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Epidemic and Environmental Change in China’s Early Modern Maritime World During the ‘Little Ice Age’ (ca. 1500–1680)

Part of the Palgrave Series in Indian Ocean World Studies book series (IOWS)

Abstract

Catastrophes, such as severe inundations, typhoons, and storm surges, were frequently accompanied by severe outbreaks of disease, often of epidemic dimensions. Such catastrophes constituted a perpetual problem in China’s past. This chapter analyses potential answers to the question of if significant climate changes, such as the rise or drop of temperatures, decisively influenced typhoons, floods, or droughts, and how these broader climatic anomalies may have contributed to the spread of epidemics in Ming and Qing China. The chapter introduces concrete examples of tidal surges, typhoons, tsunamis, and storm surges, alongside outbreaks of diseases and epidemics, as well as governmental and private crisis management to deal with such catastrophes. It then briefly discusses some contemporary theories about environment, storms, and diseases. As this chapter demonstrates, research on potential correlations between environmental ‘water disasters,’ aspects of climate change, and the outbreak of diseases and epidemics may provide us with cautious general tendencies for this historical period in China. Despite the sources being uneven, we have various well-documented case studies to draw on, described in varied multi-lingual sources of different contents, provenience, and types. Consequently, in some specific cases we are able to demonstrate cautious relations between the increasing global integration of East Asia, environmental problems, and the occurrence of specific diseases, even if there are limitations to the precision of certain climatic reconstructions, especially before the eighteenth century.

Keywords

  • Epidemics
  • Little Ice Age
  • Typhoons
  • Tide disasters
  • Crisis management

This research was supported by the ERC AdG project TRANSPACIFIC which has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (Grant agreement No. 833143). It also contributes to the research project ‘Appraising Risk, Past and Present: Interrogating Historical Data to Enhance Understanding of Environmental Crises in the Indian Ocean World,’ sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

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Fig. 3.1
Fig. 3.2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Mark Elvin was certainly one of the first sinologists to be mentioned in this context. See: Mark Elvin, The Retreat of the Elephant: An Environmental History of China (New Haven: Stanford University Press, 2004); Mark Elvin and Liu Ts’ui-jung, eds., Sediments of Time: Environment and Society in Chinese History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Subsequently, I will particularly refer to the research of Timothy Brook. See, for example: Timothy Brook, ‘Nine Sloughs: Profiling the Climate History of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, 1260–1644,’ Journal of Chinese History, 1 (2017), 27–58; Timothy Brook, ‘Differential Effects of Global and Local Climate Data in Assessing Environmental Drivers of Epidemic Outbreaks,’ PNAS, 114, 49 (2017). See also the results of collaborative work between Chinese historians and climate scientists, such as: Quansheng Ge, Jingyun Zheng, Yanyu Tian, Wenxiang Wu, Xiuqi Fang, and Wei-Chyung Wang, ‘Coherence of Climatic Reconstruction from Historical Documents in China by Different Studies,’ International Journal of Climatology, 28 (2008), 1007–24. Several more examples are referred to below.

  2. 2.

    For more on the LIA, see: Chapter by Chaudhuri, this volume.

  3. 3.

    James B. Elsner and Kam-biu Liu, ‘Examining the ENSO-Typhoon Hypothesis,’ Climate Research, 25, 1 (2003), 43–54. See also: César Caviedes, El Niño in History: Storming Through the Ages (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001).

  4. 4.

    Kam-biu Liu, Caiming Shen, and Kin-sheun Louie, ‘A 1,000-Year History of Typhoon Landfalls in Guangdong, Southern China, Reconstructed from Chinese Historical Documentary Records,’ Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 91, 3 (2001), 460–61.

  5. 5.

    Joëlle L. Gergis and Anthony M. Fowler, ‘A History of ENSO Events Since A.D. 1525: Implications for Future Climate Change,’ Climatic Change, 92 (2009), 371.

  6. 6.

    Kam-biu Liu, Caiming Shen, and Kin-sheun Louie, ‘A 1,000-Year History of Typhoon Landfalls,’ 460.

  7. 7.

    Kong Dongyan 孔冬艳, Li Gang 李钢, Wang Huijuan 王会娟, ‘Ming Qing shiqi Zhongguo yanhai diqu haichao zaihai yanjiu 明清时期中国沿海地区海潮灾害研究,’ Journal of Natural Disasters / Ziran zaihai yanjiu 自然灾害学报, 25, 5 (2016), 93. The article explains that typhoons need strong convective movements, absorbing lots of heat, to develop. Because in El Niño years, the equatorial water surface temperature in the Eastern Pacific is high, while they are relatively low in the Western Pacific, heat and water vapours decrease so that the tendency of increasing atmospheric energy, of strong convective movements in other words, also decreases. When the surface temperatures in the Western Pacific are relatively low, the atmospheric energy to develop typhoons also decreases.

  8. 8.

    Qiu-Hua Li, Yue-Hai Ma, Ning Wang, Ying Hu, and Zhao-Zhe Liu, ‘Overview of the Plague in the Late Ming Dynasty and Its Prevention and Control Measures,’ TMR Journals, 5, 3 (2020), 138–39.

  9. 9.

    As part of my TRANSPACIFIC project and the ‘Appraising Risk’ project, my colleagues and I have started to collect and organize such data. We already possess year-for-year proxy data for various Chinese coastal provinces for the years 1500–1700. But we need to collect data from many more regions. In addition, our geoinformatician is currently still developing our spatial–temporal database that will enable visualisation and systematic analysis of relationships and correlations between data-points.

  10. 10.

    See credentials.

  11. 11.

    The selection of the scholars was partly arbitrary. However, the fact that a scholar like Su Jun dedicated a special chapter to the question of ‘climate’ attracted my attention. He also directly addressed the question of local climate, environmental change, and epidemics, in this case various forms of malaria. Qu Dajun has been chosen because he speaks especially about the causes and development of typhoons, a major periodic calamity in his home province Guangdong.

  12. 12.

    Angela Ki Che Leung, ‘Organized Medicine in Ming-Qing China: State and Private Medical Institutions in the Lower Yangzi Region,’ Late Imperial China, 8, 1 (1987), 136: With reference to: Xu zizhi tongjian changbian 續資治通鑑長編, by Li Dao 李燾 [1115–1184] (Taibei: Shijie shuju, 1965), 435.20b.

  13. 13.

    Lo Jung-pang stated that in Yuan times, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces had 33.7% of the floods per 1000 square kilometers per century, and 27.5% of all the droughts per 1000 square kilometers per century from 206 BCE to 1911 CE. See: Lo Jung-pang, China as a Sea Power, 1127–1368: A Preliminary Survey of the Maritime Expansion and Naval Exploits of the Chinese People During the Southern Song and Yuan Periods, ed. Bruce A. Elleman (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2011), 76: With reference to: Yao Shan-yu, ‘The Chronological and Seasonal Distribution of Floods and Droughts in Chinese History, 206 B.C.–A.D. 1911,’ Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 6, 3–4 (1942), 363.

  14. 14.

    See also: Chapter by Ebner von Eschenbach, this volume.

  15. 15.

    Lo Jung-pang, China as a Sea Power, 89.

  16. 16.

    Yen-Chu Liu, Huei-Fen Chen, Xingqi Liu, and Yuan-Pin Chang, ‘Insight into Tropical Cyclone Behaviour Through Examining Maritime Disasters Over the Past 1000 Years Based on the Dynastic Histories of China—A Dedication to Ocean Researcher V,’ Quaternary International, 440, A (2017), 72–81.

  17. 17.

    Zhou Zhiyuan 周致元, ‘Mingdai Dongnan diqu de haichao zaihai 明代东南地区的海潮灾害,’ Shikue jikan 史学集刊/Collected Papers of History Studies, 2 (2005), 83–93.

  18. 18.

    Zhou Zhiyuan, ‘Mingdai Dongnan diqu de haichao zaihai,’ 89: With reference to Ming Xianzong shilu 明憲宗實錄, juan, 106.

  19. 19.

    Ibid., with reference to the Wanli edition of Tongzhou zhi 通州志.

  20. 20.

    Ibid., with reference to Ming Muzong shilu 明穆宗實錄, juan 22.

  21. 21.

    Ibid., with reference to Ming Shenzong shilu 明神宗實錄, juan 583.

  22. 22.

    Ibid., with reference to Bo Sen 伯森 et al., Ming shilu leizuan 明實錄類纂, juan Ziran zaiyi·自然災異卷 (Wuhan: Wuhan chubanshe, 1993), juan 11.

  23. 23.

    Ibid., with reference to Bo Sen, Ming shilu leizuan, juan 45.

  24. 24.

    Ibid., 90.

  25. 25.

    See also: Chapter by Ebner von Eschenbach, this volume.

  26. 26.

    Zhou Zhiyuan, ‘Mingdai Dongnan diqu de haichao zaihai,’ 90.

  27. 27.

    See, for example: Robert B. Marks, ‘“It Never Used to Snow”. Climate Variablility and Harvest Yields in Late-Imperial South China, 16501850,’ in Sediments of Time, eds. Elvin and Ts’ui-jung, 411–12.

  28. 28.

    Timothy Brook, The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010), 250.

  29. 29.

    Mingshi 明史 [1739], by Zhang Tingyu 張廷玉 [1672–1755] et al. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974), 28.442–442 includes a paragraph on epidemics during Ming times.

  30. 30.

    Bao Puzi neipian 抱朴子內篇 (ca. 320), by Ge Hong 葛洪 (283363). See: Erhard Rosner, Miasmen. Studien zur Geschichte der Malaria in Südchina [Veröffentlichungen des Ostasien-Instituts der Ruhr-Universität Bochum 69] (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag 2019), 21.

  31. 31.

    Mei Li 梅莉 and Yan Changgui 晏昌贵, ‘Guanyu Mingdai chuanranbing chubu kao 關於明代传染病的初步考察,’ Hubei daxue xuebao 湖北大學學報, 5 (1996), 85.

  32. 32.

    Wen Zongdian 閔宗殿, ‘MingQing shiqi Dongnan diqi yiqing yanjiu 明清時期東南地區疫情研究,’ Xueshu yanjiu 學術研究, 10 (2003), 109.

  33. 33.

    Ibid., 159.

  34. 34.

    Wang Shuanghuai, ‘Mingdai Hua’nan de ziran zaihai,’ Dili yanjiu, 18 (1999), 160.

  35. 35.

    Chen Xu 陈旭, Mingdai yiwen yu Mingdai shehui 明代瘟疫与明代社会. Chengdu: Xinan caijing daxue chubanshe, 2016, Ch. 2, Mingdai weniyi de tedian 明代瘟疫的特點, 25.

  36. 36.

    Helen Dunstan, ‘The Late Ming Epidemics: A Preliminary Survey,’ Ch’ing-shih wen-t’i, 3, 3 (1975), 1–59.

  37. 37.

    See, for example: Gong Shengsheng 龚胜生, Wang Xiaowei 王晓伟, and Zhang Chou 张涛, ‘Mingdai Jiangnan diqu de yizaidili 明代江南地区的疫灾地理,’ Dili yanjiu 地理研究 Geographical Research, 33, 8 (2014), 1569–78.

  38. 38.

    Wang Shuanghuai 王雙懷, ‘Mingdai Huanan de ziran zaihai jiqi shikong tezheng,’ 明代華南的自然災害及其時空特征, Dili yanjiu 地理研究 18 (1999), 158.

  39. 39.

    Xu Zhexin, ‘The Environment, Perceptions, and Publication of Medical Texts in Fujian During the Ming Period (1368 to 1644), in Seafaring, Trade, and Knowledge Transfer: Maritime Politics and Commerce in Middle Period and Early Modern China, eds., Wim De Winter, Angela Schottenhammer, and Mathieu Torck [Crossroads—History of Interactions across the Silk Routes] (Leiden: Brill Publishers, in print, paper held at Ghent University, Ghent in 2017): With reference to: Wang Shuanghuai, ‘Mingdai Hua’nan de ziran zaihai jiqi shikong tezheng,’ 158.

  40. 40.

    In addition to controlling the price of rice and securing the local provisions therein, this measure might also have been considered necessary to control the further spread of the epidemics.

  41. 41.

    Zhang De’er 张德二, Zhongguo sanqian nian qixiang jilu zongji 中國三千年氣象紀錄總集, vol. 2 (Nanjing: Jiangsu jiaoyu chubanshe, 2013), 1163. Further source descriptions from Zhang De’er, vol. 2, are abbreviated as ‘Description,’ followed by the relevant page number.

  42. 42.

    Description, 1339.

  43. 43.

    Timothy Brook, The Troubled Empire, 242.

  44. 44.

    Description, 1387.

  45. 45.

    Description, 1397.

  46. 46.

    Description, 1396–1398.

  47. 47.

    Description, 1407.

  48. 48.

    Ibid.

  49. 49.

    Description, 1518–1519.

  50. 50.

    Description, 1519.

  51. 51.

    Description, 1730–1731.

  52. 52.

    Brook, The Troubled Empire, 429.

  53. 53.

    Ibid.

  54. 54.

    Marta E. Hanson, Speaking of Epidemics in Chinese Medicine: Disease and the Geographic Imagination in Late Imperial China (New York: Routledge, 2013), 118. Songfeng shuoyi 松峰說疫, by Liu Kui 劉奎, in XXSKQS, 子部-醫家類.

  55. 55.

    Zhou Zhiyuan, ‘Mingdai Dongnan diqu de haichao zaihai,’ 91: With reference to: Haiyanxian tujing 海盐縣圖經 (1624), by Hu Zhenheng 胡震亨 and Fan Weicheng 樊维城, juan 2.

  56. 56.

    Parallels can be drawn here with specific cases in Song China. See: Chapter by Ebner von Eschenbach, this volume.

  57. 57.

    H. von Heidenstam, ‘The Growth the Yangtze Delta,’ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, North China Branch, LIII (1922), 30–31.

  58. 58.

    Zhejiang tongzhi 浙江通志, by Ji Zengjun 嵇曾筠 (1670–1738) and Shen Yiji 沈翼機 (Jinshi 1706), 63.62-13b (海塘二), Siku quanshu-edition, fasc. 519–526: https://www.kanripo.org/text/KR2k0044/062 [Accessed: 7 July 2021]. The original text is as follows: 議委官塘工大役總大綱者水利道臣之責移駐該縣督理其董 率官役工匠收放錢糧本府同知一員専理之次/則蘇湖二府採石合委府佐二員分管塘工應用 官十六員分管採石應用官四員俱合委衛經縣丞簿等職於通省選取庶足充任使.

  59. 59.

    Angela Ki Che Leung, ‘Organized Medicine,’ 134–66.

  60. 60.

    ‘Interestingly, the Manchu idea of segregation was to quarantine and protect those royalty who had not had smallpox rather than to isolate the sufferers. In case of any smallpox alert, the Manchu emperor and royal family members immediate escaped to their respective shelters,’ called bidou suo 逼痘所 (shelters for avoiding smallpox). See: Chia-Feng Chang, ‘Aspects of Smallpox and Its Significance in Chinese History’ (Unpublished PhD diss., SOAS, 1996), 181. But they also banished infected individuals outside the city walls.

  61. 61.

    Available online under: https://www.loc.gov/resource/lcnclscd.2012402208.1A001/?st=gallery [Accessed: 7 July 2021].

  62. 62.

    Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 6, Biology and Biological Technology, Part 6, Medicine, ed. Nathan Sivin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 123.

  63. 63.

    Angela Ki Che Leung, ‘Organized Medicine,’ 142.

  64. 64.

    Ibid., 154.

  65. 65.

    Shi Liuqiu lu 使琉球錄, by Chen Kan 陳侃, in ed., Guoli Beiping tushuguan shanben congshu 國立北平圖書館善本 (Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1937).

  66. 66.

    Shi Liuqiu lu 使琉球錄 (1579), by Xiao Chongye 蕭崇業 (jinshi 1571) and Xie Jie 謝杰 (jinshi 1574), in Shi Liuqiu lu sanzhong 使琉球錄三種 [Taiwan wenxian shiliao congkan 台灣文獻史料叢刊, 287] (Taibei: Taiwan datong shuju, 1970), 91 (使疏球錄卷上, 造舟): With reference to: Gao Cheng’s Caozhou ji操舟記. For a translation, see: Angela Schottenhammer, ‘Maritime Disasters and Risk Appraisals in the East Asian Waters,’ Études thématiques (2022).

  67. 67.

    See, for example: Angela Schottenhammer, ‘Erdbeben in China: Entzug des “Himmlischen Mandats” oder Verlust des Yin-Yang-Equilibriums,’ in Naturkatastrophen. Dramatische Naturereignisse aus kulturwissenschaftlicher Perspektive, eds. Ilja Steffelbauer and Christa Hammerl (Wien: Mandelbaum Verlag, 2014), 90–129.

  68. 68.

    The power and force of the five elements corresponded in Heaven to the celestial bodies of Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury; and to virtue, integrity, justice, rationality, and reliability (or trustworthiness) as far as mankind is concerned.

  69. 69.

    Brook, The Troubled Empire, 73.

  70. 70.

    Paolo Santangelo discusses ecologism versus moralism in Ming-Qing times, while Helen Dunstan has provided an overview of official thinking on environmental issues in the eighteenth century. See: Paolo Santangelo, ‘Ecologism Versus Moralism: Conceptions of Nature in Some Literary Texts of Ming-Qing Times,’ in Sediments of Time, eds. Elvin and Ts’iu-jung, 617–56; Helen Dunstan, ‘Official Thinking on Environmental Issues and the State’s Environmental Roles in Eighteenth-Century China,’ in Sediments of Time, eds. Elvin and Ts’iu-jung, 585–614.

  71. 71.

    Yuexi wenzai 粵西文載, by Wang Sen 汪森 (1653–1726), in SKQS, fasc. 1465–1467.

  72. 72.

    Chao Cuo was a political advisor and official of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE–9 CE).

  73. 73.

    An excellent overview has recently been provided in: Erhard Rosner, Miasmen.

  74. 74.

    See, for example: Ibid., 29.

  75. 75.

    Guangdong xinyu 廣東新語, by Qu Dajun 屈大均 (1630–1696) [Lidai shiliao biji congkan 歷代史料筆記叢刊] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2006), 6.201–202.

  76. 76.

    The Hanyu da cidian 漢語大字典 states for the entry of “ji”: is the same as 鱀; and the entry explains that the character “zhu” 鱁 is identical with the character “ji” 鱀, and these are “baiji” 白鱀 (white fish). Hanyu da cidian also provides Qu Dajun’s text on 暨魚 as an example; Qu Dajun namely continues saying that the character is also written as (暨一作) and he states that there are white and dark ones. These white lipotidae (dolphins) actually only lived in the Yangzi River. The observation from Guangdong xinyu may thus be interpreted as that, depending on the typhoon cycles and possibly directions, these dolphins (or fish?) actually occurred along the Guangdong coast.

  77. 77.

    Guangdong xinyu, 22.550.

  78. 78.

    Human-to-human transmission certainly occurred, for example, in 1562 Jinjiang 晉江 (Fujian). See: Description, 1257. In 1596, a major smallpox pandemic (痘疹) is mentioned for Shaowu 邵武, Fujian that caused uncountable deaths. See: Description, 1450.

  79. 79.

    Hanson, Speaking of Epidemics, 18.

  80. 80.

    Ibid., 79.

  81. 81.

    Our first comprehensive data analysis for typhoon landfalls in China’s northeastern provinces will only be available after further research. For this reason, I have focused this chapter mainly on where we have already collected data, namely, Fujian, Guangdong, and Zhejiang Provinces.

  82. 82.

    The World Meteorological Institution (Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut), see: https://www.knmi.nl/home [Accessed: 7 July 2021].

  83. 83.

    For a detailed discussion of camphor, see my: ‘Some Remarks on the Use and Provision of camphor in Early Modern China and in Spanish Asian and American Colonies,’ in From the Steppe to the Sea: A Festschrift for Paul Buell, eds. Timothy May (forthcoming). Clinical trials, for example, have been conducted to test the efficiency of camphor in treating asthma. See: Rafie Hamidpour, Soheila Hamidpour, Mohsen Hamidpour, and Roxanna Hamidpour, ‘The Effect of Camphor Discovery for Treating Asthma,’ Biotechnology Advances, 1 (2019), 1–4: Advances in Bioengineering and Biomedical Science Research, 2019, www.opastonline.com [Accessed: 4 Jan. 2022]. For ginseng Taiyi pills, see: Xijun Yan, ed., Dan Shen (Salviamiltiorrhiza) in Medicine, Vol. 3, Clinical Research (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015), 257, table 17.8. These pills could contain a variety of different ingredients, were administered in different preparations, and could have antimicrobial qualities.

  84. 84.

    Angela Schottenhammer, ‘Climate, Environment, and the Spread of Diseases in Early Modern Coastal China and (South-)East Asian Maritime Space,’ Guojia hanghai 国家航海, 27 (2021), 161–91.

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Schottenhammer, A. (2022). Epidemic and Environmental Change in China’s Early Modern Maritime World During the ‘Little Ice Age’ (ca. 1500–1680). In: Gooding, P. (eds) Droughts, Floods, and Global Climatic Anomalies in the Indian Ocean World. Palgrave Series in Indian Ocean World Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-98198-3_3

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