It is perhaps no surprise that a nation that spans almost 10 million square kilometers has some of the longest and most impressive rivers in the world. The Yangtze River, stretching 6,380 kilometers across much of the country, is both the longest in China and in Asia, and ranks third longest in the world after the Nile and the Amazon. It has been harnessed for massive irrigation and power projects but is a constant flood risk. It feeds three major lakes, including Taiyu and Poiyang, and countless smaller tributaries that reach out into the Chinese countryside. Type in ‘maps rivers of China’ on any search engine and you will find many detailed maps of the Yangtze, showing its influence upon the economy, agriculture and environment of China.
One of the largest of China’s 1,500 rivers, The Heilong originates in north China and stretches 4,350 kilometers, of which, 3,101 are in China. The most notable river in south China is The Pearl River (Zhujiang) at 2,214 kilometers. Back in the 5th century AD, work began on the awe-inspiring Grand Canal – the longest man-made river in the world – which starts in Beijing, cuts through Hangzhou and terminates in Zhejiang Province. A glance at the maps rivers of China will reveal how the Grand Canal effectively links 5 other major rivers: the Haihe, the Huiahe, the Yangtze, the Qiantang and the Yellow.
The Yellow River is the second longest in China (5,464 kilometers), running through 9 provinces into the Bohai Sea. Its basin was instrumental in the flourishing of early Chinese civilization, providing food, irrigation and important transport routes. The name derives from the ochre-coloured water in the lower course of the river. An interesting piece of trivia is that the Chinese equivalent of the Western proverb ‘pigs will fly’ is ‘when the yellow river flows clear’.
The maps rivers of China show that Chinese rivers can be categorized as exterior and interior systems. The total area covered by the exterior rivers that ultimately empty into the oceans makes up about 64 percent of this enormous country’s total land area.
China’s economic advancement has brought with it atrocious pollution which has especially affected its rivers. Early in 2008, there were reports that part of the Dongjing river had turned bright red due to its high content of ammonia, nitrogen and permanganate, a chemical used in metal cleaning, tanning and bleaching. Water supply to over 200,000 people was threatened and there was an emergency shipping-in of bottled water to avert a humanitarian crisis. Sadly, most of the rest of China’s rivers have been severely tainted by pollution which has been proven to cause illnesses such as various forms of cancer, organ failure and blindness.