The Xiang River is the chief river of the Lake Dongting drainage system of the middle Yangtze, the largest river in Hunan Province, China. It is the 2nd largest tributary (after Min River) in terms of surface runoff, the 5th largest tributary by drainage area of the Yangtze tributaries. The river flows generally northeast through Guangxi and Hunan two provinces, its tributaries reach into Jiangxi and Guangdong.
Traditionally, it was regarded that the West (left) Branch is the Main Stream of the Upper Xiang, which rises in the Haiyang Mountains between xing'an and Lingchuan counties of Guangxi. In the 1st national water census of China in 2011, the East Branch Xiao River,  was identified as the Main Stem of the Upper Xiang. The Ping Island of Yongzhou is the meeting of the two streams, the West source originating from Guangxi and the East source of the Xiao River originating from Lanshan County of Hunan.
With the tributaries, the Xiang has a river basin area of 94,721 square kilometres (36,572 sq mi), of which Hunan has an area of 85,383 square kilometres (32,967 sq mi). In a situation of Guangxi source, the Xiang has a length of 844 kilometres (524 mi); In another situation of Xiao River as the main source stream, the Xiang has a length of 948 kilometres (589 mi).
The Upper Xiang River has two large Branches, the West (left) and East (right). The West Branch is traditionally known as the main stream, originating from the Haiyang Mountains in Guilin of Guangxi. In Hunan, there had been debate on whether or not this tradition of regarding the West Branch as the main stream is actually founded. According to the 2011 national Water Census of China, it is the East Branch, not the West, that should be regarded as the main stream of the Xiang. This is because it is both longer and contributes a greater volume of water than the western branch. The east branch retains the name of Xiao River, and it rises in Yegou Mountain (野狗岭) of Xiangjiangyuan Township (湘江源瑶族乡) in Lanshan County, Hunan. The two branches converge at Ping Island to form the Main Stem of the Xiang. The Main Stem is located in the eastern part of Hunan. The Xiang generally flows southwest to northeast from Lingling District of Yongzhou to Xiangyin County, and empties into the Yangtze River via Lake Dongting.
The Left Branch, also known as the West Branch of the upper course is traditionally known the upper Xiang River, the portion of the Xiang River upstream called Xiangshui River (湘水). From the headwaters at Xing'an County, Guangxi, the West Branch flows approximately 261 kilometres (162 mi) to Ping Island of Yongzhou, where it is joined by the Xiao River to form the middle Xiang River.
Historically it was recognized that the headwaters of the Xiang rise in Haiyang Mountains. People say the Xiang and the Li Rivers share the same origin, because the upper reaches of the two rivers are connected by the ancient Lingqu Canal, which is located in Xing'an County, Guangxi. According to a traditional saying, 70% of the water in Lingqu flows into the Xiang and 30% flows into the Li River. In the past, the canal, along with the Xiang River and the Gui River provided an important waterway connecting the Yangtze River with the Pearl River Delta.
The Xiao River is the East Branch of the upper course. As of 2011 Water Census of China, it may be regarded as the Main Stream of the upper Xiang River. Xiao rises in Xiangjiangyuan Township of Lanshan County, from the headwaters to Ping Island at the confluence with the West Branch (Left Branch) from Guangxi, it runs 365 kilometres (227 mi). With the tributaries, the Xiao River has a drainage basin area of 12,094 square kilometres (4,670 sq mi).
Three Largest Tributaries
- The Xiao River, (瀟水) the true upper stream
- The Lei River, (耒水) which converges with the Xiang in Zhuhui District (城北區), Hengyang
- The Mi River, (洣水) which enters from the right in the south of Hengshan County
- Huanglong River (Chinese: 黄龙河), the northernmost one of right-bank tributaries of Changsha section; the river mouth is at Zengzigang between Dalong of Chating Town and Huashi of Tongguan Subdistrict of Wangcheng District.
- Shizhu River (Chinese: 石渚河), the river mouth is located at Lanjiapo of Caitaoyuan Village, Tongguan Subdistrict, Wangcheng District.
- Shahe River (Chinese: 沙河), the river mouth is located between Fanshenyuan Village of Wangcheng District and Xianinggang Community of Kaifu District.
- Laodao River (Chinese: 捞刀河), the river mouth is located at Jiangwan (Chinese: 江湾) of Xiufeng Subdistrict, Kaifu District.
- Liuyang River (Chinese: 浏阳河), the river mouth is located at Xinhe Delta Mouth (Chinese: 新河三角洲) of Kaifu District.
- Muyungang River (Chinese: 暮云港河), the southernmost one of right-bank tributaries of Changsha section; the river mouth is located between Dawantang and Maziling of Muyun Subdistrict, Tianxin District.
- Liulin River (Chinese: 柳林江), the northernmost one of left-bank tributaries of Changsha section; the river mouth is located between Lingbei of Xiangyin County and Qiaokou Town of Wangcheng District.
- Old Wei River (Chinese: 老沩水), the old Wei River, also known as Yahe River (Chinese: 哑河), is a river system in the region of Dazhong Batardeau (Chinese: 大众垸).
- Wei River (Chinese: 沩水河), the largest left-bank tributary of Changsha section of Xiang River; the river mouth is located in Gaotangling Subdistrict of Wangcheng District.
- Maqiao River (Chinese: 马桥河), the river mouth is located at Congshugang (Chinese: 枞树港) of Gaotangling Subdistrict.
- Waterways of Daze Lake (Chinese: 大泽湖水系), including Daze Lake and waterways, its main stream joins Xiang River at Huilong Briage (Chinese: 回龙桥).
- Longwanggang River (Chinese: 龙王港), the river mouth is located at Wangyuehu of Yuelu District.
- Jin River (Chinese: 靳江河), the river mouth is located in the south of the Yuelu Mountain, Yuelu District.
- Waterways of Tongxi Creek (Chinese: 桐溪港水系)
- Guanyin Creek (Chinese: 观音港)
- Zhabu Creek (Chinese: 渣埠港)
- Zhubu Creek (Chinese: 竹埠港)
- Lianshui River (Chinese: 涟水)
- Juan River (Chinese: 涓水)
- Zijing River (Chinese: 紫荆河)
In the Chinese folk religion, the river is protected by the "Xiang River goddesses" or "Xiang Consorts" Ehuang and Nüying. They are said to have been the daughters of the legendary ruler Yao and the wives of his successor Shun. Unable to bear the pain of their husband's death, they committed suicide in this river. An etiological myth relates the spots on the spotted bamboo (斑竹), also known as the Xiang bamboo (湘竹 or 湘江竹), Xiang Consort bamboo (湘妃竹), and teardrop bamboo (淚竹), to the tears of the weeping consorts. They were worshipped in some form by the people of Chu during the Warring States and its poet Qu Yuan is credited with writing the "Ladies Xiang" (湘夫人) to document the ritual songs in their honor.
Major cities along the river
- 湘江源头在湖南蓝山, 湘江干流全长948公里, 流域面积94,721平方公里 - When the source stream of the Xiang is the Xiao, beginning in Lanshan County, the main river of the Xiang has a length of 948 kilometres (589 mi) with a drainage basin area of 94,721 square kilometres (36,572 sq mi): hn.xinhuanet.com or rednet.cn (21-May-13)
- A misinformation of millennium of years for the source of Xiangjiang River - 湘江源头，为何误传千年: voc.com.cn (22-May-13), rednet.cn (24-Mar-15), ifeng.com (22-May-13), sohu.com (15-May-16), (22-May-13)
- The river basin area in Hunan, according to Hunan 11th Five-year Plan on Water Conservation - 湖南省“十一五”水利发展规划: fgw.hunan.gov.cn or findlaw.cn
- first national water census of China: chinadaily.com.cn (20-Dec-11) or chinadaily.com.cn (18-Mar-11)
- about Xiang River in Guangxi Reachers, according to the Guangxi General Description (广西通志)/Geographica of Guangxi (地理志)/Waters and Rivers (水系水文) - the Yangtze River System (长江水系), see gxdqw.com (the Yangtze River System in Guangxi)
- Lingqu Canal (Xiang'an County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Qin Dynasty) (Nomination for the UNESCO Heritage List)
- Ueki et al. 1999, pp. 133–4.
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