Yangtze River or Chang Jiang River — History, Facts, and Cultural Meanings

Yangtze River or Chang Jiang River by Wushan Mountains of Chongqing

Yangtze River or Chang Jiang River by Wushan Mountains of Chongqing, Photo by Zheng Yunfeng.

 

What is Yangtze River or Chang Jiang River?

 

Yangtze River or Chang Jiang is the longest river in China. 

 

If the Yellow River (or Huang He) is the original area of Chinese culture, the Yangtze River or Chang Jiang is one of the most important growth and expansion regions. 

 

It was the cradle of some great Neolithic civilizations, has nurtured countless people living in the Yangtze River valley, had served exceptional military importance in ancient history, and now is playing a significant role economically and ecologically. 

Yangtze River or Chang Jiang River Flows By Chongqing City

Yangtze River or Chang Jiang River Flow By Chongqing City, Photo by Guiji.

 

Why Yangtze River or Chang Jiang River is Called Yangtze?

 

In ancient times, this river was called Jiang or Da Jiang, meaning the great, grand river. 

 

Since the Three Kingdoms, Jin, North and South Dynasties (220 — 589), people officially named it Chang Jiang, meaning the longest river.  

 

Meanwhile, the Chang Jiang River area had been developed and researched relatively later in history, plus its astonishing length, numerous and complicated tributaries and lakes, made people gave it different names to its different segmentations.  

 

From west to east, names of different parts of Chang Jiang River are Tuotuo He, Tongtian He, Jinsha Jiang, Chuan Jiang, Jing Jiang, Chu Jiang, Xunyang Jiang, Wan Jiang, and Yangzi (or Yangtze) Jiang.

Jinsha Jiang nearby Jin'an Town of Yunnan Province

Jinsha Jiang nearby Jin'an Town of Yunnan Province, Photo by Li Qi.

During the south tours of Emperor Yang of Sui (569 — 618), a fancy palace was constructed in a place named Yangzi for him to stay.

 

This palace then was named Yangzi Palace, and the Chang Jiang river in this area was called Yangzi River. 

 

In Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) when western merchants and missionaries came to China through the Yangzi River, the English pronunciation "Yangtze" for "Yangzi" officially became the international name for the Chang Jiang River.  

Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, the Starting Point of the Yangzi River Section of Chang Jiang

Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, the Starting Point of the Yangzi River Section of Chang Jiang (from Nanjing to the Estuary), Photo by Yilu.

 

Where does Yangtze River or Chang Jiang Starts and Ends?

 

From west to east, the Yangtze River flows to and ends in the East China Sea (Dong Hai). Its estuaries had changed in history, however, they remained in the east of Jiangsu Province. 

 

As for the source of the Yangtze River, however, had been confusing in history. 

 

Until 2008, the source of the Yangtze River is determined as an over 100,000 square kilometers (24,710,538 acres) big geographic unit, with three main source rivers: Dangqu (or Dam Chu), Tuotuo He, and Chuma'er He (or Qumar He).

Dangqu (or Dam Chu) River in Qinghai Province

Dangqu (or Dam Chu) River in Qinghai Province, Photo by Zhang Chaoyin.

 

Important Data and Facts about Yangtze River or Chang Jiang.

 

 

  • The Yangtze River or Chang Jiang is 6300 kilometers (3915 miles) long;

 

  • It is the third-longest river in the world, the longest river in China;

 

  • The drainage area of the Yangtze River or Chang Jiang is 1,800,000 square kilometers or 444,789,687 acres;  

 

Farmland in Middle and Lower Reaches of Yangtze River Area

Farmland in Middle and Lower Reaches of Yangtze River Area, Photo by Sun Gongfu.

  • The Yangtze River or Chang Jiang has thousands of tributaries, and eight of them are big ones, each of which has over 100,000 square kilometers (24,710,538 acres) big drainage area;

 

  • The Yangtze River or Chang Jiang had been considered as a natural barrier (Tian Xian), which had served significant military functions; 

 

  • The world's largest hydroelectricity, the Three Gorges Hydroelectric Power Station or Three Gorges Dam, is located in the Yangtze River by the town of Sandouping in Hubei province.

Three Gorges Hydroelectric Power Station or Three Gorges Dam on Yangtze River

Three Gorges Hydroelectric Power Station or Three Gorges Dam on Yangtze River, Photo by Li Xinkuan.

 

Origin and Timeline of Major Civilizations of Yangtze River.

Around 5000 BC — 3300 BC: Hemudu Culture with Stilt Houses

 

Hemudu was a mature Neolithic civilization in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, with stilt houses, black pottery, and rice cultivation skills. 

Black Pottery (Bo) of Hemudu Culture Carved with Pig Pattern

Black Pottery (Bo) of Hemudu Culture Carved with Pig Pattern — Zhejiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Around 4400 BC — 3300 BC: Daxi Culture with Red and Painted Pottery

 

Daxi was a civilization located in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, which was famous for painted and red potteries. 

Red Pottery Ball of Daxi Culture

Red Pottery Ball of Daxi Culture — Sichuan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Around 3300 BC — 2000 BC: Liangzhu Advanced Jade Civilization

 

Liangzhu, located in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, was a mature civilization with a clear social hierarchy, well-designed cities, efficient water conservancy projects, advanced agricultural and handicraft techniques. 

 

Among valuable relics unearthed from Liangzhu Archaeological Site, the jade articles were extremely astonishing, for showing highly developed skills and rich cultural symbols. 

 

Click to Read More about Chinese Jade Culture

Ritual Jade Cong of Liangzhu Culture

Ritual Jade Cong of Liangzhu Culture — Liangzhu Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Around 3300 BC — 2000 BC: Qujialing and Shijiahe the Entering of Bronze Age 

 

Qujialing (Around 3300 BC — 2600 BC) then Shijiahe (Around 2800 BC — 2000 BC) were two successive civilizations in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, which entered the Bronze Age, developed city, and formed social hierarchy and mature sacrificial rites.  

Jade Phoenix or Fenghuang of Shijiahe Culture

Jade Phoenix or Fenghuang of Shijiahe Culture — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Around 2800 BC — 1100 BC: Sanxingdui the Mysterious Bronze Culture 

 

Located in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, Sanxingdui was a civilization with grand ancient city ruins and exquisite bronze wares, and more mysteries to be further discovered. 

Bronze Trees of Sanxingdui Culture

Bronze Trees of Sanxingdui Culture — Sanxingdui Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

2070 BC — 1127: Development of Different Regional Cultures

 

From Xia Dynasty (Around 2070 BC — 1600 BC) to Northern Song Dynasty (960 — 1127), the Yellow River area had been the economic and political center of unified kingdoms. 

 

Except that in Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC), Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC), Three Kingdoms, Jin, North and South Dynasties (220 — 589), Five Dynasty and Ten Kingdoms (907 — 979), some regimes had established in the Yangtze River basin. 

During this long period, some different regional cultures have been developed in the Yangtze River areas, such as Bashu Culture, Chu CultureWuyue Culture, and Huizhou Culture.

Huizhou Culture Style Buildings in Hongcun

Huizhou Culture Style Buildings in Hongcun, Photo from CNG.

From 1127 to today: Developing and Flourishing 

 

In the year 1127, Southern Song Dynasty (1127 — 1279) was forced to migrate its capital to southern China.

 

Since then, the Yangtze River area was extensively developed, and gradually surpassed the Yellow River area in the north economically. 

Shanghai City Near the Estuary of Yangtze River or Chang Jiang

Shanghai City Near the Estuary of Yangtze River or Chang Jiang, Photo by Lin Wenqiang.

 

Features and Cultural Symbolizes of Yangtze River or Chang Jiang in Ancient Chinese Poems.

 

 

Beauty and Magnificence of Yangtze River

  • 山随平野尽,江入大荒流。Li Bai (701 — 762)

 

Grand mountains disappear in plain, magnificent river surges in the wilderness.

  • 天门中断楚江开,碧水东流至此回。两岸青山相对出,孤帆一片日边来。 Li Bai 

 

Breaking Mount Heaven’s Gate, the great River rolls through; green billows eastward flow and here turn to the north.

 

From both sides of the River thrust out the cliffs blue; leaving the sun behind, a lonely sail comes forth. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

Wu Gorge or Wuxia of Yangtze River

Wu Gorge or Wuxia of Yangtze River, Photo from CNG.

  • 月下飞天镜,云生结海楼。Li Bai

 

Moon's reflection in the river looks like a mirror flies from the sky, fancy mirage formed on floating clouds.

  • 星垂平野阔,月涌大江流。Du Fu (712 — 770)

 

The boundless plain fringed with stars hanging low, the moon surges with the river on the flow. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

 

  • 江流天地外,山色有无中。Wang Wei (701 — 761)

 

The river flows outside of heaven and earth, the mountains show and hide now and then. 

 

  • 一道残阳铺水中,半江瑟瑟半江红。Bai Juyi (772 — 846)

A shred of setting sun on the river, turns half of the water emerald and half red. 

Tieban Delta of Yangtze River Section of Wuhan

Tieban Zhou of Yangtze River Section of Wuhan, Photo by Liu Bin. 

Philosophy and Eternity 

 

  • 江畔何人初见月,江月何年初照人。Zhang Ruoxu (about 660 — 720)

 

Who by the riverside did first see the moon rise? When did the moon first see a man by the riverside? (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

 

  • 不知江月待何人,但见长江送流水。Zhang Ruoxu

 

We do not know tonight for whom she (the moon) sheds her ray, but hear the river say to its water adieu. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

 

  • 滚滚长江东逝水,浪花淘尽英雄。Yang Shen (1488 — 1559)

 

Wave on wave the long river eastward rolls away, gone are all heroes with its spray on spray. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

Stone Arch Bridge of Ming Dynasty on Poyang Lake, Photo by Zhu Xingyong.

Stone Arch Bridge of Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) on Poyang Lake, Photo by Zhu Xingyong.

Farewell and Sentiment

 

  • 孤帆远影碧空尽,唯见长江天际流。 Li Bai (701 — 762)

 

His lessening sail is lost in the boundless blue sky, where I see but the endless River rolling by. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

 

  • 浔阳江头夜送客,枫叶荻花秋瑟瑟。Bai Juyi (772 — 846)

One night by riverside I bade a friend goodbye, in maple leaves and rushes autumn seemed to sigh. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

 

  • 春风又绿江南岸,明月何时照我还。Wang Anshi (1021 — 1086)

The vernal wind has greened the Southern shore again, when will the moon shine bright on my return? (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

  • 大江东流去,游子日月长。Du Fu (712 — 770)

The river flows to the east, is long as the days away from home.

Qutang Gorge of Yangtze River

Qutang Gorge of Yangtze River, Photo by Wang Zhengkun.

Emotions and Feelings

  • 野径云俱黑,江船火独明。Du Fu (712 — 770)

 

Over wild lanes dark cloud spreads, in boat a lantern looms. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

 

  • 孤舟蓑笠翁,独钓寒江雪。Liu Zongyuan (773 — 819)

A lonely fisherman afloat, is fishing snow in lonely boat. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

  • 闲观扬子江心浪,静听金山寺里钟。Pan Lang (? — 1009)

 

Leisurely appreciating waves in the center of Yangtze River, quietly listening to bell sounds from Jinshan Temple. 

Jinshan Temple in Zhenjiang City of Jiangsu Province

Jinshan Temple in Zhenjiang City of Jiangsu Province

  • 月落乌啼霜满天,江风渔火对愁眠。Zhang Ji (about 715 — 779)

 

At moonset cry the crow, streaking the frosty sky, dimly lit fishing boats, neath maples sadly lie. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)​

 

  • 无边落木萧萧下,不尽长江滚滚来。杜甫

 

The boundless forest sheds its leaves shower by shower, the endless river rolls its waves hour after hour. (Translated by Bian Zhilin and Xu Yuanchong)

  • 日暮乡关何处是,烟波江上使人愁。Cui Hao (704 — 754)

 

Where is my native land beyond the setting sun? The mist-veiled waves of the river make me homesick. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

Sunset on Yangtze River in Anhui Province

Sunset on Yangtze River in Anhui Province, Photo by Ji Sheng.