Top 10 Longest Rivers In The World

Last updated on April 12th, 2022

6. The Yellow – the world’s sixth longest river

The Yellow River is China’s second-longest river starting in the Bayan Har Mountains and emptying into the Bohai Sea. The basin supported early civilizations but it was also the site of numerous wars and natural disasters. Locals look at it with both pride and sorrow because of its long intriguing history.

1. Etymology

The Yellow River got its name from its color in the lower course. The sediments that get carried downstream after passing through the Loess Plateau makes the water look muddy.

2. Cradle of Civilization

The river was vital in supporting the birth of ancient Chinese civilization. Its water was used for irrigation. Its sediments created fertile soil. It also became an important transport route and was even used as a weapon in times of war.

The Yellow River, the river in northern China , fact file Yellow river
The Yellow River, the river in northern China. Photo © Qin0377 |

3. The Xia Dynasty

In 2100 BCE, different tribes united to stop devastating river floods. They dug canals that allowed excess water to empty to the sea. With the crops safe, their bountiful harvests made them prosperous enough to build a kingdom that ruled the region for centuries.

4. The Shang Dynasty

After the fall of the Xia Dynasty around 1600 BCE, the Shang Dynasty emerged also on the Yellow River valley. They developed a rich culture that produced great artwork such as elaborate jade carvings.

Yellow river on map

5. The Philosopher Confucius

The influential philosopher Confucius was born along the banks of the Yellow River in Shandong, specifically the village of Tsou around 551 BCE. His teachings emphasized morality, kindness, justice, and sincerity.

6. The Qin Dynasty

In 246 BCE, the Cheng-Kuo Canal provided irrigation and boosted crop yields for the Qin Kingdom. This helped them grow their population and defeat their enemies. However, the Yellow River’s sediments eventually clogged the canal and made it useless.

7. Flood as Defense

In 923 CE, a Liang Kingdom general breached the dikes of the Yellow River in a desperate attempt to prevent the Tang Kingdom armies from approaching. Their kingdom was flooded but they were still eventually conquered by the enemy.

8. Flood as Weapon

In 1642, the Kaifeng city governor breached the dikes to wash away a besieging peasant rebel army. However, the river flooded the city instead and killed most of its citizens.

the Yellow River
The Yellow River. Image credit – Great Han

9. The 1887 Yellow River Disaster

The growing population along the riverbanks corresponded with higher fatalities from floods. Almost 2 million people died in 1887. The disaster convinced people that their rulers lost their mandate from heaven. The Qing Dynasty fell in 1911.

10. The 1931 Yellow River Flood

The deadliest flood in history occurred in 1931 when nearly 4 million people died around the Yellow River valley. Survivors had to deal with failed crops and raging war that resulted in famine and disease.

11. Flood Control Efforts

The catastrophic floods made it clear that major infrastructure was needed to control the waters. The government of Mao Zedong invested heavily on building dams along the Yellow River and the Yangtze River.

12. China’s Sorrow

The Yellow River takes as much as it gives. That’s why it has also been given names such as “The Ungovernable” and “China’s Sorrow”.

This photo depicts old and new city of Lanzhou separated by the Yellow River or Huang Pu which is a key source of life in China
This is the City of Lanzhou in Gansu province in Northwest China, it has a population of about 3.5 million people and is an industrial area -This photo depicts old and new separated by the Yellow River or Huang Pu which is a key source of life in China . This historical city was a major stop along the silk road from east China to Europe. It was one of the few big stops for the big carvans traveling by camel to rest and replenishment of the supplies after traveling 100’s of kilometers of dry dessert from either the east from Beijing or the west from Turkey. Image credit – DaiLuo

13. Changing Course

The Yellow River is known for radically changing its course over time. This is mostly due to its silt load which settles on the riverbed until the stream is forced to shift to a lower level.

14. Fishing Activities

The basin is rich in fish with over 160 native species including the paradise fish, carp, stone loaches, gobies, and catfish. Catches have declined due to over-fishing, pollution, habitat loss, and introduced species.

15. Annual Fishing Ban

To help the fish population recover, the government has implemented a fishing ban on the Yellow River from April 1 to June 30 every year starting in 2018.

16. Aquaculture

The Chinese softshell turtle and the Chinese pond turtle are both native to the Yellow River. These are widely farmed for food. The Chinese giant salamander is also used in traditional medicine.

17. River Pollution

In 2008, it was reported that a third of the Yellow River was mired in severe pollution. This made it unusable for industrial and agricultural purposes. The main culprits were city sewage and factory discharges.

Yellow river in Linxia county. world's top ten rivers
Yellow river in Linxia county. Image crfedit – Tim Zachernuk

18. Ancient Beliefs

The ancient Chinese believed that the Yellow River flowed from Heaven itself as a continuation of the Milky Way galaxy here on Earth.

19. Provincial Names

Such is the importance of the Yellow River that nearby provinces were named in relation to it. For example, Hebei means “north of the river” and Henan means “south of the river”.

20. Chinese Expression

There are English expressions used to refer to things that will never happen such as “when pigs fly”. In China, the equivalent would be “when the Yellow River flows clear”.

Yellow River Elephant Fossil
The Yellow River Elephant Fossil in Gansu Museum, Lanzhou, Gansu province of China. It is 4 meters high and 8 meters long. Because the elephant is armed with sword-like ivories as long as 2 meters, so it is also called “Sword-ivory Elephant”. This set of skeleton fossil is the most integral one among all the skeletons of sword-ivory elephant fond around the world. Photo © Liz Lee |

Yellow River – quick facts and statistics

NameThe Yellow
Native name黄河 (Huáng Hé)
SourceBayan Har Mountains (location: Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai)
MouthBohai Sea (location: Kenli District, Dongying, Shandong)
Length5,464 km (3,395 mi)
Widthup to 200 feet
Depthup to 35 feet
Basin size752,546 km2 (290,560 sq mi)
Direction of flowwest to east
Table last updatedDecember 6, 2021

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