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Yangtze River
The Yangtze River is the longest river in China and Asia, and the third-longest in the world, after the Nile in Africa and the Amazon in South America.
The source of the Yangtze River lies to the west of Geladandong Mountain, the principal peak of the Tanggula Mountain chain in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, southwest of China. The river flows from west to east through provinces of Qinghai, Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui and Jiangsu as well as the city of Shanghai, finally emptying into the East China Sea. The river is about 6,380 km long and traditionally been considered a dividing line between North and South China. As the largest river in the region, the Yangtze is historically, culturally, and economically important to China. One of the dams on the river, the Three Gorges Dam, is the largest hydro-electric power station in the world.
The name Yangtze River, is derived from Yangzi Jiang, which, beginning in the Sui Dynasty, was the Chinese name for the river in its lower reaches, specifically, the stretch between Yangzhou and Zhenjiang. In Chinese, Yangzi Jiang is considered a historical or poetic name for the river. The modern Chinese name, Chang Jiang, literally means "long river" and may sometimes also be used in English.
The river is one of the world's busiest waterways. Traffic includes commercial traffic transporting bulk goods such as coal as well as manufactured goods and passengers. Cargo transportation reached 795 million tons in 2005. River cruises several days long, especially through the beautiful and scenic Three Gorges area, are becoming popular as the tourism industry grows in China.
The most impressive section of the river is the three Yangtze River gorges: Qutang Gorge, Wuxia Gorge and Xiling Gorge, collectively known as Sanxia, or the Three Gorges.
Qutang Gorge
The Qutang Gorge is the shortest and most spectacular of China's Three Gorges.
Qutang Gorge runs eight kilometers from Baidicheng in Fengjie County in the west to Daxizhen in Wushan County, Chongqng City. Immediately downstream of the ancient village Baidicheng, the Yangtze River passes between the Chijia Mountain on the north and the Baiyan Mountain on the south. The point where the river passes between these mountains is called the Kuimen Gate and it is the entrance to the Qutang Gorge. Rocky mountains rise perpendicularly like walls on both sides of the river squeezing the broad river into a narrow ribbon threading its way in the gorge.
The Qutang Gorge is the narrowest of the Three Gorges. The widest point measures only 150 metres (500 ft) wide. The mountains on either side reach as high as 1,200 metres (4,000 ft). This combination of narrow canyons among high mountains with several switchbacks in only 8 kilometers creates spectacular vistas, and the Qutang Gorge is often considered the most beautiful of all the Three Gorges.
There are many historical sites in Qutang Gorge. On a hilltop on the north bank are the town of Baidicheng, boasting many rare historical relics. On the south bank are the Whitewashed Wall covered with carved inscriptions, the legendary Meng Liang's Ladder, the Upside Down Monk, Armour Cave and the sweet-tasting Phoenix-Drinking Fountain in a deep cave. Also on the south bank, not far downstream, is a very strange-looking peak standing by the river; it is called the Rhinoceros Watching the Moon because it looks like a rhinoceros.
Wuxia Gorge
Wu Gorge is the second gorge of the Three Gorges in Yangtze River. Formed by the Wu River, it stretches 45 km from Wushan to Guandukou, and is located downstream of Qutang Gorge and upstream of Xiling Gorge.
When the river flows out of Qutang Gorge and passes the broad valley of the Daning River, it enters the scenic Wuxia Gorge. Noted for its deep and serene scenes, Wuxia Gorge is full of zigzag, weird peaks, rising mists and beautiful sights. The famous Twelve Peaks on both banks of the river, in particular, are the most spectacular. These strange-looking peaks are like a fairy maid dancing.
Wushan, Badong and Zigui are famous towns in the gorge. There are many famous historic sites too. The town of Zigui is attracting a large number of tourists because it is the native place of the great ancient poet Qu Yuan and the famous beautiful woman Wang Zhaojun.
The Daning River at the western entrance to Wuxia Gorge is flanked by continuous strange peaks, including Longmen, Bawu and Dicui, some of them rising into the clouds and presenting an unusual spectacle. The section of the river becomes known as the Minor Three Gorges.
Xiling Gorge
The longest among the Yangtze Gorges, Xiling Gorge stretches west to east for 76 kilometers from the mouth of the Xiangxi River at Zigui in Hubei Province to Nanjing Pass near the city of Yichang in Hubei.
The Xiling Gorge, around half the length of the Three Gorges, is actually a series of four different gorges: Precious Sword, Horse Lung & Ox Liver, Soundless Bell, and Shadow Play Gorges. It is known for being the most dangerous of the three gorges to travel through, with frightening whirlpools and strong rapids.
Along this gorge sit many archeological sites, including the Huangling Temple, first built during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280). In addition, the Three Visitors' Cave and the Luyou Fountain all have their unique features.
Xiling Gorge is known for dangerous rapids and numerous shoals, the latter including the Qingtan, Kongling and Xietan shoals. These shoals were formed out of fallen and rock from banks, boulders and sands washed down from the upper reaches, veins protruding from the riverbanks, or reefs jutting out of the riverbed. At some points there are treacherous whirlpools and the waters are extraordinarily turbulent.
Three Gorges Dam
The Three Gorges Dam was constructed at a place called Sandouping in the middle of the Xiling Gorge. The reservoir was completed in the summer of 2006, and the water level in the Qutang, Wuxia, and the western portion of the Xiling Gorges has already begun to rise. The dam itself is projected to be completed in 2009. In addition to the impacts of the dam on the ecology and people (i.e. the mass relocation of towns and villages) of the region, the dam will also change the scenery of the Three Gorges. Because the water level will be higher, the river will be wider and the mountains will appear lower. Proponents of the dam point out that because the mountains reach several thousand feet above the river, the gorges are still likely to offer spectacular views of the surrounding cliffs, and it should be noted that most riverboat companies that operate in the Three Gorges intend to continue to offer tours of the region. The increase in width of the Gorges will also allow larger ships through the gorges, and it is anticipated that river traffic of all kinds will increase.
In November l997, the first stage was completed with the blocking of two-thirds of the river's width. The waterleaves had risen l8 metres (59 feet) by the end of l998, will rise a further 52metres (171 feet) by 2003, 30 metres (98 feet) more up to 2009, and a final ten metres (33 feet) that year, when the dam will come into operation. Smaller ships will use a single stage lift, and larger ones a stair of five locks. The waters in the Three Gorges will rise a total of l l0 metres (36l feet).
The chief justifications offered for so much dislocation and destruction are twofold: the production of l8,200 megawatts of electricity, and the ending of frequently disastrous flooding of cities and farmland along the Yangtze. For centuries China's rivers have been a source both of immense fertility and massive destruction. In heavy rains they burst through, often with great loss of life. This is the largest comprehensive irrigation project in the world and has a significant impact on China's agriculture.