Abstract Eighteen organochlorine contaminants from the water samples of the Yangtse River have been qualitatively and quantitatively analyzed. The analysis of polychlorinated organic compounds (PCOCs) extracted by C18 Solid Phase Extract (SPE) was performed using HP6890 gas chromatograph coupled by ECD detector. The analytical results demonstrate that the analytical methods are reliable based on the fact that most of the recoveries for the targeted compounds are 60–90%. Most of the concerned contaminants, i.e. chlorinated pesticides and PCBs were found in the water samples of the Yangtse River, but their concentration was very low, <2.97 ng l −1, which is far less than 1 μg l −1 — the standard of drinking water of China. It is apparent that the PCOCs were in high concentration during the dry season, and in low concentration during the rainy season. The situation of PCOCs contamination in the water of the Yangtse River in 1999 was greatly improved in comparison with 10 years ago.