The socioeconomic effects of extreme drought events in northern China on the Ming dynasty in the late fifteenth century

Abstract

This paper analyzes reconstructed data on temperature, precipitation, and extreme drought events in the late fifteenth century in Northern China, as well as historical records on population migration, financial crises, military farms, and national decisions during the Ming dynasty. We specifically examine the socio-economic effects of extreme drought events, which led to long-term changes causing the collapse of the Ming dynasty. Our results indicate that the first Cold Valley and the frequent extreme drought events of the Little Ice Age in the late fifteenth century led to a sharp reduction in the military farm system. Extreme droughts caused a large-scale population migration in Northern China and led to the collapse of the tax payment and corvee systems. To cope with the extreme droughts, the local financial reserve was reduced by 51.3%. As a result, local finances became extremely tight. To alleviate fiscal pressures, the court was forced to change the socioeconomic model implemented in the beginning of the Ming dynasty to the corvee equalization method and silver coin tax collection method. These new measures resulted in a decline of the dynasty’s control over households, to the abandonment of military farms, and to reduced control over the country’s social risks. This article explains the mechanism through which climate events led to the collapse of the Ming dynasty. We specifically explore the relationship between socioeconomic transformation and extreme drought in the late fifteenth century in order to better understand the relationship between climate change and social response.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Recorded in Diao-Qiu-Za-Lu (雕丘杂录) (A miscellaneous record for the period of the later Ming dynasty), edited by a scholar named Liang Qingyuan (梁清远), who lived in the central Hebei(河北)Province in 1606–1683.

  2. 2.

    See Ming Shilu (明实录): Xiaozong Shilu (孝宗实录) (Annals in the Hongzhi (弘治) Reign), Vol.145.

  3. 3.

    See Ming Shilu (明实录): Xianzong Shilu (宪宗实录) (Annals in the Chenghua Reign), Vol.256.

  4. 4.

    Recorded in Da Xue Yan Yi Bu (大学衍义补), edited by a scholar named Qiu Jun (丘浚), who lived in the Chenghua period.

  5. 5.

    See Ming Shilu (明实录): Xianzong Shilu (宪宗实录) (Annals in the Chenghua Reign), Vol.249,254,255,258,259,262,264,266.

  6. 6.

    See The History of the Ming Dynasty, Vol. 185, Li Min’s biography.

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Funding

This work was supported by grants from the National Key R&D Program of China (Grant No. 2018YFA0605602), the Key Project of the Research Institute for the Humanities & Social Science of Chinese Ministry of Education (Grant No.16JJD770009), the Fundamental Research Funds for the Provincial Universities of Zhejiang (Grant No. GK209907299001-220), and the Zhejiang Provincial Philosophy of the Social Sciences Foundation (Grant No. 19NDQN303YB).

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This article is part of the topical collection on “Historical and recent change in extreme climate over East Asia", edited by Guoyu Ren, Danny Harvey, Johnny Chan, Hisayuki Kubota, Zhongshi Zhang, Jinbao Li

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Han, J., Yang, Y. The socioeconomic effects of extreme drought events in northern China on the Ming dynasty in the late fifteenth century. Climatic Change 164, 26 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-021-02972-x

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Keywords

  • Extreme drought events
  • Northern China Ming dynasty
  • Socioeconomic effects