The English name Yangtze derives from the Chinese name Yángzǐ Jiāng ( listen), which refers to the lowest 435 km of the river between Nanjing and Shanghai. The whole river is known in China as Cháng Jiāng ( listen; literally: "Long River").
The Yangtze plays a large role in the history, culture and economy of China. The prosperous Yangtze River Delta generates as much as 20% of the PRC's GDP. The Yangtze River flows through a wide array of ecosystems and is habitat to several endemic and endangered species including the Chinese alligator, the finless porpoise, the Chinese paddlefish, the (possibly extinct) Yangtze River dolphin or baiji, and the Yangtze sturgeon. For thousands of years, the river has been used for water, irrigation, sanitation, transportation, industry, boundary-marking and war. The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River is the largest hydro-electric power station in the world.
In recent years, the river has suffered from industrial pollution, agricultural run-off, siltation, and loss of wetland and lakes, which exacerbates seasonal flooding. Some sections of the river are now protected as nature reserves. A stretch of the upstream Yangtze flowing through deep gorges in western Yunnan is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In mid-2014 the Chinese government announced it was building a multi-tier transport network, comprising railways, roads and airports, to create a new economic belt alongside the river.
Because the source of the Yangtze was not ascertained until modern times, the Chinese have given different names to lower and upstream sections of the river.
"Yangtze" was actually the name of Chang Jiang for the lower part from Nanjing to the river mouth at Shanghai. However, due to the fact that Christian missionaries carried out their activities mainly in this area and were familiar with the name of this part of Chang Jiang, "Yangtze river" was used to refer to the whole Chang Jiang in the English language.