Yangtze River, or Cháng Jiāng, which was called the Mother River in China is known by every Chinese people. It is the most important river in the history, culture and economy of China. The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia, and the third-longest in the world. It flows for 6,418 kilometres from the glaciers on the Tibetan 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 China’s land area and its river basin is home to one-third of China’s population. The prosperous Yangtze River Delta generates as much as 20% of China’s GDP.
The river is an important physical and cultural dividing line between North and South China. Chinese living north of the Yangtze speak varying dialects of Mandarin. Most of the provinces south of the river have native Sinitic languages that are unintelligible to Mandarin-speakers.
The Yangtze River flows through a wide array of ecosystems and is itself habitat to several endemic and endangered species including the Yangtze River dolphin (now extinct), Chinese alligator, and the Yangtze sturgeon. For thousands of years, man has 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.
The Yangtze flows into the East China Sea and was navigable by ocean-going vessels up a thousand miles from its mouth even before the Three Gorges Dam was built. As of June 2003, China started to built the Three Gorges Dam on the river, and this is the largest comprehensive irrigation project in the world and has a significant impact on China’s agriculture. This dam spans the river, flooding Fengjie, the first of a number of towns affected by the massive flood control and power generation project. Its proponents argue that it will free people living along the river from floods that have repeatedly threatened them in the past and will offer them electricity and water transport—though at the expense of permanently flooding many existing towns (including numerous ancient cultural relics) and causing large-scale changes in the local ecology.
The Yangtze is flanked with metallurgical, power, chemical, auto, building materials and machinery industrial belts and high-tech development zones. It is playing an increasingly crucial role in the river valley’s economic growth and has become a vital link for international shipping to the inland provinces. The river is a major transportation artery for China, connecting the interior with the coast. And it is one of the world’s busiest waterways. Traffic includes commercial traffic transporting bulk goods such as coal as well as manufactured goods and passengers. Cargo transportation reached 795 million tons in 2005. River cruises several days long, especially through the beautiful and scenic Three Gorges area, are becoming popular as the tourism industry grows in China.