Uploaded by Crisol Ann Arienza

1931 Yellow River Flood

1931 China Floods: Facts, Causes & Aftermath
Many of the world's oldest civilizations were built next to rivers. It makes sense; rivers
provide fresh water for drinking, fish for food, irrigation for farming, and natural protection from
attack. But can you imagine why living next to a river could be a problem? Rivers flood.
China is an example of a very old civilization, and many of China's oldest cities are built
near rivers. These rivers have flooded throughout Chinese history, but no year was as bad as 1931.
In this year, three of China's biggest rivers (the Yellow, Yangtze, and Huai) all flooded. Between
the actual floods and the problems they created, somewhere between 1 and 4 million people were
killed. Even in a civilization as ancient as China, this was one of the worst natural disasters ever
Figure 1. The Yangtze River
Humans have lived along the Yellow, Yangtze, and Huai rivers for millennia, so why was
1931 such a disastrous year? There were several reasons, starting with the weather. From 19281930, China went through a bad drought. The lack of rainfall made the rivers lower, and the soils
dried up. Then, the winter of 1930 experienced huge snowstorms, followed by extremely heavy
rains in the spring. These rains melted the remaining snow and added even more water to the rivers.
In addition, the Yellow River carries a huge amount of sediments, originating from the Loess
Plateau in the upper and middle reaches. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the sediments is deposited
in the lower reaches and the river estuary, causing the river floor to rise. As a final nail in the
coffin, China was hit by strong cyclones (Pacific Ocean hurricanes). In a normal year, China had
roughly 2 cyclones. In 1931, China had 7 cyclones during July alone.
Clearly the weather was a problem. However, even those cyclones weren't the most
significant cause of the floods in 1931. Over the last several decades, China had developed more
modern farming technologies, resulting in a large increase in agriculture. Unfortunately, China
also went through rebellions, wars, and political instability. The government programs in charge
of monitoring the river and keeping the river healthy weren't able to do their jobs. As a result, the
land near the river was overused, dykes and dams meant to control the river were built incorrectly,
and forests and wetlands, which usually regulated the river, were destroyed. Thus, when the crazy
weather on 1931 happened, the rivers overflowed their banks, the dams broke, and water rushed
across central China.
By the August of 1931, the Yellow, Yangtze, and Huai Rivers had all flooded so badly that
most of central China was submerged. Over 100,000 people were killed in the immediate floods,
but the survivors had problems of their own. The floods killed crops, washed out grained storage
facilities, leveled houses, and destroyed roads. Many rural communities were homeless and
stranded without food, and without any way for aid to reach them. The flooding was so bad that
the ground was still underwater when fall arrived, which meant that farmers couldn’t even plant
crops for the next year. To make matters worse, the Government of China was so disorganized and
weak from the wars of the last decades, and they couldn’t gather together the resources and people
needed to save the stranded villages.
Ultimately, this is why the death toll was so high. Millions of people starved to death,
disease swept through weakened communities, and homeless refugees were stuck without shelter.
In some cases, the situation was so bad that people resorted to cannibalism, eating the dead just to
In conclusion, the China 1931 Flood was the deadliest flood that had ever occurred, so far.
The government is still trying to improve their protection by building dams and other sort of
blockage. All three rivers are still present and flowing naturally.