Yellow River Facts

Yellow River Facts
By Leon Long
China Expert

Known as the "cradle of Chinese civilization" or the "Mother River,” the Yellow River is the main source of rich fertile soil and irrigation water for the Yellow River Valley which is the birthplace of Chinese civilization. Just like many of the world's great civilizations which have grown up around mighty rivers, the recorded history of Chinese civilization begins on the banks of the Yellow River with the Xia Dynasty, which lasted from 2100 to 1600 BCE. For over 3,000 years, some major dynasties in Chinese history built their capitals in the river basin, making the region the center of politics, economy and culture in the country. Now the waterway still feeds about 12 percent of China's population, irrigates about 15 percent of arable land, supports 14 percent of national GDP, and supplies water to more than 60 cities.

On the other hand, the Yellow River is like a restless, unpredictable, and dangerous dragon. It has changed course many times since records were first kept, and its countless floods have wrought terrible destruction on the northern China region. The massive flood in 1931 cost the lives of approximately four million people. It was considered the deadliest natural disaster ever. As a result, the river has several less-positive nicknames as well, such as "China's Sorrow" and the "Scourge of the Han People." Over the centuries, the Chinese people have used it not only for agriculture but also as a transportation route and even as a weapon.

Yellow River Facts

1. Where is the Yellow River?

The Yellow River is the 2nd largest river in China. Originating in the Bayankala Mountains in Qinghai province of Western China, it flows through nine provinces and empties into the Bohai Sea near the city of Dongying in Shandong province in eastern China.

2. Where is the Yellow River on a map?

It originates in Qinghai and flows east to Lanzhou. It then takes a ‘great northern bend’ around the Ordos Desert. Near Baotou, it turns south through Shanxi province. It then flows east through Henan province and northeast through Shandong to enter the Bohai Gulf.

3. Why is the Yellow River yellow?

The middle and upper streams of the Yellow River are dominated by mountains, while the middle and lower streams are dominated by plains and hills. Because the middle section of the river flows through the loess plateau of China, it carries a lot of sediment with it. Therefore, it is also known as the river with the highest sediment content in the world. About 1.6 billion tons of sand from the Loess Plateau was washed away by the river. Thanks to the upstream conservation of soil and water along the Loess Plateau, the sand in the water has dropped to 264 million tons annually.

4. How did the Yellow River get its name?

The river got its name Huang He in Chinese because of its yellow, muddy water, which appears as it runs through the Loess Plateau in northwestern China. In early history, the Yellow River is referred to in Chinese literature simply as He (河), or "River". The province Henan’s name in fact means “South of the River”. And the Hebei province’s name means “North of the river”. The first appearance of the name "Yellow River" (黄河) is in the Book of Han (汉书) which is the history book of the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE – 9CE). But we are not sure if that refers to the river we know today.

5. How long is the Yellow River?

The Yellow River is the second longest river in China, after the Yangtze River, and the sixth longest river system in the world with an estimated length of 5,464 km (3395mi).

6. What are the major tributaries of the Yellow River?

There are various tributaries to the Yellow River ranging from the river’s source in the mountains up to where it drains into the Bohai Sea.

7. Yellow River – Fauna & Flora

The River is the habitat of more than 125 varieties of fish, of which one fish is included in the coveted list of the National Conservation List of Key Aquatic Wildlife. There are parasitic algae, invertebrate animals, and carnivorous fishes in the river. It has also been the natural habitat of many bird species, like Scaly-sided mergansers and the Red-crowned cranes. There is not much in the way of wildlife existing in the upper river basin due to the dense human population. However, one can spot the Tibetan antelope, Wild yak, Musk deer, and the Sikas in the lower basin. The Yellow River Frog is a frog that lives near the basin of the Ordos Loop.

The flora of the Yellow River basin varies widely depending on location. Vegetation in the high upper-course region is sparse and tundra-like, with some grassland areas at lower elevations suitable for grazing livestock.

8. What are the major cities on the Yellow River?

Yellow River VS. Yangtze River

Two great rivers run through China proper: the Yellow River in the north, and the Yangtze (or Changjiang ) River to the south. In fact, most of China proper belongs to the drainage-basins of these two rivers. Both originate to the far west on the Tibetan Plateau.

Yellow River Yangtze River
Origins Banyan Har Mountains in Qinghai province of Western China Tanggula Mountains in southern Qinghai province
Length 5,464 kilometers 6,418 kilometers
Crops Wheat, corn, sorghum, millet and soybeans Rice, Tea
Topographic feature Alluvial plain Mountainous and alluvial plain
Climate Semi-arid and arid Subtropical monsoon
Significance Cradle of Chinese civilization It feeds about 12% of China's population. It irrigates about 15 percent of arable land. It supports 14% of national GDP, and supplies water to more than 60 cities. The Yangtze basin houses 30% of the Chinese population. Nearly half of the country’s crop production is contributed by crops grown in the Yangtze basin. It is the principal navigable waterway in China.
Main Hydropower Stations(in bracket is the year to start operation) Sanmenxia hydropower station (1960)
Liujiaxia hydropower Station (1974)
Longyangxia hydropower Station (1992)
Xiaolangdi hydropower Station (2001)
Laxiwa Hydropower Station (2010)
Gezhouba Hydropower Station (1981)
Three Gorges Hydropower Station (2012)
Xiluodu Hydropower Station (2014)
Xiangjiaba Hydropower Station (2014)
Wudongde Hydropower Station (2020)
Baihetan Hydropower Station (2022)

The Yellow River and the Chinese civilization

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