Feb. 21, 2024

Yellow River Decade (2) From delta to Dongbatou

Yellow River Decade (2) From delta to Dongbatou

Reported by: Lina Wang ,Yongchen Wang

This morning we focused on locating one of the ten permanent families that we chose to follow since the first year of the yellow river decade program. It took us some time to find the family. We selected these families because they lived in areas of interest that we wanted to keep track of for a decade. We wanted families that could observe the changes of the Yellow River.

In the very beginning, a local volunteer, who paid close attention to the local chemical factories, led us to a village beside a chemical industrial zone. However, we soon learned that this village was only twenty years old. In addition, most of the villagers moved there from other areas and they would be relocated after the chemical factories were finished. Strictly speaking, this place did not meet our selection standards but we still got a lot of valuable information from our conversations with the villagers. A villager told us that there was often a strong, sharp odor in the village. The elderly and the children couldn't live in the village due to the terrible smell. Only those who did business lived in the village. Our experts say that even though pollution is often associated with strong odors, odorless gases are more dangerous and poisonous.

When we asked them where they would be relocated, they said, “we have no idea, probably somewhere with less pollution”. They left their home and settled in the village and after 20 years they had to move again. I was touched by their situation. Humans have feelings and a sense of home is very important in maintaing those feelings. I feel sorry for those who have to leave their homes due to events such as reservoir construction, and those who are forced to relocate.

After a simple conversation with the villagers, we drove to Xianhe town. Outside a park (where elderly people often visited ), our volunteers found an old man named Fan Jianyu whose family fit our selection standards. He happily accepted our interview.
 When we arrived at Fan’s house, we sensed from the decorations and the finishing of the house that this was a well-off family. There were eight people in his family: Fan and his wife, their two sons and daughters-in-laws, and their two grandsons. Mr. Fan told us that after he resigned from the army he started working for the Shenli Oilfield Transport Group and was relocated to an island here in Xianhe. At the time the island was mostly deserted with thick reed marshes everywhere and an abundant number of birds, fish, and river crab. The native inhabitants built thatched reed cottages and grew rice.

 When we asked him what he thought was the biggest change between now and then, he answered that the water was not as clean as before. We were curious as to why this happened and he told us that it was mainly due to pollution in the upper streams of the river.  When we mentioned the chemical factories in the area, Uncle Fan told us that “when the wind blew from the north, the odor was overwhelming”
 As for the reason of why the Yellow River changed courses in 1963 and in 1975, Uncle Fan said that the old course of the Yellow River was purposefully changed by bulldozers in order to drill for petroleum. "However," Mr. Fan said, "the old course will begin storing water again in May."
 Uncle Fan recieves 3000RMB every month from his retirement plan. His wife Han Yu accompanied him to Xianhe when he resigned from the army. When she was younger, she did some cleaning jobs in the oilfield. But as she got older, it became harder for her to find a job. She only got 200RMB from the oilfield every month to cover her living expenses. Han Yu told us that there were a lot of families in the oilfield. She asked us to report their situation.
 Mr. Fan's home is 120m2. He has two sons, one born in 1970, and the other in 1974. Both of his sons work in the oilfield now. The older son's home is also 120m2 and the younger son's home is a little more than 70 m2.

Mr. Fan and his wife were so hospitable that we regretted finishing the interview. However, time was limited so we exchanged our contact information and we promised to keep in touch with him. 

Through the Yellow River decade program, we hope to record the changing circumstances of the areas around the yellow river by following the lives of local inhabitants and observing how the changes affect their lives.  

  After we interviewed the first family, we speed up our trip and headed towards Dongbatou located in the northern portion of Henan's Lankao County.

  Before we arrived at Dongbatou, our "bus class" went on as usual. That day's class was especially interesting for all the people on the bus. Our experts talked about subjects ranging from the minority groups of Mongolia to the water crisis in Beijing to the controversial Three Gorges Dam.

   When we stopped at Lankao, a new member joined our team. He was from the Water Resources Research Institute of the Yellow River and his name was Pu Qi. His arrival led us to the discussion of the Yellow River Hydropower Stations. In Pu Qi’s view, as long as floods continued removing sediment from the stations, the task of managing the Yellow River looked optimistic. Yongchen Wang disagreed with Pu Qi's argument and stated that there was no water left to remove sediment.  Which one of these differing views was correct? It was difficult for the reporters and volunteers on the bus to decide. They had only just begun learning about the Yellow River. However, our journey passed through most of the hydropower stations built on the Yellow River so they had more opportunities to learn about the situation later on. We believed that after investigating and discussing the issues of several of the hydropower stations, they would gradually develop an answer.

  On our journey from Heze, Shandong to Lankao, Henan, we spent more than an hour in a big rainstorm. The heavy rain obscured the view through the bus windows. After the intense summer heat in Beijing that year, the rain brought with it a cool draft along with landslides, debris flows, and other natural disasters.  These serious disasters and thunderstorms left us feeling worried about the safety of the locals. 
When we arrived at Lankao County, we travelled along the Yellow River to Dongbatou. Along the way we saw Paulownia trees which were planted by a group led by the famous Yulu Jiao. When we got to Dongbatou, Pu Qi and the local water authority officials told us about their situation.


 The Yellow River often silts up and floods. Also, it tends to change courses. There is a saying that says that the yellow river "floods twice every three years and changes course once every century". The middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River flow through valleys among high plateaus. The water there flows very rapidly and sediment is carried downstream by the whitewater. This stretch of the Yellow River hasn't changed much throughout history. The natural diversion of the Yellow River only occurs in the lower reaches of the river past Mengjin, Henan. Due to the large amounts of sediment carried by the Yellow River's upstream portion's rapidly flowing current, heavy silting occurs in the downstream stretches of the river. The mainstream of the Yellow River slows down and causes flooding around its lower reaches and people have started building dams for flood protection. The deposition of silt in these areas have elevated the water level of the river above the surrounding villages. Because of this, the Yellow River usually overflows during the flooding season, which often creates new waterways in low-lying areas, changing the course of the Yellow River. 

Since the beginning of written documentation, there have been numerous records of the Yellow River's activities and natural diversions. According to the statistics from the book, "People of the Yellow River,” written by the Yellow River Conservancy Commission, 1593 floods and 26 major diversions have been recorded throughout history. The most northern diversion of the Yellow River connected with the Hai River and flowed into the ocean. Its most southern diversion connected with the Huai River and flowed into the Yangtze River. Overall, the Yellow River's floodplain covers a vast area  spanning more than 250,000 square kilometers.   Most of the Yellow River's diversions during the Song dynasty around 1128 occurred in the lower reaches of Hua County in Henan and flowed into the Bo Sea in the northeast.  In 1128, in order to prevent a Jin invasion, the Song emperor rerouted the Yellow River's flow from Hua County to the Si River and then into the Huai River. In the following 700 years, the estuary of the Yellow River opened into the East China Sea (now the Yellow Sea). In 1855, the Yellow River burst at Gangwa Xiang around modern day Dongbatou and flowed into North Bank, back to its original course again. After this diversion, the Yellow River flowed northeast through changyuan, Puyang, Fanxian, and Taiqian into Shandong and then flowed past Lijin into the Bo Sea. That is the Yellow River that we know today. On June 27, 1938, the Republic of China attempted to stop the Japanese invasion by rerouting the Yellow River. On June 5, they dug through the Zhaokou embankment in Zhongmu County. However, there wasn't enough water to block the japanese so they destroyed the Huayuankou dike in Zhengzhou. On the 9th ,water flowed though the Huayuankou embankment. After three days, "the river rolled through the embankment, flowing through the mouth of the dam widening it by a hundred meters." Most of the water flowed from the Lu River into the Yen River and then from the Gu River into the Huai River. A small portion of the river flowed through the Wo River into the Huai River. In the 36th year of the Republic (1947) the Yellow River burst at Huayuankou and finally went back to its original course. 

We can see how the mouth of the Huai River has changed by comparing a modern map to a historical map. In the past, the Huai River did not flow into the Yangtze River. It had its own mouth and it was a complete river. When the Yellow River first started flowing into the Huai River, the two lower reaches of the rivers flowed into the sea as one river. From 16th to 17th century AD (Ming Dynasty), the Yellow River burst again and flooded the middle and lower reaches of the Huai River. The Huai river's route to sea below Huaiyin was flattened. Large amounts of sand from the Yellow River caused heavy silting in the Huai River and in many of the Huai river's tributaries. The riverbed of the Huai river became elevated by the sand. When the Huai River's water could no longer enter its downstream portion, it flooded. After the 1855 diversion of the Yellow River, the old riverbed of the Yellow River dried up. The riverbed was 2 to 4 meters above the ground. At the time, the Huai River, with nowhere to flow, poured into Hongze Lake and then into the Yangtze River and became one of its tributaries. Therefore, the Huai River had its own mouth before 1855, but on a modern day map, the Huai River flows into the Yangtze river and then into the sea. 

In 1855, the Yellow River diverged at Dongbatou. However, it is still unknown whether the diversion was prompted by natural or man-made causes. As one of the largest diversions in recent history, the diversion of the Yellow River has dramatically changed its course. The Yellow River now flows into the sea in northern Jiangsu at Lijin, Shandong. After the diversion, a dam has been constructed on the Yellow River. 

Right when we got on the bus, Mr You, an expert from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, concluded that the Yellow River had a copper head, steel arms, and weak wrists made of tofu.  The yellow river at Lankao was the tofu waist. Sediment carried by the Yellow River from the Loess Plateau deposited there and raised the riverbed, often causing the river way to change routes and flood. This was the most dangerous part of the river. But the Yellow River's floods are benificial to some extent because they create fertile soil. Walking along a dam on the yellow river, we could see many residents and farmlands. Houses were built in high-lying areas, while low-lying areas were used for planting wheat and other crops. 

The flood area usually has a lot of wetlands, but the wet land farming civilization have occupied all these wetlands.

The heavy rain forced us to leave the East Dam on the Yangtze River. The magnificent roar of the Yellow River left us in awe. Today, there aren't very many sights that are as majestic as the Yellow River.  

The next day we planned to examine the flood area of the wetlands. We wanted to see whether or not the Yellow River would be more beautiful and healthy than it is now if the agricultural civilization respected nature and gave opportunities to other living things.


Translator: Li Xiaoxia
Proofreader: Ryan Yu

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