Yellow River

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Yellow River
Yellow River - panoramio.jpg
The Yellow River in Sanmenxia, Henan
Map of the Yellow River with approximate borders of its basin.
Native name
Country China
Province Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Shandong
Physical characteristics
Source Bayan Har Mountains
  location Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai
  coordinates 34°29′31″N96°20′25″E / 34.49194°N 96.34028°E / 34.49194; 96.34028
  elevation4,800 m (15,700 ft)
Mouth Bohai Sea
Kenli District, Dongying, Shandong
37°45′47″N119°09′43″E / 37.763°N 119.162°E / 37.763; 119.162 Coordinates: 37°45′47″N119°09′43″E / 37.763°N 119.162°E / 37.763; 119.162
0 m (0 ft)
Length5,464 km (3,395 mi)
Basin size752,546 km2 (290,560 sq mi)
  average2,571 m3/s (90,800 cu ft/s)
  minimum1,030 m3/s (36,000 cu ft/s)
  maximum58,000 m3/s (2,000,000 cu ft/s)
Basin features
  left Fen River (and many smaller rivers)
  right Tao River, Wei River (and many smaller rivers)
Yellow River
Yellow River (Chinese characters).svg
"Yellow River" in Simplified (top) and Traditional (bottom) Chinese characters
Zoige County, Sichuan. Jiu Qu Huang He Di Yi Wan 1.JPG
Zoigê County, Sichuan.
Guide County, Qinghai in the Tibetan Plateau, upstream from the Loess Plateau. YellowRiver.jpg
Guide County, Qinghai in the Tibetan Plateau, upstream from the Loess Plateau.

According to the China Exploration and Research Society, [38] the source of the Yellow River is at 34°29′31″N96°20′25″E / 34.49194°N 96.34028°E / 34.49194; 96.34028 in the Bayan Har Mountains near the eastern edge of the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The source tributaries drain into Gyaring Lake and Ngoring Lake on the western edge of Golog Prefecture high in the Bayan Har Mountains of Qinghai. In the Zoige Basin along the boundary with Gansu, the Yellow River loops northwest and then northeast before turning south, creating the "Ordos Loop", and then flows generally eastward across the North China Plain to the Gulf of Bohai, draining a basin of 752,443 square kilometers (290,520 sq mi) which nourishes 140 million people with drinking water and irrigation. [39]

The Yellow River passes through seven present-day provinces and two autonomous regions, namely (from west to east) Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, and Shandong. Major cities along the present course of the Yellow River include (from west to east) Lanzhou, Yinchuan, Wuhai, Baotou, Luoyang, Zhengzhou, Kaifeng, and Jinan. The current mouth of the Yellow River is located at Kenli County, Shandong.

The river is commonly divided into three stages. These are roughly the northeast of the mountainous Tibetan Plateau, the Ordos Loop and Loess Plateau, and the North China Plain. [40] However, different scholars have different opinions on how the three stages are divided.[ citation needed ] This article mainly adopts the division used by the Yellow River Conservancy Commission. [41]

The Yellow River derived sediments have been transported out of the Bohai Sea, all way to the North Yellow Sea and South Yellow Sea, and formed a Distal Depocenter around the Shandong Peninsula. [42]

Upper reaches

Near Xunhua, Qinghai. Yellow river - A. Holdrinet.jpg
Near Xunhua, Qinghai.
Liujiaxia, Gansu. VM 6056 Liujiaxia Town.jpg
Liujiaxia, Gansu.

The upper reaches of the Yellow River constitute a segment starting from its source in the Bayan Har Mountains and ending at Hekou Town (Togtoh County), Inner Mongolia just before it turns sharply to the south. This segment has a total length of 3,472 kilometers (2,157 mi) and total basin area of 386,000 square kilometers (149,000 sq mi), 51.4% of the total basin area. Along this length, the elevation of the Yellow River drops 3,496 meters (11,470 ft), with an average grade of 0.10%.

The source section flows mainly through pastures, swamps, and knolls between the Bayan Har Mountains, and the Anemaqen (Amne Machin) Mountains in Qinghai. The river water is clear and flows steadily. Crystal clear lakes are characteristic of this section. The two main lakes along this section are Lake Gyaring (Zhaling) and Lake Ngoring (Eling), with capacities of 4.7 billion and 10.8 billion m3 (166 and 381 billion ft3), respectively. At elevations over 4,290 m (14,070 ft)) above sea level they are the two largest plateau freshwater lakes nationwide. A significant amount of land in the Yellow River's source area has been designated as the Sanjiangyuan ("'Three Rivers' Sources") National Nature Reserve, to protect the source region of the Yellow River, the Yangtze, and the Mekong.

Flowing east at the eastern edge of the Amne Machin Mountains, the Yellow River enters Maqu County in Gansu. Here, the river skirts through the high-altitude peat bog known as the Zoigê Wetlands and makes a sharp turn towards the northwest forming the border between Maqu and Zoigê County in Sichuan. Flowing now along the northern edge of Amne Machin, the river reenters Qinghai and gradually curves north towards the Longyang Gorge at Xinghai.

The valley section stretches from Longyang Gorge in Qinghai to Qingtong Gorge in Gansu. Steep cliffs line both sides of the river. The water bed is narrow and the average drop is large, so the flow in this section is extremely turbulent and fast. There are 20 gorges in this section, the most famous of these being the Longyang, Jishi, Liujia, Bapan, and Qingtong gorges. The flow conditions in this section makes it the best location for hydroelectric plants. The Yellow River exits Qinghai for the second and final time in these gorges and enters Gansu for the second time just before Liujia Gorge. Downstream from the Yanguo Gorge, the provincial capital of Lanzhou is built upon the Yellow River's banks. The Yellow River flows northeasterly out of Gansu and into Ningxia before the Qingtong Gorge.

After emerging from the Qingtong Gorge, the river comes into a section of vast alluvial plains, the Yinchuan Plain and Hetao Plain. In this section, the regions along the river are mostly deserts and grasslands, with very few tributaries. The flow is slow. The Hetao Plain has a length of 900 km (560 mi) and width of 30 to 50 km (19 to 31 mi). It is historically the most important irrigation plain along the Yellow River.

Middle reaches

At Lanzhou, Gansu Landzhou 07-2005.jpg
At Lanzhou, Gansu
At Shapotou, Ningxia Shapotou.jpg
At Shapotou, Ningxia
Qiankun bend in Yonghe County Qiankun Bend.jpg
Qiankun bend in Yonghe County
At Luoyang, Henan
At Luoyang, Henan

The Ordos Loop formed by an enormous twist of the Yellow River, beginning at Zhongning County in Ningxia and ending with a drastic eastward turn at its confluence with the Wei at Tongguan in Shaanxi. However, the official division for the middle reaches of the river run from Hekou in Togtoh County, Inner Mongolia, to Zhengzhou, Henan. The middle reaches are 1,206 km (749 mi) long, with a basin area of 344,000 square kilometers (133,000 sq mi), 45.7% of the total, with a total elevation drop of 890 m (2,920 ft), an average drop of 0.074%. There are 30 large tributaries along the middle reaches, and the water flow is increased by 43.5% on this stage. The middle reaches contribute 92% of the river's silts.

The middle stream of the Yellow River passes through the Loess Plateau, where substantial erosion takes place. The large amount of mud and sand discharged into the river makes the Yellow River the most sediment-laden river in the world. The highest recorded annual level of silts discharged into the Yellow River is 3.91 billion tons in 1933. The highest silt concentration level was recorded in 1977 at 920 kg/m3 (57.4 lb/ft3). These sediments later deposit in the slower lower reaches of the river, elevating the river bed and creating the famous "river above ground". From Hekou to Yumenkou, the river passes through the longest series of continuous valleys on its main course, collectively called the Jinshan Valley. The abundant hydrodynamic resources stored in this section make it the second most suitable area to build hydroelectric power plants. The famous Hukou Waterfall is in the lower part of this valley on the border of Shanxi and Shaanxi.

Lower reaches

In the lower reaches, from Zhengzhou, Henan to its mouth, a distance of 786 km (488 mi), the river is confined to a levee-lined course as it flows to the northeast across the North China Plain before emptying into the Bohai Sea. The basin area in this stage is only 23,000 square kilometers (8,900 sq mi), a mere 3% of the total, because few tributaries add to the flow in this stage; nearly all rivers to the south drain into the Huai River, whereas those to the north drain into the Hai River. The Huai River Basin, for example, is separated from the Yellow River Basin by the south dike of the Yellow River. [43] The total drop in elevation of the lower reaches is 93.6 m (307 ft), with an average grade of 0.012%.

The silts received from the middle reaches form sediments here, elevating the river bed. Excessive sediment deposits have raised the riverbed several meters above the surrounding ground. At Kaifeng, Henan, the Yellow River is 10 meters (33 ft) above the ground level. [44]


The mouth of the Daxia River (coming from bottom right), flowing into the Yellow River's Liujiaxia Reservoir in Linxia Prefecture, Gansu 5922-Daxia-River-fall-into-Liujiaxia-Reservoir.jpg
The mouth of the Daxia River (coming from bottom right), flowing into the Yellow River's Liujiaxia Reservoir in Linxia Prefecture, Gansu

Tributaries of the Yellow River listed from its source to its mouth include:


Expansion of the Yellow River Delta from 1989 to 2009 in five-year intervals. Yellow River Delta Animation.gif
Expansion of the Yellow River Delta from 1989 to 2009 in five-year intervals.
Yellow River Delta Yellow River Delta.jpeg
Yellow River Delta

The Yellow River is notable for the large amount of silt it carries—1.6 billion tons annually at the point where it descends from the Loess Plateau. If it is running to the sea with sufficient volume, 1.4 billion tons are carried to the sea per year.[ citation needed ] One estimate gives 34 kilograms of silt per cubic meter as opposed to 10 for the Colorado and 1 for the Nile. [17]

Its average discharge is said to be 2,110 cubic meters per second (32,000 for the Yangtze), with a maximum of 25,000 and minimum of 245. However, since 1972, it often runs dry before it reaches the sea. The low volume is due to increased agricultural irrigation, increased by a factor of five since 1950. Water diverted from the river as of 1999 served 140 million people and irrigated 74,000 km2 (48,572 mi2) of land. [39] The Yellow River delta totals 8,000 square kilometers (3,090 mi2). However, with the decrease in silt reaching the sea, it has been reported to be shrinking slightly each year since 1996 through erosion. [45]

The highest volume occurs during the rainy season from July to October, when 60% of the annual volume of the river flows. Maximum demand for irrigation is needed between March and June. In order to capture excess water for use when needed and for flood control and electricity generation, several dams have been built, but their expected life is limited due to the high silt load. A proposed South–North Water Transfer Project involves several schemes to divert water from the Yangtze River: one in the western headwaters of the rivers where they are closest to one another, another from the upper reaches of the Han River, and a third using the route of the old Grand Canal.[ citation needed ]

Due to its heavy load of silt the Yellow River is a depositing stream that is, it deposits part of its carried burden of soil in its bed in stretches where it is flowing slowly. These deposits elevate the riverbed which flows between natural levees in its lower reaches. Should a flood occur, the river may break out of the levees into the surrounding lower flood plain and take a new channel. Historically this has occurred about once every hundred years. In modern times, considerable effort has been made to strengthen levees and control floods.[ citation needed ]

Hydroelectric power dams

Liujiaxia Dam, Gansu 6058-Liujiaxia-Dam.jpg
Liujiaxia Dam, Gansu
Sanmenxia Dam, Henan Smxgongcheng zengmian.jpg
Sanmenxia Dam, Henan

Below is the list of hydroelectric power stations built on the Yellow River, arranged according to the first year of operation (in brackets):

As reported in 2000, the 7 largest hydro power plants (Longyangxia, Lijiaxia, Liujiaxia, Yanguoxia, Bapanxia, Daxia and Qinglongxia) had the total installed capacity of 5,618 MW. [46]


Major cities along the Yellow River Major cities along the Yellow River.svg
Major cities along the Yellow River
Pontoon bridge (Luokou Pontoon Bridge simplified Chinese:
Luo Kou Fu Qiao ; traditional Chinese:
Luo Kou Fu Qiao ; pinyin: Luokou Fuqiao) over the Yellow River in Jinan, Shandong Yellow river pontoon bridge jinan 2008 05.jpg
Pontoon bridge (Luokou Pontoon Bridge simplified Chinese : 洛口浮桥 ; traditional Chinese :洛口浮橋; pinyin :Luòkŏu Fúqiáo) over the Yellow River in Jinan, Shandong

The main bridges and ferries by the province names in the order of downstream to upstream are:[ citation needed ]







Inner Mongolia





The paradise fish is well known in the aquarium hobby and it originates from East Asian river basins, including the Yellow River DV Paradise fish male 03.jpg
The paradise fish is well known in the aquarium hobby and it originates from East Asian river basins, including the Yellow River

The Yellow River basin is rich in fish, being the home of more than 160 native species in 92 genera and 28 families, including 19 species found nowhere else in the world (endemic). [47] [40] However, due to habitat loss, pollution, introduced species and overfishing many of the natives have declined or disappeared entirely; several are recognized as threatened on China's Red List. [47] [48] Dams and their reservoirs have increased the habitat for species of slow-moving and static waters, while it excluded species of flowing waters and prevented the up- and down-stream breeding migration of others. [47] [48] In the 2000s, only 80 native fish in 63 genera and 18 families were recorded in the Yellow River basin. [47] In contrast, introduced fish have risen in both abundance and number of species; only one introduced fish species was recorded in the 1960s when ichthyologist Li Sizhong published his original survey of fish fauna of the region, but by the 2000s there were 26. [47]

As typical of Asian rivers, Cyprinidae is by far the most diverse family in the Yellow River basin. More than 85 cyprinids have been recorded in this basin, including species that still are present and species that no longer are present. Other highly diverse families are the stone loaches (more than 20 species), gobies (c. 15 species), true loaches (c. 10 species) and bagrid catfish (c. 10 species). [47] Although there are species found throughout much of the river, several have a more restricted range. For example, the uppermost, highest parts on the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau has relatively few native species, notably snowtrout and allies ( Gymnocypris , Gymnodiptychus , Platypharodon and Schizopygopsis ), and Triplophysa loaches. [49] Of the 18 endemics in the Yellow River basin, 12 are (or were) found in the upper part. [47] These in particular have become threatened and the fish fauna in many headwaters are now dominated by introduced salmonids. [47] [49] In contrast, the lowermost part of the river and its delta are home to many brackish water or euryhaline species, like gobies (although there are also true freshwater gobies in the Yellow River), Asian seabasses, flatfish and Takifugu pufferfish. [47]

Fishing remains an important activity, but catches have declined. In 2007, it was noted that 40% fewer fish were caught in the Yellow River compared to earlier catches. [48] Large cyprinids (Asian carp, predatory carp, Wuchang bream and Mongolian redfin) and large catfish (Amur and Lanzhou catfish) are still present, but the largest species, the Chinese paddlefish, kaluga sturgeon and Yangtze sturgeon, have not been reported from the Yellow River basin in about 50 years. [47] [40] [50] Other species that support important fisheries include white Amur bream, ayu, mandarin fish, Protosalanx icefish, northern snakehead, Asian swamp eel and others. [47]

Annual fishing ban has been implemented since 2018, covering the entire Yellow River basin from April 1 to June 30 each year. [51] A total ban of fishing of natural fishes is being implemented in the upper reaches of the Yellow River starting April 1, 2022, covering Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces, until the end of 2025. For the rest of the basin, the annual ban is extended to a period from April 1 to July 31. [52]


The Chinese pond turtle (shown) and Chinese softshell turtle are both native to the Yellow River, but also farmed in large numbers Chinemys reevesii 02.jpg
The Chinese pond turtle (shown) and Chinese softshell turtle are both native to the Yellow River, but also farmed in large numbers

The Yellow River is generally less suitable for aquaculture than the rivers of central and southern China, such as the Yangtze or the Pearl River, but aquaculture is also practiced in some areas along the Yellow River. An important aquaculture area is the riverside plain in Xingyang City, upstream from Zhengzhou. Since the development of fish ponds started in Xingyang's riverside Wangcun Town in 1986, the pond systems in Wangcun have grown to the total size of 15,000 mu (10 km2), making the town the largest aquaculture center in North China. [53]

Two turtle species are native to the Yellow River basin: the Chinese pond turtle and Chinese softshell turtle. [54] Both species—but especially the softshell—are widely farmed for food. [55] A variety of the Chinese softshell turtle popular in Chinese gourmets is called the Yellow River turtle (黄河鳖). Nowadays most of the Yellow River turtles eaten in China's restaurants comes from turtle farms, which may or may not be near the Yellow River. In 2007, construction started in Wangcun, Henan on a large farm for raising this turtle variety. With the capacity for raising 5 million turtles a year, the facility was expected to become Henan's largest farm of this kind. [56]

The huge, entirely aquatic Chinese giant salamander, a species that has declined drastically due primarily to persecution for food and traditional medicine, is native to the Yellow River and other Chinese rivers. It is farmed in large numbers in several parts of China and genetic studies have revealed that the captive stock mostly is of Yellow River origin. As these often are released back into the wild, the Yellow River type of the Chinese giant salamander has spread to other parts of China, which represents a problem to the other types. [57]


On 25 November 2008, Tania Branigan of The Guardian filed a report "China's Mother River: the Yellow River", claiming that severe pollution has made one-third of China's Yellow River unusable even for agricultural or industrial use, due to factory discharges and sewage from fast-expanding cities. [58] The Yellow River Conservancy Commission had surveyed more than 8,384 mi (13,493 km) of the river in 2007 and said 33.8% of the river system registered worse than "level five" according to the criteria used by the UN Environment Program.[ dubious ] Level five is unfit for drinking, aquaculture, industrial use, or even agriculture. The report said waste and sewage discharged into the system last year totaled 4.29b tons. Industry and manufacturing made up 70% of the discharge into the river with households accounting for 23% and just over 6% coming from other sources.[ which? ]

In culture

Qikou town along Yellow River in Shanxi Province Qikou.jpg
Qikou town along Yellow River in Shanxi Province

In ancient times, it was believed that the Yellow River flowed from Heaven as a continuation of the Milky Way. In a Chinese legend, Zhang Qian is said to have been commissioned to find the source of the Yellow River. After sailing up-river for many days, he saw a girl spinning and a cow herd. Upon asking the girl where he was, she presented him with her shuttle with instructions to show it to the astrologer Yan Junping (嚴君平). When he returned, the astrologer recognized it as the shuttle of the Weaving Girl (Vega), and, moreover, said that at the time Zhang received the shuttle, he had seen a wandering star interpose itself between the Weaving Girl and the cow herd (Altair). [59]

The provinces of Hebei and Henan derive their names from the Yellow River. Their names mean, respectively, "North of the River" and "South of the River", although the border between them historically has never been stable, and currently the border between Hebei and Henan is not the Yellow River, but the Zhang River instead.

Mother river, China's Sorrow, and cradle of Chinese civilization.

Traditionally, it is believed that the Chinese civilization originated in the Yellow River basin. The Chinese refer to the river as "the Mother River" and "the cradle of the Chinese civilization". During the long history of China, the Yellow River has been considered a blessing as well as a curse and has been nicknamed both "China's Pride" and "China's Sorrow". [60]

River of disaster

Despite Yellow River having a central role in the development of Chinese civilization on North China Plain, flooding and constant rerouting of the river have also caused many great disaster to population along the river for long, hence it is also known as a River of disaster (Chinese :灾难河), with the disaster brought by the River said as history of disaster in the development of Chinese civilization, and the management of Yellow River have been a great political trouble to various Chinese dynasties throughout the history since ancient time. [61] [62]

When the Yellow River flows clear

Sometimes the Yellow River is poetically called the "Muddy Flow" ( ; ; Zhuó Liú ). The Chinese idiom "when the Yellow River flows clear" is used to refer to an event that will never happen and is similar to the English expression "when pigs fly".

"The Yellow River running clear" was reported as a good omen during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, along with the appearance of such auspicious legendary beasts as qilin (an African giraffe brought to China by a Bengal embassy aboard Zheng He's ships in 1414) and zouyu (not positively identified) and other strange natural phenomena. [63]

See also

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The Luokou Yellow River Railway Bridge is a railway bridge across the Yellow River in Jinan, Shandong, China, built in the early 20th century. The bridge represented a major engineering achievement that was unique in the region at the time. The bridge was of great strategic importance during the first half of the 20th century and was repeatedly damaged and repaired as a result.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1958 Yellow River flood</span>

The 1958 Yellow River flood was an extraordinarily large rise in the water flow of the Yellow River in China that coincided with the onset of the Great Leap Forward. In July 1958, the peak discharge of the Yellow River at Huayuankou was 22,300 m3/s (790,000 cu ft/s) with a maximum sediment concentration of 911 kg/m3 (57 lb/cu ft), 14× and 24× their mean annual values, respectively. The flood water level was so high that it rose up to the top of the levee in several places.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Huangshui River</span> River in the Peoples Republic of China

The Huangshui River or Huang Shui is a river in Qinghai and Gansu, China. The river is a left tributary of the Yellow River and its total length is 374 km (232 mi) with a basin area of 3,200 km2 (1,200 sq mi).

The Jishi Gorge outburst flood was a natural disaster that occurred around 1920 BC in China. The water flow during the eruption was one of the largest fresh water flows to occur in our geologic epoch (Holocene) and caused large widespread flooding around the Yellow River, affecting everyone living in the river basin. The flood outbreak was triggered by the bursting of a dam caused by landslides after an earthquake. The flood is suggested to possibly be the disaster that gave rise to the Gun-Yu flood myth, which preceded the establishment of the Xia dynasty. The Lajia archaeological site, downstream of the Jishi Gorge, was first destroyed by the earthquake and later covered by sediments from the flood eruption.


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Works from the National Central Library about the Yellow River