Home China Guide The Yellow River — “Mother River of China”

The Yellow River — “Mother River of China”

Yellow RiverThe Yellow River in Qinghai Province

The Yellow River or Huang He is the "mother river of China". Its basin was the center of Chinese politics, economy and culture for over 2,000 years. It is the second-longest river in China (after the Yangtze), and sixth longest in the world.

Quick Facts

  • Chinese name: 黄河 Huánghé /hwung-her/ 'Yellow River'
  • Source: the Bayankala Mountains, the Plateau of Tibet, western central China
  • Mouth: Dongying, Shandong, 500 km SE of Beijing, on the Bohai Gulf
  • Claims to Fame: world's muddiest major river, "China's cradle"
  • Length: 5,464 kilometers (3,398 miles)
  • Suited for: Culture and history enthusiasts, and nature lovers

Learn more on Yellow River Facts.

Where the Name "Yellow River" Came From

The name "Yellow River" comes from the huge amounts of "yellow" loess sediment it carries when flowing through the Loess Plateau. It is the world's major river with the most excessive siltation.

Yellow River Geography

Yellow River Map

The Yellow River is 5,464 kilometers (3,398 miles) long, stretching west–east 1900 km (1,180 miles), and meandering north–south 1,100 km (684 miles).

The first bend of the Yellow River The first bend of the Yellow River in the upper reaches
  • Its basin area is 752,443 km2 (290,520 mi2), containing about 200,000 km2 (77,000 mi2) of arable land and over 100 million people.
  • The average flow rate of the Yellow River is 1,800 cubic meters per second. Its biggest tributary is the Wei River which flows past Xi'an.
  • The upper reaches, about 3,500 km (2,000 mi), includes the upland swamps and pastures of the Tibetan Plateau and gorges in foothill country to the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia.
  • The middle reaches, about 1,200 km (700 mi) from Hekou Town to Zhengzhou, occupies plain and hills in China's Loess Plateau region, where huge amounts of sediment are suspended.
  • The lower reaches, from Zhengzhou to the Bo Sea, is about 800 km (500 mi). Due to sediment accumulation, the riverbed is several meters above the cities and farmlands, forming the world-famous "above ground river".

Learn more about Yellow River Geography.

Yellow River Civilization — China's Cradle

Banpo MuseumA display at Xi'an's Banpo Civilization Site, an early Yellow River civilization.

Almost all Chinese agree that the Yellow River Basin was the cradle of Chinese Civilization. A great amount of archeological information proves that the Yellow River was the most prosperous region in early Chinese history (2100–1046 BC).

The Yellow River is not just a river of China, but also the symbol of the Chinese spirit: bearing burdens (its sedimentation), adaptation (its course changes), and perseverance (its continual flow).

For thousands of years, the Yellow River has been admired by great poets, artists, and common people. Many poems and songs sing the spirit of Yellow River and Chinese people, including Defend the Yellow River (保卫黄河), and Ode to The Yellow River (黄河颂).

Learn more on Yellow River Civilization.

What to See Along the Yellow River

Hukou WaterfallThe Yellow River’s Hukou Waterfall — the world's largest "yellow" waterfall

Along the Yellow River, there are numerous historic and ancient attractions, and stunning scenery.

Top attractions of the Yellow River include forest parks, deserts, grasslands, the Loess Plateau, ancient capitals, and a "chocolate" waterfall. Hukou Waterfall is the classic Yellow River attraction. Read more on Yellow River Attractions.

The Importance of the Yellow River

The Yellow River is the most important water resource for the dry north of China, playing an irreplaceable role in economic development, and agriculture. Since 1960 over 14 dams have been constructed on the river for hydroelectric power, which is vital to northern China's infrastructure.

China's Sorrow

The Yellow River is also called "China's Sorrow". Each year, over 1.6 billion tons of soil flows into the Yellow River, which causes the continual rise and shift of the riverbed. Before damming, it was extremely prone to flooding, and had caused millions of deaths, including the deadliest disaster in human history.

Between 608 BC and 1938 AD, the Yellow River changed course 26 times, and flooded over 1,500 times.

New Yellow River Troubles

The Yellow River Has Dried Up Annually Since 1972

With global warming, decrease in rainfall in the Yellow River Basin, and increasing water demands for irrigation, industry, etc., the Yellow River has been used up by its lower reaches since 1972, when it ran dry for the first time in recorded history. The longest dry period lasted 226 days in 1997.

Drought in the Yellow River region has brought serious challenges to agricultural development and the cities near the Yellow River.

River Pollution Increasing

What's worse, the river has been abused. It has become so polluted in some reaches that it is unfit for agricultural and industrial use, because of the huge increase in factory and sewage discharges from China's fast-expanding cities.

The government is taking measures to deal with Yellow River pollution, such as setting limits on the volume of major pollutants discharged into rivers and lakes, and controlling overuse of water resources.

Visit Tourist Cities on the Yellow River with China Highlights

The Longmen GrottoesThe Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang

Along the Yellow River, there are many worthwhile attractions and many tourist cities, such as Lanzhou, Zhongwei, Yinchuan, Baotou, Yan'an, Luoyang, Zhengzhou, and Kaifeng. 

If you want to visit any cities or any attractions near the Yellow River, China Highlights can assist you. Contact us and we can tailor-make a tour with the Yellow River and any other places you are interested in.

Related Articles