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Great Wall Across the Yangtze

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The River Tour

Danning River
Danning River

The tributary is quite different than the main stem. Its clear, smooth waters are colored an incandescent turquoise that seem to flow smoothly into oblivion. But soon those waters turn into torrents of white-capped rapids. Boat men on the Danning
Boat men on
the Danning
The two men navigating begin fiercely working with their bamboo poles. Their muscles flex and their lean bodies contort and bend as they work to avoid an accident. One slight turn of the boat could steer the vessel right into one of the many exposed rocks.

man and child
Dachang Residents
Seven hours up river, we arrive safe in the arms of smoother waters at Dachang. Here, far away from modern civilization, time stands still. Now a small village, Dachang once flourished from bustling river commerce. It is notable for its well-preserved Ming and Qing (1368-1912 A.D.) architecture.

One of 12 peaks in Wu Xia (Witches Gorge)
Wu Xia (Witches Gorge)

Back on the Yangtze, just below Wushan is the entrance to the second gorge. Stretching 25 miles, Wu Xia (Witches Gorge) is situated between Sichuan and Hubei province. The gorge is most noted for its 12 sculpted peaks. In an area that sunbeams rarely find, there amid the sheer cliffs, the zeniths are draped with mist and clouds.

The most famous of the peaks is Goddess Peak. Resembling the figure of a kneeling maiden, it is said that the peak is an embodiment of Yao Ji, one of the daughters of the Queen Mother of the West. After returning from her travels from the East Sea, Yao Ji stumbled upon 12 dragons who were wreaking havoc on the river and mountains, leaving a deluge of floods and destruction in their wake. She resigned herself to the tallest peak, Goddess Peak, among her 11 maidens in order to protect the boatmen and peasants whose lives were intertwined with the river. Today, the goddess and her maidens make up the 12 sentinel peaks.

Qu Yuan Temple
Qu Yuan Temple

Nearly 50 miles further downstream is the town of Zigui, home of Qu Yuan Memorial Hall. Born in 340 B.C., Qu Yuan is China's most beloved poet and statesmen. He is known as a great patriot for warning King Huai of Chu Kingdom about an impeding invasion. However, his warnings went unheeded and the dynasty fell. The Memorial Hall was originally constructed during the Qing period (1644-1911 A.D.), but in the 1980s the temple was relocated and restored. Qu Yuan's memory is still celebrated today during China's annual Dragon Boat Festival.


The third and final gorge, Xiling, extends for 47 miles. Historically, passage through Xiling was considered the most precarious. Over the years countless boatmen and travelers have lost their lives in its precipitous waters. In the 1950s the most hazardous spots were reconfigured using dynamite, and travel today is no longer the dangerous voyage it used to be. The fantastic scenery of Xiling unfolds like a Chinese scroll. At every turn new summits appear.

The highest and last gorge, Military Manual and Sword Gorge, was named after China's most honored military genius, General Meng Liang. Like most of the heroes of the Yangtze gorges, he lived during the romantic period of the Three Kingdoms (221-265 A.D.). Liang is said to have written the ultimate book on military strategy. Fearing the book would fall into the hands of wicked warlords who might use it to conquer China, he buried the tome, along with his sword, somewhere in Xiling Gorge.

Three Gorges Dam site
Three Gorges Dam site

Before reaching the end of Xiling Gorge, we pass Sandouping, the site of the Three Gorges Dam. In 2009, the journey down the Three Gorges will be a very different one. The once formidable cliffs and chasms will remain, but they will be dwarfed by the gigantic dam, losing much of their current grandeur. The temples and monuments, sentinels of China's rich history, will drown beneath the murky waters, usurped by a new monument - a testament to the world in which the forces of modern technology reign.

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