The Yangtze River, 6,300 kilometers (3,915 mi), is the longest river in Asia and third longest in the world. It tumbles from the 16,000 feet glaciers in the Kunlun Mountains of the Qinghai Tibetan Plateau, runs eastward through Qinghai, turning southward down a deep valley at the border of Sichuan and Tibet to reach Yunnan.¬ It passes through the spectacular Three Gorges, and continues its way through central China: Sichuan, Hubei, Auhui, and Jiangsu provinces to its mouth, Shanghai, and empties into the East China Sea.
Like the Mississippi, it drains a large area, one-fifth of China's land area. Its river basin is home to one-third of China's population. Like the Mississippi, the Yangtze is the most important river in the history, culture and economy of China. Like the Mississippi, it is heavily used for agriculture, industry, and transportation. Because of its high elevation and drastic falls, the Yangtze is perhaps the most dammed river on earth, over 28,000 of them along its main route and tributaries, and the Three Gorges Dam still stands as the largest hydraulic dam in the world. Just as New Orleans is sinking below the sea level, Shanghai is also one of the most vulnerable cities threatened by the rising water and sinking delta due to the blocked sediments behind dams, dense skyscrapers and overuse of ground water for industry and agriculture. Finally, the Yangtze also shares the same pollution problems as the Mississippi, as it pours tons of pollutants into the East China Sea and the Pacific.
The Yangtze is the cradle of the Chinese civilization. Along its banks, there are thousands of archaeological sites. The river is rich with myths and legends, and its beauty has inspired endless poets and artists such as Li Po, Tu Fu, Bai Judi, Wang Wei and many others.
The headwaters of the Yangtze are situated at an elevation of about 4,900 m (16,100 ft), Qinghai Tibetan Plateau, the earth's highest mountains, a vast arid plateau and great river valleys where 6 million Tibetans farmers raise sheep and yaks. It has an average altitude of 13,000 feet above sea level. Its alpine wetlands regulate the weather patterns and serve as the source and reservoir for the major rivers in South and Southeast Asia, hence the “water tower of Asia”.
Both headwaters are still in pristine conditions. Both places need great care to conserve that to ensure the water supply and quality.
The Middle Section:
The Three Gorges consist of Qutang Gorge, Wu Gorge and Exiling Gorge, extending 193 kilometers along the Yangtze River, bordered between Sichuan and Hubei. The region is known for its natural scenes with spectacular canyons and narrow, roaring water. It is also the cradle of Chinese civilization, with thousands of known and uncovered sites dating back 4,000 years and prehistoric Stone Age 30,000 to 50,000 years old. The land and water has inspired many artists and poets include Qu Yuan, Du Fu, Li Po, and many others. The Three Gorges Dam raised the water to 175 meters high, and stands as the world’s largest hydroelectric dam.
Delta and Mouths:
Since the 9th century, the Yangtze Delta has been one of the most densely populated areas of the world. During the mid to late period of Tang Dynasty, the region (Especially the city Shanghai) emerged as an economic centre, and the Yangtze River Delta became the most important agricultural, handicraft industrial and economic center for the late Tang China. From late 19th century to early 20th century, Shanghai was the biggest commercial center in the Far East. And the Yangtze River Delta became the first industrialized area in China. In modern times, the Yangtze Delta metropolitan areas are centered at Shanghai, a city exerting influence over commerce, finance, culture, art, fashion, research and entertainment not just in China, but also in the world.
The Three Gorges Dam, which has regulated the waters of the Yangtze River since 2003, retains two-thirds of the upstream sediment each year and, in response to that retention, significant erosion occurs in the riverbed downstream of the dam. Since the erosion doesn't offset the sediment lost in the reservoir, the Yangtze delta is shrinking, and sinking faster than the Mississippi Delta.
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