The Yellow River (Huang He)

Dramatic twists, turns, and bends of the Huang He.

5. Description

The Yellow River, also known as Huang He or Hwung-Her, is said to be the lifeline of China. It flows for 3,395 miles from its source in the Bayan Har Mountains located in Western China. The river is only next to the Yangtze River in terms of length in the nation, and has the distinction of holding the seventh position as one of the longest rivers from all over the world. It forms a vast delta spreading across 4,970 square miles before emptying itself into the Bohai Sea. As its name suggests, it is the muddiest of all major rivers, due to the presence of mineral-rich soils in huge quantities in its lower course, and this yellow mud also fills up the riverbed beyond the banks sometimes. The river thus is notorious for changing its course and causing frequent floods, and for this devastating flooding it is widely known as ‘China’s Sorrow’.

4. Historical Role

The Yellow river has great significance in the history of China as the cradle of Chinese civilization. Archaeologists have found innumerable sites from the Neolithic period (12,000 B.C.E. to 2,000 B.C.E.) along its riverbanks. The river has been the birthplace of the ancient Chinese civilization as per the recorded history. It all began with the Xia Dynasty in 2,100 BCE, which flourished for centuries and built several channels to divert the excess river waters to prevent it from frequently flooding. Next, the Yellow River Valley prospered during the Shang, Han, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties. However, the river also played a major role in causing the downfall of the Xin and the Qing Dynasties by its deadly floods, known for killing thousands of Chinese people at a time.

3. Modern Significance

Touted as one of the most economically important rivers of China, the Yellow River, with over 14 hydroelectricity dams, generates a considerable amount of electricity to power the innumerable industries in China. It also serves as the principal source of drinking water and irrigation of crops for much of the country. It has long remained as an agricultural zone, though its basin now supports a large number of industries and modern cities. Some of the major cities along the course of the Yellow River are Jinan, Zhengzhou, Hohhot, Yinchuan, and Lanzhou.

2. Habitat

The river has been a habitat of more than 125 varieties of fishes, 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.

1. Threats and Disputes

Industrial pollution is a major threat to the existence of the Yellow River. The sewage discharges of millions of tons of waste from the expanding cities is a major concern for the river’s health. According to experts, pollution has reached such a significantly harmful extent that, in some places, the river's water is not usable anymore for drinking or irrigation purposes. The main stream of the river water is thus now unsuitable for the existence of many native fishes. The river also suffered a serious drought in 2002 and it is gradually drying up over time, leading to a major water crisis across the country.


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