Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 583–595 | Cite as

Multi-stage evolution of social response to flood/drought in the North China Plain during 1644–1911

  • Lingbo XiaoEmail author
  • Xiuqi Fang
  • Yujie Zhang
  • Yu Ye
  • Huan Huang
Original Article


How the past human society responded to climatic disasters could provide better understanding on the nature of climate–human–ecosystem interactions and the knowledge of the vulnerability for the society in the context of changing climate. In this paper, the North China Plain in the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) is selected as a typical regional social-ecological system; with historical information kept in official documents, social responsive behavior and measures to flood/drought (e.g., reclamation, disaster relief, migration, revolt) are quantitatively described with proxy indicator time-series. It is found that the dominant responsive strategy altered significantly in different stages: (1) stage of cropland expansion (1644–1720); (2) stage of governmental disaster relief (1721–1780); (3) stage of increasing climate refugees (1781–1860); (4) stage of revolt and emigration (1861–1911). The multi-stage evolution of social response was impacted by various natural and social factors: (1) regional population–food balance and governmental finance were the most important limiting factors; (2) the interaction between the governmental policy and refugees’ behavior in disasters affected the social consequences to a certain extent; (3) decadal-to-multi-decadal climate change would also impact the social response measures, even directly trigger the shift of dominant responsive strategy. This study would be helpful for deeper understanding of social resilience and better responding to climate change and extreme events in the present and future.


Flood/drought Social response Multi-stage evolution Impact analysis North China Plain 



Supported by National Basic Research Program of China (Grant No. 2010CB950103) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41071127, 40901099).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lingbo Xiao
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Xiuqi Fang
    • 2
  • Yujie Zhang
    • 2
  • Yu Ye
    • 2
  • Huan Huang
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources ResearchCASBeijingChina
  2. 2.School of GeographyBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina

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