100,000 Hanoi and Red River Delta flood North Vietnam: 1971 7. 1 (June 2006): 66-108. At that time no one knew whether the water would subside or rise even higher. It is impossible to provide an accurate estimate for the death toll caused by the 1931 Yangzi-Huai Flood.  With sanitation systems destroyed and refugees crowding into limited areas of dry ground, deadly diseases soon began decimating rural and urban citizens alike. ), edited by Zhang Jiong. ", In 1953, after the end of the Chinese Civil War, Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong traveled to areas neighboring the Yangtze River to promote the Three Gorges Dam flood control project. 65-68; Qiu Huafei, “1931 nian Zhong-Mei xiaomai jiekuan deshi yanjiu (A Study of the 1931 Sino-American Wheat Loan Issue)” Jianghai xuekan, no. Ordinarily, the region experienced three periods of high water during the spring, summer and fall, respectively; however, in early 1931, there was a single continuous deluge. The 1931 flood was included in an influential study conducted by a team of historians entitled Modern China’s Ten Great Disasters (Zhongguo jindai shi da zaihuang). “The Floods of China, a National Disaster.” Journal of Geography 31 (January/December 1932): 199-206. Alley, Rewi.  Measles spread through one camp infecting 1,491 in December 1931 alone, resulting in 682 deaths, mainly amongst children. As such, it is referred to here as the 1931 Central China Flood. Liang, M.T. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.  For Chinese politicians the 1931 flood represented an opportunity to reassert national control over the relief infrastructure, and also to display the modern scientific approach to disaster response that would be adopted by the nascent Guomindang regime. Refugees had been arriving in the city of Wuhan since the late spring. Yorke, Gerald. Then, heavy snowstorms occurred during the winter of the late 1930s. Will, Pierre-Étienne. Its purpose was both to discredit the deposed Guomindang regime and to highlight the supposed superiority of the Communist response to disasters. Under favourable meteorological and political conditions the human management of river systems gave rise to a thriving agricultural economy and stable society. Perdue, Peter C. Exhausting the Earth: State and Peasant in Hunan, 1500-1850. Social Responses: The official relief effort has been the major focus of most historical studies of the 1931 flood. Wu Yijin, William A. Gough, Jiang Tong, Wang Xuelei, and Jin Weibin. 145,000 1935 Yangtze river flood: 1935 5. London: Routledge, 2002. China: Yangtze River floods as first yellow alert of the year is issued - Duration: 1:17. The Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia, also is one of the world’s major waterways. “Analysis of Historical Floods on the Yangtze River, China: Characteristics and Explanations.” Geomorphology 13 (2009): 210–216. Although partly the result of unsustainable patterns of agricultural expansion, Zhang Jiayan argues that this crisis also reflected the entrenched political and economic difficulties experienced by governments during the late Qing and early Republic (1800s to 1928). Among the most recent major flood events are those of 1870, 1931, 1954, 1998, and 2010.. David Pietz’s Engineering the State provides one of the most detailed analyses, including a chapter on the flood in his study of the Huai River Conservancy. Yan Changhong. The Report of the National Flood Relief Commission offers a comprehensive analysis of the relief effort from the perspective of the government. This was actually an estimate of the number of people drowned, which did not account for other flood-related deaths. Eventually the region descended into hydraulic crisis, with low-level water control problems being punctuated by catastrophic flood disasters. Throughout the most devastating period of the disaster, therefore, low-level initiatives played a vital role in assisting refugees. Nanking: The University of Nanking, 1932. Vol. These storms dumped the equivalent of one and a half times the average annual volume of precipitation in a single month. The worst period of flooding was from the period July to November in the year 1931. Zhang Qiang, Marco Gemmer, and Chen Jiaqi. 62-69.  The ongoing conflict between the Guomindang and the Communist Party amplified the impact of the subsistence crisis. , As part of an anti-superstition campaign by the Kuomintang Government, a Dragon King Temple was demolished in Wuhan shortly before the flood hit. I was in one of the tallest and strongest buildings left standing. Outside China, the flood has received relatively little attention. “Sanshi niandai shuizai dui zaimin shehui xinli de yingxiang – yi liang Hudiqu wei li (The Impact of Flooding Upon the Social Pschology of Refugees in the 1930s – Using the example of Hubei and Hunan).” Jianghan Tribune 3. Yaxi yabao Throughout the second millennium CE, the Middle Yangzi province of Hubei witnessed a repetitive pattern of growth and collapse, described by Pierre-Étienne Will as a “hydraulic cycle.” Later Peter Perdue identified a similar developmental pattern in neighbouring Hunan during the Ming and Qing dynasties. 900,000–2,000,000 1887 Yellow River (Huang He) flood: 1887 3. As a result, most available media reports were those published outside the disaster zone. South China Morning Post 14,527 views “Big Is Modern: The Making of Wuhan as a Mega-City in Early Twentieth Century China, 1889-1957.” Unpublished Thesis, University of Minnesota, 2010.  Cheng Xiao, Liu Yangdong and Xia Mingfang, Zhongguo jindai shi da zaihuang (The ten great famines of China’s modern period) (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1994), p203. The Central China Flood of 1931 extended over the whole of the Yangtse Valley and inundated 70,000 square miles and 8.5 million acres of farmland. The Shanghai-based Christian periodical The Chinese Recorder offers particular insight into the involvement of missionaries in the relief effort. Shui (Water). Funu gongming The combined ecological and economic impacts of the disaster caused many areas to descend into famine. Glantz, Michael H (2003). On Hunan see Peter C. Perdue, Exhausting the Earth: State and Peasant in Hunan, 1500-1850 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987).  Estimated death tolls also vary widely. The relief effort become much more difficult following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in the autumn of 1931, which caused the Chinese bond market to collapse. Micah Muscolino. The flood zone was roughly equivalent in size to England and half of Scotland, or the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut combined.  The most lethal effect of the flood was the diseases that swept through the refugee population due to displacement, overcrowding, and the breakdown of sanitation.  Given the overwhelming importance of rehabilitating the dyke network, the deleterious economic consequences of the relief loan might seem justifiable. The city of Nanjing, then the capital of Republican China, was also severely affected by the disaster.  Pierre-Étienne Will, ‘Une cycle hydraulique en Chine: La province du Hubei du XVle au XIXe siècles (A hydraulic cycle in China: The province of Hubei from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries)’, Bulletin de l’école Française d’Extreme Orient, 68 (1980), pp. “Climatic Jumps in the Flood/Drought Historical Chronology of Central China.” Climate Dynamics 6 (1992): 153-160. Wuhan: Hubei Provincial Archives, 1999. Qiu Huafei, “1931 nian Zhong-Mei xiaomai jiekuan deshi yanjiu (A Study of the 1931 Sino-American Wheat Loan Issue)” Jianghai xuekan 2 (2001). “Analysis of Historical Floods on the Yangtze River, China: Characteristics and Explanations.” Geomorphology 113 (2009): 210–216. “Zaihuang yu nongmin de shengcun wiiji——yi 20 shiji 30 niandai qianqi changjiang zhong xiayou diqu wei zhongxin. In 1931, the greatest natural disaster ever recorded happened in China. 2 (2001). China’s attention was on a civil war between the Communists and Nationalists (Note: Third encirclement campaign against the Jiangxi Soviet); the Japanese were invading in the North (Note: Japanese invasion of Manchuria), while the world was deep into the Great Depression.  Lillian M. Li, Fighting Famine in North China: State, Market, and Environmental Decline, 1690s-1990s (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), p.306. Shijiazhuang: Hebei Renmin Chubanshe, 2001 . – “Water Calamities and Dike Management in the Jianghan Plain in the Qing and the Republic.” Late Imperial China 27, no.  In total, flood related diseases caused 70% of reported fatalities amongst rural families, and 87% of deaths in refugee camps. This survey offers a wealth of information for economic historians. “Transformation of the Water Regime: State, Society and Ecology of the Jianghan Plain in Late Imperial and Modern China.” Unpublished Thesis. From 1928 to 1930, China was afflicted by a long drought. Severe flooding in Hankou, China in September of 1931. Clubb, Communism in China, p.105. When the city itself was inundated in the early summer and after a catastrophic dike failure at just before 6:00 AM on July 27,:270 around 782,189 urban citizens and rural refugees were left homeless. The flood also inspired a range of cultural reactions. Chris Courtney.  The subsequent winter of 1930 was particularly harsh, creating large deposits of snow and ice in mountainous areas.  Margherita Zanasi, Saving the Nation: Economic Modernity in Republican China (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2006). : Harvard University Press, 1965). Wang Shaowu. Outside the People’s Republic, O. Edmund Clubb’s Twentieth Century China contained one of the only analyses of the 1931 disaster. Ka-Che Yip, 103-120 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009), p.104. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987. Wuhan tongshi: Minguo juan (xia) (A Comprehensive History of Wuhan: The Republican Period (Part Two) (Wuhan: Wuhan Chubanshe, 2006), p.222.  Some Western sources allege that death toll of between 3.7 and 4 million people based on their own claims of famine and disease. , The flood destroyed huge amounts of housing and farmland. 1 (2011). Xia Mingfang. 1 Comment As another part of our series on historic floods, here we look at the devastating floods that hit central China in 1931, one of which hit the Yangtze River with huge loss of life, and that particular flood is thought to be one of the deadliest floods of modern times. Edmund Clubb, “The Floods of China, a National Disaster,” Journal of Geography 31 (January/December 1932): 205-206. The floods inundated approximately 180,000 square kilometres (69,000 sq mi) – an area equivalent in size to England and half of Scotland, or the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut combined. The NFRC employed a range of Chinese and foreign experts, including figures such as the famous epidemiologist Wu Liande, the health minister Liu Ruiheng, the public health worker John Grant, and the hydraulic engineer Oliver Todd. In the aftermath of the flood, they sold these assets back to their original owners at highly inflated prices.  In the wake of the disaster, the government set up organizations such as the Huai River Conservancy Commission to address flood problems. Whilst the roots of the 1931 flood lay in a slowly unfolding pattern of environmental history, the proximate cause of the disaster was extremely high levels of precipitation. Wuhan: Hubei Sheng Wuhan Shi Wenshi Ziliao Yanjjiu Weiyuanhui, 1983. The floods killed crops, washed out grain storage facilities, leveled houses, and destroyed roads. Chris Courtney is a Research Fellow in Chinese History at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge.  That autumn, further heavy rain added to the problem and some rivers did not return to their normal courses until November. Using contemporary media reports, Chinese historians led by Li Wenhai have calculated the death toll at 422,499. Kueh, Y. Y. In 1928 to 1930, prior to the floods, there was a long drought in China. Fang Choumei. The 1931 Flood in China: An Economic Survey, (Nanking: The University of Nanking, 1932), p.8. In 1931, a 4-month long flood disaster killed 3.7 Million people and displaced another 14 Million. The two figures cited most commonly are both problematic. The burden of evidence, including that provided by the study itself, suggests that this figure underestimates the extent of mortality by a large margin.  Growing numbers of freshwater snails caused a spike in the infection rate of an endemic wetland disease called schistosomiasis. This name, however, fails to capture the massive scale of flooding. Pietz, David A. Yellow River flood, 1938-47. Communism in China: As Reported from Hankow in 1932.  The disaster also caused an economic shock with the price of vital commodities rising rapidly. Guilty of Indigence: The Urban Poor in China, 1900-1953 . Pi Mingxiu eds. “Observed trends of annual maximum water level and streamflow during past 130 years in the Yangtze River basin, China.” Journal of Hydrology 324 (2006): 255–265. The two figures cited most commonly are both problematic. Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley. A documentary on uncovering the history of the 1931 Great Flood in, This page was last edited on 9 December 2020, at 17:46.  However, due to a lack of funding and the chaos of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the subsequent Chinese Civil War, the various commissions were only able to construct small dams along the Yangtze River. To this day, the China flood of 1931 is regarded as the most devastating water-related disaster anywhere in the 20 th century, perhaps ever. In Wuhan the local military were convinced that the refugee population were harbouring Communists. In Chinese this event is usually described as the Yangzi-Huai Flood (Jiang-Huai shuizai), yet the disaster was not limited to these two rivers. Great Leap famine, 1958-62 (Urban Perspective) Lauri Paltemaa. Frankfurt and New York: Peter Lang, 2009. Having landed the relief grain, the NFRC then had to transport it upstream through hostile territory, where bandits and Communists attacked boats, commandeered supplies, and kidnapped relief workers. “Combatting the Famine Dragon.” News Bulletin (Institute of Pacific Relations), April 1928. The flood covered an area of 83 square kilometres (32 sq mi) and the city was flooded under many feet of water for close to three months.  Ka-Che Yip, “Disease, Society and the State: Malaria and Healthcare in Mainland China,” in Disease, Colonialism, and the State: Malaria in Modern East Asian History, ed. This was based upon a broad statistical survey of the flood zone conducted by a team from the University of Nanjing under the leadership of the renowned agricultural economist John Lossing Buck. Wuhan tongshi: Minguo juan (xia) (A Comprehensive History of Wuhan: The Republican Period (Part Two) (Wuhan: Wuhan Chubanshe, 2006). Fifty million people were affected when all three of China’s greatest rivers combined in a flood of biblical proportions between July and October 1931. With no food, people were reduced to eating tree bark, weeds, and earth. The American author, and later Nobel laureate, Pearl Buck wrote a series of short stories about the flood that were read on the wireless in the US in order to inspire charitable donations. Having finally secured financial backing, the NFRC now had to distribute a huge quantity of relief throughout the disaster zone. “The Variation of Floods in the Middle Reaches of the Yangtze River and its teleconnection with El Niño events.” Advances in Geosciences, February 2006: 201-205. Reposted from Disasterhistory.org.  For a classic study of this organization see Andrew James Nathan, A History of the China International Famine Relief Commission (Cambridge, Mass.  Eventually, the NFRC managed to negotiate a number of wheat and flour loans from the US government. , At the time the government estimated that 25 million people had been affected by the flood. One of the best contemporary journalistic accounts of the disaster is The Great Hankou Flood (Hankou dashui ji). Contemporary studies conducted by John Lossing Buck allege that at least 150,000 people had drowned in the first few months of the flood, with hundreds of thousands more dying of starvation and disease over the following year. Agricultural Instability in China, 1931-1990: Weather, Technology, and Institutions. Picturing disaster: the 1931 wuhan flood china dialogue central floods chris courtney. Lipkin, Zwia. , Meteorological causes and physical consequences, harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFNational_Flood_Relief_Commission1933 (, sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFNational_Flood_Relief_Commission1933 (.  On the effect of climate on flooding see Zhang Qiang, Marco Gemmer and Chen Jiaqi , “Climate Changes and Flood/Drought Risk in the Yangtze Delta, China, During the Past Millennium,” Quaternary International 176-177 (2008): pp. Whilst famine and malnutrition blighted the lives of flood-stricken communities, disease was by far the deadliest hazard. China Changes. Todd, Oliver J. This is a lengthy monograph published shortly after the disaster by a journalist named Xie Qianmao, who became a refugee after his home city of Wuhan was flooded. It is impossible to provide an accurate estimate for the death toll caused by the 1931 Yangzi-Huai Flood.  During periods of excessive rainfall and poor hydraulic governance, however, rising water and neglected dykes allowed rivers and lakes to reclaim the plains that had been occupied by human beings.. Around a tenth of the Chinese population was affected; over two million people died, either by drowning or by the subsequent famine and epidemics. Bourdillon” February 23rd 1932 John Hope Simpson Papers, Folder 6 (i), Balliol College Archives, Oxford; North China Herald, “Wuhan Cities Faced With Famine Conditions” August 25th 1931. The eight most seriously affected provinces were Anhui, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Henan and Shandong. Saving the Nation: Economic Modernity in Republican China. Zhongyang Ribao.  John Hope Simpson, “Hope Simpson to F.B. Clubb, O. Edmund. Ding Ling. Song Jie. Those who lived in rural areas foraged for wild wetland food, including aquatic plants, fish, and waterfowl. Whilst the majority of these studies offer institutional histories of the disaster, one notable exception is the work of Li Qin, who has examined the social-psychological impact of flood disasters in the Middle Yangzi region during the 1930s. Borowy, Iris. The Hubei Provincial Government published a hagiographic study entitled The Party Leads the People to Victory over the Flood (Dang lingdao renmin zhanshenle hongshui), which included photographs, propaganda cartoons, and oral testimony designed to highlight the distinctions between the bitter past in 1931 and sweet present during the 1954 floods. “Climate Changes and Flood/Drought Risk in the Yangtze Delta, China, During the Past Millennium.” Quaternary International 176-177 (2008): 62-69. As growth surpassed the limits of sustainability, the dyke network struggled to withstand the increased pressure. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005. Although Song Ziwen remained the head of the commission, the day-to-day running the relief effort was entrusted to John Hope Simpson, a British refugee expert. During this period, revenue intended for the construction and maintenance of the dykes was often embezzled or redirected for military spending. Unfortunately the physical impact of the flood was so intense that even relatively strong urban dyke networks were compromised. By early August 1931 one of the most populous regions in the world was under water.  At the beginning of this cycle, increased expenditure on dyke networks offered communities protection from flooding, thereby facilitating widespread agricultural and economic expansion. Duration: 1 year. Deng Tuo [Original published under the name Deng Yunte].  Historians since have suggested that the true number may have been as many as 53 million.  Famine conditions in conflict zones became so acute that some people began to engage in cannibalism.. “Fangxun xianduan longwangmiao. Central China flood, 1931. The winter of 1930-1931 had been particularly harsh, leaving large deposits of snow and ice in the upper catchments of rivers. 36 (1931). (The Collected Works of Ding Ling Vol 3. Rivers throughout the country rose onto their plains, inundating an area the size of England and half of Scotland combined. In China, flooding is so endemic that only the date is relevant, and 1931 identifies the greatest natural disaster of the 20th century. An Overview of the Central China Flood, 1931 . Kung. Xinminbao “Flood in China and Italian Dam Burst Take Heavy Toll”.  The project did not move beyond the planning stage in Mao's time, due to a lack of resources, rising Sino-Soviet tensions and the disruptions of the Great Leap Forward. Across the disaster zone an estimated 40% of the affected population were forced to leave their homes. He estimated that approximately 2 million people had been killed nationwide as a result of the 1931 flood. 230,000: 1975 Banqiao Dam failure: 1975 4. Coping with Calamity: Environmental Change and Peasant Response in Central China, 1736-1949. The University of Nanjing study implies, although never explicitly states, a death toll of 625,000 for the first one hundred days of the flood. According to a contemporary report, thousands "are convinced that Hankow is doomed and refuse to help themselves or be helped. Long before any assistance has been provided by the central government, local elites in disaster-affected communities were already providing considerable relief to their fellow citizens. Soong, a prominent politician in the Kuomintang and brother-in-law of Chiang Kai-shek.  Four weather stations along the Yangtze River reported rain totaling over 600 mm (24 in) for the month. Meanwhile, many believed that evacuation efforts were hindered by superstition. It also secured the assistance of the League of Nations. Even in a country like Republican China, where refugee crises were an all too familiar occurrence, the scale of displacement caused by the flood was exceptional. The flooding was so bad that the ground was still underwater when fall arrive… The survey concluded that approximately 150,000 people had drowned in the first one hundred days of the flood, suggesting that this number represented less than a quarter of all fatalities. Affected Population: 52 Million At the time, the University of Nanjing estimated that the flood had affected 25 million people.  The high-water mark recorded on 19 August at Hankou in Wuhan showed water levels 16 m (53 ft) above the average, an average of 1.7 m (5.6 ft) above the Shanghai Bund. Vol. Zhang Bo. The 1931 flood is indeed regarded as one … Wuhan: Wuhan chubanshe, 1989. A motion picture entitled Raging Torrent (Kuangliu) describing fictional events during the flood in Hubei was filmed in the aftermath of the disaster. Government Responses: The 1931 flood was one of the first major tests from the Nanjing Government, which had established tentative control over much of the Republic of China in 1927.  Although Song Ziwen remained the nominal head of the NFRC, with China facing political instability and an ongoing Japanese invasion, much of the responsibility for the day to day running the relief effort was entrusted the John Hope Simpson, a British refugee expert sent by the League of Nations to assist with the relief effort. The flood had a serious impact upon an area of 169,000 km2, excluding rivers and lakes.  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