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The Yellow River: Facts and History

Updated on April 8, 2015
Paula Atwell profile image

Paula Atwell is a freelance writer with WriterAccess, webmaster, member of Pinterest Party on FB and the owner of Lake Erie Artist Gallery.

Yellow River Facts

The Yellow River, or Huang He, is said to originate in Western China's Qinghai Province, in the Bayan Har mountains, though some place its origin in Tibet. Its recorded length is 3,395 miles and it flows through nine of China's provinces before emptying itself into the Bohai Sea. The large basin of the river tops out at around 290,520 miles. Much of the river flows in a slow and sluggish fashion and, in the process, picks up a lot of the silt that rests on the river bottom. It's this silt which gives the Yellow River its name, as the water takes on a muddy golden/yellow hue when it is present.

What Do You Know About the Huang He River?

Huang He is what the Yellow River is known by in China. Sixth largest in the world, the river is China's second-longest and traverses many miles and cultures. Though some parts of this historic river are, indeed, yellow, other areas flow with the deepest colors of blue or the slate green of the ocean. The history, legends and myths surrounding the Yellow River in China ring with the voices of centuries past, and are as varied, fascinating and formidable as the history of China itself. Visitors to this ancient waterscape, whether the river flows fast through mountain ranges or appears calm as a still pond, are rarely disappointed.

The Influence of the Yellow River on Chinese Clothing

CHINESE YELLOW RIVER Corridor of Dressing Roots of China (English Subtitled)
CHINESE YELLOW RIVER Corridor of Dressing Roots of China (English Subtitled)
This is a great video on the influence the Yellow River has had on Chinese culture.

Yellow River History

Like many major rivers in various countries around the world, the Yellow River is considered the cradle of civilization--in this case, Chinese civilization. Communities along the river were the most prosperous in early Chinese history, and the river was both a provider of life and a means of transportation and trading. It's a sometimes unfortunate fact of life, however, that rivers don't keep to the same course over the centuries. The Yellow River map has had to change at least five times to accommodate the changes in the river's direction. Devastation of lives and homes also accompanied these changes, with entire communities losing their means of production, or their very lives, thus earning the river the alternate name of "River of Sorrow."

In the attempt to control the river flow and hold back the floods, the Chinese have built over 800 levees and dams along its forces. Some of the more controversial projects ended up burying major historical sites under tons of water, as well as displacing various towns and villages. In recent years, more and more people have also become concerned because the river dries up from time to time--far more, say old timers, than it did before.

The Yellow River Map


China, Shanxi Province, Hukou Waterfall on the Yellow River


Myths and Legends of the Yellow River

A civilization as old as China is bound to spawn many myths and legends, including those surrounding the Yellow River. As the river was the source of commerce, life and transportation, it was also the source of dreams and stories. From dragons to water sprites to emperors who got their power from the yellow waters, the Huang He river in China is at the center of many a tall tale. What jewelry you wear, what words you speak as you enter its waters, even what clothing you have on can determine whether the river will be happy for you, giving you prosperity, or sad and disappointed, earning you a disappointing year.

Would you go to China to take a river cruise?

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Animal Life of the Yellow River

There are about 150 species of fish in the Yellow River in China, though some are feared to be on their way to extinction. The river and its surrounding areas is also home to a wide variety of other animal and reptile life, including 220 species of birds. The Chinese giant salamander is a favorite, as are different frogs and other amphibians. The Chinese government has set aside protected wetland areas where in-peril species can attempt to recover, and others can continue to thrive. The river runs through mountainous regions, flatlands, marshlands and cities, so the natural wildlife associated with the Yellow River varies from region to region.

Touring the River

The Yellow River in China offers marvelous opportunities for tourists, whether they are from outside the country or within a province of China itself. The Tomb of the Yellow Emperor, a figure long associated with both the beginnings of Chinese civilization, and the Yellow River, is undergoing repairs and refurbishment to attract tourists to the area. China's long history, much of it conducted along the banks of rivers, means that even a simple walk through a river-side town can yield great wonders to behold. Tour companies within China can arrange for travelers to traverse the area on the water, as well as on land, to get the full effects of the river and its historical bases.

The yellow silt in the river may not seem to be much to look at, and when it is flooding it can appear as if the river itself is flowing with mud, but it's nice to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon that gave the river its name. Plan your tours around what most interests you. If you like to climb mountains, raft along the river and, in general, enjoy vigorous outdoor activities in beautiful areas, that is one type of tour. However, if your main interest is in seeking out part of the China's vast historical stores, meeting people descended from the first settlers, and enjoying quiet days poring over artifacts and books, that 's another sort of tour entirely.

The Yellow River in China, or the Huang He river, has something for everyone. In its journey through the nine Chinese regions it takes turns through such a variety of landscapes that it is impossible to see it all on only one journey. When some journey along the Yellow River, they come seeking answers from the past, and perhaps advice for the future. And the future, as always, is uncertain. Like many of the world's waterways, this Chinese river is a combination of great strength, having survived for many millenia, and great fragility, as it struggles to survive for many more.

Yellow River - Wild China

Traveling to the Yellow River

Before you travel to the Yellow River, discuss your trip with your physician. You may need vaccinations or pills to take with you. Also, check to see if you need a Visa as well as a passport for your trip.

© 2014 Paula Atwell


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    • poetryman6969 profile image


      5 years ago

      An interesting hub. I was having trouble understanding this:

      The large basin of the river tops out at around 290,520 miles

      Then I looked it up and I saw that is the area of the river in square miles.

    • Paula Atwell profile imageAUTHOR

      Paula Atwell 

      5 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      @Charmcrazey There are so many beautiful places around the world. I hope you get to go there. :)

    • Charmcrazey profile image

      Wanda Fitzgerald 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      I've always wanted to visit China. I love learning about all the beautiful and historic places there. The Yellow River sounds fascinating.

    • Paula Atwell profile imageAUTHOR

      Paula Atwell 

      5 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      @Mel yes the more I learn about rivers the more I want to learn. :)

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      5 years ago from San Diego California

      Fascinating study of this magnificent and historically significant river. For some reason the study of rivers and their origins fascinates me. I probably should have been a hydrologist, or whatever they are called. Great hub.

    • Paula Atwell profile imageAUTHOR

      Paula Atwell 

      5 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      @ teaches Glad you learned something. Thanks for visiting

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Paula, it seems the river may be an epic adventure for some people. You have educated me today on this river's history and background. Yes, I would love to travel it one day!

    • Paula Atwell profile imageAUTHOR

      Paula Atwell 

      5 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      @Sunshine625 Everyone has their own bucket list. :)

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Very interesting...I had no idea about the Yellow River, until now. And I voted, No, I wouldn't go to China to visit it :)

    • Paula Atwell profile imageAUTHOR

      Paula Atwell 

      5 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      You are welcome. ;)

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I certain know more than I knew before. Thanks for providing that added knowledge. ;-)

    • Paula Atwell profile imageAUTHOR

      Paula Atwell 

      5 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      @midget :) Thanks.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      Ah, the river that is a source of both death and life! Sharing this, Paula.


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