Home China Guide  Yellow River in China

Yellow River in China

Yellow River in ChinaThe Yellow River or Huang He is the second-longest river in China (after the Yangtze River) and the sixth-longest in the world at 5,464 kilometers(3,398 miles). Originating in the Bayankala Mountains in Qinghai Province in western China, it flows through nine provinces of China (Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Shandong Provinces) and empties into the Bohai Sea. The Yellow River basin has an east-west extent of 1900 km (1,180 miles) and a north-south extent of 1100 km (684 miles). Total basin area is 752,443 km2 (290,520 mile2).

The Yellow River is called the "the cradle of Chinese civilization", as its basin is the birthplace of the northern Chinese civilizations and is the most prosperous region in early Chinese history. But frequent devastating flooding, largely due to the elevated river bed in its lower course, has also earned it the unenviable name "China's Sorrow".

The Watershed Segmentation

The Yellow River's main stream is 5,464 meters long; its average flow rate is 1,774.57 cubic meters per second; its drainage area is about 795,000 square kilometers. The upstream area mainly occupiesthe hilly area from its source to Hekou Town in Togtoh County, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, which is about 3,472 kilometers long; the middle section, about 1,206 kilometers from Hekou Town to Taohuayujian, in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, mainly occupies plain and hills; the part below Taohuayu is the downstream section, which is about 786 kilometers long. The Yellow River estuary is 1,500 meters in width, and it's 500 meters at normal places but only 50meters at the narrowest sections; ithas anaverage depth of 2.6 meters and,in some places, it's only about 1.2 meters to 1.6 meters.

Since its middle sectionflows through China's Loess Plateau region, a large amount of sedimentis carried along. Thus, it is also regarded as the river with the most sediment in the world.

Due to the sediment accumulation, the riverbed is above the cities and farmlands in most of its reaches, and it completely relies on the levee to hold its water. So it is also called "the perched river" and "aboveground river".

The Yellow River flows between Zhongtiao Mountain and the Qinling Mountains;fromthe east it runs through Luoyang City, Henan Province, which lies 55 kilometers away to its south. The Jili District of the city is located to the north of the river, and the other counties and districts are all to the south of it, so the Yellow River just runs through Luoyang City.

The Yellow River Culture

The Yellow River civilizationoriginated from and was initially distributed in the middle and lower reaches of the river, and then it spread across the whole of China, East Asia and even influenced the world. The Yellow River civilization is one of the most famous ancient civilizations of the world, and is also the main source of Chinese civilization. It has developed considerably since the Neolithic Age, and at that time there was the Yangshao culture, which is the famous representative of regional culture, and then the Longshan culture appeared. After the development and fusion of many other cultures in the slavery period, the Yellow River civilization developed into and stayedas the civilizations of Xia, Shang and Zhou.

The Yellow River pre-historic culture is the ancient civilization which flourished in the middle and downstreamareas of the Yellow River. It developed into the Bronze Age culture in Xia, Shang and Zhou after the Yangshao culture in the Neolithic Age and the Longshan culture.

The Yellow River Civilization in the Neolithic Age

The culture in the early Neolithic Age is represented by the Peiligang culture(裴李岗文化), in the middle period it is represented by the Yangshao culture(仰韶文化), and in the later period it is represented by the Longshan culture(龙山文化).

Peiligang Culture

The Peiligang culture, about 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, was in the Yellow River basin areas in the Neolithic Age. It was named Peiligang since it was excavated and recognized in Peiligang Village in Xinzheng, HenanProvince. It is characterized by the round and quadrate vertical caves, field agriculture such as growing grains, as well as shining reddish brown pottery and polished stone implements.

Laoguantai Culture (about 6000 BC to 5000 BC) 老官台文化

It is named Laoguantai because it has been found in the Laoguantai ruins in Xihua County, Shaanxi Province. The residents' economic life was mainly focused on primitive agriculture,which means the production of stone knives, stone spadesand stone axes. The ceramics were very primitive, mainly using clay tablet patches. The ring foot bowls, painted pottery pots and three-legged pots werethe most characteristic type of pottery. The lodgingswere round, as were the pits for storing things. After death, the residents were buried ina rectangular pit with some potteries and other articles.

Beixin Culture (about 6000 BC to 5000 BC) 北辛文化

The most representative site is in Beixin, Teng County, Shandong Province. The Beixin culture formed complete settlements; the dwellingswere all half-crypt caves; rectangular pits with vertical tombs without coffins were popular; the means of production were mainly stone implements, and then bone, horn, teeth and clam tools were developed; grinding was the main type of craftsmanship, and the tan potteries were the characteristic ones.

Cishan Culture (about 6000 BC to 5000 BC) 磁山文化

The representative site is in Cishan, Wuan County, Hebei Province. The residents' economic life mainly focused on primitive agriculture and grainwas the main crop. Stone sickles, stone shovels, stone knives, stone axes and willow-leaf-shaped stone millstones were the main means of production. The stone millstone wasunique in shape, beingthree or four feet in diameter. The residents raised dogs, pigs and other livestock, and at the same time they wentfishing and hunting. The ceramics were in the manual stage and were comparatively primitive. The oval spittoons, three-legged bowls and deep-bellied pots werethe typical potteries. These potteries weremostly adorned with cord patterns, fine-toothed comb patternsand scratches. The dwellingswere round or oval half-ground caves.

Yangshao Culture(about 5000 BC to 3000 BC)

The Yangshao culture was discovered in Yangshao Village, Henan Province in 1921, and it is characterized by its painted potteries, whichwereusually painted red. People from the Yangshao period lived a settled life, and formed villages in certain scales and layouts; primitive agriculture was their main form of economy and they also raised livestockand went fishing, hunting and gathering; the main means of production were polished stone implements; the potteries were the main everyday appliances.

Hougang Culture (about 5000 BC to 4000 BC) 后冈文化

The representative site is in Hougang, Anyang City, Henan Province. It inherited the Beixin culture and added some new developments. The dwellings were round and half-ground caves, and the potteries were the most unique of the unearthed objects.

Dawenkou Culture (about 4300 BC to 2400 BC)大汶口文化

The representative site is in Dawenkou, Taian County, Shandong Province. In the early period, red potteries were mainstream and, in the later period,black and gray potteries were mainstream. The eggshell black pottery cups with high legs that were made in the later period were exquisite and beautiful, being inherited by the later Longshan culture in Shandong.

Yueshi Culture (approximately 3950 BC to 3500 BC)岳石文化

The discovery, understanding and denomination of the Yueshi cultural ruins have experienced a comparatively long time. In fact, the Yueshi culture and the Longshan culture were discovered at the same time. The representative site is in Dongyueshi Village, Pingdu City, Shandong Province.

The Yueshi culture's potteries were mainly simple, elegant and massive in style. The sandy terracotta and clay pottery were important features of the Yueshi culture's potteries, but they were quite different: the sandy terracotta was hasty and rough; while the clay pottery was simple and exquisite. Presumably, they were products of different workshops. As for snap fasteners, convex edges, overlapped lips, convex bottom margins and the utensil style of being round and blunt, they wereall the features of the Yueshi culture which made it different from the other cultures.

Longshan Culture (about 2500 BC to 2000 BC)

The Longshan culture was discovered in Longshan Town, Zhangqiu County, Shandong Province by the Research Institute of History and Language of the Central Academy in 1930. It was characterized by the black and gray potteries, and in the later period, the residents also began to cast bronze wares.

Erlitou Culture (about 2000 BC to 1600 BC) 二里头文化

In 1959, the Erlitou culture was discovered in Erlitou, Yanshi City, Henan Province. The site is about 2,000 meters in radius, having the remains of two palaces in the center. The scholars think that the residents of this site had inherited the Nanlongshan culture in West Shanxi and the Longshan culture in Henan, having the skills of casting bronze wares.

Xiajiayuan Culture 下家垣文化

It was the pre-Shang and early Shang culture in Hebei Province, extending from the east of the Taihang Mountains to Bohai Bay.

Erligang Culture (about 1600 BC to 1300 BC) 二里岗文化

It was the early Shang culture with the Shangcheng site in Zhengzhou and Shangcheng site in Yanshi as its center. The sandy and clay gray potteries were the main ceramics.

Yinxu Culture 殷墟文化

It was the late-Shang culture with the Yinxu site in Anyang Henan Province as its center. It is the first archaeological culture in China with systematical contemporaneous written records.

Zhouyuan Culture 周原文化

It was the archaeological culture of the pre-Zhou and early Western Zhou Dynasty period discovered in the Central Shaanxi Plain.

The Yellow River Civilization in the Shang and Zhou Periods

For developed agriculture and technology, the Yellow River civilization in this period was more advanced and progressive compared with the other contemporaneous civilizations in the world. Therefore, the Yellow River civilization was also called "the precocious civilization".

In the early time of this period, Shang as the major kingdom in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River was the representative of the Yellow River civilization at that time.

The state apparatus of the Shang Dynasty was highly developed. Cities started to appear and became large-scale. Writing (inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells) was developed, and so was the agricultural and handicraft industry. The appearance of the highly-complicated and exquisite heavy bronze wares marked the productivity development and the technology progress in this period, and also reflected the high cultural prosperity, especially the maturity of the ritual and rank system. As the Shang Dynasty further enlarged its territory, the civilization of the Shang Dynasty also started to influence the west and the north as well as the Yangtze River basin.

The Zhou Dynasty mostly inherited the Shang Dynasty institutionally. The national power grew further and the civilized ethics and rites were developed.

In both the Shang and Zhou dynasties, there were signs that the civilization of the Central Plains had fused and inter-influenced with the civilizations in the surrounding regions, such as the western nomads in the north, the Shu civilization in the west (like the Sanxingdui civilization in Sichuan Province), the Yangtze River basin civilization in the south, and Zhujiang River basin civilization in today's Guangdong Province in the south.

The Yellow River Map

The Yellow River Map, Map of the Yellow River
Click to enlarge (1000*515)

More about Yellow River