Science China Earth Sciences

, Volume 62, Issue 11, pp 1832–1844 | Cite as

Rising grain prices in response to phased climatic change during 1736–1850 in the North China Plain

  • Yanjun Wen
  • Xiuqi FangEmail author
  • Yang Liu
  • Yikai Li
Research Paper


Grain price volatility during historical periods is regarded as an important indicator of the impact of climate change on economic system, as well as a key link to adjust food security and social stability. The present study used the wheat prices in Baoding Prefecture, China, during 1736–1850 to explore connections between climatic transition and grain price anomalies in the North China Plain. The main findings were as follows: (1) The grain price change showed an apparent correspondence with climatic transition. The period 1781–1820 was a transition phase, with more extremes and decreased precipitations when the climate shifted from a warm phase to a cold one. Corresponding with the climatic transition, the grain price during 1781–1820 was characterized by that the mean of the original grain price series was significantly higher (lower) than the previous (later) phase, and the variance and anomaly amplitude of the detrended grain price series was the highest during 1736–1850. (2) The correspondence between grain price extremes and drought events occurred in phases. Five grain price extremes occurred following drought events during 1781–1810, while extreme droughts were the direct cause of the grain price spike during 1811–1820. (3) Social stability affected by climate change also played an important role in the grain price spike between 1811 and 1820. Paralleling the pathway of “precipitation-grain production-grain price”, climate change could have an impact on grain price via the pathway of “precipitation-grain production-grain price-famine-uprising-grain price”, as shown during the Tianli Uprising in 1813. These findings could contribute to an improved understanding of the interaction between climate change and human society during the historical period.


18–19th century Climate change Grain price anomalies North China Plain 


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We thank Zhixin Hao and Linbo Xiao for providing data of reconstructed climate change and governmental relief grain scheduling. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. This work was supported by the Strategic Project of Science and Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. XDA19040101) and the Major Projects of the National Social Science Fund (Grant No. 13&ZD092).


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© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Geographical ScienceBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.School of Geography and EnvironmentBaoji University of Arts and SciencesBaojiChina
  3. 3.Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System ResearchUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

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