Three Gorges

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Three Gorges
The Yangtze in the Three Gorges region.
Simplified Chinese 三峡
Traditional Chinese 三峽
The Qutang Gorge in 1999, prior to the creation of the Three Gorges Dam reservoir
The Qutang Gorge in 2009, with its lower reaches flooded by the reservoir
Cruise boats along Xiling Gorge

The Three Gorges (Chinese: 三峡; pinyin: About this sound Sānxiá) are three adjacent gorges along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River in the People's Republic of China. They're known for their scenery, and the "Three Gorges Scenic Area" is classified as the AAAAA scenic area (the highest level) by the China National Tourism Administration.[1]

The Three Gorges are located in the mainstream of the Yangtze River. They start from the Baidi City of Chongqing Municipality in the west of the People's Republic of China and ends at Nanjing Pass of Yichang City of Hubei Province in the east, stretching over 193 miles. The Three Gorges consist of the Qutang Gorge, the Wu Gorge, and the Xiling Gorge. Located in the hinterland of China, they're of the subtropical monsoon climate and pass through Fengjie and the Wu Mountains of Chongqing, as well as Badong, Zigui, and Yichang of Hubei Province.


The Three Gorges span from the western—upriver cities of Fengjie and Yichang in Chongqing Municipality eastward—downstream to Hubei province. The Three Gorges region attracts global attention due to the Three Gorges Dam, which is firmly changing the culture and environment of the river and Three Gorges region.[citation needed]

Three Gorges region has a total length of approximately 200 kilometers. The Three Gorges occupy approximately 120 kilometers within this region. Although it is primarily famous for its scenery, the Three Gorges region is also historically and culturally important in China. Many settlements and archaeological sites are under submersion from the rising Three Gorges Dam.[citation needed]

Geological overview

After traversing to Yibin of Sichuan Province, the Yangtze River continues to flow from Jiangjin of Chongqing Municipality to Yichang of Hubei Province, and this section is called 'Chuanjiang' — the river of Sichuan. In the past, it was the only waterway that connected Sichuan and Guizhou to China's eastern area. (The Wu River flows past Guizhou and empties into the Yangtze River at Peiling of Chongqing Municipality). The downstream of Chuanjiang passes the Wu Mountains—the second ladder of the Chinese mainland, forming the Qutang Gorge, the Wu Gorge and the Xiling Gorge along the Yangtze River. That's why this area is named the Three Gorges.

The Three Gorges

Gorge Chinese Length (km) Range
Qutang Gorge 瞿塘峡 8 from Baidicheng (Fengjie) to Daxi
Wu Gorge 巫峡 45 from Wushan to Guandukou (Badong)
Xiling Gorge 西陵峡 66 from Zigui to Nanjin Pass (Yichang)

Geological evolution

Due to the lithological conditions of different regions, the valleys of the Three Gorges are narrow in some regions and broad in other regions. Most narrow valleys scatter around regions with limestones, the strata of which are solid and resist erosion. Therefore, the gorges' two sides are less eroded by the river. However, water can flow along deep vertical fractures, eroding their bottom. With the gradual deepening of the bed, strata valley at both sides lose their balance step by step, and slump into the river along vertical fractures, forming precipitous cliffs. When the river goes past soft areas full of sandstones and shales with poor resistance to erosion, the erosive effect at both sides increases, thus carving those wide valleys. People hold different opinions about how the Three Gorges are formed, but geographers and geologists have generally reached a consensus, believing folded mountains in the east of Sichuan Province and the west of Hubei Province, including the Wu Mountains, were the outcome of the Yanshannian Movement around 70 million years ago. The gorges go from the southwest to northeast first, then make a turn, and span from the west to the east, with terrain turning lower little by little from the south to the north. The eastern and western parts of the area between mountains and the Bashan Mountain in the north are comparatively lower, and in the past, the river flowed to the east through the soggy region. On the other hand, as the crust of the locality continues to rise, river incision intensifies, and the Three Gorges are carved in the end.

Natural landscape

The natural beauty of the Three Gorges along the Yangtze River has been appreciated for hundreds of years. In the Northern Wei (北魏) dynasty, Li Daoyuan (郦道元) described them in his work Shui Jing Zhu (水经注), or the Commentary on the Water Classic:

"There are seamless mountains on both sides of the Three Gorges stretching more than 200 miles. The overlapping rocks make up layers of barriers that shield against sky and sunshine so that the sun can only be seen at noon and the moon will merely show at midnight. In summers, water rises to lofty mountains, making all boats floating along or against the river got blocked. Suppose an empire has an urgent decree to issue from Baidi, it will reach Jiangling at sunset of the day. The distance between them is about 373 miles, and neither a galloping horse nor a flight can run faster than a boat."

Between winters and springs, the shadows of rocks and woods are reflected in the green pool accompanied by white, swift currents. Cascades plunge and flow across cypresses increasing at extremely high peaks. Clean water, flourishing trees, lofty mountains and luxuriant grasses compose the landscape. When the sun starts to rise or frost falls in the morning, forests and streams are chilly and solemn, and one can often hear monkeys howling from peaks. Their cries sound sad and strange and last in the valleys for quite a while, because of that, local fishers think the Wu Gorge is the longest of the Three Gorges in the east of Sichuan province.

The Three Gorges have a few renowned scenic spots, such as the famous Kuimen (夔门), located at the entrance of the Three Gorges. The cliffs on both sides appear to have been cut by knives or axes. Among the Wu Mountains that are located at the northern and southern beaches of the Wu Gorge, one of the twelve peaks is known as the 'Fairy Peak'. According to folk tradition, it symbolizes a fairy who assisted Yu the Great to control the wasters and guided boatmen. The Xiling Gorge is composed of a series of famous gorges, including Military Book and Sword Gorge, Yellow Cow Gorge, and Lantern's Shadow Gorge.

Cultural landscape

Yuan Shansong of the Eastern Jin dynasty wrote a "Record of Yichuan's Landscape," depicting the Three Gorges' grandeur. In this article he said, "People were always warned literally or orally of the Gorges' swift currents, saying they are horrific, and no one praised the local landscape was beautiful. It's till I came to the site that I felt quite gleeful and started to understand seeing is believing. The overlapping cliffs, the elegant peaks and the grotesque structures, they all constitute the scenery far from expression. The lush, solemn woods stood erected in the cloudy air. I can raise up my head to appreciate what's above, and look down to see reflections, and the more acquainted I get with this place, the better I feel. I spent two nights there, forgetting to return. I had never seen such a scene, nor had I any similar experience. So I am cheerful to see such a wonder, I feel mountains and waters all had spirits, and I am thrilled to encounter this bosom friend after seeking so long."

In his poem, Setting out from Baidi City, Li Bai depicted this place, saying,

"While monkeys keep howling at both sides of the river, the boat has swiftly passed thousands of mountains."

Cultural relics

  • The Baiheliang 白鹤梁 Hydrographic Mark — During the period of Guangde of Tang dynasty, or exactly speaking in 763, people already found around 165 paragraphs of an inscription with almost 30,000 characters. There are 18 carps carved on the stone along with the inscription, and they are used as hydrographic markers to record the water fluctuation during those low water periods, and foretell whether the agricultural outcome will be productive. According to the initial estimate, after the reservoir is built at the Three Gorges, parts of Baiheliang with 20 years of records will be submerged into silt. In 2001, Ge Xiurun, the Academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences proposed to use the 'unstressed container' to safeguard the original site underneath the water and pave corridors to connect to the ground so that visitors are able to access.
  • Shibaozhai, 石宝寨 or the Precious Stone Fortress, is located in Shibao Township of Zhong County of Chongqing Municipality. Built during the period of Jiaqing of Qing dynasty, or precisely speaking from 1796 to 1820, those 35-meter buildings typically represent the high-rise column-and-tie constructions in the south of China. When the Three Gorges project begins, a giant dam will be established around this fortress as its protection.
  • The Zhang Fei Temple, 张桓侯庙 of Yun Yang County of Chongqing, constructed no later than Song dynasty, surmounts the south of the Yangtze River and the northern foothill of the Feng Fei Mountain. Being close to the Yangtze River it was flooded more than once. The present construction is the one that had been repaired consecutively during the periods of Tongzhi and Guangxu of Qing dynasty. The whole area of the Zhang Fei Temple—a temple complex—is 2,000 square meters. A great number of calligraphy and paintings, stone inscriptions and woodcarvings left in Tang and Song dynasties, such as the First and Second Odes on the Red Cliffs by Su Shi, are saved. Since its height is between 130 and 160 meters, and it will be drowned when water reserved by the Three Gorges reaches 175 meters, the Zhang Fei Temple has been wholly relocated by rescuers.

After the implementation of the Three Gorges got approval, it cost archaeologists a long run to carry out rescue excavation. However, after its main body is built and used to store water, a large sum of unearthed cultural relics as well as those cultural remains (including hanging coffins and stone inscriptions) which cannot be protected will be covered by the Yangtze River.

Three Gorges Dam

The Three Gorges Dam were constructed at a place called Sāndòupíng in the middle of the Xiling Gorge. The reservoir dam was completed in the summer of 2006, and the water level quickly reached the maximum level of 110m above the downstream river. The project was completed by the end of 2008, although a ship lift is still under construction, and expected to be completed in 2015.[citation needed]

The dam and Three Gorges Reservoir has had a massive impact on the region's ecology and people, involving the mass relocation of towns and villages.[citation needed] The higher water level has changed the scenery of the Three Gorges so that the river is wider and the mountains appear lower. However, the mountains still tower above the river, and the gorges continue to offer views of the surrounding cliffs.

The riverboat companies operating on the Three Gorges are experiencing an increase in demand for river cruises.[citation needed] The increased width and depth of the river permits larger ships through the gorges, and there has been a significant increase in river traffic of all kinds, including bulk cargo and container barges.

Travel poster for the Three Gorges Region (circa 1930).

Hydroelectric projects at the Three Gorges

Key Subjects: Three Gorges Hydroelectric Dam and Gezhouba Hydroelectric Dam

After Sun Yat-sen had put forward the concept in the 'Plan for Industrial Development' of his 'Strategy to Build China' in 1919, experts had consecutively come to the Three Gorges and made investigations, and the disputes over the dam's establishment lasted about 100 years. It was not until 1994 that the Three Gorges project officially started.

In 1944, the Nationalist government recruited John L. Savage, the Chief Engineer of the United States Bureau of Reclamation, who came to China and made a 10-day investigation on the Three Gorges. Afterwards, he wrote the famous 'Initial Report on the Three Gorges along the Yangtze River', which was submitted to the Nationalist government and the U.S. President Roosevelt, rousing astounding impacts.

In February 1958, as the expanded meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee was held at Nanning, the Three Gorges Project was brought on the table for the first time for discussion, and fierce disputes broke out. In the end, this project was delayed. In the following three decades, people continued to discuss it for quite a few times. In the early 1980s, people mentioned it once again, but after repeated discussions and investigations, it was postponed again. On March 6, 1992, the feasibility report was presented at the 5th Session of the 7th National People's Congress (NPC) for discussion and resolution. On April 3 of that year, 2,633 NPC members, who accounted for one-third of the entire group, voted for the Resolution on the Development of the Three Gorges Project, and this is unprecedented in the voting history of the People Republic of China.

The Three Gorges project officially began on December 14, 1994. On May 20, 2006, its main body along the Yangtze River, which is located at Sandouping of Yichang of Hubei Province, has been partially established.

See also


  1. ^ "AAAAA Scenic Areas". China National Tourism Administration. 16 November 2008. Retrieved 9 April 2011. 

Coordinates: 31°2′34.0″N 109°33′41.0″E / 31.042778°N 109.561389°E / 31.042778; 109.561389

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