Geography of Ancient China

Like the other early civilizations, Ancient China developed along rivers. There were 2 important river valleys in Ancient China: the Huang He or “Yellow” River to the north and the Yangtze River to the south. The Yellow River gets its name from the yellowish tint of its water. This comes from a rich yellow colored soil that was great for farming. It is often called the "cradle of Chinese civilization" because it was along its banks where the Chinese civilization first formed.

The Yangtze River is south of the Yellow River and also flows to the east. Farmers along the Yangtze River took advantage of the warm climate and rainy weather to grow rice. Eventually the land along the Yangtze became some of the most important and wealthy land in all of Ancient China.

One problem with these rivers is the periodic flooding that occurs. The Yellow River often flooded and destroyed farmland. Chinese mythology tells of how the first Emperor Yu the Great organized large-scale projects in irrigation and dike-building. This irrigation helped to distribute flood waters through canals and bring water to more farms. Yu then went on to found the first dynasty of China, the Xia. While this is a legend, archaeologists have found evidence of early dikes and canals around the river.

China’s geography also helped to protect it against invaders. The Himalaya Mountains are the largest in the world and protect China to the southwest. To the north of China is the Gobi Desert, while the Pacific Ocean lies to the east. The Chinese were in relative isolation from the rest of the world for centuries. In fact, because they believed they were in the middle of the world, surrounded by natural barriers on all sides, the Chinese thought of themselves as "Zhong Guo" — the Middle Kingdom.