Cannibalism in northern China between 1470 and 1911

  • Harry F. LeeEmail author
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Societal Impacts of Historical Droughts


Despite the effort made by historians and archaeologists to investigate cannibalism in human societies, large-N statistical analysis of cannibalism and its triggering factors in pre-industrial societies is still missing in the literature. In this study, I base on 1194 cannibalism incidents in northern China in 1470–1911, together with other fine-grained paleo-climate and historical war datasets, to verify quantitatively the driving factors of cannibalism in pre-industrial societies. Granger causality, wavelet coherence, and phase analyses are employed. The key findings are that in historical northern China, cannibalism was primarily caused by drought and war, but their relationship is non-stationary and is mediated by environmental and socio-political contexts. The positive feedback between war and cannibalism is also revealed, indicating that they are mutually reinforced. The above findings supplement Malthusian theory with empirical evidence of the non-stationary influence of natural disasters on positive checks and how positive checks interact with and reinforce each other. The results also refine our knowledge about the regional environment-human nexus in northern China.


Drought War Cannibalism China 



This research is supported by the Improvement on Competitiveness in Hiring New Faculties Funding Scheme (4930900) and Direct Grant for Research 2018/19 (4052199) of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Last but not least, a special thanks to Professor Christopher Reyer, Dr. Nicolas Maughan, and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10113_2019_1572_MOESM1_ESM.docx (355 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 355 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and Resource ManagementThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong

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