Boats on the Yellow River in Shandong Province
The Yellow River has devastated lands around it as long as people have known how to write about it. Forty-three hundred years ago, one Yellow River flood lasted for thirteen years. Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Chinese began building a series of levees. Naturally, those levees have failed many times over the centuries.
The worst flood in human history occurred in 1887, when the Yellow River overran the dikes in Henan Province. That flood covered 50,000 square miles. It inundated eleven large towns and hundreds of villages. Nine hundred thousand people died, and two million were left homeless.
The most bizarre flooding of the Yellow River occurred in June, 1938. The Japanese were invading China, and Chiang Kai-shek decided he might stop them by letting loose a flood upon them. He ordered the levees blown. The resulting flood slowed the Japanese only slightly, but estimates of the Chinese who died in the resultant flooding vary from 200,000 to 900,000.
The Yellow River takes its name, Huang He, from the Chinese word for the yellow silt it carries in vast amounts. The irony is, that silt enriches Chinese farmlands whenever flooding occurs.