tirsdag 29. november 2022

‘Seeing the Yellow River as a whole’: A conversation with Ruth Mostern

The Yellow River, the world’s sixth-longest and most sediment-laden, occupies a singular place in Chinese history and national identity. It is often associated with great misery caused by its flooding and changes of course, and Herculean efforts by political regimes across the millennia to “tame” it. There has long been a good understanding that such misery is caused by the high concentration of sediment the river carries, which renders it yellow. When deposited downstream, this sediment raises the riverbed, making it prone to flooding or changing course.

But soil erosion and sedimentation are not entirely natural processes. They are to a large extent a product of humans’ own making. So is the river itself.

In her 2021 book, The Yellow River: A Natural and Unnatural History, Ruth Mostern argues that the interrelation between human activities upstream on the Loess Plateau and flooding and river management downstream on the floodplain has not been well understood, despite the efforts of generations of historians.