What is the Yellow River?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Yellow River or Huang He is a major river in the Asian nation of China. It stretches across China's northern reaches, meandering through several provinces before it empties into the Bo Hai Sea. It is the second longest river in China, surpassed only by the mighty Yangtze, and it is the sixth longest river in the world. Visitors to China often try to visit a section of this river, since this river is an important part of China's geology, culture, and history.

A map of China.
A map of China.

The name of this river is a reference to the yellow silt which accumulates in its waters. The natural yellow tone of the river has been remarked on by many visitors to the area over the course of China's history. It is also sometimes known as “China's Pride,” acknowledging its role as the cradle of Chinese civilization. The Yellow River is also prone to catastrophic flooding, leading some people to call it “China's Sorrow” or “China's Curse.”

Many agricultural workers were moved out of the Yellow River Basin when it was industrialized.
Many agricultural workers were moved out of the Yellow River Basin when it was industrialized.

The river originates in the Kunlun mountain chain of China's Qinghai province. As it snakes across the Northern regions of China, it meets up with hundreds of tributaries which slowly swell its heavily silted waters until it reaches the Bo Hai Sea. The banks of the Yellow River have hosted human civilization for hundreds of years, and numerous archaeological sites close to the river constantly uncover new and fascinating things.

The Chinese traditionally used the river for agriculture, harnessing its waters for irrigation and to water livestock. The river continues to be used for agricultural purposes in the modern era, although agriculture is putting such a heavy demand on the river that some scientists are urging a rethinking of Chinese agricultural practices. Since the 1970s, the lower reaches of the Yellow River have actually dried up several times due to excessive water use.

The water of this river also provides a major shipping route for the Chinese, ensuring that goods can penetrate inland China. In the modern era, the Chinese have also harnessed the power potential of the Yellow River by putting in several major hydroelectric dams along its length. As China has industrialized, some people have raised concerns about the health of bodies of water like the Yellow River. In addition to being heavily exploited, China's waters are also growing polluted, due to lack of adequate pollution controls and reinforcement.

Several hydroelectric dams have been built on the Yellow River to generate hydroelectric power.
Several hydroelectric dams have been built on the Yellow River to generate hydroelectric power.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


It's a shame what is happening to the Yellow River in these modern times. The economy in China is growing by leaps and bounds. But there is a price to pay unless regulations are put on agricultural methods. Over-use of water can literally dry up parts of a river.

If it isn't monitored, pollution can rear its ugly head in no time. I hope that China's government begins some serious regulation before it gets out of hand. I think that the United States has learned this lesson.


I have heard of rivers named after the color of the water - like Green River and Red River, but the Yellow River seems like a strange color for a river to be. People say it is a beautiful sight. Guess I'll have to see it to believe it.

Rivers in all countries have played such a large part in their history, culture and livelihood. Just like the floods of the Nile River provided a fertile plain for agriculture, the same thing was true of the Yellow River. The area along the Yellow River provided a place for civilization to thrive and become stable.


When I was visiting China the yellow river was listed as tourist hot spot. Apparently the Chinese government has been working hard to make areas along the yellow river into tourist friendly zones. With the long history of the yellow river it really doesn't surprise me that it is being advertised as one of the great things to see in China.

For myself, I took a brief trip to the Mangshan Yellow River tourism zone near Luoyang City. The best part of the trip had to be seeing all of the grand tombs that were built to remember various members of the Imperial family. The tombs are in the mountains near the river, which makes for impressive views. I don't think I have ever gotten photos quite as impressive as the ones I took while on that tour.


It's amazing to me that so many people still make the area directly along the yellow river their home, as it is famous for flooding and killing millions of people over the years. I can understand the necessity of living near a source of water, but it must be so frightening wondering when the next time your crops and home will get washed away.

Does anyone know if there has ever been any work done to lesson the impact of the flooding of the yellow river, or an emergency system put in place to warn people of impending floods?

I would hope that the Chinese government would make the safety of those along the yellow river a high priority.


I have a friend whose parents traveled to the Yellow River a few years ago. They said it was truly beautiful, and that there is also a lot of interesting history in the area. I would love to go there someday, China seems so exotic to someone like me who grew up in Ohio.


This is awesome!!! EXACTLY what I needed!!! :D


This was exactly what i was looking for! thanks soooo muchh!! :)))


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