Feb. 21, 2024

Yellow River Decade (14) Bowing to Yellow River source

Yellow River Decade (14) -Bowing to Yellow River source
Reported by: Lina Wang ,Yongchen Wang

At 8:00am On August 28th, 2010, four sport’s untilities started off from Maduo township government. Our destination is Yueguzongliequ, which was in Yellow River source. Unfortunately,  the chief executive who felt stomach sick yesterday, along with the driver , Xiaoshi, twisted himself, so they could not stay with us finally. As a result, they stayed in the township government and went on interviewing the leader of the township government.

Maduo township government

The morning in Maduo township

Upstream from the mouth of the Yellow River, tracing to its source, we fell into an endless reverie about what the source of the river breeding Chinese 5000 years’ civilization was like. Some said the source was formed by melting glaciers, or that the source was a wetland. We would wait to see what it was really like.

Walking out of Maduo township

Walking into the river net

The Yellow River source region had many rivers and lakes everywhere; there was no path in many places. The car fleet always had cars stuck in the sand. Thanks we have plenty of people, somebody dug, somebody picked up rocks, and very quickly we made the car get out of the sand.

Approaching the Wetlands

Driving across the River

Exploring the way

Along the way, we met many grassland animals. Naughty pikas sometimes were watching us beside the bunker on the roadside, or racing with us before cars. Prairie Eagles either standing on the poles were looking down upon us majestically, or spreading their wings to show off their heroic. Kiangs and Tibetan gazelles were always far away from us, eating grass leisurely. We often saw herds of yaks and sheep, but the strange thing was that we rarely saw people grazing animals.

Steppe Eagles

Grazing in the Grasslands

The prairie spirits who grew at an altitude of 4000 meters attracted our attention. Though long way ahead, we could not help stopping our cars to see them excitedly and recording their demeanors with camera. The kind of our excitement came from the desire for freedom of human beings. However, did they really have freedom? Clouds of chain link fence and rolls of wire made us worry about them.
In the classroom on the bus the day before yesterday, Zhao Lianshi, who had wealth of experience in fieldwork of the grassland, told us that there were two functions about chain link fence. The first one was to divide the pastures; the second was to fence against grazing. However, many experts believed that it was not scientific to apply the experience in the management of farming practices into the original nomadic roots in ecological and sustainable way.

Yueguzonglie of Yellow River source

The Fence of Yellow River source

The original intention of dividing pastures was to reduce conflicts between herders by clearing the boundaries of various pastures. However, the more obvious boundaries were, the more easily it led to conflicts. It made herdsmen concerned more about if cattle and sheep of other families wound run into or pass from their own pastures. After dividing pastures, it could not meet the original intention, but cause lots of troubles to herders. Before the split, herdsmen grazed animals in different places according to the different seasons. They changed places depending on the growth of the pasture. It helped avoid overgrazing of some areas and grassland degradation. In fact this conventional wisdom was a sustainable management mode. By comparison, after the split, pastoralists had no way to exchange the pastures. Seriously grassland degradation caused number of cattle and sheep reducing. Later, some smart herdsmen removed fences to graze animals together. Or when the exchange time was coming, they employed trucks to move the cattle and sheep to other places.

Fail to fence the wetlands

Fail to fence the mountain

The original intention of fencing grazing and restoring pastures is good, but obviously the manager who would like to restore pasture in this way had never lived in the pasture before, or did not understand the relationship between animals and pastures. Animals in the prairie, including wild and domesticated, have formed symbiotic relationship with pastures for a long time. When animals are in healthy or sick status, they will eat different kinds of grass. It is called choosing food and self-treatments. This selective pressure makes it possible to develop the grassland ecosystem in a healthy and sustainable way. After fencing off, the pastures have no pressure of animals’ grazing. It will make the dominant species grow in a large population, but such plants are often not suitable for animals to eat. So the grass which is tall as we see from the surface is not necessarily healthy.

Passing over the river

Herdsman of Yellow River source

There is another serious problem of fenceing for it affecting the survival and breeding of the grassland, Animals’ eating and drinking as well as mating and reproduction require long-distance’s migration. The fence blocked the migration of animals, like putting them into big cages.
    On the road, we happened to meet a project team which was in progress of constructing fences, so we interviewed the person in charge of the project.

Interviewing on the road

Loving of wetlands

We asked him why they made fence chain here. He said it helped protect the wetland. They also established nature reserves in case of overgrazing. We asked: “Are there many cattle and sheep stampeding the grass in such a place with few people?” He answered that it was better to enclose fences for protecting the wetland. Then we asked “Have you ever thought that the fence prevented not only the entry of the cattle and sheep, but also the migration of wild animals?” He said the fence would leave passages for wildlife. We asked again:” Did the animal know the location of the channel?” or “How do you notify the animals?” They were unable to answer these questions. No matter how we questioned the fence chain, they always answered “For conservation of wetlands.”

“The conservation” of wetlands

What is so-called “nature reserve” for protecting the plants and animals there? But the plan of chain link fence on the prairie had benefit neither for the diversity of plants nor the breeding and surviving of animals. I wonder how the fence plan aiming to protect China Water Tower, which was said to cost billions, was initiated, and approved?

   Is there the problem of overgrazing in Three River Soruce with a population of only twenty thousand? Should human take more responsibility for the grassland degradation than the changeable climate? Whether can chain link fence, which is not conducive to the ecology of the grassland and survival of the animals, achieve the intention of protecting the Water Tower or not? A lot of problems have already been beyond the sense of people, who do not live or work in the long-term in the grassland. Then Zhao Lianshi mentioned a person, Wu Yuhu, who works in the Northwest Plateau Institute of Biology. He has done researches for forty years about the grassland. And he was called grassland biologist drilling out from the Tibetan package. We immediately decided to interview him tomorrow when we arrived in Xining.

The Elementary School of Yellow River source

Huangheyuan primary school

We went to Huangheyuan No.1 primary school before we got to Yuegulie. The Green Reading Room denoted by Green Earth was in this school. Last year when we came here we visited this school just after a big hail storm. After we posted this picture on the internet, friends who saw the picture on the internet signed with emotion about the remote school with rainbow on head.

Huangheyuan primary school established in 1999, belongs to Maduo township, Qumalai County, Yushu autonomous prefecture, Qinghai province, 2 kilometers to headstream of the Yellow River, 50 kilometers to township government, 290 kilometers to county. Its natural conditions are very abominable, with an elevation of 4700 meters above the sea level and a shortage of material resources. When we got there, we saw many children, some reading ( Most of they read was Tibetan),some doing mathematics, some happily playing basketball or football, although the balls were very poor. We did not find the girl whose face was full of smile in the picture taken last year, but we got her in the next picture taken by Wang Jian, who was ecologist. Judging from the two pictures, we could see that she had grown up a little

a little girl at Huangheyuan in 2010(from Wang Jian)

The girl in 2009

The children greeting to us( from Wang Jian)

After we stayed in the school for a little for a while, the principle Gengqingyixi took us to Yueguzonglie. After crossing mountains and rivers, eventually we got to the headstream of Yellow River. There was no torrent, marsh, glacier, only a spring flowing from the earth. If not seeing the landmark made by national scientific expedition team, people who hadn’t come here would never imagine that it was the source of Yellow River – the mother river.

The source of Huanghe  2010

The source landmark of Hanghe 2010

The soruce of Huanghe  in 2009

The source landmark of Huangheyuan 2009

It constantly and slowly flows to the distant place;
It silently and deeply narrates the historic stories.
Some people respect her and not dare to move close to her; some people love her, weeping besides her; some people appreciate her, exciting her.

Measuring the distance of the source of the water

Compared the measurement result with last year’s, we found the headstream was two meters shorter. Gengqingyixi said that there would be more water when the rainfall was much while less water when rainfall was little. The main trend of these years was that rainfall was becoming less. However, we still could not believe the difference between the two pictures. Only through one year, it had changed so much.


The team members of Yellow River Ten –year- travel were in Yueguzonglie 2010

The team members of Yellow River Ten –year- travel were in Yueguzonglie

Looking around at the headstream, we found it was in a basin, Yueguzonglie Basin, surrounding by mountains. This basin was about 40 kilometers in length, and 60 kilometers in width, shaping like an oval. There were more than one hundred steams surrounded by natural pasture in the basin, which looked like countless pearls. The spring in front of us was in the southwestern part of the basin, 30 kilometers to yaladaze Mountain. The clean water constantly rolled over, gathering with the countless streams form the basin, forming into a half-meter river, namely Yueguzongliequ. Yuguzongliequ and Kariqu formed into Maqu that was the initial River  of the source of the Yellow River on the Xingxiuhai. Maqu river was called Peacock River by the local people. This session of the river was wide and shallow, and flowed slowly, which led to form into a sheet of wetlands and a large of water puddles. Standing on the mountain high, we saw countless water puddles flashing and looking like the peacock flaunting its tail displaying its fine plumage. Maqu river run to east 16 kilometers and enter famous Xingxuhai River .

Bowing to The source of Yellow River

Standing at the source of the Yellow River, each of us had different feeling, expressing different emotions. A young man, 23 years old, bowed to it in earnest. He said his parents were farmers in Hebei province, and he should give his deep thanks to the spring that bred the people in the lower reaches. However, not only the people who lived in the lower reaches, but all Chinese people should be thankful. Therefore, we 17 people gave three earnest bows in to the mother river.
Leaving the Yugazonglie, we were back to Huanghe Source No.1 primary school. Volunteers played basketball with the children, and we devoted some books and clothes to the school, then we interviewed the principle, Gengqingyixi. This school and its staff had seen Jiang Source area’s changes in the past ten years and will see the changes in the future decades. So it was the ninth family we visited.

Devoting books to Huangheyun primary school

Devoting money for building reading room

Gengqingyixi has been a teacher since the school was established. It’s already 10 years up to now. I asked him why he would like to stay here for such a long time; he said he loved the children here. The school had over 30 students, aging from 7 to 12, who all were the children of the local herdsman. Children’s homes were far away from school, and the farthermost was 300 kilometers. So all of children lived and studied in the school, with free tuition and lodging, paid by the department of education. There were only 4 teachers in the school, including the principle. They were not paid well. Principle got 700 Yuan per month for 12 months, the teachers got 800 Yuan per month for 8 months. They were paid as the teachers in rural schools who do not receive the normal remuneration from the government. They would have got 2000-3000 Yuan if they were in the government system.Only 40% of local children go to school. Many children came to school for a while and went home to herds cattle and sheep or digging Chinese caterpillar fungus.


Teacher and student

We asked the principle what was the biggest difference compared with before in River source Area, he said there were less water and more storm, and degraded meadow resulted in less sheep and cattle, the herdsmen’s life was worse. Now the countryside was very poor, while 85 years ago, it was very rich.

Children were singing

Before we left, the children sang a Tibetan song for us. We did not understand the meaning of the song, but from their expression, we could see their naivety, their hospitality and their love to their home county three river source.

We returned to Maduo township. In order to get more information about river source area, we interviewed the president of the national people's congress of the Maduo township. We also asked him the same question what the biggest difference compared with before. He said the natural conditions were much worse than before, with serious degraded meadow. It was mainly caused by natural disaster, such as desertification, soil erosion, rodent pest and climate change. I asked him if overstocking was the problem, he said no, because the population was very rare with one person in 3 kilometers on average.

Wetland of the source of the yellow river

Cars running in that area

We asked him why herdsmen’s life was worse. He gave me two reasons: on one hand, the government demanded the herdsmen to reduce the number of the livestock for preventing the meadow degrading; on the other hand, the government encouraged the herdsmen to abandon the nomadic way of life and to earn bread in the county city that they were not good at.

We asked his view about chaining fence; he said chaining fence was for protecting wetland and helping herdsmen recover meadow.

We continued to ask “since the disaster played an important role in grassland degradation, what was the function of chaining fence?” His answer was that good grassland was becoming less and fence was better than no fence.

Probably the young chairman did not have the experience of herding, so it was very difficult for us to explain the harmonious relationship between animals and pastures. We told him that ten years Yellow River visiting would continue to track for ten years, during which we could witness if the chain link fence was useful.
A few people we interviewed later on our way still could not solve the problem echoing in our mind that why they used the chain link fence in such a deserted place .After the visit to Maduo township, we hurried back to Maduo country. Tomorrow we would arrive in Xining with lots of questions to consult the grassland biologist out of the Tibetan packages。 

Taking photos with the leaders of Maduo township

What it will be in ten years


Translator: Chen Jie
Proofreader: Lin Yue

Copyright © 2011 - All Rights Reserved - 绿家园环境科学研究中心 京ICP备09016501号