Famine relief, public order, and revolts: interaction between government and refugees as a result of drought/flood during 1790–1911 in the North China Plain

Abstract

As a direct result of climate change and extreme weather events, refugee migration has attracted worldwide concern. In this study, we select the North China Plain (NCP) as the case area, where the capital (Beijing) is located during the late Qing dynasty (1790–1911). Based on records of porridge charity, public order (inside Beijing), and revolt events (outside Beijing) in ancient official documents, the interaction between behavior of refugees and the governmental management after floods and droughts is analyzed. The main conclusions can be summarized as follows. (1) Flood/drought has become an important triggering factor of refugee migration during 1790–1911 besides the social factors (e.g., man-land contradiction, fiscal crisis). (2) A negative interaction has existed between the government and refugees throughout the late nineteenth century, which leads to social disorder in the mid-1890s in Beijing and large-scale revolt (the Boxers Movement) in 1900 in the NCP. (3) The negative interaction has been finally ended by the adjustment of migration policy at the beginning of the twentieth century, which officially permits the refugees from the NCP to emigrate to Manchuria and Mongolia outside the Great Wall. The historical case study may provide valuable lessons for the successful adaptation of human societies to future similar occurrences, and will enhance our understanding of the interactions between climate change and social vulnerability.

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  1. 1.

    e.g., “the emperor orders the porridge stations in Beijing to open in this winter and next spring”. The veritable records of the Qing dynasty, vol. 28, pp. 388

  2. 2.

    e.g., “300 dan of millet was allocated to the Pujitang outside the Guang’an Gate”. The veritable records of the Qing dynasty, vol. 35, pp. 720

  3. 3.

    e.g., “close of the porridge charity in Beijing is delayed for a month because of spring drought”. The veritable records of the Qing dynasty, vol. 28, pp. 847

  4. 4.

    e.g., “a provisional porridge station has been set up in Dajing outside the Guangning Gate”. The veritable records of the Qing dynasty, vol. 29, pp. 264

  5. 5.

    e.g., “every porridge station in Beijing will get an extra dan of millet each day”. The veritable records of the Qing dynasty, vol. 43, pp. 671

  6. 6.

    e.g., “there was a fight with weapons between groups of people around Kwan-yin temple outside Zhengyang Gate on 3rd Feb”. The veritable records of the Qing dynasty, vol. 57, pp. 41

  7. 7.

    e.g., “in recent years, craftsmen and workers often gathered for raising salary, even struck when their requirement was not met”. The veritable records of the Qing dynasty, vol. 56, pp. 324

  8. 8.

    e.g., “disaster victims from surrounding area caused robbery to happen much more often in Beijing”. The veritable records of the Qing dynasty, vol. 56, pp. 298

  9. 9.

    e.g., “there were several rebels breaking into Cangzhen Gate of the Forbidden City and captured by eunuchs”. The veritable records of the Qing dynasty, vol. 31, pp. 719

  10. 10.

    The veritable records of the Qing dynasty, vol. 26, pp. 919

  11. 11.

    The veritable records of the Qing dynasty, vol. 11, pp. 631, 646

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Funding

Supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41501207, 41771572, 41701219).

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Correspondence to Lingbo Xiao.

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Editor: Robbert Biesbroek.

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Xiao, L., Fang, X. & Zhao, W. Famine relief, public order, and revolts: interaction between government and refugees as a result of drought/flood during 1790–1911 in the North China Plain. Reg Environ Change 18, 1721–1730 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-018-1298-6

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Keywords

  • Flood/drought
  • Refugee migration
  • Governance mechanisms
  • Late Qing dynasty (1790–1911)
  • North China Plain