This article examines how the catastrophic Yellow River flood of 1938–1947 impacted rural communities and state-society relations in the inundated area. The flood, which occurred when China's Nationalist government deliberately breached a major Yellow River dike in a desperate attempt to use flooding to slow the advance of the Japanese Imperial Army, turned millions of Chinese farmers into refugees and killed over eight hundred thousand people. This essay explores the human and social sides of the flood through the eyes of local observers, missionaries, and the wartime Chinese media. It compares rural and urban experiences of the disaster and examines local perspectives on the efficacy of the flood relief projects organized by the Chinese government. This paper finds that while the wartime Nationalist state did not abandon the inundated area, its state-building efforts there exhausted and disillusioned flood refugees rather than integrating them more fully into the modern nation state.

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