16 Facts about the Yangtze River
yangtzeriver

16 Facts about the Yangtze River

By Kimi HuangUpdated Jun. 15, 2021

Discover the most interesting information about the Yangtze, China’s biggest river, through 16 facts: its world records, key features, three reaches, geography, economy, and tourist attractions.

1.The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world.

Yangtze RiverViews along the Yangtze River

The meaning of the Yangtze River’s Chinese name Changjiang is ‘Long River’. It is as long as 6,397 km (3,975 miles), making it the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world after the Nile and the Amazon.

The Yangtze River basin covers a total area of 1,808,500 square kilometers (698,000 square miles), about 1/5 of the total land area of China. 

Its upper reaches our reaches definitions differ from the official ones to follow) are from the Yangtze River’s source to Yichang: 4,504 km (2,799 miles). Its middle reaches are the section between Yichang and Hukou County in Hubei Province: 955 km (593 miles). The section from Hukou County in Jiangxi Province to its marine outfall in Shanghai are the Yangtze River lower reaches: 938 km (583 miles).

2. The source of the Yangtze is on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Tanggula MountainsTanggula Mountains

Yangtze River originates from the southwest side of the Geladandong Peak, the main peak of the Tanggula Mountains in Tibet. Then it flows from west to east and pours into to the East China Sea by Shanghai.

3. There is a huge elevation drop over the Yangtze’s course.

Its huge elevation drop makes the Yangtze River suitable for the establishment of hydropower stations. Its elevation decreases from its source (5,250 meters) to where the Tongtian River (Yangtze) becomes the Jinsha River (Yangtze) at 3,540 meters to Tiger Leaping Gorge (1,800 meters) to Yibin (highest city on the Yangtze at 260 meters on the Sichuan Plateau) to Yichang (exit of the Three Gorges 60 meters).

The Jinsha River section has the largest elevation fall (about 3,280 meters) so this section is home to most of the Yangtze's hydropower stations (but not the biggest). The upcoming Baihetan Hydropower Station, also to be built on the Jinsha, will become the second largest hydropower station in China.

4. The Yangtze’s Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydropower station.

The Three Gorges DamThe Three Gorges Dam

There are so many dams on the Yangtze River, but the Three Gorges Dam is in a class of its own. It was completed in 2009.

Situated at Sandouping Town of Yichang City, Hubei Province, the Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydro-power station in the world with an annual energy output of 84.7 billion kilowatt-hours. It is the largest non-linear structure built by man.

It plays a momentous role in flood control, electricity generation, shipping, aquaculture, tourism, and irrigation. Check out more about The Three Gorges Dam.

5. Yangtze shipping routes have been shortened by raised water levels.

Water channel of the Yangtze RiverWater channel of the Yangtze River

Before the Three Gorges hydropower stations were built, the Yangtze River water depth was low and the Three Gorges water channel was narrow and shallow, so its shipping routes were longer.

With the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, the water level of the Yangtze River has been raised a lot. The river has become wide and straight, so the shipping distance is shorter. Now, the length of the shipping route varies with the seasons. The route is longer in the drier seasons and shorter in the rainy season (summer).

6. The Yangtze River’s valleys are prone to floods in summer.

Floods in Yangtze RiverFloods in Yangtze River

The reason for frequent floods in the Yangtze River Basin has a great deal to do with the climate and terrain. The Yangtze River Basin has a subtropical monsoon climate, and its rainfall is very high during the summer flood season (June to August).

Although the Yangtze River has many fast-flowing tributaries, its waters flow very slowly in its middle and lower reaches where there is almost-flat plain terrain. So, the Yangtze floods easily when a lot of rainwater discharges from its upper reaches and tributaries.

7. The Yangtze River has a huge number of tributaries.

First Bend of the Yangtze RiverFirst Bend of the Yangtze River

The Yangtze River has more than 700 tributaries. 49 have a catchment area of over 10,000 square kilometers (3,900 sq miles). 5 have a length of over 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).

The “Eight Tributaries of the Yangtze River” each have an average annual discharge of over 50 cubic kilometers: the Han River, Jialing, Min, Yalong, Wu, Yuan, Xiang, and Gan. Each is larger than the 18th largest river in the USA (the Snake) or 15 times the UK’s largest by discharge (the Tay).

8. Fishing has been prohibited in the Yangtze and its main tributaries from 2021.

Fisherman is fishingFisherman is fishing

As the largest river in China, the Yangtze is rich in aquatic organisms. It is reported that there are more than 4,300 kinds of aquatic organisms in the Yangtze River Basin, including more than 400 species of fish. The Yangtze sturgeon is particularly impressive.

However, the aquatic biological resources in the Yangtze River Basin have been seriously declining in recent years due to long-term overfishing. Some species have even become extinct. Therefore, in order to strengthen the protection and restoration of the ecological environment of the Yangtze River, the state introduced a law to prohibit fishing, which has taken effect from March 1, 2021.

9. The Yangtze River Basin is a major grain producing region.

About 35% of China’s grain is grown in the Yangtze Basin (as well as about 31% of China’s forested trees).

Rice accounts for 70% of the grain grown in the Yangtze Basin. The plains of the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River are the main grain producing areas. They are the Sichuan Plain, Poyang Lake Plain, Dongting Lake Plain, and Taihu Lake Plain. Wheat and barley are also extensively grown in the region. Other crops grown in the region include cotton, beans, and maize.

10. The Yangtze River Delta is one of the most economically developed regions in China.

Pudong District ShanghaiShanghai Pudong District 

In the lower reaches of the Yangtze, bordering the Yellow Sea and East China Sea, an alluvial plain has formed before the Yangtze River flows into the sea: the Yangtze River Delta. Its major cities include Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, Ningbo, and Wenzhou etc.

With less than 4 percent of China’s land area, this region accounts for 10% of China’s population (over 140 million), nearly a quarter of China's economic aggregate, and one third of China's total import and export volume

11. The Yangtze basin holds 40% of the China’s population and GDP.

The Yangtze River basin covers a huge portion (18%) of the territory of China and holds 40% of its population who account for 40% of China’s GDP.

The Yangtze flows through 11 provincial-level administrative regions: Qinghai, Tibet, Yunnan, Sichuan, Chongqing, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, and Shanghai.

12. The Yangtze River Basin is home to more than half of China’s ethnic groups.

Minority people in YunnanMinority people in Yunnan

More than 30 of China’s officially recognized 55 ethnic minorities live in the Yangtze River basin.

China’s Southwest region, especially where the Yangtze River flows through it (Northwest Yunnan), is the densest area for different ethnic minorities in China. Their cultures and folk customs are very varied. This region is a good place to discover China’s minority cultures.

13. The Yangtze River is the popular dividing line between north and south China.

The Yangtze River is regarded as the dividing line between North China and South China by many people, but actually it should the Yangtze’s northern watershed.

However, the official geographical dividing line between North China and South China is the Qinling Mountains (the Yangtze’s central northern watershed) and the Huai River. Once flowing from Henan Province to the Yellow Sea, dividing the Yellow River and Yangtze catchments, the Huai is actually now a northern Yangtze tributary east of Nanjing.

Comparing the north side and south side of this line, there are obvious differences in climatic conditions, geographical features, agricultural production, foods eaten, and people's living customs.  

14. There is a rich cultural heritage along the Yangtze River.

Sea of clouds at Mount EmeiSea of clouds at Mount Emei

The Yangtze River is known as the cradle of Chinese civilization and the “Mother River” of China (as is the Yellow River). It has played an important role in China's history and cultural development.

Many cultural heritage sites are located in the Yangtze Basin, such as Qingcheng Mountain, Mt. Emei, Leshan Giant Buddha, Dazu Stone Carvings, Mt. Wudang, Mt. Lushan, the Xidi-Hongcun Ancient Village Group, the Hangzhou West Lake Cultural Landscape, the Suzhou Gardens, and the Ming and Qing Royal Mausoleums. See Yangtze Attractions.

15. The major cities along the Yangtze River are also popular tourist destinations.

Hongyadong in ChongqingHongyadong in Chongqing

The major cities along Yangtze River are Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanjing, and Shanghai.

Chongqing is the center of finance, science and technological innovation, shipping and trade, and logistics in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.

Wuhan is located in the center of China, and is the largest transportation hub and shipping center in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River.

Nanjing has long been the political, economic and cultural center of South China. It has a special status in Chinese history.

Shanghai is the largest city in China, and by city proper population it’s the largest city in the world. It’s location at the mouth of the Yangtze aided its development as a one of the largest ports in the world

16. The Chongqing–Yichang route is the most popular for Yangtze cruises.

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This fact should be remembered by those who are planning a trip. Taking a Yangtze cruise is a popular way to discover China. A Yangtze River cruise will give you the opportunity to see some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable.

The route between Chongqing and Yichang is the most outstanding section of the Yangtze. It is blessed with a richness of natural/manmade scenery and cultural relics such as the Three Gorges Dam, Gemstone Stronghold, and Shennong Stream.

When we mention Yangtze River cruises, cruises between Chongqing and Yichang are always the first to pop to mind. They take 4 days and 3 nights and are downstream. 5 days and 4 nights are needed from Yichang to Chongqing upstream. Check out more on Yangtze River Cruises.

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