Scaling and multifractal properties of the hydrological processes of the Yangtze River basin were explored by using a multifractal detrended fluctuation analysis (MF-DFA) technique. Long daily mean streamflow series from Cuntan, Yichang, Hankou and Datong stations were analyzed. Using shuffled streamflow series, the types of multifractality of streamflow series was also studied. The results indicate that the discharge series of the Yangtze River basin are non-stationary. Different correlation properties were identified within streamflow series of the upper, the middle and the lower Yangtze River basin. The discharge series of the upper Yangtze River basin are characterized by short memory or anti-persistence; while the streamflow series of the lower Yangtze River basin is characterized by long memory or persistence. h(q) vs q curves indicate multifractality of the hydrological processes of the Yangtze River basin. h(q) curves of shuffled streamflow series suggest that the multifractality of the streamflow series is mainly due to the correlation properties within the hydrological series. This study may be of practical and scientific importance in regional flood frequency analysis and water resource management in different parts of the Yangtze River basin. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.