The Yangtze River, which is referred to as Changjiang (literally “Long River”) in China, is the 3rd longest river in the world and the longest in Asia. The river’s only competition is the Nile in Egypt and the Amazon in South America. It has become a cultural, political, economical, and historical epicenter in China over thousands of years. The Chinese have depended on this river for transportation, food irrigation, drinking water, and numerous other resources since the beginning of written history. The river has been mentioned in the stories, novels, and literature for thousands of years as well as featured in many Chinese operas, plays, and films in recent history.
The river runs 6,300 km, or 3,915 miles, through China starting atop Geladandong Mountain in Qinghai province and traveling east. Thousands of lakes and over seven hundred rivers and streams empty their waters into the Yangtze, traveling to Shanghai where the river is emptied into the East China Sea. Along the way, the Yangtze River passes through or next to twenty nine major cities in China. If you sailed the entire length of the Yangtze River, the changes that you would see most of the major landmarks in China would be high (the ultimate cruise ship vacation!)
One of the most historically and culturally significant areas along the Yangtze River and in China is the Three Gorges area. The first signs of human activity near the Yangtze River appeared nearly 27,000 years ago in this area and the scenery is so beautiful that it is featured on the back of the ten yuan paper note. A dam named the Three Gorges Dam is expected to become fully operational in 2011. The main purposes of the dam are natural power and flood control, but much controversy surrounds the idea. Many humans and animals will be left without homes because of water displacement caused by the dam.
Although many good things have arisen from the Yangtze River’s existence, the history of this river also has its negative points. In ancient China, the Yangtze River became a political divide because of the difficulty crossing the river. As a result of this, many battles occurred including the famous Battle of the Red Cliffs (208 A.D.) between warlords allies Liu Bei and Sun Quan from Southern China and another warlord, Cao Cao, from Northern China. In 1935, nearly 200,000 people were killed when the Yangtze River caused an astronomical flood. This happened again in 1998. Massive flooding occurred causing the deaths of over 3,000 and more than 14 million people lost their homes. In addition, the economy lost billions of dollars. Both incidents are considered two of the worst flood disasters in the history of the world.
The Yangtze River is one of the major cultural icons of China along side the Great Wall. The Chinese hold the waters in high esteem and respect. May the Yangtze River remain a powerful part of Chinese culture for many centuries to come.