Periodic climate cooling enhanced natural disasters and wars in China during AD 10–1900

Zhibin Zhang, Huidong Tian, Bernard Cazelles, Kyrre L. Kausrud, Achim Bräuning, Fang Guo, Nils Chr Stenseth

Abstract

Recent studies have linked climatic and social instabilities in ancient China; the underlying causal mechanisms have, however, often not been quantitatively assessed. Here, using historical records and palaeoclimatic reconstructions during AD 10–1900, we demonstrate that war frequency, price of rice, locust plague, drought frequency, flood frequency and temperature in China show two predominant periodic bands around 160 and 320 years where they interact significantly with each other. Temperature cooling shows direct positive association with the frequency of external aggression war to the Chinese dynasties mostly from the northern pastoral nomadic societies, and indirect positive association with the frequency of internal war within the Chinese dynasties through drought and locust plagues. The collapses of the agricultural dynasties of the Han, Tang, Song and Ming are more closely associated with low temperature. Our study suggests that food production during the last two millennia has been more unstable during cooler periods, resulting in more social conflicts owing to rebellions within the dynasties or/and southward aggressions from northern pastoral nomadic societies in ancient China.

  • Received May 10, 2010.
  • Accepted June 23, 2010.
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