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RIVER YANGTZE

River Yangtze The Great River Measuring in at 6,378 kilometres, about 3,915 miles, the Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world after the Nile in Africa and the Amazon in South America. Only in its lower reaches, in the final 200 miles before it reaches the sea, does the river go by its common name, the Yangtze River, which translates as Son of the Sea. Elsewhere it has many local names. But when referring to the river as a whole, the Chinese call it Chang Jiang (Long River) or Da Jiang (Great River). The river is essential to China’s livelihood. Almost 30% of China’s land area falls within its drainage area and some 500 million people or 12% of the world’s population live in the basin. The scale of the river is immense. Ocean-going vessels can now travel the 2,400 kilometre journey from Shanghai to Chongqing. In fact, 80% of the nation’s water cargo travels via the Yangtze. The river has been the effective dividing line between north and south China, both geographically and culturally, and has been a highly valued internal highway for over 2,000 years. As a line of defense too, the river has been central to China’s history. In 1949, a million or so of Mao Zedong’s communist troupes crossed the river in a flotilla of every kind of boat that became a turning point in the fight against Chiang Kai Shek’s superior nationalist army.

River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

River of Life Source to Mouth For the ancient Chinese, the source of the Yangtze was in heaven. It wasn’t until 1976 that a Chinese expedition traced the precise source of the Yangtze to the foothills of the Tanggula Mountains on the Tibetan Plateau at an elevation of about 4,800 metres. The Tibetans call it the Wild Yak River and there are stories that its source spills from the mouth of an immense female yak living high in the mountains. The stream here, the Dam Qu, combines with the Tuotuo to form the Tongtian River (The River that Travels Through the Heavens). 300 kilometres downstream, at the border between Tibet and Sichuan, the Tongtian is renamed the Jinsha Joang (The River of Golden Sand). In these upper reaches the river is very turbulent, very fast flowing and tightly confined between heavily forested valleys. After two great bends in the river (see left) and the torrents of the Tiger Leaping Gorge area, at the foothills of the mountains, the river reaches Yibin, the upper limit of the river’s navigability. Here, the river changes name again to Chang Jiang (The Long River). Downriver of Chongqing is the 192 kilometre long Three Gorges area, one of China’s most popular tourist attractions. Beyond the Three Gorges Dam and the Gezhou Dam, the landscape changes dramatically. The river meanders through the Yangtze Plains where flooding is a constant threat. There are over 1,200 lakes scattered over the plain including Lake Dongtong, China’s second largest lake, one of the most important wetlands in Asia. The Han River, the Yangtze’s longest tributary, joins at Wuhan. The river is nearly two kilometres wide at this point. Downriver is Lake Poyang, China’s largest, and a substantial area of agricultural land under irrigation that produces 70% of China’s rice crop, 40% of its grain and half of its freshwater fish catch. Downstream of Nanjing, one of the ancient capital cities of China, is the Grand Canal. It crosses the Yangtze on its 1,800 kilometre journey between Beijing in the north and Hangzhou in the south. Contructed substantially over a 6 year period between 605 and 611, 5½ million people were press-ganged into virtual slave labour to build it. Even though a 720 kilometre shortcut was added in the thirteenth century it is still the world’s longest man-made waterway. The Lower Yangtze and the delta are some of China’s most productive agricultural lands. The delta alone accounts for 70% of China’s entire rice crop, 60% of its fish catch (mostly anchovies) and a considerable chunk of its silk production. The river is also densely populated here all the way to Shanghai and its mouth at the East China Sea. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

River of Life Kingdom of Ba Common consent has it that the earliest form of human life sprang up in Africa. The first pre-human hominid animals to arrive in Asia from Africa have been found in China. Fossil teeth of early man from 2 million years ago have been found in the Three Gorges area and it is reasonable to suppose that these are the ancestors of all Asian mankind. When excavations began for the Three Gorges Dam, archaeologists uncovered artefacts unlike any they had seen before. These relics have since been attributed to the formerly unknown Ba people, now considered an important part of early Chinese history. The Ba are thought to have established kingdoms from the sixteenth to the third century BC. The tiger was an important part of Ba mythology, with the white tiger being held in highest esteem. Artefacts from Ba archaeological sites often employ tiger motifs. It is even thought that human sacrifices were made in honour of the tiger. Other distinctive features of Ba culture include its distinctive curved blades, boat-shaped coffin burials and bronze drums, which were used to communicate in battle. Warfare played an important role in Ba society. The Ba people were famous for their war songs and dances. Perhaps these songs were accompanied by the chiming of distinctive bells which have been found in various burial sites. The Ba developed their own writing systems, found on bronze ware. There are three scripts and all remain undecipherable today. Since the discovery of bronze masks in the 1970s, archaeologists have located 100 sites that belonged to the Ba people, each considered a historical archive. One of the traditions of the Ba was to bury their dead in boatshaped coffins in caves high on the cliffs by the Yangtze or on beams jutting out from the cliff faces, suspended high above the Three Gorges area. Archaeologists think they did this to bring their dead, quite literally, closer to heaven. The coffins can still be seen today and it is still a mystery as to how the Ba managed to manoeuvre them into place. The Ba disappeared after 316 BC with the invasion of the Qing Dynasty.

River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

River of Life Chinese Sturgeon The giant Chinese Sturgeon, which is now a protected species, can live up to 60-70 years and grow to an average of between 3 to 4 metres in length. Some have even been known to reach 5 metres long and weigh in at up to 500 kilograms. The Chinese Sturgeon has been swimming in these waters for 140 million years - it is a ‘living fossil’. They breed in the ocean and, prior to the construction of the first of the Yangtze’s dams, the Gezhou Dam in 1974, the giant sturgeon would swim 3,000 kilometres up river to Yibin to spawn. Yibin is situated 370 kilometres upriver of Chongqing and, coincidentally, is the limit of safe navigation on the Yangtze. Unfortunately, no sturgeon-friendly ladders have been integrated into the design of the Three Gorges Dam. Further dams, canals and other manmade modifications to the Yangtze’s many tributaries have also affected sturgeons’ spawning grounds. Scientists hope that the fish will change a habit evolved over thousands of years and spawn further downriver. In order to ensure the survival of these prehistoric fish, scientists net about 20 mature fish each year to breed artificially. The captured spawn are returned into the river when they are six months old. It is hoped that this work will be complemented by the new Chinese Sturgeon Nature Reserve recently established in the east coast of Chongming Island at the mouth of the Yangtze and close to the sturgeons’ feeding grounds.

River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

River of Life Baiji The Chinese River Dolphoin, or Baiji, is the world’s rarest dolphin. Today they might even be extinct and if so, they will be the first species of dolphin to have become instinct in human history. Chinese scripts have referred to the baiji for over 1,600 years and during this time, the dolphin has flourished in the lower reaches of the Yangtze, from the Three Gorges area to the sea, and in more than a thousand tributaries and in dozens of major lakes. They had no natural enemies, no predators. The Chinese thought they were girls turned into mermaids and once revered them, calling them the Yangtze Goddess. Legend tells of a slave-woman being ferried over the Yangtze by a boatman and when he tried to rape her, she jumped into the water and drowned. The Gods took pity on her and turned her into a white dolphin, whereas the boatman was turned into a black finless porpoise which is still found in the Yangtze and is known as the Yangtze Pig. Up until the 1950s, fishermen regarded the baiji as too godlike to catch and if they were trapped in their nets would let them go free. But in 1958, Mao Tse Tung inaugurated the Great Leap Forward and declared that there were no more Heavenly Emperors and Dragon Kings. Overnight, whatever protection myth and history invested in the baiji was stripped away and open season was declared. Catching them proved to be ridiculously easy and consequently baiji meat was cheap and plentiful in the local markets. Baiji oil was harvested and products are made from baiji skin. Additionally, massive industrialization along the Yangtze means that ocean-going vessels of up to 10,000 tons now travel up and downstream from Chongqing to Shanghai. Scuttling between them, day and night, are thousands of power boats, passenger ferries, tug boats, barges and junks. About 150 million people live on the banks of the Yangtze and, since new laws opened the river to privately owned boats in 1981, freight has now tripled. The dolphins have died like hedgehogs on a highway. The dams on the Yangtze and tributaries have blocked the baiji’s migratory routes to breeding grounds. Pollution is suffocating the waters. The Yangtze’s annual fishing haul has decreased by an estimated two thirds in the ten years from 1984 to 1994 and it is getting worse with every passing year. The baiji are, quite literally, starving to death. A survey of the Yangtze in the early 1980s estimated that there were about 400 baiji left, but another in 1997 found only 13 remaining individuals. The last baiji kept in captivity died in 2002 and the last confirmed sighting of a baiji in the wild was in September 2004. The Chinese Government has prepared an isolated lake that could hold up to 50 baiji to protect the species. But tragically, a scientific expedition in November 2006 could not find a single living dolphin to introduce into the new sanctuary. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

Polluted River Dirty Water The Yangtze River provides the drinking water for 400 million people living in its drainage area. Yet environmentalists think that 90% of the length of the river is in a critical condition. According to a survey by the Water Conservation Commission, 59 towns and cities along the Yangtze are suffering either from a lack of water or from poor quality drinking water. Some academics think that 70% of Yangtze water will be unusable within five years unless tough new measures are introduced to curb toxic discharges. 900 billion tons of water flow down the Yangtze River every year. This annual flow accounts for 36% of the total water resources in China yet 25 billion tons of waste water is dumped into the river every year and about 80% of this is untreated. Most comes from factories and cities. Chongqing pumps out 1.3 billion tones of water waste each year, 80% of which runs untreated into the Yangtze River. In Shanghai, China’s wealthiest and most environmentally-conscious city, up to 90% of the city’s sewage runs into the Yangtze untreated. Chongqing is trying to redress the balance. The city is spending $5 billion on pollution treatment infrastructure The vast majority of the 30,000 ships that navigate the river each year also ignore regulations banning the discharge of sewage and this has created a pollution belt stretching hundreds of miles from Chongqing to the estuary near Shanghai. More than 60% of the total fish catch on the Yangtze comes from the lower reaches but the stock has been decimated by pollution. Fish stocks have fallen by 80% since the 1950s. In recent years, the government has introduced seasonal bans on fishing and as a result, stocks are starting to rise once again.

River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

Resourceful River Central China Flood Throughout history, devastating annual summer floods have been a constant feature of the lower reaches of the Yangtze. Generally speaking western China is very high and eastern China is low. During its 3,964 mile journey from source to sea the Yangtze drops 17,660 feet – nearly 3⅓ miles. Between the source and Yibin, roughly half the distance to the sea, it drops nearly 17,600 feet. So, of course, anything that falls in the west will roll naturally and inevitably down to the east. The summer monsoon period provides intense concentrated rainfall between June and September in south-west China. The monsoon rains occur just when the summer sun begins to warm the snows and glaciers of China’s western mountains and this melt water produces torrents. The coincidence of monsoon rain and melt water provides gigantic quantities of water that rush down the Yangtze and the river swells with ever more water from its feeder streams and tributaries. There are about 700 of these in total and some rate as some of the biggest rivers in the world. Their storm waters and snow melt produce massive bores. In a bad year, when these bores discharge into the Yangtze, they produce tidal waves of up to 10 feet or more which sweep down and along the river for days. Levees (earth mounds) have been built along the Yangtze by Lake Dongting for over 1,500 years to protect against flooding. However, over a thousand major floods have been recorded since 206 BC with five serious floods this century in 1931, 1949, 1954 and 1995. The most devastating, in 1931, was called The Central China Flood and 70,000 square miles of land (or all of England and Scotland together) was submerged, killing an estimated 145,000 people and leaving 28 million people homeless. 12 million of these had to migrate and leave their ruined homes. This flood is thought to have been one of the worst natural disasters of all time. In Wuhan, seasonal high waters usually peaked at between 12 to 13 metres (40 to 50 feet) in the summer months and protective dykes were built to withstand flood waters of up to 55 feet. But in August 1931, the dykes burst with waters that were to peak at a height of 28.28 metres (92.8 feet). It was rapid flooding, then a brief period of respite, then total immersion once again as the tributary bores kicked in. This happened five times. Three million people were made temporarily homeless as some areas of the city were up to 20 feet under water. The city remained awash for four months. After the 1931 flood substantial efforts were made to solve the problem for ever. Massive dykes were built and retention basins built to divert the flood waters. The 1954 flood was worse than 1931, with flood waters peaking at 29.87 metres (98 feet) in Wuhan. But the basins, locks and dykes all held and after a week the Yangtze’s level began to fall. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

Resourceful River Tiger Leaping Gorge Near Lijiang, in the upper reaches of the Yangtze, the river turns abruptly in two great bends in an area that inspired the legendary tale Shangri-La. The river is called Jinsha Jiang here, the River of Golden Sand, and it has forced its way between two 18,000-foot peaks, the Dragon Snow Mountain and the Jade Snow Mountain, to create spectacular river gorges. In a 16km stretch of narrow valleys is Tiger Leaping Gorge, a massive cleft 3,000 metres deep that constrains the Yangtze to a roaring torrent just 30 metres wide. The gorge, probably the world’s deepest, is so narrow that legend has it that a hunted tiger made his escape by leaping from one side to the other. Within the 17km stretch of gorge, the river falls 300 metres, making for the most dramatic landscape on the entire river. Here is home to a unique species of monkey found nowhere else, the Yunnan Golden Monkey. Once thought to be extinct, the monkey has become a charismatic symbol for the conservation of these mountain forests. Access to Tiger Leaping Gorge has for centuries been very difficult. Because it is so remote, only a few intrepid travelers have braved the rigours of the journey to reach Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge. But now, eyeing tourism money, the Chinese are building better roads into the area and high class hotels. There is even an airport with flights in and out of Lijiang four times a week. Perversely, given this is a land of spectacular isolated beauty with steep hills grazed by yaks, there are also plans for a golf course. In December 2007, China abandoned controversial plans to build a huge dam in the Tiger Leaping Gorge area. It would have submerged the whole area and forced the relocation of 100,000 residents. It was a rare and highprofile victory for China's environmental movement. The main town in this area is Lijiang, with picturesque cobbled streets and old wooden houses and home to one of the most distinctive of China’s ethnic minority groups, the Naxi. Descended from Tibetan ancestry, there are nearly 300,000 Naxi today and most live in the Lijiang area. In Naxi families, goods and property were inherited by women and there were women elders who settled disputes between families. The Naxi language, which uses pictograms of recognizable objects, is also interesting because a feminine addition to a noun makes the word stronger or more significant. For example the word for ‘stone’ with a feminine element becomes a ‘boulder’ whereas with a masculine element is becomes a ‘pebble’. From 1922 to 1949, the American traveler, naturalist and ethnographer Joseph Rock lived amongst the Naxi and recorded their lives.

River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

Resourceful River Three Gorges Perhaps the most famous stretch of the Yangtze is the Three Gorges, a 200km series of stunning, mountain-flanked reaches between the cities of Fengjie and Yichang. From the tenth century, chains were strung across the river at Fengjie and boats wishing to travel either up or downriver had to pay a tax. The system was so successful that the local tax office at Fengjie became one of the richest in the whole of China. The first gorge, Qutang, is enclosed by peaks that rise over 1,000 metres above the water. Prior to the dam, water levels in this area could rise by between ten and twenty metres in a single day. Downriver of Wushan is the second gorge, Wu, and at Xintan lies the third gorge, Xiling. Historically, this is the most dangerous for its torrential rapids and treacherous shoals but since 1949, many of these obstacles were cleared through a programme of dredging and blasting. Now the Three Gorges Dam has increased water levels in this area by up to 175m, damaging the landscape in the process but making for easier navigation. Traveling downriver from Chongqing, the first of the Three Gorges is Qutang Gorge. At 8km long, this is the shortest gorge but also the most dramatic with peaks rising to 1,240m high. There are trails cut into the cliff walls that were once used by teams of trackers pulling bamboo ropes to haul junks up through the whirlpools and roaring waves. In this area you can see the boat-shaped coffins suspended from the cliff sides by the Ba People and (before they were submerged by the rising water levels) more than 200 Stone Age burial sites. The town of Wushan is at the confluence of the Danang River and the Little Three Gorges are here. Caves nearby have yielded bones from proto-humans dating back nearly two million years. The 45km long Wu Gorge is the deepest and most mysteriously beautiful of the gorges. It is said that the Goddess Yaoji saved the gorges from flooding by slaying dragons in the river and she stands atop Goddess Peak to watch over the region while her handmaidens are said to be present on each of the twelve peaks that frame Wu Gorge. Beyond is the town of Badong (now moved from its original location because of the rising waterline). This area is the home of Qu Yuan (340 to 278BC), one of China’s best loved poets and inspiration for the annual dragon boat races. Xiling Gorge is the longest of the gorges, stretching 75km between narrow cliffs. Historically, this was the most dangerous area for shipping and the most feared spot of all was the notorious rock known as ‘come to me’ where the navigable channel was both narrow and twisting. Limestone formations have been eroded to create natural arches and craggy peaks. Unfortunately, the construction of the dam has tamed the wild waters, the trackers are gone and some of the most remarkable features of the Three Gorges area are now submerged. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

Resourceful River Three Gorges Dam The Three Gorges Dam is China’s biggest construction project since the Great Wall and the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. Construction started in 1993 and was completed nine months ahead of schedule in 2006 and is expected to become fully operational in 2009. It will create an artificial lake extending back 632km through the Three Gorges to Chongqing. The water level behind the dam is expected to rise between 135 to 175 metres (445 to 575 feet). Official costs for the dam are $25 billion. However, the project is thought to have cost more than any single construction project in history, with unofficial estimates of $100 billion or more. Over 1.5 million people will be displaced by the rising waters of the dam. 150 towns and cities like Wanxian (130,000) and Fuling (80,000) and 1,500 villages have disappeared beneath the reservoir. It is estimated that over a thousand sites of archaeological and historical importance will be submerged and lost forever upon completion of the dam. The water level began to rise in the first of three stages in June 2003. Ten days after the sluice gates were closed, water levels behind the dam had increased to over 135m (440 feet) deep, an incremental rise in the Three Gorges area of over 150 feet of water. In 2006 the water levels rose again by a further 15m (40 feet) and in 2009 they will rise by a further 25m (95 feet). The amount of power generated by the dam in 2009 was originally anticipated to supply about 10% of China’s electricity needs. But with China’s rapidly growing economy, it is now only projected to produce 3% of its needs. Even so, it will still reduce coal consumption by up to 50 million tons per year. This is important given that over 80% of China’s power is currently produced by coal. Heavy farming and logging in the Yangtze River basin has made it the fourth largest sediment carrier in the world. Sluices at the bottom of the dam have been designed to flush sediment through and prevent clogging, but environmentalists are worried that such sluices have never operated on such an enormous scale before. The dam is expected to help control flooding in the lower reaches of the Yangtze but critics claim that in calming the river flow it will increase pollution levels since the river’s natural capacity to flush factory pollution out to sea will be reduced. A final argument in favour of the dam is that the build-up of water behind it will allow boats of up to 10,000 tons to navigate up to Chongqing. The pre-dam limit was 1,500 tons and this will have a significant impact on Chongqing’s role as the major transport and distribution hub for southern and western China.

River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

Resourceful River Thirsty North Climate change, a rapidly growing population and the rise in river water salinization due to over-irrigation has left the north of China water-poor and this has led to an overexploitation of ground water reserves. For years the Chinese government has looked to the waterrich south for a solution. The South-North Water Diversion Project (Nan Shui Bei Diao) is an ambitious project to provide Beijing with water from the Yangtze basin. The project involves diverting water to northern China via three routes. Each is extremely costly and face massive engineering challenges. The completed project is expected to cost $62 billion, more than twice as much as the controversial Three Gorges Dam. The eastern route takes water from the Yangtze and pumps it up 700 miles of the Grand Canal, which would need to be widened to take the increased capacity. Engineers would also have to reverse the flow of water since currently the canal flows north-south. Even having solved this issue, they would be abstracting poor quality, polluted water from the eastern extremities of the Yangtze, water that would require substantial filtration and treatment before it was suitable for drinking. The western route shifts water from the Yangtze’s headwaters via hundreds of kilometres of specially built tunnels blasted through the mountains to the upper reaches of the Yellow River. Work would take place in extremely challenging environments between 3,000 and 5,000 metres above sea level. Political unrest between Tibet and China is also a consideration. The middle route will pump water through a pipeline from the Three Gorges reservoirs to a specially constructed canal some 1,250km to Beijing. With Beijing running out of water and climate change making the future more and more bleak, China is committed to these projects to ensure the future both of its capital city and the agricultural lands in the north. Work began on the eastern route in 2002 and construction of the middle route in 2003. The western route is not scheduled to begin until 2010. These massive schemes are scheduled to be completed in phases from 2010 to 2050.

River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

Working River Junks The traditional Chinese boats that navigated the Yangtze were flat-bottomed, wooden-hulled sailing ships known as junks. Their sails were tall and stiffened with bamboo battens and they had a long sculling oar manipulated by four men. Local pilots were hired to negotiate the most difficult rapids – their instructions relayed to teams of harnessed trackers by a drum beaten at different rhythms. Big junks were fitted out as theatres and sailed between towns to give performances of Chinese opera and circus. Some boats were built as hotels, offering accommodation to travellers arriving too late to enter the city gates. Others were floating restaurants, shops and tea-houses, not to mention the houseboats that served as a home for the large floating population. And, of course, there were innumerable small boats used as fishing boats and run-arounds. The most common junk used for transporting passengers and cargo ranged from 36 feet to 110 feet long. They required a crew of about 60 men plus 50 or so trackers to pull them upstream. Typically, it took them 3 to 4 weeks to travel upstream from Yichang through the Three Gorges to Chongqing and just nine days to go down. For hundreds of years, river junks and latterly modern craft, have been hauling vast quantities of goods up and down river and out to sea. In Ming and Qing times, Chinese trade was highly organized with merchants of each trade forming unionized bodies called hui-kuan. These guilds supervised businesses and prices and also organized social and religious events. They also exercised lifelong care of their members – even helping needy families with funeral expenses. There were guilds all over China, but they were particularly strong in the Yangtze valley. Chinese boatmen worshipped their own special deities including the river guarding king (Zhen Jiang Wang We) and the dragon king (Lang Wang). Each year they celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival during which dragon boats held competitive races and their crews tossed dumplings (zongzi) into the river. Junks from each town also flew their own flags designating their home port and advertising the names of their owner. Locally, there were distinct styles of junk like the fan-tail junk with its high gondolalike stern and the crooked-stern junk which Archibald Little described as “though a giant had taken an ordinary junk in his two hands and wrung it a quarter round.” River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

Working River Trackers Anyone travelling upstream prior to the age of steam required a team of coolies (the term was used for those who carried or dragged loads and translates as ‘bitter strength’) to haul their boats against the current and over the rapids. A large cargo junk would need to hire anything from 100 to 400 men to drag it upstream. Although people have travelled along the Yangtze for more than 1,000 years, it was not until recently an easy route. The river’s most dangerous stretch was the Three Gorges, 200 kilometres of rapids, shoals and hairpin bends constricted between a series of vertical limestone cliffs. This area was so difficult to navigate that prior to 1800 about 33% of all boats and 25% of all goods passing through the Three Gorges were destroyed. After 1890 that figure had improved; just 10% of junks were wrecked on their upriver and downriver journeys. Archibald Little, who was travelling in the area in 1884, commented that “the trackers mark time with a cry, swinging their arms to and fro at each short step, their bodies bent forward, so that their fingers almost touch the ground … 80 or 100 men can make a tremendous noise at this work, almost drowning the roar of the rapids, and often half a dozen junks’ crews are towing like this, one behind the other. From the solemn stillness of the gorge to the lively commotion of a rapid, the contrast could not be more striking.” Archibald Little’s launch took three weeks to make the 360 mile journey up stream. At one point, no fewer than 300 trackers had to haul the fragile craft across one of the scarier rapids. By 1900, a steamer made the same journey in seven days without once having to resort to the use of trackers. The Three Gorges stretch was dredged and the reefs and rocks blasted away in the 1950s making the river more navigable and the trackers redundant. These days the trackers have disappeared from the Yangtze. The increased depth of the river has improved navigation River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

Working River Dangerous River Before completion of the dam in 2003, the elevation of the Yangtze at Chongqing was 610 feet above sea level whereas at Yichang it was 134 feet. This fall of 476 feet, and more in the July/August flood season, created treacherous currents and rapids. The river’s width varied between 670 yards and 150 yards. In 1854, a rich merchant living near Xin Tan, one of the most dangerous of all the rapids in the Three Gorges, raised money to build three life-boats. Painted red to distinguish them from regular craft, they soon became known as the Red Boats and over the years the fleet grew in numbers and ultimately there were 44 in total. A Red Boat would accompany each vessel on the most perilous parts of the journey – being dragged upstream by the trackers over the different sets of rapids. When a wreck occurred a gun was fired as the summons for all Red Boats to come and help. The life-boats were not allowed to salvage cargo from the wrecks, however, there was a reward system for rescuing humans – eight-hundred cash for a dead body (allowing fourhundred cash for the funeral), and four-hundred cash for a live one. In 1880 alone they saved 1,473 lives from 49 wrecked junks. In many ways, steam travel made the river an even more hazardous environment. The HMS Woodlark (left) was the second steamer to reach Chongqing. She made the journey in May 1900. But by the mid 1920s an average of 30 trading steamers a week were reaching Chongqing and the wash from these high-powered boats frequently capsized overloaded junks who were struggling to compete with the new ships. Some think that sharp practice encouraged junkowners to deliberately collide with the steamers to claim valuable compensation. By 1910, the journey from Yichang to Chongqing could be made in 9 days by steamer. By 1925, the trip took just 3½ days upriver and 1½ days down. But travel by night, even at this time, was still considered to be too dangerous and insurance companies refused to cover it. Only after 1931 was night sailing considered safe enough to insure. By the end of the 1930s there were over 70 passenger/cargo steamships on the Upper Yangtze, although banditry by pirates was not uncommon. Over the years, a sustained programme of dynamiting the more hazardous rocks along the Three Gorges area has eliminated the most dangerous rapids and obstacles en route. However, since the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, navigation is much easier. These days, ships carrying over 1,000 passengers, the th th majority crammed into 4 and 5 class berths, ply the 2,400 kilometre journey from Shanghai to Chongqing. The voyage takes seven days going upstream and five days coming back. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

River City Chongqing Situated strategically at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jailing Rivers, Chongqing became the capital of China in 1937 when General Chiang Kai-Shek abandoned Nanjing. The Yangtze River is about a kilometre wide here and the city was considered to be a safe haven and the river a crucial transport artery. Chongqing is now the largest municipality in the world with a population of more than 30 million people. There is an ancient saying that during the winter in Chongqing a glimpse of the sun is so rare that all the dogs start barking when they see it. In the summer months from May to October, the city is as hot as a furnace with insufferable humidity levels. The city is known euphemistically as ‘foggy’ because a combination of some of China’s worst air pollution and low cloud frequently makes visibility very poor indeed. From 1937 to 1945 Chongqing was heavily bombed by the Japanese and it now holds the distinction of being the most bombed city in history. It is now a major manufacturing centre, particularly for cars and motorcycles. Chongqing is also the focal point for the unique Three Gorges Dam and most tourists begin their two- or three-day Three Gorges cruise from here. It is the biggest inland port in western China and massive public works are currently underway in the city to develop it as the gateway to the west. After the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, water levels will rise by up to 90m allowing for year-round navigation. Ocean-going ships of 10,000 tons will be able to travel the 2,400km from the East China Sea all the way to Chongqing’s Chaotianmen Docks. Chongqing’s busy docks bustle with thousands of porters known as bang bang jun – the help army. These men and women, some 200,000 on any given day, line up with their bamboo poles and ropes to carry supplies unloaded at river level up the slopes and staircases into the heart of the city. Visitors to Chongqing in the 1920s and 30s commented on its 30m high city wall, and the rough steps from the river up to the city gates “dripping with slime from the endless procession of water carriers”. At that time, Chongqing, with a population of 600,000, had no other water supply. Between ten to twenty thousand coolies carried water daily to the shops and houses through the steep and narrow lanes of the city. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

River City Wuhan Nicknamed China’s Chicago, Wuhan is the centre of China’s textile industries and was the starting point for the annual China Tea Races. It is also famous as the place where Chairman Mao swam the Yangtze. All his life, Mao Zedong loved swimming and regarded it as the best of sports. In June 1956 (when he was 64), 1958 and again most famously in 1966, Mao made a series of highly publicised long swims across the Yangtze at Wuhan; the riverbanks are about two miles apart at this point. These were all years when Mao felt that his position was threatened by rumours of bad health and by the machinations of his enemies. Swimming the Yangtze was his way of showing the world that he was still healthy and in command. Before the celebrated 1966 swim, when Mao was 73, he had appeared in public only once all year. There were rumours that he was gravely ill or even dead. Then came the 16 July swim which Mao completed in an hour and 5 minutes. The Yangtze is a mile wide at Wuhan, although Mao would have swum further, carried by the force of the tides. The message was clear: even in his seventies Mao was a force to be reckoned with. st

On 1 May each year Wuhan now hosts a Swiftly Crossing the Yangtze River Swimming Competition, and recently this has been opened up to foreigners. In 2002, 186 swimmers took part with just 34 people completing the crossing and the fastest time recorded was 14 minutes and 8 seconds. The first permanent bridge over the Yangtze at any point on its course was built at Wuhan. The Changjiang Bridge was built in 1957, just after the birth of the People’s Republic of China. Including its approaches, it is 5,511 feet (1,680m) long, and it accommodates both a double-track railway on a lower deck and a four-lane roadway above. These days, Wuhan boasts three further bridges. Bags of tea grown in China were first offered for sale in London’s coffee houses in 1657 and demand rose rapidly. From the eighteenth century, opium grown in India was traded illegally in China to generate profits to purchase consignments of tea. Wuhan’s district of Hankou was the world’s most important tea market. Tea merchants competed to get their new tea harvest to London using clippers: light, sleek ships with a vast square footage of sail. The 16,000 mile journey to London could take as little as 97 days. The races continued through the introduction of the steamship in the mid-nineteenth century and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 greatly reduced the sailing time. In 1887, one ship arrived in London after a journey of just 31 days. For the winner there was tremendous kudos and the best prices for their harvest. The races went into decline in the late 1880s when more and more tea was being exported from India. An ancient tradition of fishing with trained cormorants is still practiced in the lower Yangtze plain around Wuhan and Nanjing. The cormorants are attached by rope to the junk and a ring around the bird’s neck prevents it from swallowing its prey which the bird brings back to the fisherman’s vessel. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

River City Nanjing Many important cities dot the Yangtze River, but perhaps none equal the historical significance, both triumphant and tragic, of Nanjing. The city is famous for the Ming Dynasty world explorer Zheng He, the Opium Wars and the Treaty of Nanking. By the 1830s, the English were exporting opium grown in India and shipping it into China where it was traded for Chinese manufactured goods and, more importantly, for tea (for which British people had an insatiable craving). Opium parlours proliferated throughout China in the early part of the nineteenth century. The effects on Chinese society were devastating and in an effort to stem the tragedy, the imperial government made opium illegal in 1836 and began aggressively to close down the opium dens. However, at this time, opium imports made up 50% of the goods that the British sold in China and the British were eager to protect their business interests. The result was the Opium War of 1839-42, which the British won and the settlement was established in the Treaty of Nanking. The treaty allowed all British citizens to be subjected to British, not Chinese, law if they committed any crime on Chinese soil. The British gained five open ports for trade and as a consequence, opium trade more than doubled in the three decades following the Treaty of Nanking. The treaty also gave over the island of Hong Kong, in perpetuity, to the British. Further conflicts came to a head in a series of skirmishes that ended in 1860 and a second set of treaties further humiliated the imperial government. The most ignominious of the provisions was the complete legalization of opium. In the late 1930s the Sino-Japanese War erupted. In November 1937 Shanghai fell and the following month, after a massive aerial bombing campaign, the Japanese broke Chinese resistance, entered Nanjing and proceeded to unleash one of the most horrifying episodes in modern history that has since become known as the Rape of Nanjing. The terror went on for six weeks. Japanese soldiers treated the Chinese soldiers and civilians as animals, available for every sort of barbarism and butchery it is possible to imagine. There were between 300 and 400,000 casualties and the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal estimated that more than 20,000 women and girls were raped. For years afterwards, Japanese history books made no mention of the incident and it was not taught in schools. Even in 1991, senior Japanese officials were insisting that the story of the Rape of Nanjing was all invention. Only in 1995 did a Japanese Prime Minister make the first formal apology. In 1968, China’s longest double-deck road and rail bridge (it is 1½km long) was built over the Yangtze at Nanjing. The width and depth and turbulence of the Yangtze together with the seasonal rise in water levels (more than 20 feet), made construction of the bridge extraordinarily difficult. It took eight years to build and is confusingly called The Yangtze First Bridge, not because it is the first crossing but because it is the closest crossing to the river’s mouth. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

River City Shanghai Shanghai is situated on the Huangpu River and strategically close to the Pacific Ocean and the mouth of the Yangtze. Shanghai’s first western visitor, Mr Hugh Lindsay, an agent of the East India Company, arrived in the city in 1832 looking for a new base for the company. Even then, by volume of trade, Shanghai was one of the leading ports in the world and remarkably, the huge volume of the trade was coming via the Yangtze rather than the ocean. The river made Shanghai. Nowhere else in the world did such a vast area and so many people depend on one river and one city for their trade. It meant massive opportunities for importers and exporters. Up until it was finally dredged in 1910, the shallow sand bars at the mouth of the Yangtze, called the Woosung Bar, inhibited external trade from China. Sailing junks draw between 5 to 10 feet and for them the sand bars were no problem. The issue was with foreign iron-built ships that drew 20 feet or more. For almost 100 years, Chinese officials refused or ignored foreign petitions to dredge the Woosung Bar, only relenting in 1905. When the sandbanks vanished Shanghai took her place as one of the world’s great trading cities and the Yangtze became an international highway into the very heart of China. Shanghai (meaning above the sea) grew significantly following the 1842 and 1858 Opium Wars. It quickly became China’s most important and most exciting commercial hub. It was a strategic gateway via the Yangtze to inland China and outwards to the rest of the world. The 1920s and 1930s were Shanghai’s most decadent era and even today the name conjures up images of wicked glamour and sophistication. Right up to the revolution in 1948, Shanghai teemed with activity but after then, inward investment stopped and its aging infrastructure could not cope with its booming population. However, since 1988, Shanghai has undergone one of the fastest economic expansions the world has ever seen. Its population is officially 13.5 million, although unofficial figures put the population at closer to 20 million. It seems certain to recapture its position as East Asia’s leading business centre, a status it held before World War II. Much of Shanghai’s urban redevelopment is based around the twin axes of the Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek. Prestigious new buildings designed by the world’s best architects and high-density housing tower blocks now dominate the river and creek respectively in village clusters. Shanghai’s urban plan is impressively green and, encouragingly, riverside walkways and urban parks are seen as a vital part of these new schemes. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

River Culture Dragon Boat Racing The Former state of Chu was under siege in 278 BC by the Qin armies, who were later to bring all of China under their thumb. Qu Yuan, who lived in Chu, was one of China’s best loved poets. Hearing of their imminent invasion, he preferred to drown himself rather than see his beloved Chu conquered. Distraught locals raced to save him in their boats, but they were too late. They returned later to scatter packets of rice wrapped in leaves (zongzi) into the river as an offering to Qu Yuan’s spirits. The Dragon Boat races are usually held in memory of Qu Yuan’s suicide. The festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month every year (usually mid-June). Today, dragon boat racing is among the fastest growing team sports in China, with tens of thousands of participants, and it is the only sport to be celebrated as part of a national holiday. In the 2nd Three Gorges Dragon Boat Race, competitors cover a distance of 7 kilometres, which is a Guinness world record – a festival race is typically a 500 metre sprint. For racing events, dragon boats are always fitted with decorative dragon heads and tails and are required to carry a large drum on board to beat the paddlers’ rhythm. The standard crew is around 20 or 22 paddlers, 1 drummer and 1 steerer. However, traditional dragon boats can be up to 110 feet long and can have as many as 80 paddlers. The boats were identified with different clans or guilds (or today by local area). Each boat has special banners and different uniforms designed to co-ordinate with the colour scheme painted on the dragon’s head, scales and tail. Historically, rivals tried to out-manoeuvre each other during the race. In fact in the early 1920s, races were so intensely competitive they were outlawed because of the large number of fatal accidents and fights that occurred during the races. The dragon plays the most venerated role within the Chinese mythological tradition. Of the twelve animals within the zodiac the only mythical creature is the dragon. Venerating the dragon deity was meant to avert misfortune and calamity and to encourage rainfall. The Yangtze River itself has been likened to a great golden dragon, a source of life in its bounty and a bearer of miseries in times of flood and famine. Zongzi is a pyramid-shaped dumpling made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. It is a traditional food eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival. Over the festival, every household prepares and makes zongzi. Eating zongzi is done in memory of those villagers who threw zongzi as an offering to Qu Yuan’s spirits. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

River Culture Pagodas Legend has it that in the fifth century BC, Buddha asked to have his ashes interred in a stupa and since that time stupas, or pagodas as they are known in the Far East, have become symbols of the Buddha, reminders of his earthly existence, cult objects and places of devotion. Many pagodas date from the Ming Period (1368 to 1644). People were afraid of flooding, which they thought was caused by a monster in the river, and they built pagodas at the riverfront to suppress it. In case the monster was not appeased by the pagoda, the high tower also offered a useful lookout to spot the floods at a distance. The famous Wind Moving Pagoda of Anqing is one of the finest in all of China. It is said to sway in the wind and the bells in its pinnacles chime in the breeze. In rougher winds, the bells shake noisily, warning citizens of an impending storm. The pagoda was built in 1570 and has 8 sides and, uncommonly, 8 storeys. Most pagodas have an odd number of storeys – usually 5, 7 or 9. The junkmen of the Yangtze are said to revere the Anqing Pagoda. They believe that the pagoda is the king of all the other pagodas in the world and that during the autumn Moon Festival, these pagodas all come to pay homage to the Wind Moving Pagoda of Anqing. It is said that the reflections of the thousands of other pagodas can be seen in the choppy waters of the Yangtze and so no junk or other ship will pass the waters during these night-time hours for fear of disturbing the reflections. Perhaps the junkmen were more afraid of colliding with each other after dark since their attitudes to death, particularly by drowning, severely complicates river rescue attempts. Nineteenth century British writers describe the Chinese as being fatalistic about drowning or, as they thought, being claimed by the river gods. Generally, it seems as though people accepted their fate if they fell into the river. Furthermore, if someone altered the drowning person’s fate by saving their life then the rescuer became responsible for that person forever. The thought of having another mouth to feed was enough to discourage most from making any rescue attempts. After 1949 however, the communists discouraged such superstitions. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org


RIVER YANGTZE

River Culture Explorers The arts of shipbuilding and navigation in China reached their height during the Ming Dynasty. In 1405, Zheng He was appointed Commander in Chief in All Missions to the Western Seas and he set sail from Nanjing (then the capital of China) with 317 ships carrying 27,800 men, the largest naval fleet in the world at that time. His flagship is pictured left compared in scale with Christopher Colombus’s ship the Santa Maria. This was the first of seven far-flung voyages between 1405 and 1433 that took him on an exploratory and trading mission to the Indian Ocean, Persia, Arabia and the east coast of Africa. But Zheng Ze was the exception. China was focused in on her huge and complex territories rather than outwards and on to the international stage. Unlike many other great rivers of the world, the Yangtze is not particularly famous for its explorers. Before the mid-nineteenth century, China was virtually closed to outsiders and restrictive trade practices and local conflicts made it hard to travel inland. Although a few western explorers did venture up the Yangtze before the nineteenth century, it was the Opium Wars (1839 to 1842) and the resulting Tientsin Treaty of 1858 that forced the Chinese to open certain ocean and river ports to foreigners. For the first time, non-Chinese were allowed to travel freely up the Yangtze and from then on until the Cultural Revolution in 1949, western military and government men, traders, missionaries, adventure seekers and plant and animal hunters were to travel up river and into the interior. The first notable explorer was Thomas Blakiston, a British soldier. In February 1861, he set off from Shanghai with eight sail and steam vessels. He transferred to local junks at Hankou to sail through the Three Gorges. By May, they had arrived in Yibin, then the highest navigable point on the river. The account of his journey was published as Five Months on the Yangtze. In 1889, Archibald Little made the trip from Yichang to Chongqing in three weeks. But the most remarkable explorer was British traveller Isabella Bird (1831-1904) pictured left. Wracked by a chronic spinal disease, she took to travelling to improve her health. Her last journey, when she was 64, was to China in 1896. Her experiences were published in 1899 as The Yangtze Valley and Beyond. She set off from Shanghai and steamed up the Yangtze to Yichang then transferred onto a houseboat junk and proceeded through the Three Gorges to Wanxian. Her descriptions of this area, life on board a junk and the plight of the trackers are some of the most vivid that have ever been written and to many Westerners, hers and Blakiston’s books inspired an interest in China that helped fuel the Victorian’s passion for chinoiserie. The challenge of travelling the whole course of the Yangtze from its source to its mouth was finally achieved by a Chinese team in 1986. They travelled down the Tiger Leaping Gorge and other waterfalls and drops in the Upper Yangtze in a specially constructed rubber capsule into which the team of two was strapped. Amazingly, they survived the ordeal and continued on to the river’s mouth. River Yangtze was compiled by Adrian Evans in 2007 Rivers of the World is a Thames Festival project delivered in partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms with support from HSBC Global Education Programme www.riversoftheworld.org

River Yangtze  

An educational resource about the river Yangtze (China) created by Rivers of the World, an art and education projects of The Mayor’s Thames...

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