Yangtze River in Tibet and Qinghai

The name Yangtze River, as well as various similar names such as Yangtse RiverYangtze Kiang etc., is derived from Yangzi Jiang ( Simplified Chinese: 扬子江; Traditional Chinese: 揚子江; pinyin: Yángzǐ Jiānglisten , the Chinese name for the river in its lower reaches. The modern Chinese name, Chang Jiang (长江/長江 Cháng Jiāng), literally means “long river” and is increasingly being adopted as the standard name in English.

Like many rivers, the Yangtze is known by different names over different parts of its course. At its source the river is known in Chinese as the Dangqu (当曲/當曲, from the Tibetan for “marsh river”). Downstream it is called the Tuotuo River (沱沱河) and then the Tongtian River (通天河, literally “pass to heaven river”). Where it runs through deep gorges parallel to the Mekong and the Salween before emerging onto the plains of Sichuan it is famous as the Jinsha River (金沙江 Jīnshā Jiāng, literally “golden sands river”). The name Yangzi was originally used by inhabitants of the river’s lower reaches, downstream from Zhenjiang and Yangzhou in Jiangsu, and derives from the name of an ancient ferry crossing Yangzi Jin (扬子津/揚子津, literally “Mr, Yang’s crossing”). Because it was the name first heard by missionaries and traders, it was applied in English to the entire river. In Chinese, Yangzi Jiang is considered a historical or poetic name for the river.

The Yangtze was earlier known to the Chinese as simply Jiang (江 Jiāng), a name which has become a generic name meaning “river,” or the Da Jiang (大江 Dà Jiāng, literally “great river”). The Tibetan name for the river is Vbri-chu (འབྲི་ཆུ་, lit. “river of the female yak”). The Yangtze is sometimes referred to as the Golden Waterway.