China Has Been Selling Its Tallest Waterfall to Tourists as a Natural Wonder for Years. The Truth Is, It's Fed by Pipes

Officials claim the pipe is an “improvement” to the waterfall made during the dry season to avoid “disappointing” tourists.

China has been selling its largest waterfall to tourists as a natural wonder, but it feed it with a pipe
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With its impressive drop of 1,030 feet, the Yuntai Waterfall is one of the main tourist attractions of Yuntai Mountain Park, located in Henan province, China. All you have to do is check Instagram, TikTok, or X to see for yourself. 

Selfies, photos, and videos of its imposing stream of water plunging from heights higher than many of the world’s skyscrapers are easy to find—but they hide a jarring truth. Now, thanks to the curiosity of one of the thousands of tourists who come to Yuntai every year to enjoy its scenery and waterfalls, we know this natural spectacle isn’t as natural as we thought.

As expected, the revelation has generated a huge conmotion.

A fascinating spectacle. The Yuntai Waterfall is impressive both for its location—on a mountain in Henan that enjoys the highest rating given by the Chinese authorities for its tourist attractions—and for its characteristics. Visitors to the area can enjoy what’s considered the tallest waterfall in the country, a vertical plunge of over 1,030 feet, almost as high as the Bank of America Tower in New York City. In fact, some say that Yuntai is the highest waterfall in Asia.

Yuntai Waterfall

A tourism magnet. The spectacle is so breathtaking—and a fun backdrop for  selfies and videos—that thousands of visitors flock to see it every year. As ABC News reports, over seven million people visited the Yuntai Mountain area with the best views in 2023.

The Yuntai Geopark had more than 11 million visitors in 2019 before the pandemic put a huge dent in its visits. In addition to privileged landscapes, the site has two attractions that put it on the global map: an AAAAA rating, the highest awarded by the Chinese authorities to its tourist attractions, and the classification as a UNESCO Global Geopark.

A unique and controversial landscape. In recent days, Yuntai has become famous for more than just its scenery and streams of water—all because of one of the millions of tourists who flock to the area yearly. On a recent trip, one visitor used his drone to look at the highest point of the waterfall, or the source, where the water cascades 1,030 feet above the ground. He was stunned by what the screen showed: Water was gushing from a pipe wedged between the rocks, far from prying eyes.

The discovery surprised the visitor so much that he decided to share it. The video eventually ended up Douyin, the version of TikTok for China, and circulated it on Weibo. It soon went viral, generating millions of views and a cascade—quite different from the natural one appearing to flow from Yuntai—of comments of all kinds. Since then, users on social media have also shared it to TikTok, Instagram, and X. In the aftermath, Shanghai Daily published a recording explaining that there are actually several tubes.

Helping nature. The video was so popular and generated so much debate in international media outlets like The Guardian, BBC, and DW that the authorities decided to investigate what had happened. Park officials had no choice but to explain themselves.

Their argument was simple: The pipe is there because nature sometimes needs help to avoid disappointing tourists. For park officials, it’s not a joke, a montage, or a fake waterfall, but rather a series of “small improvements” that increase the flow of water during droughts.

The goal: to remain beautiful. Always. “As a seasonal landscape, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be at my most beautiful every time you come to see me," the park stated in an article published "on behalf" of the waterfall. "I only made a small improvement during the dry season to look my best to meet my friends.” In statements to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, officials went a step further, guaranteeing that the water they use and direct to the falls comes from the spring and doesn’t damage the natural landscape.

“The Yuntai Waterfall is a feature of the natural landscape, but as a seasonal attraction, to ensure that tourists do not leave disappointed, the water pipes are only a small improvement measure during the dry season,” the agency insisted on Weibo on last week

In fact, it's not such a strange case. Years ago, the managers of the popular Huangguoshu Waterfall diverted water from a dam to keep it flowing during the dry season.

The debate continues. Although park officials insist they want to please hikers who visit the falls during a time of year with less rainfall, their explanation hasn’t calmed the waters in the social media. Some fully agree with it, while others don’t entirely accept it. Both have made their position clear on Weibo.

“This respects neither the natural order nor the tourists,” one user complained. Another, in a similar tone, wondered how Yuntai could continue to boast of having the tallest waterfall in China after recent videos circulated on social media platforms.

On the other hand, some people say that the pipe is there to avoid disappointing visitors and that what matters isn’t the source of the waterfall, but the effect it creates. “You are there to see a peacock flaunting his tail, not to focus on the peacock’s butt,” one user said ironically.

Images |  Visit Henan (X) | Gary Todd (Flickr)

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