Human Ecology

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 403–414

Climate Change and War Frequency in Eastern China over the Last Millennium


    • Department of GeographyUniversity of Hong Kong
  • Jane Zhang
    • Department of AnthropologyUniversity College of London
  • Harry F. Lee
    • Department of GeographyUniversity of Hong Kong
  • Yuan-qing He
    • CAREERI, Chinese Academy of Science

DOI: 10.1007/s10745-007-9115-8

Cite this article as:
Zhang, D.D., Zhang, J., Lee, H.F. et al. Hum Ecol (2007) 35: 403. doi:10.1007/s10745-007-9115-8


We explore the association between climate change and warfare in eastern China over the past millennium from a macro-historic perspective. High-resolution palaeo-temperature reconstructions and the complete record of warfare incidence in eastern China were compared. Results show that warfare frequency in eastern China (its southern portion in particular) significantly correlated with the Northern Hemisphere temperature oscillations. Almost all peaks of warfare frequency and dynastic changes occurred in cooling phases. We suggest that in historic China, the reduction of thermal energy during cooling phases significantly shrank agricultural production. Such ecological stress interacted with population pressure and China’s unique historic and geographic setting to bring about the high frequencies of warfare over the last millennium. We recommend scholars take climate change into account as they consider the anthropology of warfare in the historic past.

Key words

Climate changewarfaretemperature anomalyecological stresspopulationeastern China

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007