Huang He Valley (or in English, Yellow River Valley) was the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilization, and for that reason is often called “Mother River.” The valley surrounds the principal river of northern China and is at the center of thousands of years of Chinese history. At over 5,400 kilometers (3,300 miles) long, the Huang He is China’s second-longest river. It has a drainage basin of around 750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles), the third largest basin area in China. It is called the Yellow River because its waters carry silt, which give the river its yellow-brown color, and when the river overflows, it leaves a yellow residue behind. While the river helps create fertile land that is suited for farming, during certain times of the year the Huang He frequently overflows. The water damages housing and crops across the North China Plain, an important agricultural region. Because of this, the Huang He is also nicknamed “China’s Sorrow.” For thousands of years, the Chinese have embarked on major public works projects to control and irrigate the water from the Huang He, including hydroelectric dams in modern times. Despite the possibility of flooding, the Huang He Valley basin is home to a huge population, and many of China’s oldest cities are situated along the river.

It is hard to say exactly when villages and tribes began arising in the Huang He Valley, but most scholars agree that a major power consolidation occurred from around 2100 to 1600 B.C.E., creating the Xia Dynasty. During that time, tribal leaders came together to try to solve the problem of the Huang He overflowing and wiping out their villages and crops. Da Yu, or Yu the Great, is a mythological figure who created systems to control the floods in the Huang He Valley, and is credited as the first leader of the Xia Dynasty. With the ability to better control the Huang He and save their crops from flooding, Chinese leaders were able to solidify their rule of China, and a number of dynasties headquartered in the region followed. The valley became the center of Chinese culture, society, and learning.


Huang He Valley

The Huang He (Yellow River) Valley is the birthplace of Chinese Civilization. The Yellow River is the second largest river in China and one of the longest river systems in the world. 


a dip or depression in the surface of the land or ocean floor.


complex way of life that developed as humans began to develop urban settlements.


learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.


series of rulers from one family or group.

hydroelectric dam

structure built across a river or other waterway that generates electricity by controlling the flow of water that passes through it.


to water.

public works

structures and facilities, such as roads, paid for by the government.


community made of one or several family groups sharing a common culture.