The geography of Ancient China shaped the way the civilization and culture developed. The large land was isolated from much of the rest of the world by dry deserts to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the east, and impassable mountains to the south. This enabled the Chinese to develop independently from other world civilizations.
Map showing the geography of China from cia.gov
(click map to see larger picture)
Perhaps the two most important geographical features of Ancient China were the two major rivers that flowed through central China: the Yellow River to the north and the Yangtze River to the south. These major rivers were a great source of fresh water, food, fertile soil, and transportation. They also were the subjects of Chinese poetry, art, literature, and folklore.
The Yellow River is often called the "cradle of Chinese civilization". It was along the banks of the Yellow river where the Chinese civilization first formed. The Yellow River is 3,395 miles long making it the sixth longest river in the world. It is also called the Huang He River.
Early Chinese farmers built small villages along the Yellow River. The rich yellow colored soil was good for growing a grain called millet. The farmers of this area also raised sheep and cattle.
The Yangtze River is south of the Yellow River and flows in the same direction (west to east). It is 3,988 miles long and is the third longest river in the world. Just like the Yellow River, the Yangtze played an important role in the development of the culture and civilization of Ancient China.
Farmers that lived 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.
The Yangtze also served as a boundary between northern and southern China. It is very wide and difficult to cross. The famous Battle of Red Cliffs took place along the river.
To the south and southeast of China are the Himalaya Mountains. These are the highest mountains in the world. They provided a nearly impassable border for Ancient China, keeping the area isolated from many other civilizations. They were also important to Chinese religion and were considered sacred.
To the north and west of Ancient China were two of the world's largest deserts: the Gobi Desert and the Taklamakan Desert. These deserts also provided borders that kept the Chinese isolated from the rest of the world. The Mongols, however, lived in the Gobi Desert and were constantly raiding cities of northern China. This is why the Great Wall of China was built to protect the Chinese from these northern invaders.
Interesting Facts about the Geography of Ancient China
Today the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River serves as the world's largest hydro-electric power source.
The Yellow River also has the name "China's Sorrow" because of the terrible floods that have occurred throughout history when its banks overflowed.
The Taklamakan Desert has the nickname of the "Sea of Death" because of its temperature extremes and poisonous snakes.
Much of the Silk Road traveled along the deserts to the north and west of China.
The religion of Buddhism is closely associated with the Himalaya Mountains.