1938 Yellow River flood

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Yellow River flooded area (1938) Yellow River Flooded Area 1938.svg
Yellow River flooded area (1938)

The 1938 Yellow River flood (traditional Chinese :花園口決隄事件; simplified Chinese :花园口决堤事件; pinyin :huāyuán kǒu juédī shìjiàn, literally "Huayuankou embankment breach incident") was a flood created by the Nationalist Government in central China during the early stage of the Second Sino-Japanese War in an attempt to halt the rapid advance of Japanese forces. It has been called the "largest act of environmental warfare in history". [1] [2]

Traditional Chinese characters

Traditional Chinese characters are Chinese characters in any character set that does not contain newly created characters or character substitutions performed after 1946. They are most commonly the characters in the standardized character sets of Taiwan, of Hong Kong and Macau, and in the Kangxi Dictionary. The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared with the emergence of the clerical script during the Han Dynasty, and have been more or less stable since the 5th century.

Simplified Chinese characters standardized Chinese characters developed in mainland China

Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters prescribed in the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters for use in mainland China. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one of the two standard character sets of the contemporary Chinese written language. The government of the People's Republic of China in mainland China has promoted them for use in printing since the 1950s and 1960s to encourage literacy. They are officially used in the People's Republic of China and Singapore.

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Contents

Strategic decision and the flood

Following the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army marched rapidly into the heart of Chinese territory. By June 1938, the Japanese had control of all of North China. On June 6, they captured Kaifeng, the capital of Henan, and threatened to take over Zhengzhou, the junction of the arterial Pinghan and Longhai Railways. Japanese success here would have directly endangered the major city of Wuhan.

Second Sino-Japanese War military conflict between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from 1937 to 1945

The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from July 7, 1937, to September 2, 1945. It began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 in which a dispute between Japanese and Chinese troops escalated into a battle.

Imperial Japanese Army Official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan, from 1868 to 1945

The Imperial Japanese Army was the official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan from 1868 to 1945. It was controlled by the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office and the Ministry of the Army, both of which were nominally subordinate to the Emperor of Japan as supreme commander of the army and the navy. Later an Inspectorate General of Aviation became the third agency with oversight of the army. During wartime or national emergencies, the nominal command functions of the emperor would be centralized in an Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ), an ad-hoc body consisting of the chief and vice chief of the Army General Staff, the Minister of the Army, the chief and vice chief of the Naval General Staff, the Inspector General of Aviation, and the Inspector General of Military Training.

North China Place

North China is a geographical region of China, lying North of the Qinling Huaihe Line.

To stop further Japanese advances into western and southern China, Chiang Kai-shek, at the suggestion of Chen Guofu, determined to open up the dykes on the Yellow River near Zhengzhou. The original plan was to destroy the dyke at Zhaokou, but due to difficulties at that location, the dyke at Huayuankou, on the south bank, was destroyed on June 5 and June 7 via excavation, [3] with waters flooding into Henan, Anhui, and Jiangsu. The floods covered and destroyed thousands of square kilometres of farmland and shifted the mouth of the Yellow River hundreds of kilometres to the south. Thousands of villages were inundated or destroyed and several million villagers driven from their homes and made refugees. An official Kuomintang post-war commission estimated that 800,000 drowned, [4] which is higher than modern scholarship indicates.

Chiang Kai-shek Chinese politician and military leader

Chiang Kai-shek, also known as Generalissimo Chiang or Chiang Chungcheng and romanized as Chiang Chieh-shih or Jiang Jieshi, was a Chinese politician and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in Taiwan until his death. He was recognized by much of the world as the head of the legitimate government of China until 1971, during which the United Nations passed Resolution 2758.

Chen Guofu Chinese politician

Chen Guofu or Chen Kuo-fu, was a Chinese politician in the Republic of China. His given name is "祖燾", also called him "Guofu (果夫)".

Levee Ridge or wall to hold back water

A levee, dike, dyke, embankment, floodbank or stopbank is an elongated naturally occurring ridge or artificially constructed fill or wall, which regulates water levels. It is usually earthen and often parallel to the course of a river in its floodplain or along low-lying coastlines.

Controversy over the strategy

The strategic value of the flood has been questioned. Japanese troops were out of its range, either to the north and east or to the south. Their advance on Zhengzhou was halted, but they took Wuhan in October by attacking from a different direction. The Japanese did not occupy much of Henan until late in the war and their hold on Anhui and Jiangsu remained tenuous. Most of the towns and transport lines in the areas which were flooded had already been captured by the Japanese; after the flood, they could not consolidate their control over the area, and large parts of it became guerrilla areas. [5]

Battle of Wuhan large-scale battle of the Second Sino-Japanese War over 4 months in 1938

The Battle of Wuhan, popularly known to the Chinese as the Defense of Wuhan, and to the Japanese as the Capture of Wuhan, was a large-scale battle of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Engagements took place across vast areas of Anhui, Henan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, and Hubei provinces over a period of four and a half months. This battle was the longest, largest and arguably the most significant battle in the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese War. More than one million National Revolutionary Army troops from the Fifth and Ninth War Zone were put under the direct command of Chiang Kai-shek, defending Wuhan from the Central China Area Army of the Imperial Japanese Army led by Shunroku Hata. Chinese forces were also supported by the Soviet Volunteer Group, a group of volunteer pilots from the Soviet Air Forces.

Controversy over the number of casualties

The number of casualties in the flood remains disputed and estimates have been revised by the Chinese government and other researchers in the decades after the event. There is no way of accurately assessing the casualties: much of the population, including officials, had already fled, leaving no government control and no one to count the dead. In the shifting battles between bandits, Nationalists, Communists, and Japanese, counting casualties was not a high priority. The Nationalist government, after initially claiming that the breach was caused by Japanese bombing, used the heavy casualties to demonstrate the scale of sacrifice required of the Chinese people; it claimed that 12 million people had been affected by the flood, and in 1948 it estimated the number of deaths at 800,000. A 1994 PRC (People's Republic of China) official history of the war put the dead in the flood at 900,000 and the refugees at nearly 10 million. Scholars exploring the archives now give much lower figures: 400,000–500,000 dead, 3 million refugees, and 5 million people affected (another estimate puts the number of dead at 500,000, and the number of homeless at 500,000). [5]

Aftermath

Besides the massive death toll, the flooded areas were affected for years to come. The flooded countryside was more or less abandoned and all the crops destroyed. Upon the recession of the waters, much of the ground was uncultivable as much of the soil was covered in silt. Many of the public structures and housing were also destroyed, leaving any survivors destitute. The irrigation channels were also ruined, further adding to the toll on the farmlands. [5] The destruction also had a long-term psychological effect on the Chinese population. Unable to fully decide which group deserved more blame for the catastrophe, the Chinese Government or the invading Japanese, many survivors blamed both sides. However, because there were many Chinese civilians killed during the flood by the KMT, most of the civilians residing in that area began to cooperate with the Japanese. Believing that the civilians would help them, the Chinese Communists turned the flooded area into a recruiting ground, directing survivors' anger towards a common enemy to bring them into their ranks. By the 1940s the area had evolved into a major guerrilla base known as the Yuwansu Base Area. [5]

The breach in the dam became such a major rallying point for the Communists that they actually tried to halt an attempt by the Chinese Government, with the assistance of the UN, to seal the breach. Their armed resistance ultimately failed and the dykes were rebuilt in 1946 and 1947, and the Yellow River returned to its pre-1938 course. The point was nevertheless made; the breach had in the end given the Communists a huge political boost in the North. [5]

See also

Sources

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References

  1. Dutch, Steven I. (November 2009). "The Largest Act of Environmental Warfare in History". Environmental & Engineering Geoscience. 15 (4): 287–297. doi:10.2113/gseegeosci.15.4.287.
  2. Muscolino, Micah S. (2014). The Ecology of War in China: Henan Province, the Yellow River, and Beyond, 1938–1950. Cambridge University Press.
  3. "Yellow River flood, 1938-47 | DisasterHistory.org". www.disasterhistory.org. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  4. Taylor, Jay (2009). The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 154–155.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Lary, Diana (1 April 2001). "Drowned Earth: The Strategic Breaching of the Yellow River Dyke, 1938". War in History. 8 (2): 191–207. doi:10.1177/096834450100800204. 1082337951.