The Great Yellow River Inundation In China

’Twas in the year of 1887, and on the 28th of September,
Which many people of Honan, in China, will long remember;
Especially those that survived the mighty deluge,
That fled to the mountains, and tops of trees, for refuge.

The river burst its embankments suddenly at dead of night,
And the rushing torrent swept all before it left and right;
All over the province of Honan, which for its fertility,
Is commonly called by historians, the garden of China.

The river was at its fullest when the embankment gave way,
And when the people heard it, oh! horror and dismay;
’Twas then fathers and mothers leaped from their beds without delay,
And some saved themselves from being drowned, but thousands were swept away.

Oh! it was a horrible and most pitiful scene,
To hear fathers and mothers and their children loudly scream;
As the merciless water encircled they bodies around,
While the water spirits laughed to see them drowned.

Oh! heaven, it must have been an appalling sight,
To witness in the dead stillness of the night
Frantic fathers and mothers, struggling hard against the roaring flood,
To save themselves and little ones, their own. flesh and blood.

The watchmen tried to patch the breach, but it was all in vain,
Because the banks were sodden with the long prolonged rain;
And driven along by a high wind, which brought the last strain,
Which caused the water with resistless fury to spread o’er the plain.

And the torrent poured into the valley of the La Chia river,
Sweeping thousands of the people before it ere a helping hand could them deliver;
Oh! it was horrible to hear the crashing of houses fallen on every side,
As the flood of rushing waters spread far and wide.

The Chinese offer sacrifices to the water spirits twice a year,
And whether the water spirits or God felt angry I will not aver;
But perhaps God has considered such sacrifices a sin,
And has drowned so many thousands of them for not worshipping Him.

How wonderful are the works of God,
At times among His people abroad;
Therefore, let us be careful of what we do or say,
For fear God doth suddenly take our lives away.

The province of Honan is about half the size of Scotland,
Dotted over with about 3000 villages, most grand;
And inhabited by millions of people of every degree,
And these villages, and people were transformed into a raging sea.

The deluge swept on over the fertile and well-cultivated land,
And the rushing of the mighty torrent no power could withstand;
And the appalling torrent was about twenty feet deep,
And with resistless fury everything before it it did sweep.

Methinks I see the waste of surging waters, and hear its deafening roar,
And on its surface I see corpses of men and women by the score;
And the merciless torrent in the darkness of the night,
Sportively tossing them about, oh! what a horrible sight.

Besides there were buffaloes and oxen, timber, straw, and grain,
Also three thousand villages were buried beneath the waters of the plain;
And multitudes beneath their own roofs have found a watery grave,
While struggling hard, no doubt, poor souls their lives to save.

Therefore good people at home or abroad,
Be advised by me and trust more in God,
Than the people of Honan, the benighted Chinese,
For fear God punished you likewise for your iniquities.

Floods in China

Probably no one knows, not even the Emperor himself and his chief counsellors, what is the exact population of China. But it is undoubtedly very large; and this fact, added to the scanty knowledge of the Chinese people which the Western world possesses, causes Europeans to receive with singular apathy news of astounding calamities which from time to time befall the Celestial Empire. On Wednesday full details reached this country of a disaster concerning which only meagre and dubious reports had hitherto come to hand. During the Autumn that mighty stream, the Hoang Ho, or Yellow River, had burst its banks, and devastated a vast extent of densely-peopled country. Certainly, between one and two millions of people have perished – one account says seven millions – and doubtless many more victims will die from famine or disease. Yet, frightful as this calamity is, it does not shock us as we should be shocked by an earthquake in Italy or a bad railway accident in America. Londoners, indeed, would be more impressed by a collision on one of the metropolitan railway lines involving serious loss of life. As China is now waking up from her long sleep, we recommend her statesmen to follow the example of Prince Chun, who has lately invited an English doctor to prescribe for him. They should summon a first-class English engineer to report on the Hoang Ho. That the native precautions are insufficient is proved by the fact that these inundations are of periodical occurrence. The cause of the mischief is that the bed of the river silts up from the mud deposited there by the swiftness of the stream, so that the water, gradually rising higher and higher, at length overtops the most carefully constructed embankment. The practical remedy seems diligent and constant dredging.

The Graphic, 14th January 1888

Wikipedia Article

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Comments (12) »

  1. L. C. Nielsen
    In the year 2012, on the 9th day of December at 6:37 pm

    The novel ingenuity of rhyming “dismay” and “delay” makes this poem stand out among other Gems.

  2. Chris Hunt
    In the year 2012, on the 11th day of December at 9:42 am

    It’s a good deal more ingenious than rhyming “fertility” and “China”, as he does in the second stanza.

  3. daniel
    In the year 2013, on the 28th day of May at 10:36 am

    This is one of McGonagall’s more offensive poems. We can forgive him for being a terrible poet, that is why we love him. But his suggestion that God drowned these people for “not worshipping him” is McGonagall at his very worst.

  4. Chris Hunt
    In the year 2014, on the 24th day of January at 5:14 pm

    With such views, Daniel, it’s a pity McGonagall never got the chance to stand for UKIP.

  5. In the year 2016, on the 23rd day of March at 6:07 am

    I shall be reading this awesomely terrible poem aloud at this event at the Beijing Bookworm Literary Festival > > God Bless McGonagall.

  6. Stephen Midgley
    In the year 2016, on the 25th day of March at 9:46 am

    Brave man, Matt. Hope you don’t get lynched for doing it!

  7. Chris Hunt
    In the year 2016, on the 27th day of March at 9:10 am

    “Whisky and Writers” eh, Matt? I don’t think our man would have approved of that! I hope it goes well for you, and if you fancy writing an account of the event for this site, do get in touch.

  8. Daniel Bennett
    In the year 2017, on the 18th day of April at 10:26 am

    Curious that McG.suggests that this tragedy was divine punishment for Chinese sins. I suppose his desire for admiration stopped him from suggesting the Tay Bridge disaster was punishment for the sins of Dundee, preferring to attribute it to a lack of butresses.

  9. Chris Hunt
    In the year 2017, on the 18th day of April at 1:08 pm

    The sins of Dundee were punishable with fire.

  10. Jeremy Salkeld
    In the year 2017, on the 19th day of June at 5:00 pm

    To quote my father’s response when shown this poem:
    “I think I can aver without risk of reverse
    His scansion is awful, his theology worse.”

  11. In the year 2018, on the 11th day of February at 10:24 am

    The accompanying press cutting suggests that China should ‘summon a first-class English engineer to report on the Hoang Ho’. May I recommend one Sir Thomas Bouch for that honour?

  12. Jeremy Salkeld
    In the year 2018, on the 6th day of March at 7:53 pm

    It is most interesting that McGonagall denigrates the Taiping Christians as mere ‘Chinese rebels’ in his military biography of “General Gordon, the Hero of Khartoum” yet complains bitterly about the absence of Christianity in China here.

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