Yellow River or Huang He River the Cultural Symbol Across Time and Space — History, Facts, and Symbolic Meanings
Yellow River or Huang He in Henan Province, Photo by Guo Ping.
What Is Yellow River or Huang He River?
Yellow River or Huang He River is one of the most important cultural icons with significant meanings, where ancient civilizations originated and flourished, and Chinese Culture formed and inherited.
For thousands of years, across time and space, it nurtured countless people, witnessed the rise and fall of ancient empires of China, and encountered enormous challenges from humans.
Therefore, it has been respected as the cradle of ancient Chinese civilization and the Mother River of China.
Farmland and Ancient Buildings Next To Upper Reaches of Yellow River or Huang He River in Ningxia Province, Photo by Li Peng.
Why Yellow River or Huang He River Is Called Yellow?
In ancient times, people only called it River (He), Grand River (Shang He), or Great River (Da He).
Until Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), the Yellow River or Huang He has been widely used as its official name.
There are some possible reasons why it is called Yellow:
Named after the Yellow Emperor or Huangdi, one of the most well-respected ancestors of Chinese people, whose kingdom originated and flourished in the area;
In the Chinese Color symbolic system, yellow is one of the most orthodox and honorable colors, which is a suitable name for the mother river;
Long-term cultivation caused soil erosion, which turned the major river into yellow color.
Yellow River in Jinshan Canyon (Boundary of Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Inner Mongolia Provinces) on Loess Plateau, Photo by Xu Zhaochao.
Important Data and Facts.
The Yellow River or Huang He River is 5464 kilometers (3,395 miles) long;
It is the sixth-longest river in the world, and the second-longest river in China;
Originated in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in Western China, the Yellow River flows generally eastward, crosses the Loess Plateau and North China Plain, and empties into the Gulf of Bohai Sea today, but also had flown into the Huanghai Sea (Yellow Sea) in history;
Its drainage area is 795,000 square kilometers, including nine provinces: Qinghai, Sichuan, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan, and Shandong Provinces;
Huang He Wetland National Nature Reserve of Henan, Photo by Dong Dongfeng.
It had flooded over 1590 times in the recorded history of China, massively diverted over 20 times, and substantially diverted 6 times;
Water in the Yellow River is not all yellow;
Stars Sea (Xingxiu Hai) in Source Area in Qinghai Province, Photo by Gu Cheng.
Over 400 wetland nature reserves and national parks are constructed in the Yellow River basin areas in recent decades;
Hukou Waterfall, the largest yellow waterfall in the world and the second-largest waterfall in China, is located in the Hukou Town of the Basin.
Hukou Waterfall, Photo from Official Site of Yan'an Hukou Waterfall.
Origin and Timeline of Major Civilizations of Yellow River.
Around 6000 BC — 5000 BC: Neolithic Cultures
During this period, some primitive tribes originated in the Yellow River Basin, including Peiligang Culture, Dadiwan Culture, and Cishan Culture.
Red-crowned Crane Bone Made Flute, Peiligang Culture — Henan Antique Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Around 5000 BC — 3000 BC: Yangshao the Painted Pottery Culture
Yangshao was one of the most influential Neolithic cultures that developed mature agriculture and handicraft industry and were famous for their artistic painted potteries.
Painted Pottery Basin with Human and Fish Patterns of Yangshao Culture — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)
5000 BC — 3000 BC: Longshan Culture the Black Pottery Culture
Longshan was famous for exquisite Thin Fetal Black Pottery and Jade Articles and is believed the empire that had been reigned by great King Yao and King Shun.
Thin Fetal Black Pottery Chalice of Longshan Culture — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)
During these periods, some other cultures originated and flourished in other areas of China, such as the Qijia Culture (around 2200 BC — 1600 BC) in the Northwest and Liangzhu Culture (Around 3300 BC — 2000 BC) in the Yangtze River area.
However, they had disappeared because of war, flood, or severe weather.
Around 2070 BC — 1600 BC: Yu the Great and Xia Dynasty
When many civilizations were suffering from different types of severe weather, the Yellow River also encountered huge floods that lasted for years and caused catastrophic damage.
Yu the Great, led people after decades of hard work, successfully defeated the huge flood, and then was supported as the king who later established the Xia Dynasty, the first hereditary kingdom in the ancient history of China.
Their success, on the other hand, was the beginning of the Chinese people's united, large-scale fights again the floods.
Bronze Wine Cup (Jue) Unearthed from Erlitou Site that Believed as Capital of the Xia Dynasty — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
1600 BC — 1127: Economic and Political Center of Ancient Empires
Since then, most unified dynasties of China originated or set their capital cities in the area, including Shang (1600 BC — 1046 BC), Zhou (1046 BC — 256 BC), Qin (221 BC — 207 BC), Han (202 BC — 220 AD), Sui (589 — 619), Tang (618 — 907), and Northern Song (960 — 1127) dynasties.
Part of Painting (Qingming Shanghe Tu) Along the River During the Qingming Festival
Genre Painting of Capital City of Song Dynasty by Artist Zhang Zeduan (1085 — 1145) — Palace Museum
From 1127 to Today: Important Culture Symbols of Chinese Culture
Since 1127, Southern Song Dynasty (1127 — 1279) was forced to establish its capital in southern China.
At the same time, the Yangtze River area in the south has been developed, as well as the northeast, northwest, and southwest areas of China.
Yellow River, as the cradle of ancient civilizations, has been respected as the Mother River, as well as one of the most significant symbols of Chinese Culture.
Impact and Importance of Yellow River to Ancient China.
Since the Neolithic era, the Yellow River had formed many rich lands that are suitable for people to cultivate crops and has been nurturing and irrigating vast farmland in this drainage area for thousands of years.
Hence, the Chinese civilization had been an agricultural civilization until 1957.
Farmlands on Basin in Shanxi Province, Photo by Dang Yongli.
Centralization of Authority
Since then, centralization and collectivism became important elements of Chinese culture.
Flood Discharge of Longyangxia Dam, Photo by Li Junbo.
Formation of Ancient Chinese Culture
The earliest cities, kingdoms, characters, bronze wares, calendars, ritual systems, and traditions of China were all formed and developed in the Yellow River basin, especially the North China Plain (Huabei Pingyuan) which made it the cradle of Chinese civilization.
Harmony and Balance between Obeying and Fighting the Nature
As the Mother River, the Yellow River is called "China's Sorrow", for its frequent floods and catastrophic destruction to people throughout history.
Laoniu Bay in Shanxi Province and Inner Mongolia, Photo by Chang Guojun.
Features and Cultural Symbolizes of Yellow River in Ancient Chinese Poems.
Beauty and Magnificence
黄河之水天上来，奔流到海不复回。Li Bai (701 — 762)
The Yellow River comes from the sky, rushing into the sea and never coming back. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)
Comes from the west Yellow River slits Mount Kunlun, roars for miles it rushes toward Longmen.
黄河远上白云间，一片孤城万仞山。Wang Zhihuan (688 — 742)
The Yellow River rises to the white clouds, The lonely town is lost amid the mountains proud. (Translated by Xu Yuanchong)
Yellow River and Helan Mountain in Guidegou Geology Park in Ningxia Province, Photo by Guo Zhihong.
The shining sun merges into the mountains, the Yellow River flows into the sea.
秋水时至，百川灌河。Zhuang Zi (about 369 BC — 286 BC)
Flood surges in autumn, and hundreds of rivers flow into the river.
大漠孤烟直，长河落日圆。Wang Wei (701 — 761)
Lonely straight smoke rises from the boundless desert, the round setting sun hangs over the endless Yellow River.
Sunset of Huanghe River, Photo by Gu Cheng.
Flood and Destruction
黄河怒浪连天来，大响谹谹如殷雷。Wen Tingyun (about 812 — 866)
The angry surges of Yellow River are rushing from the sky, like roaring thunder striking earth.
吹沙走浪几千里，转侧屋闾无处求。Wang An'shi (1021 — 1086)
Surges and winds rush sand (of Yellow River) for thousands of miles, and the flood takes away the homes of millions of people.
九曲黄河万里沙，浪淘风簸自天涯。Liu Yuxi (772 — 842)
Nine Bends Yellow River carries tens of thousands of miles of sands, the waves surge by the wind coming from afar.
Sandy Yellow River Turns Sharply in Jinshan Canyon (Boundary of Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Inner Mongolia Provinces), Photo by Xu Zhaochao.
Warfares and Braveness
黄河冰已合，意又向南牧。Rong Yu (about 740 — 800)
The Yellow River is iced up, and nomads are about to march south.
将军发白马，旌节度黄河。Li Bai (701 — 762)
General riding white horse setting off to battle, taking emperor's commands and army crossing the Yellow River.
明月黄河夜，寒沙似战场。Li Liufang (1575 — 1629)
The moon is shining lights on Yellow River, whose cold sands look like ruthless battlefields.
Emotions and Feelings
黄河落天走东海，万里写入胸怀间。Li Bai (701 — 762)
Yellow River comes from heaven and rushes to the sea eastward, as broad as your big heart.
My pining for you lasts as long as the endless Yellow River.
Huang He River next to Meidai Mountain of Luoyang City, Photo by Gu Cheng.
Cities and Residences
天波忽开拆，郡邑千万家。Wang Wei (692 — 761)
On the breach that Yellow River merges with the sky, is the beautiful home to tens of thousands.
黄河九曲流，缭绕古边州。Lu Lun (739 — 799)
Bends of the Yellow River surround countless ancient border cities.
Ancient Buildings on Laoniu Bay in Shanxi Province and Inner Mongolia, Photo by Gu Cheng.
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