Yellow River

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  • Chinese: 黃河 (Huáng Hé)

The Yellow River is the most major river of northern China, and is generally considered the cradle of Chinese civilization. Its heavily silted flow and frequent flooding created a fertile plain which provided for the birth of ancient Chinese civilization, but also created many problems throughout history.

Mother River

The Han people are believed to have first begun to coalesce into an organized society on the loess plains near the Great Bend of the Yellow River. As a result, the river is also commonly known as the "mother river" (母親河, Mǔqīn hé).


In the Ming Dynasty, as in other periods, efforts by the Court to redirect the river, build new dikes, or otherwise address flooding dangers met with considerable logistical difficulties, as the actual implementation of any such plans had to be left up to local magistrates all along the river, who often quarreled and quibbled with one another, fighting over whose district should have to provide the funding and the labor, which direction the river should be redirected (through which districts), and so forth.[1]

During the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1573-1620), the flooding of the river presented a crisis once again. Pan Jixun was selected by Grand Secretary Shen Shixing to serve as commissioner of the riparian works project which aimed to address the flooding threat. While many advocated for widening the river, in order to allow more silt to pass through, so that it wouldn't block up the river, Pan advised making the river deeper, so that it would flow more quickly, and flush itself clean. This was to be augmented by the diverting of several cleaner streams into the river, and a rearrangement of the dikes.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ray Huang, 1587: A Year of No Significance, Yale University Press (1981), 106-107.