Great Flood of the Huang-Ho River

The 1887 flood of the Huang-Ho (Yellow River), which flows more than 4,885 kilometers through China, was responsible for some of the most severe flooding in Chinese history. Heavy rainfall unleashed an enormous flood wave, which swelled further as dams burst, inundating more than 15,000 square kilometers. Disease epidemics broke out in the affected areas: in addition to the deaths caused directly by flooding, nearly as many lives were lost due to the ensuing sickness. Estimates of the total number of deaths range from one to two million. Over the centuries, more people have died in flooding along the Yellow River than along all other world rivers combined. Part of the problem lies with the region’s high silt content: millions of tons of yellow mud frequently cause the river to overflow and change course. In its lower reaches, the riverbed has actually become higher than the level of the surrounding countryside. Dams and dikes have been built in order to limit the recurring floods and aid cultivation of the fertile land in the Yellow River valley. However, the river’s thick silt still clogs many of them.

Further Readings: 
  • Pomeranz, Kenneth. “The Transformation of China’s Environment 1500-2000.” In The Environment and World History, edited by Edmund Burke III and Kenneth Pomeranz, 118–165. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.