Human Ecology

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 403-414

First online:

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

  • David D. ZhangAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Hong Kong Email author 
  • , Jane ZhangAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University College of London
  • , Harry F. LeeAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Hong Kong
  • , Yuan-qing HeAffiliated withCAREERI, Chinese Academy of Science

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


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 change warfare temperature anomaly ecological stress population eastern China