Feb. 21, 2024

Yellow River Decade(13) Sutra Streamers Guarding the Green-Colored Yellow River

Reported by: Wang Lina, Wang Yongchen

On August 24 2010, the Yellow River Decade group headed for Guide in Qinghai Province from Linxia in Gansu Province, a place that is famous for the proverb “of the entire Yellow River its Guide reaches have the clearest water”. Since our destination is located at the edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the winding road to Guide went up and down with the varied terrain. From the sparsely vegetated Loess Plateau to the bare stone mountains and then to the rocky mountains with luxuriant vegetation, we enjoyed a feast of landscapes.

Today, we started from the edge of the Loess Plateau. It’s about 2000 meters above sea level hence the dry weather. As water and soil are well conserved, mountains there are covered with strips of grasslands.

In the course of our journey, we were able to catch a view of the Yellow River through the gorges from time to time. If we hadn’t been told in advance, we would never have believed what we saw was the Yellow River, as the water was extremely green and clear. Qi Pu, senior engineer of the Yellow River Conservancy Commission, told us that it was part of the upper reaches of the Yellow River, and thanks to the little soil and sand input as well as strong sand carrying capacity, the water here was green.

The bare stone mountains are at a higher altitude. On the sheer slopes, soil is difficult to maintain under the combined force of water and wind and few plants are able to grow there. Despite the bare mountains, the landscapes are not dull at all. The jagged rocks of grotesque shapes left much to the imagination.

After climbing the mountains nonstop, our coach finally pulled over for water and we got a chance to have a brief rest. It was not long before we experienced a sudden sun shower. Zhao Lianshi said that if we went on to higher altitudes, it would even snow in the sunshine.

At higher altitudes, with decreasing temperatures and evaporation rates, more rainfall as well as gentler slopes, dense vegetation can grow and the hydrothermal conditions are fit for agriculture. The intense cultivation there indicates the fierce competition of resources among local ethnic minorities. Compared with the Tibetan minority, those believing in Islam are more powerful and thus occupy areas with the best hydrothermal conditions. They farm intensely and have densely terraced the mountainsides. On the other hand, people of the Tibetan minority, are forced to move to higher altitudes, where temperate zone crops including wheat and corn cannot grow, , because of lower temperatures and little increase in rainfall, despite lower evaporation. Consequently, highland barley becomes the major source of food. One good thing about the places where the Tibetans live is the fertile grassland. Flocks of sheep and herds of cattle can be seen here and there. Here, overgrazing is not a problem as the Tibetan population is very small.

On the road, we saw nature’s colors, shapes, expressions and elements, all of which charmed us into deep admiration for the delicate design of nature. Altitude, temperature, rainfall, slope aspect, soil condition, lithosphere and many other unknown factors determine which types of plants and animals are fit for a certain place. It’s a law of nature that every species living beyond the boundary set by nature will be managed by nature. Once people thought that only humans, the most intelligent among all creatures, could violate this rule without being managed by nature; and that humans could even transform nature. However, increasingly frequent natural disasters make us look back and consider whether human beings should be allowed to occupy every inch of land on Earth? Is it true that human beings own everything on Earth and should use it up in order not to waste? Can human beings really do whatever they want at any place?

As the Yellow River Decade went on, we also saw people blast mountains for stones to construct roads and dams. We were not sure whether these actions would lead to natural calamities, but the landslides and debris flows we saw through the coach windows were signs that warned people to stop before it was too late. We had different opinions about what had happened. Environmentalists on the coach believed this was feedback from nature on human beings’ irrational actions; scientists, nevertheless, held that it was simply common geological phenomena; Qi Gong, from the Yellow River Conservancy Commission who insisted that humans should transform nature, claimed that revetments should be built here.

The three groups of people did not reach an agreement in the end despite fierce debate on the coach.

Fortunately, we captured some sites through the coach windows.

Why is the water so clear at the upper reaches of the Yellow River? According to Qi Gong, there is little sand input at the upper reaches and after the construction of the Longyangxia Reservoir, soil and sand are deposited on the bottom of the reservoir, making the water much clearer. If that is the case, we wished that the water were less clear as long as the Yellow River could flow more freely. Should we let the river flow freely or bring it under control through engineering methods? We discussed this repeatedly after setting out. But so far, no agreement was reached. Yet I believe the clash of ideas can help all the project members to better understand the Yellow River.

Qi Pu, the senior engineer advocating engineering methods for managing the Yellow River, said that starting from ancient times, the Yellow River, with its large sediment charge, constantly dried up, and changed its course and floods.  This brought countless disasters to people living downstream, and caused losses of life and property. It is a river of danger. Building reservoirs on the Yellow River effectively reduces the odds of floods so that people downstream are able to live and work in peace.

Wang Yongchen, Wang Jian, and Zhao Lianshi, representing those in favor of obeying laws of nature, stated that as the mother river of Chinese people, the Yellow River has cultivated the Chinese civilization for over thousands of years. The reservoirs cut this mother river, which used to flow freely, into segments, and due to the heavy sediment loads, many of the reservoirs fail to prevent floods and instead increase flood threat. Apart from that, reservoir constructions might completely destroy the river ecosystem. We hope that this group can develop some better solutions in addition to calling for river protection.

You Lianyuan, with a neutral point of view, believed that the Yellow River has both beneficial and harmful sides. It is not right to let the river run freely to inundate those living in the flooded area; nor is it reasonable to develop hydropower in a disordered way. The right thing to do is to learn the laws of nature and harness the Yellow River in a scientific way. For instance, in Henan Province, they started to take sand from the Yellow River and place it in the inner sides of the riverbank. By doing so, the riverbed is lowered, reducing the risk of overflowing; and at the same time, farmland on the other side of the dams is raised, which makes the area less likely to suffer from salinization and floods. Similar attempts have already started, but no rational consideration has reached. But still, it is one of the approaches to harness the Yellow River.

We hope for more scientists like You who work hard academically while carrying a great sense of social responsibility. In 2007, during the Green Earth eco-tour we were amazed by the landscapes in the Guide National Geopark at nightfall.   Today when the Yellow River Decade group arrived, every member of the group was impressed once again.

At the Fifth National Geopark Qualification Council called by the Ministry of Land and Resources in August 2009, it was reported that the Guide County passed the experts’ evaluation and the geopark was conferred as the Qinghai Guide National Geopark. The park covers an area of 554 square kilometers, including 113 square kilometers of relics. Its features are its natural landscape and geological relics, with a comprehensive geopark integrating ecological views of cultural landscapes The park consists of three parts— the colorful Ashigong peak cluster, the changing Mawu wind-erosion landforms, and the spectacular valley landscape of the Yellow River. Geological relics of various kinds reflect the evolution of the Earth over centuries, reconstructing the development history of the Yellow River and the changing natural environment in Guide. Therefore, it is of great value for scientific education and research.


The Guide National Geopark in Qinghai starts from the Laji Mountain in the north, covering areas like Nairang, Hedong, Heyin, Hexi, Laxiwa, Xinjie, and ends at Xinjie Village in the south. It is an integrated geopark with various ecological and cultural landscapes. Natural geological landscapes and relics are its main characteristics.

As described online, we all agree that earth is the rarest thing on the planet, and human beings could not exist without it. The Earth is a planet made of earth or soil. Soil is the basic of all beings—the human being, the highest of all creatures, is considered to be made with earth. According to Chinese myths, Nuwa created humans with earth and mended the broken sky with stones. There are also similar stories in Western myths. Earth nurtures all creatures, including humans. Even rivers, lakes and seas which contain the largest number of creatures flow on earth. So earth is the most precious thing in the world. The myths lead to the Chinese creation epic in Guide on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, a place with the culture of stone and earth.

Among masterpieces of nature, we found cracking ground like clay blocks of irregular shapes Joined together. We learned from a local person that there was  heavy rain about two weeks before our visit, that brought mud measuring one foot deep. After the floodwater receded, the ground dried up and became the cracked ground that we now see.

At dusk, the Yellow River Decade group arrived at the Guide National Geopark. Red “sculptures” in the park showed up in front of us one after another. These unnamed sculptures made our imaginations run wild.

Afterwards, at the Huangheqing Bridge we finally came to the place known for the Chinese saying that Guide has the clearest part of the Yellow River. People could not wait to take advantage of the last rays of sun before sunset and capture this moment with their cameras. The Yellow River flowing down the bridge looked like a piece of warm and beautiful jade. Flags with prayers written in Tibetan hang densely from one end of the bridge to the other. There was no way for us to understand what was written on the flags and what the Tibetans wanted to say, but we knew that those flags reflected their respect for the heaven, the earth and nature.

The Yellow River Decade group took pictures of the sunset on the river from its estuary in Dongying, Shandong Province, to the downstream, the middle, the valleys, and the wetlands— different segments with various water colors and land features. What we saw today at Guide, Qinghai, was so fabulously beautiful that we wished we could stay longer.

After the Huangheqing Bridge, we entered the Guide County, where we had dinner at a restaurant opened by a Tibetan. The decorations in the restaurant displayed some symbols of Tibetan culture, but we were not sure how much of the ethnic culture was preserved in the small county that relied on tourism.

Tomorrow we will leave Guide, which is over 2,000 meters above sea level, and head for Xinghai, a place 3,300 meters above sea level where we will explore the remains of nomadic culture at the source of the Yellow River.


Translator:Yang Wenlong; Li Xiaohan 

Proofreader: BAO Lan







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