Physical Geography


China abounds in rivers. More than 1,500 rivers each drain 1,000 sq km or larger areas. More than 2,700 billion cu m of water flow along these rivers, 5.8 percent of the world’s total. Most of the large rivers find their source in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and as a result China is rich in water-power resources, leading the world in hydropower potential, with reserves of 680 million kw.

China’s rivers can be categorized as exterior and interior systems. The catchment area for the exterior rivers that empty into the oceans accounts for 64 percent of the country’s total land area. The Yangtze, Yellow, Heilongjiang, Pearl, Liaohe, Haihe, Huaihe and Lancang rivers flow east, and empty into the Pacific Ocean. The Yarlungzangbo River in Tibet, which flows first east and then south into the Indian Ocean, boasts the Grand Yarlungzangbo Canyon, the largest canyon in the world, 504.6 km long and 6,009 m deep. The Ertix River flows from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the Arctic Ocean. The catchment area for the interior rivers that flow into inland lakes or disappear into deserts or salt marshes makes up 36 percent of China’s total land area. Its 2,179 km make the Tarim River in southern Xinjiang  China’s longest interior river.

The Yangtze is the largest river in China. The picture shows the Xilingxia Gorge of the Yangtze River.

The Yangtze is the largest river in China, and the third- longest in the world, next only to the Nile in northeast Africa and the Amazon in South America. It is 6,300 km long, and has a catchment area of 1.809 million sq km. The middle and lower Yangtze River’s warm and humid climate, plentiful rainfall and fertile soil make the area an important agricultural region. Known as the “golden waterway,” the Yangtze is a transportation artery linking west and east. The Yellow River is the second-largest river in China, 5,464 km in length, with a catchment area of 752,000 sq km. The Yellow River valley was one of the birthplaces of ancient Chinese civilization. It has lush pastureland and abundant mineral deposits. The Heilongjiang River is north China’s largest. It has a total length of 4,350 km, of which 3,101 km are within China. The Pearl River is the largest river in south China, with a total length of 2,214 km. In addition to those endowed by nature, China has a famous man-made river—he Grand Canal, running from Beijing in the north to Hangzhou in the south. Work first began on the Grand Canal as early as in the fifth century B.C. It links five major rivers—the Haihe, Yellow, Huaihe, Yangtze and Qiantang. With a total length of 1,801 km, the Grand Canal is the longest as well as the oldest man-made waterway in the world.

Erhai Lake is a fresh water lake on the plateau of Yunnan. The picture shows
the Triple Pagodas, one of the famous scenes by Erhai Lake.

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Last updated: 2000-07-13.