While China is governed by a totalitarian regime, the country and it's people are steadfast socialists with capitalistic hearts. While your average Chinese citizen is really only out for number one, the Chinese people understand their collective soul better than those that live in the west. Now, even as the regime changes guard to a more liberal view of outsiders, the government
bureaucracy remains the same; being, there's a fee for everything. With restricted travel zones almost
eliminated travel on all the major rivers in China is quite doable. Since foreigners are allowed to own real property, IE apartment, homes, land, cars or boats, one can join the droves of Chinese "yachtsmen" who traverse the rivers and coastal regions.
First, you need to be a consistently reliable Chinese traveler with papers in order. This will take about 4 years. During this time, you could buy a smallish apartment in a coastal town for about $15,000US.
Secondly, once you have purchased and registered your first "real" property; you apply for an open yearly "L" visa (about 200US), or a "Red" D Visa, resident card that allows you as a resident of China to come and go at will.
You can now purchase
a boat and nobody will send up the red flag so to speak. The best way is to purchase
a boat that's already been built and commissioned and all that needs to be done, is to agree on a price
and register your agreement at the local government house (same way you registered your apartment purchase). You are now the proud owner of a Chinese Dhow (or whatever). Even with a "D" Visa, with unrestricted travel in China (except restricted zones), traveling in Chinese waters can be spooky. Navigation
rules are different and mixed (with some rules over 3000 years old on some rivers) so it's best to have a local crew member
of with more than a little local some knowledge.
9 years in China/Tibet