This page last updated 05/16/10

Gaoyou Lake

Gaoyou Lake = Gaoyou Hu = 高邮湖 Say:

Gaoyou Lake Gaoyou Lake S. Harnsberger photo
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Gaoyou Lake is the third largest lake in Jiangsu Province and the sixth largest freshwater lake in China. It covers an area of 674 sq. km.(260 sq. miles). In a sense Gaoyou Lake is a manmade lake, and it’s creation is part of a long story about flood control and hydraulic engineering in ancient China. Gaoyou Lake is now part of the Huai River system as the Huai River flows south through Gaoyou Lake on its way to the Yangtze River and the Pacific. Historically, the Huai had flowed directly into the Yellow Sea by cutting through northern Jiangsu Province. Starting in 1194 AD the Yellow River, some 300 km. to the north, changed courses several times to merge into the Huai, At least two of these course changes were brought on during wars, where one army would rupture the dikes in order to drown an opposing army.

The waters of the Yellow River were so heavy and silt laden that they quickly filled the nearly flat Huai River channel resulting in frequent floods. To make matters worse the floods covered the fertile farmlands with gravel and clay, ruining them for generations. Chinese Engineers undertook a major project to raise the elevation of the Huai in hopes that increased water velocity would keep the Yellow River silt suspended until it reached the sea. They did this by building a system of dikes and creating Huai Lake, which grew larger over the years as the dikes were raised to try to control flooding. Around 1600 AD flooding of the Yellow River caused several smaller lakes to merge thus creating Gaoyou Lake. In 1855 more flooding proved too much for the old Huai River path and the rivers course changed to run south, through Gaoyou Lake to the Yangtze.


The elevation of the lake bottom is 3.3 – 4.4 meters and the elevation of the plains to the east is 1 to 2.5 meters lower. Gaoyou Lake was formed in 1600 AD after yellow river flooding caused several smaller lakes to merge. However, starting from 1194 AD, the Yellow River further to the north changed its course several times, running into the Huai He in north Jiangsu each time instead of its other usual path northwards into Bohai Bay. The silting caused by the Yellow River was so heavy that after its last episode of "hijacking" the Huai He ended in 1855, the Huai He was no longer able to go through its usual path into the sea. Instead it flooded, pooled up (thereby forming and enlarging Lake Hongze and Lake Gaoyou), and flowed southwards through the Grand Canal into the Yangtze. Our drive took us over the Xinmin 新民floodplain south Gaoyou Lake. This is the outlet of Gaoyou Lake were the Huai River continues south to meet the Yuangze at Yuangzhou. The floodplain is a dry open expanse devoid of any buildings for its 4.5 mile width, which is quite a change from the rest of the area. During the summer rainy season much of the area floods. The road is well build to withstand the yearly submersions. In the winter wheat and other crops are grown here.

Copyright 2009 - Charles Day