China has over 1,500 rivers. Most of the major rivers - like the Yangtze - have their source on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and drop greatly from the source to the mouths. As a result, China is rich in water-power resources, leading the world in hydropower potential, with reserves of 680 million kw.
Known as Chang Jiang or "Long River" in Chinese, the Yangtze at 6,300 km is not only the longest river in China but in all of Asia. It is the third longest river in the world, next only to the Nile in Africa (6,670 km) and the Amazon in South America (6,400 km). In its upper reaches, the Yangtze tumbles through steep, forested gorges. In its middle and lower reaches, the Yangtze River flows through important agricultural regions that have a warm and humid climate, plentiful rainfall and fertile soil.
Also known as the "golden waterway," the Yangtze serves as an important trade and transportation route. The second longest river in China is the Yellow River with a length of 5,464 km. The Yellow River valley was one of the birthplaces of ancient Chinese civilization. It has lush pasturelands along its banks, flourishing agriculture and abundant mineral deposits.
The Heilong River is a large river in north China with a total length of 4,350 km, of which, 3,101 km are in China. The Pearl River (Zhujiang), 2,214 km long, is a major river in south China. In addition, China has a famous man-made river - the Grand Canal, running from Beijing in the north to Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province in the south. Work first began on the Grand Canal as early as in the fifth century A.D. 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.
China's many 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, Heilong, Pearl, Liaohe, Haihe and Huaihe 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 Yarlungzangbo Grand Canyon, the largest canyon in the world, 504.6 km long and 6,009 m deep. The Ertix River flows north 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 about 36 percent of China's total land area. Its 2,179 km makes the Tarim River in southern Xinjiang China's longest interior river.
China's territory includes numerous lakes, most of which are found on the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Freshwater lakes mostly lie in the former area, such as Poyang, Dongting, Taihu, and Hongze; while in the latter are saltwater lakes, such as Qinghai, Nam Co and Siling Co. Poyang Lake, in the north of Jiangxi Province and with an area of 3,583 sq km, is the largest one of its kind and Qinghai Lake, in northeast Qinghai Province and with an area of 4,583 sq km, is the largest one of its kind.