This paper examines the characteristics of historical floods and associated monsoon precipitation in the Yangtze Catchment, with specific attention given to the middle and lower Yangtze basin. Based on in situ field observations and historical discharge, flood duration, and land-use information, etc, we propose a number of flood characteristics of the basin: 1) floods have occurred more frequently after 1950s, however, changes in discharge can only partially explain the occurrence of the floods; 2) spectral analysis on the annual mean water discharge during 1860–1985 in Hankou hydrological gauging station of the middle Yangtze River reveals 16.4-year and 2.5-year flood recurrences, which become shortened from what has been recorded in the Chinese historical literature on millennial time scale; 3) floods after 1950s tend to have higher water levels (both mean and peak) and longer duration than before, but with remarkably limited inundation area; and 4) a series of flood waves generated by monsoon precipitation in 1998, initiated from the middle Yangtze, highlights the basin-wide climate hazards with a recurrence of around 60 years. Intensifying anthropogenic activity in the last century, including deforestation, dyking, and lake–coast reclamation etc. that results directly in riverbeds aggradation and shrinkage of lake water area in the middle Yangtze basin, are the key causes for recently human-induced floods in the basin. Threatened land property in the basin reminds us to harmonize with the river and provide more space for flooding.