Human Ecology

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 403–414 | Cite as

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

  • David D. ZhangEmail author
  • Jane Zhang
  • Harry F. Lee
  • Yuan-qing He


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 



We thank the University of Hong Kong for support from the RGC grant (HKU7243/04H) of the HKSAR Government and the Louis Cha Fund (Chinese studies), Dr. K. R. Briffa for providing paleo-climatic reconstructions, Miss Angel K. Y. Ng for identifying war locations, and Prof. Daniel Bates and anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • David D. Zhang
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jane Zhang
    • 2
  • Harry F. Lee
    • 1
  • Yuan-qing He
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of Hong KongHong KongChina
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity College of LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.CAREERI, Chinese Academy of ScienceLanzhouChina

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