China’s Sorrow


Mother Nature hath no fury like that of a flood. In the history of mankind, floods have claimed more lives than any other natural disaster. The worst flood of the 20th century occurred in central China in 1931, killing more than 3 million people.

China is no stranger to floods. Its major rivers – Huang He and Yangtze are prone to flooding with devastating consequences. Huang He is dubbed as China’s Sorrow.

The year 1930 was marked by drought and severe snowstorms in the winter. The thawing of the ice and the heavy rainfall in the spring of 1931 added to rising levels of the burgeoning rivers. Come July, the land received torrential rains and disaster struck. Over the next few months, the Huang He, Yangtze and Huai rivers overflowed. Dikes that had been constructed on the rivers to control the waters were washed away. As much as 87,000 sq. km went under the waters of Huang He while the Yangtze claimed over 1000 sq. km.

August was the worst. Thousands drowned in their sleep, while millions were rendered homeless. Rice fields were completely destroyed, crushing the main food supply. Major cities like Hunan, Hankou, Wuhan, including Nanking, China’s capital at the time, became floating islands. Even after the waters receded, many died of starvation and disease.

Fast facts:

  • Though the Yangtze has flooded more often, the Huang He’s catastrophic floods have killed more people.
  • Over 6000 km long, the Yangtze is the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world. There are 50,000 dams along the Yangtze and its tributaries!
  • The world’s top five flood disasters with the greatest human toll have all occurred in China.
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