China // The Yangzi basin //

The Yangzi

The Yangzi (长江, chángjiāng) flows silt-grey and broad for 350km across Anhui’s lower third, forming a very visible geographic boundary – the fact that as recently as 1995 the only way to cross the river was by ferry is an indication of the province’s chronic underdevelopment. It’s now bridged in the east at Wuhu (芜湖, wúhú) and roughly halfway along at Tongling (铜岭, tónglĭng) where a reserve was at the forefront of unsuccessful efforts to save the baiji, or Yangzi river dolphin (白鲫河, báijì hé). Though the animals – 2.5m-long white river dolphins with a long thin snout and a stubby dorsal fin – were common as recently as the 1970s, a 2007 survey of the river failed to find a single one, the species’ demise linked to industrial pollution, river traffic and net fishing. The dolphins may linger on only in Tongling’s Baiji beer, which has their Latin name, Lipotes vexillifer, stamped on the bottle cap.

Most of the riverside towns don’t really justify special trips, but Ma’anshan and Xuancheng offer a modicum of interest for their poetic and herpetological associations, respectively.