Longest river of China and Asia, and third longest in the world, flowing about 6,300 km/3,900 mi from Qinghai on the Tibetan Plateau to the Yellow Sea. It is a major commercial waterway and, with its tributaries, is navigable for 30,000 km/18,640 mi; Yichang is considered the head of navigation, but ocean-going vessels can reach inland as far as Wuhan. The whole drainage basin covers a vast area of over 1,827,000 sq km/705,400 sq mi, and produces about 70% of China's rice crop. Work began on the Three Gorges Dam on the river in December 1994, with the purposes of controlling flooding and generating about 10% of the country's electricity supply.
The Chang Jiang has 204 km/127 mi of gorges, below which lies the Gezhouba Dam, just upstream of Yichang in Hubei province. The Gezhouba was the first hydroelectric dam on the river, and is China's largest completed facility; its output will be overtaken by the Three Gorges project (scheduled for completion 2003), which will be the world's largest dam and hydroelectric scheme.
In the summer of 1998 the Chang Jiang flooded killing 3,000 people and destroying 5 million homes.
Name The official name for the entire length of the river is Chang Jiang; the Yangtze refers to a 650 km/400 mi stretch of the river identified with the Yang Kingdom of the 10th century BC. The upper reaches of the river as far as Yibin are known as Jinsha (Golden Sand). It has many other local names as well.
Course The Chang Jiang rises in the Kunlun Shan in southwest Qinghai province, originating in a number of dashing torrents 4,880 m/16,000 ft above sea level. It flows in a southeasterly direction between Tibet and Sichuan, then veers south into Yunnan. Turning north it forms part of the boundary line between Yunnan and Sichuan, and at Yipang it receives the waters of the Min River from the north. Flowing northeast, it is joined by several rivers near Chongqing. It crosses the provinces of Sichuan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Hunan, Anhui, and Jiangsu, and finally empties into the Yellow Sea, 23 km/14 mi north of Shanghai. About half its total length is navigable by steamboat; the entire length of the river was first navigated in 1986.
The chief tributaries of the Chang Jiang are the Han from the north and the Wu from the south. The famous Yangtze Gorges, which stretch for 320 km/200 mi, are situated between Wanxian and Yichang; they will be converted into an artificial lake, which is estimated to displace over a million people, on completion of the Three Gorges Dam. The river was diverted in 1997 to allow the dam to be built.
Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanjing, and Zhenjiang are the principal cities on the river.
Flooding Although the Chang Jiang carries a greater volume of water than the Huang He, until recent years its floods were less frequent and less disastrous. However, since the 1980s flooding has become a greater problem. Deforestation in the mountains of its upper course has caused more soil erosion and an increase in the volume of silt carried, while agricultural encroachment into the lakes of the river's middle and lower course has reduced their capacity to hold peak flows. The Three Gorges Dam will help control the waters, and government-supported reafforestation programmes are planned to reduce soil erosion.
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