2007-06-06

China's river system, and the Painted Veil

I watched a beautiful movie in the plane 2 months ago, the Painted Veil. Great lead actor and actress, splendid cinematography and that. I love the movie.

There is only one small problem that has bothered me. The village is filmed in the Guilin area, chosen for its picturesque Karst landscape (Guilin to Karst is like Sedona to the Monument Valley, i.e. avec water and greenery), while one important thread is that the cholera infected village is easier reached from the Chinese city where the Fanes lived by water. Shanghai and Guilin belong to 2 different water system and so there is no way one can take a boat from Shanghai to reach Guilin - as shown in the map below. (but actually it is feasible -- thanks to the First Emperor Qin -- see note below)

Shanghai belongs to the Yangtze River System, while Guilin belongs to the Pearl River System. Today the estuaries of these 2 systems form the most vibrant economic zones in China, the Yangtze Delta and the Pearl Delta.

The two systems are separated by watersheds, indicated by the black lines on the map. The 7 major rvier systems in China are
  • Yangtze, Pearl and Yellow River, as shown by the major watersheds in the map below
  • Amur/Heilongjiang/Songhua River in Northeast, this is as large as the big three but can also be classified as international river system now (especially when Russia got the estuary of Heilongjiang/Amur when it took outer Manchuria)
  • Liao River in Liaoning, and Hai River in Beijing/Tianjin area -- these are smaller, and Hai River is almost dried up these days
  • Huai river, not clearly shown in this map -- should locate between Shanggai and Shandong (between Yellow and yangtze)

Other than the 7 systems, there are

  • Smaller river systems such as Min Jiang in Fujian, etc.
  • Inland Rivers, mostly in Xinjiang, with Yili River the largest (also an international river)
  • other (international) river systems include Yaluzanbu (Yar-klungs gtsang-po / Bramaputra), Nu Jiang (Salween), Lancang Jiang (Mekong)
Coincidentally, if the film-makers were to follow the settings of the original book, the city Walter lives would be HK, not Shanghai. One would then be able to sail from HK upstream to Li Jiang in Guilin (via Guangzhou/Pearl River, Wuzhou/Xi Jiang/Guijiang and finally reach Li Jiang (LJ in the map).



Note:
1) Another tidbit is that the Chinese government back then would not have employed a British micro-biologist. But the Colony of HK would
2) There is actually a canal, Ling Qu, built by Qin Shihuangdi, connecting the Pearl and Yangtze systems. But it is unlikely that one would take a boat from Shanghai to Guilin via Ling Qu.

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