formerly part of Sichuan Province) and Badong County, Hubei Province.

3. Xiling Gorge

Xiling Gorge is a canyon (gorge) on the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang) in Hubei province, China, zigzagging about 49 miles, is the largest and most downstream—eastern of the famous Three Gorges.

4. Three Gorges Dam

The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangtze River by the town of Sandouping, located in Yiling District, Yichang, Hubei province, China. The Three Gorges Dam is the world's largest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW). In 2012, the amount of electricity the dam generated was similar to the amount generated by the Itaipu Dam.

The ancient hanging coffins placed on cliffs along the Yangtze River

Yangtze River Mysteries

1. Hanging Coffins

The Three Gorges along the Yangtze River are a historical gallery. There are countless suspended artifacts and occult phenomena on the cliffs facing the water. One of them is the unsolved mystery of the cliff coffin custom, which displays profound cultural and historical meaning and the unique entombment custom of ancient nationalities in the Three Gorges. 

2. Ancient Pathways

On the northern bank of the Yangtze River, all along Qutang Gorge from Baidicheng to Daixi, can be found traces of the ancient footpath, carved into the gorge's cliff face, that was used by laborers – called "haulers", but in essence, boat tuggers, as in "human tug boats" – whose job it was to pull the watercraft that plied the Yangtze River upstreams through passages.

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