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Past Warm Periods in China Helped to Sustain Dynastic Wellbeing

Paper Reviewed
Yin, J., Fang, X. and Su, Y. 2016. Correlation between climate and grain harvest fluctuations and the dynastic transitions and prosperity in China over the past two millennia. The Holocene 26: 1914-1923.

In their study of climate change impacts on dynastic wellbeing in China over the period 210 BC to AD 1910, Yin et al. (2016) focused on relationships among dynastic transition and prosperity and how they were impacted by historical climate change and its impacts on grain harvests. And what did they learn by so doing?

The three Chinese researchers report that from 210 BC to AD 1910, unfavorable dynastic transitions mostly coincided with changes from warm-to-cold and wet-to-dry periods, when there were relatively poor harvests, noting that "dynastic prosperity mostly coincided with warm ages or the periods that changed from cold to warm and wet or dry-to-wet periods," when they report there were bumper grain harvests.

In light of these facts, Yin et al. write that "dynastic prosperity tended to appear in warm periods or cold-to-warm periods, wet or dry-to-wet periods, and crop abundance periods," further noting that "transitions from chaos to unity tended to occur at the ends of centuries-long cold periods and at the beginning of warm periods."

As for the ultimate significance of these observations, the three researchers write, as a real-world example, that "collapse of the Tang Dynasty was haunted by colder weather and declining grain harvests," both of which phenomena suggest that a bit of climate warming and some consequent increases in agricultural productivity may be extremely important to China's national well-being.

Posted 1 March 2017