Skip to main content Accessibility help

Macro-Economic Cycles Related to Climate change in Dynastic China

  • Zhudeng Wei (a1), Arlene M. Rosen (a2), Xiuqi Fang (a1) (a3), Yun Su (a1) and Xuezhen Zhang (a3) (a4)...


Investigations of the relationships between climate and human history often place more emphasis on the science of climate change than on understanding human socio-economic processes, and therefore suffer from superficial results and an unbalanced perspective. This is partly due to the lack of high-resolution data concerning long-term socio-economic processes. Here, we base our study of climate and society on a series of 2130-yr-long economic proxy data from China with decadal resolution. The economy was associated significantly with temperature and precipitation at the two predominant bands of 100 and 320 yr. The phase transition of economic states was influenced positively by long-term temperature change combined with triggering effects of short-term changes in precipitation. However, climatic impact on economy should not be recognized as simple causality but some driving-response relation coupled with meditation by human agency at multiple scales. A model of ‘adaptive cycles’ implies, in relative to the developing phases, climate–economy relationship during the declining phases was more easily moderated by slower processes like rigidity and faster processes like unrest. From a more-macro perspective, climatic driving for the macro-economic cycles was moderated by larger and slower processes like social memory, spatial shifting of key economic areas, and social–technical advance.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author at: School of Geography, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China. E-mail address: (X. Fang).


Hide All
Alley, R.B., Marotzke, J., Nordhaus, W., Overpeck, J., Peteet, D., Pielke, R., Pierrehumbert, R., Rhines, P., Stocker, T., Talley, L.(2003).Abrupt climate change.Science 299, 20052010.
Bar-Yosef, O., Belfer-Cohen, A.(2002).Facing environmental crisis: societal and cultural changes at the transition from the Younger Dryas to the Holocene in the Levant.In: Cappers, R., Bottema, S. (Eds.),The Dawn of Farming in the Near East Ex Oriente, Berlin.,pp. 5566.
Binford, M.W., Kolata, A.L., Brenner, M., Janusek, J.W., Seddon, M.T., Abbott, M., Curtis, J.H.(1997).Climate variation and the rise and fall of an Andean civilization.Quaternary Research 47, 235248.
Buckley, B.M., Anchukaitis, K.J., Penny, D., Fletcher, R., Cook, E.R., Sano, M., Wichienkeeo, A., Minh, T.T., Hong, T.M.(2010).Climate as a contributing factor in the demise of Angkor, Cambodia.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107, 67486752.
Büntgen, U., Tegel, W., Nicolussi, K., McCormick, M., Frank, D., Trouet, V., Kaplan, J.O., Herzig, F., Heussner, K.U., Wanner, H.(2011).2500 years of European climate variability and human susceptibility.Science 331, 578582.
Burroughs, W.J. (2005).Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Butzer, K.W. (2012).Collapse, environment, and society.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, 36323639.
Butzer, K.W., Endfield, G.H.(2012).Critical perspectives on historical collapse.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, 36283631.
Catto, N., Catto, G.(2004).Climate change, communities, and civilizations: driving force, supporting player, or background noise?. Quaternary International 123, 710.
Cazelles, B., Chavez, M., Berteaux, D., Ménard, F., Vik, J.O., Jenouvrier, S., Stenseth, N.C.(2008).Wavelet analysis of ecological time series.Oecologia 156, 287304.
Christiansen, B., CharpentierLjungqvist, F.(2012).The extra-tropical Northern Hemisphere temperature in the last two millennia: reconstructions of low-frequency variability.Climate of the Past 8, 765786.
CMA, (1981).Yearly Charts of Dryness/Wetness in China for the Last 500-year Period. SinomapsPress, Beijing.
Dearing, J.A. (2008).Landscape change and resilience theory: a palaeoenvironmental assessment from Yunnan, SW China.The Holocene 18, 117127.
deMenocal, P.B. (2001).Cultural responses to climate change during the Late Holocene.Science 292, 667673.
Dunning, N.P., Beach, T.P., Luzzadder-Beach, S.(2012).Kax and kol: collapse and resilience in lowland Maya civilization.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, 36523657.
Elvin, M. (1973).The Pattern of the Chinese Past: A Social and Economic Interpretation. Stanford University Press, California.
Ericksen, P.J. (2008).Conceptualizing food systems for global environmental change research.Global Environmental Change 18, 234245.
Fan, W.L., Cai, M.B.(1994).The General History of China. People's Publishing House, Beijing.
Fang, J.-Q., Liu, G.(1992).Relationship between climatic change and the nomadic southward migrations in eastern Asia during historical times.Climatic Change 22, 151168.
Fang, X.Q., Ye, Y., Zeng, Z.Z.(2007).Extreme climate events, migration for cultivation and policies: a case study in the early Qing Dynasty of China.Science in China Series D-Earth Sciences 50, 411421.
Fang, X.Q., Xiao, L.B., Wei, Z.D.(2013).Social impacts of the climatic shift around the turn of the 19th century on the North China Plain.Science China Earth Sciences 56, 10441058.
Fischer, D.H. (1996).The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Fu, Z.F. (1981).Introduction to the History of Chinese Ancient Economy. China Social Sciences Press, Beijing.
Galloway, P.R. (1986).Long-term fluctuations in climate and population in the preindustrial era.Population and Development Review 12, 124.
Ge, Q.S. (2011).Climate Change in Chinese Dynasties. Science Press, Beijing.
Ge, Q., Zheng, J., Fang, X., Man, Z., Zhang, X., Zhang, P., Wang, W.-C.(2003).Winter half-year temperature reconstruction for the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River and Yangtze River, China, during the past 2000 years.The Holocene 13, 933940.
Ge, Q., Hao, Z., Zheng, J., Shao, X.(2013).Temperature changes over the past 2000 yr in China and comparison with the Northern Hemisphere.Climate of the Past 9, 11531160.
Goldstone, J.A. (1991).Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Grinsted, A., Moore, J.C., Jevrejeva, S.(2004).Application of the cross wavelet transform and wavelet coherence to geophysical time series.Nonlinear Processes in Geophysics 11, 561566.
Groot, E., Franses, P.H.(2011).Common socio-economic cycle periods.Technological Forecasting and Social Change 79, 5968.
Gunderson, L.H., Holling, C.S.(2001).Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press, Washington DC.
Han, W., Yu, L., Lai, Z., Madsen, D., Yang, S.(2014).The earliest well-dated archeological site in the hyper-arid Tarim Basin and its implications for prehistoric human migration and climatic change.Quaternary Research 82, 6672.
Haug, G.H., Gunther, D., Peterson, L.C., Sigman, D.M., Hughen, K.A., Aeschlimann, B.(2003).Climate and the collapse of Maya civilization.Science 299, 17311735.
Hodell, D.A., Curtis, J.H., Brenner, M.(1995).Possible role of climate in the collapse of Classic Maya civilization.Nature 375, 391394.
Holling, C.S. (2001).Understanding the complexity of economic, ecological, and social systems.Ecosystems 4, 390405.
Huntington, E. (1907).The Pulse of Asia: A Journey in Central Asia Illustrating the Geographic Basis of History. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston.
IHOPE, (2010).Developing an Integrated History and Future of People on Earth (IHOPE): Research Plan (IGBP Report No. 59). IGBP Secretariat, Stockholm.,pp. 134.
IPCC, (2013).Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Kennett, D.J., Breitenbach, S.F., Aquino, V.V., Asmerom, Y., Awe, J., Baldini, J.U., Bartlein, P., Culleton, B.J., Ebert, C., Jazwa, C.(2012).Development and disintegration of Maya political systems in response to climate change.Science 338, 788791.
Lamb, H.H. (1995).Climate, History and Modern World.2nd ed. Routledge, London.
Le RoiLadurie, E. (1977).The Peasants of Languedoc. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.
Lee, R. (1993).Accidental and systematic change in population history: homeostasis in a stochastic setting.Explorations in Economic History 30, 130.
Lee, H.F., Zhang, D.D.(2013).A tale of two population crises in recent Chinese history.Climatic Change 116, 285308.
Lee, H.F., Fok, L., Zhang, D.D.(2008).Climatic change and Chinese population growth dynamics over the last millennium.Climatic Change 88, 131156.
Lee, H.F., Zhang, D.D., Fok, L.(2009).Temperature, aridity thresholds, and population growth dynamics in China over the last millennium.Climate Research 39, 131147.
Lucero, L.J. (2002).The collapse of the Classic Maya: a case for the role of water control.American Anthropologist 104, 814826.
McAnany, P.A., Yoffee, N.(2009).Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
McMichael, A.J. (2012).Insights from past millennia into climatic impacts on human health and survival.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, 47304737.
Moberg, A., Sonechkin, D.M., Holmgren, K., Datsenko, N.M., Karlén, W.(2005).Highly variable Northern Hemisphere temperatures reconstructed from low-and high-resolution proxy data.Nature 433, 613617.
Osgood, C.E. (1957).The Measurement of Meaning. University of Illinois Press, Champaign, IL.
PAGES, (2009).Science Plan and Implementation Strategy (IGBP Report No. 57). IGBP Secretariat, Stockholm.,pp. 167.
Parry, M.L., Canziani, O.F., Palutikof, J.P., van der Linden, P.J., Hanson, C.E.(2007).Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Pei, Q., Zhang, D.D., Lee, H.F., Li, G.(2014).Climate change and macro-economic cycles in pre-industrial Europe.PLoS One 9, e88155.
Polyak, V.J., Asmerom, Y.(2001).Late Holocene climate and cultural changes in the southwestern United States.Science 294, 148151.
Pomeranz, K. (1993).The Making of a Hinterland: State, Society, and Economy in Inland North China, 1853–1937. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Redman, C.L. (2005).Resilience theory in archaeology.American Anthropologist 107, 7077.
Rosen, A.M. (2007).Civilizing Climate: Social Responses to Climate Change in the Ancient Near East. AltaMira Press, Lanham, MD.
Rosen, A.M., Rivera-Collazo, I.(2012).Climate change, adaptive cycles, and the persistence of foraging economies during the late Pleistocene/Holocene transition in the Levant.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, 36403645.
Rouyer, T., Fromentin, J.-M., Stenseth, N., Cazelles, B.(2008).Analysing multiple time series and extending significance testing in wavelet analysis.Marine Ecology Progress Series 359, 1123.
Skinner, G.W. (1985).Presidential address: the structure of Chinese history.The Journal of Asian Studies 44, 271292.
Snider, J.G., Osgood, C.E.(1969).Semantic Differential Technique: A Sourcebook. Aldine Publishing Company, Chicago.
Su, Y., Fang, X.Q., Yin, J.(2014).Impact of climate change on fluctuations of grain harvests in China from the Western Han Dynasty to the Five Dynasties (206 BC–960 AD).Science China Earth Sciences 57, 17011712.
Tol, R.S.J., Wagner, S.(2010).Climate change and violent conflict in Europe over the last millennium.Climatic Change 99, 6579.
Torrence, C., Compo, G.P.(1998).A practical guide to wavelet analysis.Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 79, 6178.
Turchin, P. (2009).Long-term population cycles in human societies.Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1162, 117.
Turner, B. (2010).Unlocking the ancient Maya and their environment: paleo-evidence and dating resolution.Geology 38, 575576.
Walsh, M.K., Prufer, K.M., Culleton, B.J., Kennett, D.J.(2014).A late Holocene paleoenvironmental reconstruction from Agua Caliente, southern Belize, linked to regional climate variability and cultural change at the Maya polity of Uxbenká.Quaternary Research 82, 3850.
Wei, Z., Fang, X., Su, Y.(2014).Climate change and fiscal balance in China over the past two millennia.The Holocene10.1177/0959683614551224.
Weiss, H., Bradley, R.S.(2001).Archaeology. What drives societal collapse?.Science 291, 609610.
Wright, H.E. (1993).Environmental determinism in Near Eastern prehistory.Current Anthropology 34, 458469.
Xiao, L., Fang, X., Zhang, Y., Ye, Y., Huang, H.(2014).Multi-stage evolution of social response to flood/drought in the North China Plain during 1644–1911.Regional Environmental Change 14, 583595.
Yancheva, G., Nowaczyk, N.R., Mingram, J., Dulski, P., Schettler, G., Negendank, J.F.W., Liu, J.Q., Sigman, D.M., Peterson, L.C., Haug, G.H.(2007).Influence of the intertropical convergence zone on the East Asian monsoon.Nature 445, 7477.
Yin, J., Su, Y., Fang, X.(2014).Relationships between temperature change and grain harvest fluctuations in China from 210 BC to 1910 AD.Quaternary International 10.1016/j.quaint.2014.09.037.
Zhang, D.E., Lu, L.H.(2007).Anti-correlation of summer/winter monsoons?.Nature 450, E7E8.
Zhang, D.D., Jim, C.Y., Lin, G.C.S., He, Y.Q., Wang, J.J., Lee, H.F.(2006).Climatic change, wars and dynastic cycles in China over the last millennium.Climatic Change 76, 459477.
Zhang, D.D., Brecke, P., Lee, H.F., He, Y.-Q., Zhang, J.(2007).Global climate change, war, and population decline in recent human history.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104, 1921419219.
Zhang, P.Z., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Chen, F.H., Wang, Y.J., Yang, X.L., Liu, J., Tan, M., Wang, X.F., Liu, J.H.(2008).A test of climate, sun, and culture relationships from an 1810-year Chinese cave record.Science 322, 940942.
Zhang, D., Li, H.-C., Ku, T.-L., Lu, L.(2010a).On linking climate to Chinese dynastic change: spatial and temporal variations of monsoonal rain.Chinese Science Bulletin 55, 7783.
Zhang, D., Li, H.-C., Ku, T.-L., Lu, L.(2010b).Reply to the comment of Cheng et al.Chinese Science Bulletin 55, 37383740.
Zhang, Z.B., Tian, H.D., Cazelles, B., Kausrud, K.L., Brauning, A., Guo, F., Stenseth, N.C.(2010c).Periodic climate cooling enhanced natural disasters and wars in China during AD 10–1900.Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 277, 37453753.
Zhang, D.D., Lee, H.F., Wang, C., Li, B.S., Pei, Q., Zhang, J., An, Y.L.(2011).The causality analysis of climate change and large-scale human crisis.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, 1729617301.
Zheng, J.Y., Wang, W.C., Ge, Q.S., Man, Z.M., Zhang, P.Y.(2006).Precipitation variability and extreme events in eastern China during the past 1500 years.Terrestrial, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences 17, 579592.
Zheng, J., Xiao, L., Fang, X., Hao, Z., Ge, Q., Li, B.(2014).How climate change impacted the collapse of the Ming dynasty.Climatic Change 127, 169182.
Zielhofer, C., Clare, L., Rollefson, G., Wächter, S., Hoffmeister, D., Bareth, G., Roettig, C., Bullmann, H., Schneider, B., Berke, H.(2012).The decline of the early Neolithic population center of Ain Ghazal and corresponding earth-surface processes, Jordan Rift Valley.Quaternary Research 78, 427441.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Wei et al. supplementary material
Supplementary Material

 Word (1.1 MB)
1.1 MB

Macro-Economic Cycles Related to Climate change in Dynastic China

  • Zhudeng Wei (a1), Arlene M. Rosen (a2), Xiuqi Fang (a1) (a3), Yun Su (a1) and Xuezhen Zhang (a3) (a4)...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed