History of the Yangtze River

Written by Sally Guo Updated Sep. 29, 2021

The Yangtze River takes an important part in Chinese history. Traces of human activity in the area can be found as far as 2 million years ago. In the Spring and Autumn Period of China, Ba and Shu tribes lived in the western part of the river, which is now the provinces of Sichuan, Chongqing, and western Hubei. The Chu settled in the central part of the river, corresponding to today's Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, and southern Anhui provinces. Wu and Yue were located in the eastern part of the river, now Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai. The difficulty in crossing the river made it in later political developments, often the border of kingdoms and the place of fierce battles. The Ming Dynasty and the Republic of China both had their capital in Nanjing, a city along the Yangtze.

Transport Importance in Ancient Times

The Yangtze River has always been an important means of transport for goods up and down the river. In the past, the transit has not been easy as the river has some dangerous reaches, rocks, and wildly fluctuating water levels. The boats often had to be drawn by hand through the most dangerous parts. Especially between June and September the upstream traffic nearly came to an end, as the winds were not strong enough to let the junks sail against the raging waters.

cruises sailing on yangtze river
Cruises sailing on yangtze river

The modern era on the Yangtze river started in 1900 when the British Paddle-Steamer S.S. "Pioneer" managed the upstream trip to Chongqing on its own power. The voyage was still not without danger as the example of a German passenger steamer shows, that was smashed to pieces on one of the rocks the same year. Today a trip on the Yangtze either up or downstream is as pleasant as it can be. Most of the ships are equipped with modern navigation and seasickness is seldom seen as most of the ships have motion stabilizers in their bellies.

Historical Sites along the River 

There is a rich cultural heritage along the river like the Ghost city of Fengdu, which partly had to be resettled due to the rising water level. While the Chinese government does its best to preserve and save the historical sites, some of them cannot be moved. Tourists who would like to get a last glimpse of the "old Yangtze" should hurry.

Yangtze River Map

Yangtze River Map

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