The Yellow River or Huang He is the third-longest river in Asia, following the Yangtze River and Yenisei River, and the sixth-longest in the world at the estimated length of 5,464 km (3,395 mi). Originating in the Bayan Har Mountains in Qinghaiprovince of western China, it flows through nine provinces, and it empties into the Bohai Sea near the city of Dongying inShandong province. The Yellow River basin has an east–west extent of about 1,900 kilometers (1,180 mi) and a north–south extent of about 1,100 km (680 mi). Its total basin area is about 742,443 square kilometers (286,659 sq mi).
The Yellow River is called “the cradle of Chinese civilization”, because its basin was the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilization, and it was the most prosperous region in early Chinese history. However, frequent devastating floods and course changes produced by the continual elevation of the river bed (due in part to manmade erosion upstream), sometimes above the level of its surrounding farm fields, has also earned it the unenviable names China’s Sorrow and Scourge of the Sons of Han.
The Yellow River is one of several rivers that are essential for China’s very existence. At the same time, however, it has been responsible for several deadly floods, including the only natural disasters in recorded history to have killed more than a million people. The deadliest was a 1332–33 flood that killed 7 million people. Close behind is the 1887 flood, which killed anywhere from 900,000 to 2 million people, and a 1931 flood (part of a massive number of floods that year) that killed 1–4 million people.
According to the China Exploration and Research Society, the source of the Yellow River is at 34° 29′ 31.1″ N, 96° 20′ 24.6″ E in theBayan Har Mountains near the eastern edge of the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The source tributuaries drain into Gyaring Lake and Ngoring Lake on the western edge of Golog Prefecture high in the Bayan Har Mountains of Qinghai. In the Zoige Basin along the boundary with Gansu, the Yellow River loops northwest and then northeast before turning south, creating the “Ordos Loop”, and then flows generally eastward across the North China Plain to the Gulf of Bohai, draining a basin of 752,443 square kilometers (290,520 sq mi) which nourishes 140 million people with drinking water and irrigation.