The River by Any Other Name

The name "Yangtze" is troublesome. English dictionaries usually give it two or three accepted pronunciations and an equal number of ways to spell it: Yangtze, Yangtse, Yangzi. The irony of it is that Chinese almost never use that name. As far back as the Zhou dynasty (1045 B.C.-246 B.C.), China's longest river was simply called Jiang, meaning "River." ("He," also meaning "River," was used to refer to the Yellow River, China's other great waterway.) Sometime in the 3rd century, Chinese started calling it the Chang Jiang (meaning "Long River"), and that's what it's called today. Theories abound on how the name Yangzi came about. Some say it came from Cantonese; others that it was a Western invention. In fact, in the 6th century the name Yangzi Jiang started showing up in poetry to refer to a short stretch of the river near Yangzhou. By the 19th century the name was applied to the whole river; and for a time, under the Republic, Yangzi Jiang was even the official name. But it returned to Chang Jiang under the People's Republic, and is the river's proper name.

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