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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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 – quick facts and statistics
|Native name||黄河 (Huáng Hé)|
|Source||Bayan Har Mountains (location: Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai)|
|Mouth||Bohai Sea (location: Kenli District, Dongying, Shandong)|
|Length||5,464 km (3,395 mi)|
|Width||up to 200 feet|
|Depth||up to 35 feet|
|Basin size||752,546 km2 (290,560 sq mi)|
|Direction of flow||west to east|
|Table last updated||December 6, 2021|
continue reading on the next page . . .