Which River Is Called "China's Sorrow" And Why?

Yellow River in China.
Yellow River in China.

China is an extensive country located in East Asia. Its landscape is diverse comprising of rivers, grasslands, mountains, deserts, and over 14,000 km of coastline. The Chinese river which is popularly known as “China’s Sorrow” is the Yellow River. The Yellow River is the 2nd longest river in China with a length of 5,464 km. It is also the 6th longest river in the world. The Yellow River begins at Bayan Har Mountains in the Chinese province of Qinghai and flows for thousands of kilometers into the Bohai Sea in the province of Shandong. In Chinese, the river is called “Huang He.”

Why The Yellow River Is Called “China’s Sorrow?”

The term “China’s Sorrow” was birthed from the tendency of the Yellow River to overflow its bank and cause devastating floods. Historically, these floods have been fatal as millions of people have lost their lives. They have also led to the mass destruction of property worth millions of dollars. The past frequent flooding of the Yellow River was caused by the fact that the river collects lots of loess, yellow sediment, as it flows. The sediment settles on its river bed. However, unlike the normal silt that only forms a thin layer at the bottom of the river, this yellow sediment forms a very thick layer. Consequently, water levels rise until it breaks the banks causing flooding.

Some of the worst incidences involving the Yellow River in the past include 1931, 1938, and 1943 floods. The 1931 Chinese Floods went on record as the worst natural disaster in world history. It claimed the lives of approximately 850,000-4,000,000 people. Seven years later in 1938, there was another flood that was caused by the removal of the levees that held the banks in place. This flood resulted in the death of millions of the Chinese through famine. The levees had been removed to stop the Japanese advancement in China. As if that was not enough, the Yellow River caused another cataclysmic flood that killed another million of Chinese people. It is these murderous floods that became characteristic of the Huang He that led to its being nicknamed “China’s Sorrow.”

Futile Attempts To Control The River

Efforts made to find a solution to the Yellow River problem have been futile. The last attempt was made by the Soviet Union that tried to build a dam at Sanmenxia using modern engineering. However, due to the engineers’ lack of knowledge regarding the intensity of the build-up of the sediment in the Yellow River, the project was a failure.


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