All the major river systems of China, including the three longest—the Yangzi, Huang He, and Xi—flow in a generally west to east direction to the Pacific Ocean. In all, about 50 per cent of the total land area drains to the Pacific. Only about 10 per cent of the country’s area drains to the Indian and Arctic oceans. The remaining 40 per cent has no outlet to the sea and drains to the arid basins of the west and north, where the streams evaporate or percolate to form deep underground water reserves; principal among these streams is the Tarim. The most northerly major Chinese river is the Amur River (Heilong Jiang), which forms most of the north-eastern boundary with Russia. The Songhua (Sungari) and Liao rivers and their tributaries drain most of the Dongbei Pingyuan and its surrounding highlands.
The major river of North China is the Huang He. It is traditionally referred to as “China’s Sorrow” because, throughout Chinese history, it has periodically devastated large areas by flooding. The river is dyked in its lower course, and its bed is elevated above the surrounding plain as a result of the accumulation of silt. The river rises in the marginal highlands of the Tibetan Plateau and follows a circuitous course to the Bo Hai (Po Hai, an arm of the Yellow Sea), draining an area more than twice the size of France. The Yangzi River of central China has a discharge more than ten times that of the Huang He.
The longest river in Asia, it has a vast drainage basin. The Yangzi rises near the source of the Huang He and enters the sea at Shanghai. It is a major transport artery. It is the subject of a controversial project to dam it at its famous Three Gorges.
Serving the major port of Guangzhou are the estuarine lower reaches and tributary complex of the Xi, the most important river system of southern China. The river, which has numerous tributaries and distributaries, has a discharge three times as great as that of the Huang He.
Most of the important lakes of China lie along the middle and lower Yangzi Valley. The two largest in the middle portion are the Dongting and Poyang. In summer these lakes increase their areas by two to three times and serve as reservoirs for excess water. Lake Tai is the largest of several lakes in the Yangzi delta, and Hongze Lake and Gaoyou Lake lie just to the north of the delta.
Saline lakes, many of considerable size, abound in the Tibetan Plateau. The largest is the marshy Qinghai Lake (also known as Koko Nur) in the less elevated north-east, but several others nearly as large occur on the high plateau.
In the arid north-west and in the Mongolian Borderlands are a number of large lakes, most of which are also saline; principal among these are Lop and Bosten lakes east of the Tarim Basin. Ulansuhai Lake, which is fed by the Huang He, is in Nei Monggol Autonomous Region; Hulun Nur lies west of the Greater Khingan Range in Dongbei. More than 2,000 reservoirs have been constructed throughout the nation, primarily for irrigation and flood control. Most are small, but the largest, the Long Men reservoir on the Huang He, has a capacity of 35.4 billion cu m (1,250 billion cu ft). "China" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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