Yellow River: Facts, Location & History

Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

The Yellow River is also referred to as Huang He or simply, 'The River.' Discover where this river is located. Learn about the beauty of this river through historical context and facts. Take a short quiz at the end of this lesson to test your expertise on the Yellow River.

Yellow River: Overview

Were you aware there are several different names for the Yellow River? The traditional Chinese name is Huang He. However, the Yellow River is also referred to as, The River, Mother River of China, The Cradle of Chinese Civilization, and even, The Sorrow. Now that might seem like a lot of names for one river, but if you look at the history of the Yellow River you will understand the the meaning behind each name.

Known to be the seventh longest river in the world, it is the second longest in the country of China. Stretching 3395 miles long, the river originates in the Bayankala Mountains in Western China at the Qinghai Province. Flowing through nine provinces, the mouth of the river empties into the Bohai Sea. It is believed the Yellow River has changed course more than 20 times due to severe flooding. Because it is prone to extreme flooding, the Yellow River was given the name, The sorrow.

Map of Yellow River Flowing from the Bayankala Mountains to the Bohai Sea
yellow map

The name, Cradle of Civilization, was given to this river as the basin was the birth spot for Chinese civilization. A basin is an area of land that water, from the river and other waterways, flow into. In other words, think of a basin as the shape of a bathtub waiting and ready to collect water from the river and its many outlets..

A Portion of the Yellow River

If you grab some measuring tape you will see that the distance of the Yellow River basin is 1,180 miles from East to West. The distance from North to South is roughly 684 miles. Climatic changes, manmade activities, erosion and flooding have all reshaped the river. Ultimately, this has affected the riverbed's elevation, directly impacting farming practices along the river. The geography of the Yellow River is divided into three different reaches or stages: upper, middle, and lower.

The upper reach begins at the Qinghai Province. It runs about 2,150 miles long through China's mountains, swamps, and grasslands. The mouth of this reach ends at the South of Hekouzhen of Inner Mongolia. Continuing to the middle reach, this flows about 749 miles long down to the Henan Province. You will know you are at the middle reach of the Yellow River given the vast region of the Loess Plateau. This reach cuts the plateau right in half where the east side is the Shanix province and the west side is the Shaanxi Province. The Xiaolangdi Multipurpose Dam is also located at this reach.

Water Released From The Xiaolangdi Multipurpose Dam
multipurpose dam

This dam is used for a variety of purposes such as flood control and irrigation. By far, one of its most important uses is providing energy through hydroelectricity. The lower reach flows roughly 488 miles long through the Northern China Plain. Its mouth extends into the Bohai Sea. This reach is known as the, River above Ground, due to its higher elevation level. The abundance of deposits, which has raised the riverbed, contributes to this high elevation.

Yellow River's History

As we saw earlier, the Yellow River is also referred to as the, Mother River. Dating back thousands of years, written in scribes, this name aptly describes the Chinese attitude towards the Yellow River and its contribution to the nation and civilization.

If you travel to the lower Yellow River Valley, this is considered to be the birthplace of civilization. Civilization is thought to have first developed during the Neolithic Age, more than 3000 years ago (6000-800 BCE). During this time period there was a vast development of many cultures, based on region, around the river. Of course you may be wondering: how do we know so much about the development of these cultures? The body of evidence from archaeology provides a great glimpse into the history along the Yellow River.

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