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The Lower Reaches :
Hukou to the Yellow Sea

  The region around the lower Yangtze and its delta, the most prosperous in the country, is known as China's 'Land of Fish and Rice'.

  From Hukou at the mouth of the Poyang, the Yangtze widens on its final sweep to the Yellow Sea, skirting northern Jiangxi and traversing the provinces of Anhui and Jiangsu. Hundreds ofYangtze River shallow lakes and streams, rich in freshwater crabs, prawns and fish, feed the river. From Nanjing downwards the river becomes tidal, and ocean going vessels of 10,000 to 15,000 tons navigate its for.

  The deltaic plain of coastal Jiangsu--the most densely populated of China's Provincesis a veritable maze of natural waterways, man-made dykes and canals.Mulberry trees line their banks and humpbacked stone bridges link the picturesque: towns and villages. These waterways serve as irrigation channels, drainage outlets. and transport canals. Three staple grain crops--two of paddy rice and one of winter, wheat ware harvested each year. Since earliest times, sericulture has been an important economic factor, and though cotton replaced silk in importance after the 1930s, silkworm breeding is still a major home industry and hard-cash earner for peasant families. Sericulture formed the basis on which the region's famous textile city of Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, Nanjing and Shanghai were established.

  Water conservation plans are underway to divert water from the Yangtze north-wards, linking up with similar projects on the Huai River, which will eventually irrigate the large arid areas of north China.

  Neolithic rice-growing cultures occupied this area as early as 5000 BC, domesticating pigs and dogs. By the fifth century BC much of the lower Yangtze formed one of nine huge provincial areas known as Yangzhou, its imperial tribute included silks, fruits and timber. During the Tang dynasty (618--907) the city of Yangzhou was the main port of call for Arabian traders.

  The town of Jiangyin demarcates the estuary, and for the next 200 kilometres(125 miles) the Yangtze widens from 1,200 metres (1,300 yards) to 9l kilometres (56 miles) below the confluence with the Huangpu, the last of its tributaries. In ancient times the Yangtze was said to have had three mouths, down the centuries the river outlet was a source of much academic speculation in China, as silt deposits continually changed the shape and form of the river's mouth. Now its outlet to the yellow sea is divided into two by the intensely cultivated is1and of Chongming (1083 square kilometres, or 420 square miles, in area) and by several smaller islands,whose farming produce supplies the massive Shanghai area . In August 1983, when low--lying land in 30 Anhui counties that border the Yangtze was inundated by flood waters, nearly a million peasants battled to drain the land and sow autumn crops. Ninety people were reported dead and hundreds injured as the flood crest swept by. ln Jiangsu, 500,000 civilians and soldiers reinforced dykes and stood watch as floods threatened Nanjing and other cities a1ollgthe banks. Luckily no further serious damage occurred, although similar floodi11gclaimed hundreds more lives in 1998.

• The Lower Reaches: Hukou to the Yellow Sea

Xiaogu Shan