June 7, 2022

The 1938 Yellow River flood



The 1938 Yellow River flood was a flood created by the Nationalist Government in central China during the early stage of the Second Sino-Japanese War in an attempt to halt the rapid advance of Japanese forces. It has been called the "largest act of environmental warfare in history" and an example of scorched earth military strategy.

. . . Besides the massive death toll, the flooded areas were affected for years to come. The flooded countryside was more or less abandoned and all the crops destroyed. Upon the recession of the waters, much of the ground was uncultivable as much of the soil was covered in silt. Many of the public structures and housing were also destroyed, leaving any survivors destitute. The irrigation channels were also ruined, further adding to the toll on the farmlands. The destruction also had a long-term psychological effect on the Chinese population. Unable to fully decide which group deserved more blame for the catastrophe, the Chinese Government or the invading Japanese, many survivors blamed both sides.[citation needed] Believing that the civilians would help them, the Chinese Communists turned the flooded area into a recruiting ground, directing survivors' anger towards a common enemy to bring them into their ranks. By the 1940s the area had evolved into a major guerrilla base known as the Yuwansu Base Area.

An excerpt from, "Yellow River flood, 1938-47" By Micah Muscolino, DisasterHistory.org: 

In June 1938, Chinese Nationalist armies under the command of Chiang Kai-shek breached the Yellow River’s dikes at Huayuankou in Henan province in a desperate attempt to block a Japanese military advance.[1] For the next nine years, the Yellow River’s waters spread southeast into the Huai River system via its tributaries, inundating vast quantities of land in Henan, Anhui, and Jiangsu provinces. Perhaps the single most environmentally damaging act of warfare in world history, the strategic interdiction threw long-established water control infrastructure into disarray, leading to floods that persisted until the Yellow River was finally returned to its previous course in 1947. Between 1938 and 1947, this disaster killed more than 800,000 people in Henan, Anhui, and Jiangsu and displaced nearly four million.

Video Title: A Deliberate Disaster - Chiang Kai Shek Floods the Yellow River. Source: Asianometry. Date Published: September 3, 2018. Description:

The Second Sino-Japanese War that took place from 1937 to 1945 was a vicious, sprawling conflict that continues to deeply affect foreign relations between China and Japan today. Millions were mobilized with major battles as epic as those taking place elsewhere during World War II in Stalingrad, Kursk or at the Battle of the Bulge — yet it is difficult to find information in English about what happened. Perhaps we can take a look at these battles in a future video but today we want to visit a deliberate self-inflicted disaster by the Chinese Nationalist government — the flooding of the Yellow River in 1938. This horrid incident — made in desperation and approved by Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek — killed hundreds of thousands outright, displaced millions more across the Yellow River plain and sparked a major famine in 1942 that killed yet thousands more. It had limited significant strategic effect but caused pain and suffering for years. The event is largely forgotten today — so many died without fanfare.