The Huang He River Valley

There were many things to consider when living in ancient China. The choice of a place to settle was crucial. Many people chose to live near the Huang He River. The river was full of yellow loess. The Huang He River Valley was known for its rich agriculture. It was also known for its devastating floods.

When people began farming in China most of them settled in the Huang He River Valley. The valley is located on the North China Plain in Inner China. The latitude of the Huang He River Valley is approximately between 115 and 119 degrees east. The longitude of the valley is roughly between 35 and 38 degrees north. The Huang He Valley was safe to live in because "the mountains and deserts in the east were almost impassable and the mountains and rainforests to the south were equally harsh barriers," (Walker 24). That means that the mountains, deserts, and rainforest in China were extremely hard to cross. That protected the Huang He River Valley from intruders. Weather in the valley was ideal for farming with the average temperature in the summer at 82 degrees Fahrenheit and the average temperature in the winter at 28 degrees Fahrenheit. In the Huang He River Valley "the annual precipitation is about 23 inches," (Frey 189). There was enough precipitation to water the crops but it didn’t flood the fields, which made the valley an excellent place to settle.

The Huang He River Valley in China
(valley colored in green)
Outline from:
Colored by Becky

The Huang He River travels more than 3000 miles before it empties into the Yellow Sea. The river begins on the high Tibet-Qinghai Plateau in Outer China. The plateau was not very suitable to live on because it was too cold and dry. The Huang He then makes a big northern arch through the Gobi Desert where it picks up yellowish soil called loess. There were a few settlements along the Huang He River in the Gobi Desert, but the desert was to dry for large settlements. The Huang He River then moves eastward across the North China Plain. Most of the people who depended on the Huang He River lived on the North China Plain. The river finally ends in the Yellow Sea off the coast of eastern China.

The Huang He River Passing Through the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau
drawn by Becky

"The Huang He River overflowed its banks almost every year," (Langston 151). When it overflowed it brought fertile yellow soil called loess to the valley. Loess (pronounced less) is a crumbly, yellowish, sandy-clay soil that is blown from the Gobi Desert, 600 miles away. "Rich in minerals, the loess, whose yellow silt gave the river its name, was easy to turn," (Allan 10). The loess that fertilized the land near the Huang He made the valley a superior place to grow crops.

Hills of Loess
Photographer: Aldo Pavan
Photograph from:

The main reason people settled in China in early times was settled agriculture. This differentiated them from their nomadic neighbors in the north and east. "Situated near a bend in the Huang He River, the fertile plains were ideal for farming and pasture, while the mountains behind it had timber and wild game,"(Bowman 80). The Huang He River Valley had room to grow crops and raise animals and the land around it had wild animals to hunt. Farmers grew a lot of different varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts. They also grew millet, wheat, barley, and hemp (to provide fiber for clothing). People who lived in the Huang He Valley raised cattle, sheep, oxen, pigs, and chickens. Several different types of wild animals also lived in the Huang He River Valley. These included tigers, elephants, deer, water buffalo, wild boars, and rhinoceros.

Farmland in the Hunag He River Valley
Photographer: Galen Rowell
Photograph from:

The Huang He River flooded often. The silt in the river made the water level rise until it ran above its banks. When the river flooded it made the soil fertile and easy to work with. The soil near the Huang He River was rich and easy to cultivate. It was free of rocks and it held moisture well. "Although the annual flood brought the soil on which the people’s livelihood depended on it often wiped out dikes and villages," (Bowman 81). According to historians, the river has overflowed 1500 times in the last 3000 years. It has taken more than 10 million lives, which is why it is called "China’s Sorrow".

The Flooding River
Photographer: Julia Waterlow
Photograph from:

When people chose to live in ancient China, there were many things to think about before they settled. One of the most important things to consider was where to settle. The land near the Huang He River was a great place to live. Loess from the river made the land fertile. One of the reasons people moved to the Huang He Valley was because it was a great place to grow crops and raise animals. Some people chose not the live there because of the devastating floods.

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