In this chapter we ask how China’s agricultural economy got to the state of dismal subsistence found in the Republican era. China’s many afflictions arise from calamities and conflicts, from nature and from man, and with path dependencies that cause friction against any static depiction of China’s condition at any moment in time. In our context, the Republican era is but an endpoint to some 4000 years of geopolitical and natural history. How this history evolved is important to understand so as to place follow-on topics of agricultural finance and credit within a proper context. This chapter explores two aspects of this problem. The first is how China’s agricultural economy might have been affected by the emperors and dynastic rule, and the other is to explore how famine, poverty, and agricultural productivity might have been impacted by weather events over the past 600 years.