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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 map.png
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
Main source Dam Qu (Jari Hill)
Tanggula Mountains, Qinghai
5,170 m (16,960 ft)
32°36′14″N 94°30′44″E / 32.60389°N 94.51222°E / 32.60389; 94.51222
2nd source Ulan Moron
33°23′40″N 90°53′46″E / 33.39444°N 90.89611°E / 33.39444; 90.89611
3rd source Chuma'er River
35°27′19″N 90°55′50″E / 35.45528°N 90.93056°E / 35.45528; 90.93056
4th source Muluwusu River
33°22′13″N 91°10′29″E / 33.37028°N 91.17472°E / 33.37028; 91.17472
5th source Bi Qu
33°16′58″N 91°23′29″E / 33.28278°N 91.39139°E / 33.28278; 91.39139
River mouth East China Sea
Shanghai and Jiangsu
31°23′37″N 121°58′59″E / 31.39361°N 121.98306°E / 31.39361; 121.98306
Length 6,300 km (3,900 mi)
(location 2)
  • Location:
    Datong hydrometric station, Anhui (Uppermost boundary of the ocean tide)
  • Average rate:
    30,708 m3/s (1,084,400 cu ft/s) (2019–2020)
Basin features
Basin size 1,808,500 km2 (698,300 sq mi)
  • Left:
    Yalong, Min, Tuo, Jialing, Han
  • Right:
    Wu, Yuan, Zi, Xiang, Gan, Huangpu
Chang Jiang
Chang Jiang
Yangtze River (Chinese characters).svg
"Yangtze River (Cháng jiāng)" in Simplified (top) and Traditional (bottom) Chinese characters
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese 长江
Traditional Chinese 長江
Literal meaning long river
Yangtze River
Simplified Chinese 扬子江
Traditional Chinese 揚子江
Tibetan name
Tibetan འབྲི་ཆུ་
Golden Island, on The Yang-Tse River, China (LMS, 1869, p.64)
Golden Island, on The Yang-Tse River, China (LMS, 1869, p.64)
The Qutang Gorge along the Yangtze river
The Qutang Gorge along the Yangtze River.
Tiger Leaping Gorge
Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan.

The Yangtze or Yangzi ( or simplified Chinese: 长江; traditional Chinese: 長江; pinyin: Cháng Jiāng; literally "long river") is the longest river in Eurasia, the third-longest in the world, and the longest in the world to flow entirely within one country. It rises at Jari Hill in the Tanggula Mountains of the Tibetan Plateau and flows 6,300 km (3,900 mi) in a generally easterly direction to the East China Sea. It is the seventh-largest river by discharge volume in the world. Its drainage basin comprises one-fifth of the land area of China, and is home to nearly one-third of the country's population.

The Yangtze has played a major role in the history, culture, and economy of China. For thousands of years, the river has been used for water, irrigation, sanitation, transportation, industry, boundary-marking, and war. The prosperous Yangtze Delta generates as much as 20% of China's GDP. The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze is the largest hydro-electric power station in the world that is in use. In mid-2014, the Chinese government announced it was building a multi-tier transport network, comprising railways, roads and airports, to create a new economic belt alongside the river.

The Yangtze flows through a wide array of ecosystems and is habitat to several endemic and threatened species including the Chinese alligator, the narrow-ridged finless porpoise, and also was the home of the now extinct Yangtze river dolphin (or baiji) and Chinese paddlefish, as well as the Yangtze sturgeon, which is extinct in the wild. In recent years, the river has suffered from industrial pollution, plastic pollution, agricultural runoff, 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 upstream Yangtze flowing through deep gorges in western Yunnan is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Cháng Jiāng (simplified Chinese: 长江; traditional Chinese: 長江) is the official name for the Yangtze in Mandarin Chinese.

Chang Jiang literally means the "Long River." In Old Chinese, the Yangtze was simply called Jiang/Kiang . By the Han dynasty, Jiāng had come to mean any river in Chinese, and this river was distinguished as the "Great River" 大江 (Dàjiāng).

Various sections of the Yangtze have local names. From Yibin to Yichang, the river through Sichuan and Chongqing Municipality is also known as the Chuān Jiāng (Chinese: 川江) or "Sichuan River." Jinsha River ("Gold Sands River") refers to the 2,308 km (1,434 mi) of the Yangtze from Yibin upstream to the confluence with the Batang River near Yushu in Qinghai, while the Tongtian River ("River that leads to Heaven") describes the 813 km (505 mi) section from Yushu up to the confluence of the Tuotuo River and the Dangqu River.


Map of the Yangtze River
Yangtze drainage basin

The river originates in the eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau. The river runs eastward through Qinghai (Tsinghai), turning southward down a deep valley at the border of Sichuan (Szechwan) and Tibet to reach Yunnan. In the course of this valley, the river's elevation drops from above 5,000 m (16,000 ft) to less than 1,000 m (3,300 ft).

It enters the basin of Sichuan at Yibin. While in the Sichuan basin, it receives several mighty tributaries, increasing its water volume significantly. It then cuts through Mount Wushan bordering Chongqing and Hubei to create the famous Three Gorges. Eastward of the Three Gorges, Yichang is the first city on the Yangtze Plain.

After entering Hubei province, the Yangtze receives water from a number of lakes. The largest of these lakes is Dongting Lake, which is located on the border of Hunan and Hubei provinces, and is the outlet for most of the rivers in Hunan. At Wuhan, it receives its biggest tributary, the Han River, bringing water from its northern basin as far as Shaanxi.

At the northern tip of Jiangxi province, Lake Poyang, the biggest freshwater lake in China, merges into the river. The river then runs through Anhui and Jiangsu, receiving more water from innumerable smaller lakes and rivers, and finally reaches the East China Sea at Shanghai.

Four of China's five main freshwater lakes contribute their waters to the Yangtze River. Traditionally, the upstream part of the Yangtze River refers to the section from Yibin to Yichang; the middle part refers to the section from Yichang to Hukou County, where Lake Poyang meets the river; the downstream part is from Hukou to Shanghai.

The origin of the Yangtze River has been dated by some geologists to about 45 million years ago in the Eocene, but this dating has been disputed.

Image gallery


Yangzi River gorge
Afternoon in the jagged mountains rising from the Yangtze River gorge

The Yangtze River is important to the cultural origins of southern China and Japan. Human activity has been verified in the Three Gorges area as far back as 27,000 years ago, and by the 5th millennium BC, the lower Yangtze was a major population center occupied by the Hemudu and Majiabang cultures, both among the earliest cultivators of rice.

The Central Yangtze valley was home to sophisticated Neolithic cultures.

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.


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.


Three Gorges dam
The Three Gorges Dam in 2006
Yangtze longitudinal profile upstream
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.===Degradation of the river===

Barges on the river

Beginning in the 1950s, dams and dikes were built for flood control, land reclamation, irrigation, and control of diseases vectors. More than a hundred lakes were thusly cut off from the main river. 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. 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. Only a few large lakes, such as Poyang Lake and Dongting Lake, remained connected to the Yangtze. In September 2012, the Yangtze river near Chongqing turned red from pollution.

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. Some animals -the baiji dolphin, narrow-ridged finless porpoise and the Yangtze alligator- faced immediate threat of extinction. In 2006 the baiji dolphin became extinct; the world lost an entire genus.

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.

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.

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.

Reconnecting the lakes improved water quality and fish were able to migrate from the river into the lake, replenishing their numbers and genetic stock. 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.

Major cities along the river

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).
  • Yushu
  • Panzhihua
  • Yibin
  • Luzhou
  • Hejiang
  • Chongqing
  • Fuling
  • Fengdu
  • Wanzhou
  • Yichang
  • Yidu
  • Jingzhou
  • Shashi
  • Shishou
  • Yueyang
  • Xianning
  • Wuhan
  • Ezhou
  • Huangshi
  • Huanggang
  • Chaohu
  • Chizhou
  • Jiujiang
  • Anqing
  • Tongling
  • Wuhu
  • Chuzhou
  • Ma'anshan
  • Taizhou
  • Yangzhou
  • Zhenjiang
  • Nanjing
  • Changzhou
  • Nantong
  • Shanghai


Yangzi river ship yard on river bank
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:

  • Yalong River (Panzhihua, Sichuan)
  • Min River (Yibin, Sichuan)
  • Tuo River (Luzhou, Sichuan)
  • Chishui River (Hejiang, Sichuan)
  • Jialing River (Chongqing)
  • Wu River (Fuling, Chongqing)
  • Qing River (Yidu, Hubei)
  • Yuan River (via Dongting Lake)
  • Lishui River (via Dongting Lake)
  • Zi River (via Dongting Lake)
  • Xiang River (Yueyang, Hunan)
  • Han River (Wuhan, Hubei)
  • Gan River (near Jiujiang, Jiangxi)
  • Shuiyang River (Dangtu, Anhui)
  • Qingyi River (Wuhu, Anhui)
  • Chao Lake water system (Chaohu, Anhui)
  • Lake Tai water system (Shanghai)

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

Protected areas

  • Sanjiangyuan ("Three Rivers' Sources") National Nature Reserve in Qinghai
  • Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan


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


Acipenser sinensis
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). 178 fish species are endemic to the Yangtze River Basin. 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. 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.

Many Yangtze fish species have declined drastically and 65 were recognized as threatened in the 2009 Chinese red list. 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). 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. 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. Surveys conducted between 2006 and 2008 by ichthyologists failed to catch any, but two probable specimens were recorded with hydroacoustic signals. The last definite record was an individual that was accidentally captured near Yibin in 2003 and released after having been radio tagged. 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.

Hypophthalmichthys molitrix Hungary
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. About 23 of the total freshwater fisheries in China are in the Yangtze Basin, but a drastic decline in size of several important species has been recorded, as highlighted by data from lakes in the river basin. In 2015, some experts recommend a 10-year fishing moratorium to allow the remaining populations to recover, and in January 2020 China imposed a 10-year fishing moratorium on 332 sites along the Yangtze. 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. For example, the Gezhouba Dam blocked the migration of the paddlerfish and two sturgeon, while also effectively splitting the Chinese high fin banded shark population into two and causing the extirpation of the Yangtze population of the Japanese eel. 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. 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.

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. 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.

Other animals

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. In 2007, a large, white animal was sighted and photographed in the lower Yangtze and was tentatively presumed to be a baiji. However, as there have been no confirmed sightings since 2004, the baiji is presumed to be functionally extinct at this time. "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.

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.

2009 Andrias davidianus
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.

More than 160 amphibian species are known from the Yangtze basin, including the world's largest, the critically endangered Chinese giant salamander. It has declined drastically due to hunting (it is considered a delicacy), habitat loss and pollution. 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. 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.

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. A particularly rich genus in the river basin is the potamid Sinopotamon. 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. It is a commercially important species in its native range where it is farmed, but the Chinese mitten crab has also been spread to Europe and North America where considered invasive.

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

Interesting facts

  • 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 Jardine, built for Jardine, Matheson & Co., was the first steamship to sail the river in 1835.
  • The first bridge across the Yangtze River was built from 1955 to 1957 with the assistance of Soviet engineers.
  • 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.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Yangtsé para niños

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