The Yangtze River is the mother river of China; the cradle of 5,000 years civilization, and the longest river in China!
The mighty Yangtze River is the third longest river in the world, after the Nile and Amazon Rivers. At 6,300 kilometers (3,900 miles), the watershed area of the Yangtze River is about 700,000 square miles, approximately 20% of China’s total land area, and 25% of its total farming land area. Almost all of the boating traffic in China is on the Yangtze River.
This extensive waterway cuts through the heart of China, and is regarded by the Chinese as the division line of the country into north and south, both geographically and culturally.
The mighty Yangtze is a flowing history of China! From the famous Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai, to Marco Polo, from the ancient Ba people to Chairman Mao, the Yangtze River is a faithful witness of the splendid history and the countless people who lived on the river, generation after generation. Remarkable in its size and variety, the Yangtze River cuts across a series of rugged mountain ranges, which created the spectacular and legendary Three Gorges! It is truly a geological and mythological wonder! A journey to the Yangtze is a trip of dramatic scenery and a living history!
Deep in the mountains along the Yangtze, life hasn’t changed much. Local people still believe in the river god, just as their ancestors did. For centuries, many small craft fell victim to the treacherous rapids, their hapless boatmen becoming “water ghosts”. So even today, the traditional sacrifice of a chicken at the bow with popping firecrackers is still the tradition to launch a new boat. For thousands of years the Trackers, as they are called, pull the boats laden with goods by rope upstream through the rapids. The echoes of their groaning and singing as they struggled along paths in the rapids forever captured in time.
The Yangtze is the cradle of ancient civilization for China. Over 3,000 years ago, the Ba kingdom lived here and left countless priceless artifacts and mysteries. The hanging coffins of the Ba people in the Gorges are still a mystery since no one knows why and how they were able to put them there. China’s history is a cycle of unification, division and reunification. Many historical battles happened along the Yangtze River because of its strategic location. The Chinese classical expression to “cross the river” literally refers to a force capable of securing both banks of the Yangtze, therefore asserting control over the entire nation and establishing a new dynasty. Long started from the Third Century of the Three Kingdoms’ period and carried through even to modern times, when in 1949 Chairman Mao led his troops across the Yangtze in a great fleet of junks to capture the Nationalist capital of Nanjing, which was a turning point in history!
Winding south from the Tibetan Plateau and leaving the high country, the river meets the world-renowned Three Gorges, which tower above it in the western Wu Shan (Witch Mountains). Known in the past for their dramatic beauty as well as religious and historical sites, the Three Gorges have recently received much attention due to the building of the controversial Three Gorges Dam. The Yangtze stretches 192 km through the Three Gorges of Xiling, Wu, and Qutang. The perilous Xiling Gorge, furthest down river, often stands shrouded in mists. It threatens weary river vessels with whirlpools, rapids, and water cannons that can easily leave even large watercraft upside down. It is known for its sheer walls and the accelerated river current beneath them. The Wu Gorge is tranquil and quiet with a deep valley and twelve peaks along its shores. Qutang Gorge boasts great magnificence in a brief eight-kilometer distance.
The second phase of the Three Gorges Dam project has been completed, and the 5-stage permanent ship lock was opened to navigation in June, 2003. Benefits of the dam include flood control, power generation and improved navigation. The water level of the Yangtze River from Chongqing to the dam site has risen 135 meters and 140 dangerous rapids in the Qutang and Wu Gorges have been inundated, allowing ships to easily sail between Yichang and Chongqing.
The increase in water level is insignificant compared to the height of the mountain peaks which make up the Three Gorges area. The scenery is still majestic, the experience still memorable. You will be amazed as you pass through the 5-stage ship lock of the dam, an incredible engineering feat.
This is the mighty Yangtze! The history of China captured in its waters through time immortal, sifting like sediment in the river, the past layered on the bottom and the future still drifting in its current to the yet unknown destination!