The Yangtze, River of Gold Sand

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“A man of wisdom delights in water”
Confucius

Courtesy of worldsystem1:

 

“Be still like a mountain
and flow like a great river.”
Lao Tzu

Courtesy of National Geographic:

 

Courtesy of Century Cruises:

 

The main paradox is that there is no Yangtze River. This name is unknown to most Chinese, who call it Ta Jiang, ‘Great River’, or Chang Jiang, ‘Long River’ unless they live above Chongqing – there the swift silt-filled waters are referred to as Chin-sha Jiang, ‘the river of Gold Sand’. A few decades ago, in the winter months when the level dropped, the Chinese squatted at its edge and panned for gold, sluicing the mud and gathering gold dust. European travellers reported seeing washerwomen wearing thick gold bangles, made of metal that had been carried from where the River Yangtze rises in Tibet. The river is almost 3,500 miles long.

Map showing course of River Yangtze

YangtzeRiverMap

Courtesy of New China TV:

 

The Yangtze River has more moods than names. ‘I am careful to give the date of each day’s notes’, Archibald Little wrote in Through the Yangtze Gorges (1887). ‘The river varies so wonderfully at different seasons that any description must be carefully understood only to apply to the day upon which it is written.’ Captain Little compared the Yangtze to the Amazon and to the Mississippi; he said it was indescribable. It has in many stretches a violent magnificence. It causes murderous floods, and its winter levels create rapids of such turbulence that the river captain steers his ship through the foam and travels down the rapids, praying that no junk will lie in his path, as it is impossible for him to stop or reverse. But it is not all so dramatic. Its four divisions are like four separate rivers: above Chongqing, it is associated with gold and landslides; the Upper River ( Chongqing – Yichang), is the wildest – here are the gorges and the Chinese landscape of Walter Scott’s classic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms; the Middle River  (Yichang – Wuhan), is serene and a mile wide; the Lower River (Wuhan – Shanghai) is slow and sticky and populous.

“Yangtze River” by Derek Fiechter (courtesy of Fantasy & World Music by the Fiechters):

 

YangtzeRiver2

One Chinese ship captain, when asked if he thought the Yangtze had a personality, said, ‘The mood of the Yangtze changes according to season. It changes every day. It is not easy. Navigating the Yangtze is always a struggle against nature. And there is only one way to pilot a ship well. It is necessary to see the river as an enemy. I worked my way to captain, starting at fifteen. I never went to school. You can’t learn about this river in a school. You can only learn it by being on the bridge.’  He added later that in the course of one afternoon not long ago, he had counted nine human corpses bobbing hideously down the river.

The Yangtze is China’s main artery, its major waterway, the source of many of its myths, the scene of its history. On its banks are some of its greatest cities. It begets many superstitions; it provides income and food to a large part of the population. It is one of the most dangerous rivers in the world, in some places one of the dirtiest, in others the most spectacular. The Chinese drink from it and bathe in it and wash clothes in it, and defecate in it. The Yangtze represents both life and death. It is a wellspring, a sewer and a tomb, depthless in the gorges, shallow at its rapids. The Chinese say if you haven’t been up the Great River, you haven’t been anywhere. They also say that in the winter, on the river, the days are so dark that when the sun comes out, the dogs bark at it. A thick sulphurous fog covers some of the towns upstream of the borders.  The fog muffles morning noises and gives an air of solemnity. It also stinks like poison.

Courtesy of New China TV:

 

Although China is now a modern power, the Yangtze has altered very little. The cities are bigger and more industrialised, the rapids have been dynamited, there are more ships, but the river today is the same river Archibald Little sailed on in 1886, Abbe David botanised on it in the 1860s, and Italian missionaries tried to convert the natives in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The river and the ways of many of the river dwellers are as old as China.  There is a painting in the Shanghai Museum of junks and sampans on a river, by Zhang Zheduan. These vessels have the same sails, mast rigging, rudders, and oars as ones on the Yangtze today. But it is a Song Dynasty painting, 1000 years old.

One version of the painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival

The painting comes to life (courtesy of South China Morning Post):

 

Just above Changshou, the Yangtze narrows to about seventy-five feet,  and mottled hills appear in the mist on both sides of the river. Abbe David saw fortifications on the top of these hills. In his Diaries is a wonderful account of his Yangtze trip. He wrote, ‘These are refuges in time of trouble for the country people, where they can go with their possessions and be safe from the depredation of rebels and brigands.’ Banditry was widely spread on the Yangtze from the earliest times, and there was no peace on the river until 1949 when the government took over. Now, every inch of these hills is farmland. On the deepest slopes are terraces of vegetables. How was it possible to water the gardens on these cliff-faces? Here and there, you can see a man climbing up the hillside, carrying two buckets on a yoke. They tip the water into a ditch and without pausing further, they start down the hill. No one is idle on the Yangtze.

Terrace farmers irrigating their crops

Terrace farming along the Yangtze river

Courtesy of Daan van Reijn:

 

There are no birds on the Yangtze, indeed China is no place for a bird-watcher. It is hard to say if the absence of trees, the use of powerful insecticides or the plain hunger of the people who seem to kill anything that moves, is the reason for the scarceness of birds. The old beliefs changed with modern times. One was that if a fish jumped out of the water onto the deck of a ship, you could not eat it because such fish were regarded as demons. They were not thrown back into the water but taken ashore and buried in a hole. Now they are being eaten.

Silver Carp jumping

Many people come to the Yangtze to see the gorges alone. The gorges are wonderful, and it is impossible to exaggerate their splendour, but the river is long and complicated, and much greater than its gorges. The great gorges lie below Bai De (White King City), the lesser gorges just above Yichang. They are enormous limestone cliffs on each side of the river. There is no shore: the sheer cliffs plunge straight into the water. They were formed at the dawn of the world when the vast inland sea in western China began to drain east and wear the mountains away. As limestone occurs in blocks, it has cracks and corners; and so the flow zigzagged, controlled by the stone, and made right angles in the river. Looking ahead through the gorges you see no exit, only the end of what looks like a blind canyon. There is graffiti on the gorges. Some are political (Mankind Unite to Smash Capitalism), or poetic (Bamboos, flowers, and rain purify the traveller), while other scribbled characters explain that this is Wind Box Gorge, and those holes are where General Zhuge Liang made a ladder to scale the height and smash the Shu army on the top in the second century AD. The wind blows fiercely through the gorges, and it is a good thing, too, because the junks can thus sail upstream. Every rock and cliff has a name, ‘The Seated Woman and the Pouncing Lion’, ‘The Fairy Princess’. The Yangtze is a river of precise nomenclature.

Qutang Gorge on Changjiang

Entering the Three Gorges (courtesy Jean-Marc Abela):

 

Below an example of ancient Chinese battle art.

At Wuhan the Yangtze becomes wider, the banks lower and flatter, but the cities grow more interesting. All over the river people are fishing, some with hooks and lines, others with circulating weighted nets; some are still fishing with trained cormorants and otters. The river widens again and it is seldom possible to see the far bank. It is difficult navigating on the Yangtze for two main reasons – from December to March, the water is very low and the channel is narrow. This makes things difficult because there is a lot of traffic on the river. The second is the weather. There are fog and mist from October to April, and it is impossible to see what lies ahead. Radar is often no help. To avoid accidents some nights the junks anchor until the weather clears.

The art of fishing with birds (courtesy of Great Big Story):

 

At the Nanjing quays, the Yangtze is flowing to Shanghai. On the whole, very little has changed in China. People still fish in the old way, they sail and row and tow wooden junks; they water their fields carrying buckets on yokes, women wash clothes, clubbing together bundles of laundry and thrashing them in the muddy water. But Shanghai is different.

Courtesy of Aaron Shao:

 

The Yangtze is China: seeing it, you are prepared for everything else. It seems to contain the whole of Chinese culture, the ineradicable past and the convulsed and sometimes contradictory present. It is a great river.

Courtesy of thomeisa:

 

For those who have the time, a longer journey along the Yangtze (courtesy of Amazing Places on Our Planet):

 

 

49 thoughts on “The Yangtze, River of Gold Sand

  1. A lovely presentation. I have extremely mixed feelings about China. I believe they may be leaders of the world in the not so distant future.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such an amazing journey, Joanna. What beautiful pictures and videos. Thank you so much for sharing.💕

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful post Joanna 😊
    Through your posts, my mind travels to the spots as seen in the photographs.
    Atleast I can wish, if I could go there and stay for few days with the country side people. Catching fishes etc🐠🐟.
    The natural beauty with mountains and other city life stories are reflected through all the still photos.
    Amazing. In my childhood I read in my Geography book about the river *Hoang Ho* which was said to be a cause of sorrow for China because of floods. Wish to visit all the rivers as you make them lively in your posts. You have an extraordinary talent in making such posts.
    It is not an easy task.
    For that I appreciate you.
    God bless you, your family and your friends. Have a wonderful time ahead.
    Regards 😊🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Arun, for such a wonderful comments! It is a great pleasure to have readers like you, Arun, and I am grateful.
    Greatly appreciated!

    Joanna

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  5. Thank you, Grace, for your kind comments. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Judjing by the yesterday’s news of Puting in China, I thing it is a possibility.

    Joanna

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  7. Thank you so much Joanna.
    We all are connected universally. I enjoy your posts 😊🙏
    Have a blissful time
    Regards 🙏😊

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  8. I agree, and thank you, Arun.

    Joanna

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  9. Blending is nice, I mean picture with words.

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  10. Thank you for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

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  11. With pleasure dear

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  12. It is a very detailed post. Thank you very much for providing us so much information with wonderful pictures. Is this really true that China is no place for bird watchers?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you, Deeksha, for your so very kind comments! Apart from the birds used for fishing, there are in some rare places visits from migrating birds. No one would watch them without catching them because they are regarded only as food and not of any other interest. Can I just say that I have a great affinity with your wonderful country and your talented presentation of Indian food is of great interest to me. Happy Basant Panchami!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you very much Joanna. Festivals are the soul and part of our daily life. Basically festivals were created to have some fun in daily routine life and to make our generation understand various aspects of life, nature, seasons, food before all technology came in our life. It is sad now everything is turning into marketing gimmick.

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  15. I agree. Luckily there are still many people preserving old traditions. If you ever have a bit of time, please, read my posts “The Father of 1000 orphans”, “India – Empire Of The Spirit” and “Mother Ganga, The River Ganges”, I think it will make you even prouder of your country.
    And I will go on learning from all the fabulous dishes that you create.

    Joanna

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  16. Murderous floods of Yangtze river reminds me of Kosi river in Bihar. Its annual floods affect adversely the fertility of lands and ruin the rural economy. It’s called sorrow of Bihar.
    When I was posted in Kosi affected areas of Bihar, I had seen its impact from my own eyes. It often changes its course.

    Coming back to your post and Yangtze, I must say that I was too delighted to go through it. There are so many new and interesting facts, e.g. terrace farmers carrying buckets on yoke for irrigation, and fishing with birds. The relative pics and videos are also amazing. Bird eating is really sad instead of bird watching and appreciating. It was also interesting to know the superstition regarding fish jumping out on the deck.

    You have rightly chosen Yangtze river, which is considered as China’s main artery. It’s one of the busiest waterways. The selection of pics and videos, as always, is awesome. Thank you so much, Joanna for sharing one more wonderful gem of yours.

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  17. Thank you, Kaushal, for your wonderful comments! I published my post on The Yangtze by coincidence
    at the same time as Putinh arrived in China to form an alliance against NATO and probably the rest of the world.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  18. You are most welcome, Joanna. I’m also a bit apprehensive of this move. Let’s see.

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  19. Fascinating, Joanna. Hope you never run out of rivers to explore.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thank you for your kind comment. I also wrote about the greatest scientific discoveries, the world deserts, the writers whose books were The Nobel Prize winners, animals communication, plants intelligence, and many more topics. It is all there and for the interested readers in my blog. I also write about India as I have an affinity with this amazing country.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Joanna, I have been looking forward to this post, not only because I always enjoy your posts, but also because I feel a personal connection to China. I was not disappointed. The video exceeded my expectations! The videos and music were lovely and beautifully presented by your skillful narration.

    For nearly seven years, I was the 24/7 live-in assistant to a young quadriplegic attorney, Drew Batavia, in Washington, DC. I also was a full-time college student and then a teacher. I married Drew, and we moved to Miami Beach in 1995 and adopted a Russian brother and sister. After twelve years of marriage, Drew died at age 45.

    Drew had a fabulous career: Harvard Law School, Masters in Health Services Research from Stanford, CA bar, DC Bar, US Supreme Court Bar, attorney at Health and Human Services, a researcher at The National Rehabilitation Hospital, White House Fellow at the Department of Justice, where he wrote regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, assistant for healthcare to Senator John McCain, an attorney who presented amicus briefs on the right to assisted dying to the Supreme Court, College professor, author of countless journal articles including The New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, and Lancet, author of several books, speaker and panelist at national conferences…

    In 1990, Drew became a White House Fellow and lobbied heavily for Asia to be the destination for their two-week international trip. I always traveled with Drew and was fortunate to travel to Asia. We toured Tokyo, Seoul, the Forbidden Zone, Beijing, and Hong Kong. While in Beijing, we visited the Forbidden City, a hospital, an elementary school, an agricultural community, and the Great Wall of China. Some of the Fellows were big military guys who helped negotiate winding stone stairs and a cable car that did not stop. The clearance between the chair and the cable car door was about two inches on either side. Climbing the Great Wall was a remarkable experience!

    After I began teaching, Drew hired a Chinese couple to live in and assist with his care. I was still on duty on nights and weekends. Licheng was an engineer from Shanghai, and his wife Gunja was from Beijing and had been a professor of English and Russian. During the Cultural Revolution, they had been sent to re-education camps to do agricultural labor. Then they and their three daughters came to the US. They were wonderful people, and we learned a lot from each other in the years they lived with us.

    We were always big fans of Chinese food and culture and hung out in Chinatown restaurants and shops whenever and we got the chance…DC, San Francisco, Boston, NY City…The one Chinese entertainment we did not care for was Chinese opera! I am grateful to you for not featuring it!

    Thank you for this post, Joanna. It brought back wonderful memories, and as usual, I learned a lot. ❤ ❤ ❤

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  22. This is a very interesting, and lovely post, Joanna. I so appreciate the detail you put into this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Joana as always I’ve learnt alot, you write and connect your points in a way that readers enjoy, long and interesting, thanks so much my great geography and history teacher 🥰

    Love this point “On the whole, very little has changed in China. People still fish in the old way, they sail and row and tow wooden junks; they water their fields carrying buckets on yokes, women wash clothes, clubbing together bundles of laundry and thrashing them in the muddy water. But Shanghai is different.”

    Old habits die hard 🤗

    Like

  24. Thank you for your generous comments! Perhaps, holding on to your heritage is not a bad thing.
    Thank you again for your kind thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thank you, LuAnne for your kind comments. Greatly appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. You know you are always welcome ❤️

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  27. Thank you, Cheryl, for your astonishing and wonderful comments!! Your humanitarian life should be turned into a book!
    Thank you again, Cheryl, for this account of utmost goodness of the heart.

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  28. Wow so comprehensive and such a beautiful pictures and videos!
    The color of the water is electric!
    ❤️💕

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  29. Another fabulous post, Joanna
    So full of descriptions, images and videos that it has become a masterpiece

    Like

  30. Thank you, Dear Luise, for your wonderful comments! I am so glad that you like it!

    Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Thank you, Cindy, for your generous comments!
    Greatly appreciated!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  32. It’s a pleasure dear!💕

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  33. You are, as ever, very welcome!
    I think yours is a wonderful blog

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  34. Stunning post Joanna, thank you for sharing a post filled with such interesting facts. So sad that there are no birds on the Yangtze, birds represent life and sometimes joy especially with the sounds. The technique of using birds to catch fish is also interesting

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  35. Thank you, Henrietta, for your lovely comments. Personally, I cannot imagine living without birds singing around me and being entertaining as I described in one of my earlier posts.
    Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Wow.. Joanna, very descriptive and informative post!! Great sharing!!

    Like

  37. Thank you, Jyothi, for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  38. I like the way you compile facts and information on a topic, Joanna. You have included many interestings facts. I really like the idea of terrace farming. It’s a great way to learn about things we usually do not come across.

    The sentence which got my attention was “There are no birds on the Yangtze, indeed China is no place for a bird-watcher.”

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  39. Thank you, Rupali, for your most kind comments. You have pinpointed why I write my post because it brings the facts that are not easy to find without intensive research.
    Shame about the birds but with such a vast population anything that moves is food.

    Thank you again, Rupali. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  40. Very interesting photos didn’t see that part of China.

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  41. Thank you for your kind comment. This is why I am writing my posts!
    Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Like

  42. A beautiful post with wonderful videos and music. This is indeed one of the great rivers of the world!

    Like

  43. Thank you, Dwight, for your kind comments. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  44. You are welcome!

    Like

  45. Thank you for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

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