A Journey on the
River Yangtze

Day 2: Upstream through the Jianghan Plains of Central China

Our wake-up call each morning is the sound of 'Butterfly Lovers,' music from a Chinese symphony, which is quite beautiful.

For breakfast this morning, we are seated with a Chinese couple who are now living in Australia. They are also visiting this area for the first time, and then continuing onto Xian--the site of the terra-cotta soldiers. They would become our regular meal partners and we learned much from them about China, Australia and their lives.

Following breakfast we had a briefing from Jason Holt, our tour guide, (pictured above) on the geology and some of the history of this area. We are sailing through the Jianghan Plains of Central China, which is an incredibly flat area. Outside as the river goes by, the sides alternate between sand banks and high dikes. Some of these dikes are visibly damaged from the great flooding of 1998 while in other areas sandbags are still present.  

A hole was created in the dike to channel flood waters away from the river and prevent greater damage to the dikes.


Sand bags still remain after the People's Liberation Army and the local community tried to save their land from the rising waters of the flooded Yangtze.

The Yangtze is used extensively for transportation and commercial traffic constantly passes by on the river. Barges push coal and other products up and down the river as shown below. People continue to fish from boats--the river is an important element in this watershed. However, there is far more traffic and agricultural development along the river than I had imagined, but as this section of river has flat and fertile land along its banks, it is not surprising that extensive agriculture exists.

Various goods being transported by barge.

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River Yangtze Home Page

Life in a sampan on the river.

However, what is surprising is that the Yangtze, like many other great waterways, floods every year. But the flood event of 1998 was more than the local farmers could cope and deal with--indeed it was more than most people along this river could handle. Agricultural areas had to be evacuated as they were inundated with water, and impacts of the flood are still clearly visible on the land.

Fishing from the shore of the Yangtze.

This river has a very important role in Chinese history, geography and culture. It divides the country physically into the northern and southern regions, which has created diversity in the culture and histories of the people. The river also influences the types of crops grown in the two sections of the country--in the southern region rice is the main crop, while in the north region millet, wheat and barley are the crops of choice. Historically, people in the south spoke Cantonese (which has eight tones), and in the north, Mandarin (which has four tones) was spoken. Mandarin is now the main language in the country.

A person walks along the river bank, clearly damaged from the flood with more sandbags in the background.

The Yangtze flows through Sichuan, a province which means four rivers basin. (Sichuan is known for many things, but in the West if you like Chinese food, then you probably have heard of Sichaun food, which is quite spicy but very delicious.) Almost 140 million people live in this province of China, making it the more populous area in the country.

However, the Chinese call the river Chang Jiang, which means the 'Long or Great' river. We found out that in China, Yangtze is the name given only to the section of the river Chang Jiang that is near its mouth. Westerners gave that name to the entire river. The river has its source in the Qinghai Plateau and flows all the way to Shanghai, covering a distance of some 6,400 km (4,000 miles). The river itself looks brown in color-a result of silt transport. Yet, it only transports about 5% silt. Much of the silt is carried from higher regions and is a result of erosion. Logging, which adds to this erosion, is being curtailed in the regions near the upper reaches of the river, because the Chinese authorities believe that this contributed to the major flooding in 1998.

Click here to follow the journey:

Day 3: Curious Gorges!!

Day 4: Buying in the river

Day 5: Hanging Coffins and Acrobats

Day 6: Hydrofoil to a Film Festival

Special Feature: The World's Largest Construction Project--The Three Gorges Dam

Click here to read about a Journey on the River Yangtze from the beginning.

Center for Global Environmental Education
Hamline University Graduate School of Education
1536 Hewitt Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55104-1284
Phone: 651-523-2480 Fax: 651-523-2987