The Yangtze River - Avalon Waterways®
Avalon Waterways® Yangtze River Cruises

The Yangtze River

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Yangtze River Cruises

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The longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world, the Yangtze River stretches through China's most enchanting historic, cultural and culinary treasures. Sail through the impressive Three Gorges with its dreamlike vertical cliffs and view the immense dam, China's largest construction project since the Great Wall. A journey down the Yangtze River—a lifeline in ancient and modern times—is full of intrigue, mystery and astonishing beauty.

Fast Facts

  • Countries: China
  • Source: Dangla Mountain Range in the Tibetan Plateau
  • Mouth: East China Sea
  • Length: 3,915 miles
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Watch & Learn About the Yangtze River

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The Yangtze River originates from a glacier in the Dangla Mountain Range on the eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau. It runs eastward through Qinghai, then turns south down a deep valley at the border of Sichuan and Tibet to reach Yunnan. The headwaters of the Yangtze originate at a lofty elevation of about 16,100 feet. In its descent to sea level, it cascades and tumbles to an altitude of 630 feet at Chongqing, where it becomes more widely navigable. Below Chongqing, the river gains volume via several main tributaries and cuts through the spectacular Three Gorges and the world-record-breaking Three Gorges Dam.

East of the dam, Yichang is the first city on the Yangtze Plain. The river then continues on through the Hubei province, receiving more water from thousands of lakes. At Wuhan, the Yangtze joins forces with its largest tributary, the Han River. The powerful river then merges with Lake Poyang, the largest freshwater lake in China, before flowing on through the Anhui and Jiangsu provinces. The river finally reaches its East China Sea destination at the sparkling shoreline city of Shanghai.

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Yangtze RiverThe Yangtze River has been a critical character in the Chinese story. Traces of human activity have been found in the Three Gorges area dating back 27,000 years. In the Spring and Autumn Period of China (770-476 BC), the Ba and Shu tribes lived in the middle region of the river. The Chu settled in the lower reaches of the Yangtze, and the Wu and Yue tribes were located in the Yangtze Delta area. Although the Yellow River region was richer and more developed at that time, the milder climate and relative political peace made the Yangtze River area an agricultural haven.

From the Han Dynasty, the establishment of irrigation systems led to the Yangtze River becoming increasingly important to China's economy. By the Song dynasty, the area along the Yangtze had become among the wealthiest and developed parts of the country, especially in the lower reaches of the river. By the early Qing dynasty, the region generated one-third to one-half of the nation's income.

Throughout Chinese history, the Yangtze River has served as the border of kingdoms and the setting for fierce battles, the most famous being the Battle of Red Cliffs in 208 A.D. Nanjing, then the first bridging point and a strategic location on the Yangtze, would serve as the capital of several dynasties and the Republic of China at several different points in history, some as recently as 1949.

The currents of the Yangtze River proved difficult for travel until the early 1900s, when the British Paddle-Steamer S.S. Pioneer became the first to make the upstream trip to Chongqing without the use of oars in the winter season. Today, the waters of the Yangtze have become an engineering marvel due to the development of the Three Gorges Dam which is set to be complete in 2011. This dam will be known as the largest in the world, producing energy that is equal to fifteen nuclear power plants.

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Three GorgesYangtze explorations often begin in the town of Chongqing, China's capital during World War II. High-rise buildings stand in stunning contrast to the nearby Dazu Rock Carvings, a World Heritage Site dating back to the 7th century.

Continuing downstream, the city of Fengdu boasts the enigmatic Ghost City Temple and delectable Sichuan fare. Shibaozhai is a sight to behold with its 12-story red wooden pagoda perilously perched high on a bluff. Next is Wanxian, with its bustling city market and entertaining acrobatic show.

Head downstream to sail through the awe-inspiring Three River Gorges. First is the Qutang Gorge, the shortest but most dramatic gorge, where voyagers can nearly touch the perpendicular walls rising from the riverbanks. Wuxia is next, known for its quiet beauty and forest-covered mountains. With over 49 miles of bending curves, Xiling Gorge is the longest and most notorious gorge, with awe-inspiring views around every bend.

ShanghaiView tiny villages clinging to hillsides as you proceed toward the Three Gorges Dam site, where tens of thousands of workers have labored for more than a decade to build the world's largest electricity-generating plant of any kind. The final stop on Yangtze River cruises is often Yichang. With a history dating back more than 4,000 years, the city has provided a crucial link between eastern and western China.

At the mouth of the Yangtze, is the shining city of Shanghai, the "Paris of the East." The modern, cosmopolitan city is at its bests along the Bund, a riverfront boulevard lined with historic buildings, shops, banks, and trade houses. Artisans and arborists have been honing their crafts here for centuries. Enjoy their handiwork on display at the Yu Yuan Gardens and at the city's silk factories.

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Cruiser Profile

The rolling Yangtze offers equal parts historical, natural and cultural wonders. It provides a wonderful glimpse at rural Chinese life as it winds alongside lost-in-time villages and carefully-tended rice paddies. Epicureans will delight in the local dishes and hot pots. And historians will stand amazed by artifacts many millennia old. All told, the Yangtze River is a lovely backdrop for anyone yearning for an exotic discovery of the past, present and future of the heart of China.

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Did You Know?

  • In 2004, Martin Strel from Slovenia swam the river 2,900 miles from the Tiger Leaping Gorge to Shanghai.
  • The attendance rate of school-age children in Shanghai is 99.99 percent.
  • The endangered Chinese alligator is the only other species of alligator besides the American alligator. Full-grown, it is 5-feet-long, smaller than the American variety, but has a unique, full body armor which covers even its underbelly.
  • In 1342, the Yangtze River in the Jiangsu Province was reported to have run dry. Water inexplicably disappeared for a day and the riverbed became visible. This mysterious event occurred again on January 13, 1954.
  • The Three Gorges Dam is 610 feet tall and runs about 1.3 miles from bank to bank. It required tens of thousands of workers to complete and will create a 370-mile-long lake, a distance equal to nearly half the length of California.
  • The Yangtze, or "Changjiang," means "long river."

Yangtze River Cruises

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