Agriculture, Population, and Environment in Late Imperial China

  • E. N. Anderson
Part of the Palgrave Studies in World Environmental History book series (PSWEH)


From the early Ming to the late Qing, China’s population grew from perhaps 100 million to over 400 million. This raised population density to previously unknown levels, stretched the capacity of the food production system, and stressed the wider ecological support system. Unsurprisingly, famines became more common, and eventually devastating, as Lillian Li’s magisterial Fighting Famine in North China shows.1 Yet the amazing thing is that China succeeded in feeding most of its millions, most of the time. Agriculture intensified, charity and famine relief developed, transportation mostly kept pace. The environment by 1900 was battered and bruised, with massive deforestation causing large-scale flooding, soil erosion widespread, and diseases of humans and crops endemic. Although severely depleted in places, there was a vast expanse of productive, well-managed land, and hardly any extinctions. Other areas of the world had similar successes, but not on such a scale.


Sweet Potato Eighteenth Century Pearl River Delta Qing Dynasty World Crop 
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