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Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends. Chapter 2 Версия в формате PDF 
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Cover. Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends Korotayev A., Malkov A., Khaltourina D.   Korotayev A., Malkov A., Khaltourina D.
Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends.
Moscow: URSS, 2006. 176 pp.

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Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends.


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Korotayev, A., A. Malkov, and D. Khaltourina. Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends. Moscow: KomKniga/URSS, 2006. P. 47–88.


Chapter 2


Historical Population Dynamics in China:

Some Observations





                                             *    *    *


Due to the shortage of space it turned out to be impossible to mark in the scheme above all the relationships.

For example, defeats by external enemies and growth of banditry lead to further declines in state revenues; increasing severity of famines leads to growth of banditry, which in its turn contributes to the rise of rebellions.

Only some peasants who loose their lands become tenants.[1] As was shown by Nefedov (2002a; 2004), it does not make sense for a landlord to rent out his land in plots barely sufficient to provide subsistence for a tenant and his family. As the standard rent rate in China was 50%, such plots would be at least twice as large. Hence, if two poor peasants having minimum size plots each have to sell their land, only one of them will be able to accommodate himself in his village as a tenant. The other will have to accommodate himself in some other ways. One of the possibilities was to find an alternative employment in non-agricultural sector, e.g., in cities. As was suggested by Nefedov, the very process described above would in fact tend to create new possibilities for such employment, as landowners were more likely than poor farmers to buy goods produced in cities. This is confirmed by historical data indicating that the fastest growth of cities (and, hence, overall sociocultural complexity) tends to occur during the last phases of demographic cycles. However, not all the product paid by tenants to the landlords would find its way to those landless who tried to accommodate themselves in the non-agricultural sector of economy; hence, some of them would tend to accommodate themselves through illegal means, thus, leading to the growth of banditry. Other important relations not indicated in the scheme are the negative feedbacks between famines, infanticide etc. and population growth.

With respect to the relationship Elite Overpopulation – Overstaffing of the state apparatus – Decreasing ability of state to provide relief during famines the following illustration seems to be relevant:

"By Chia-ch'ing times (1796 –1820 – A.K, A.M., D.K.) this vast grain administration had been corrupted by the accumulation of superfluous personnel at all levels, and by the customary fees payable every time grain changed hands or passed an inspection point… The grain transport stations served as one of the focal points for patronage in official circles. Hundreds of expectant officials clustered at these posts, salaried as deputies (ch'ai-wei or ts'ao-wei) of the central government. As the numbers of personnel in the grain tribute administration grew and as costs rose through the eighteenth century, the fees payable for each grain junk increased accordingly. Where in 1732 fees had ranged from 130 to 200 taels per boat, by 1800 they had grown to 300 taels, in 1810 to 500, and by the early Tao-kuang period (1821), to 700 or 800 taels" (Mann Jones and Kuhn 1978: 121).

Note that we are dealing here with a system that had been extremely effective during earlier phases of the cycle:

"In the autumn and winter of 1743 – 1744, a major drought afflicted an extensive portion of the North China core, resulting in a virtually complete crop failure. The famine-relief effort mounted by the court and carried out by ranked bureaucrats was… stunningly effective. Ever-normal and community granaries were generally found to be well stocked, and the huge resources of grain in Tongzhou and other depots were transported in time to key points throughout the stricken area. Networks of centers were quickly set up to distribute grain and cash, and soup kitchens were organized in every city to which refugees fled. In the following spring, seed grain and even oxen were distributed to afflicted farming households. As a result of this remarkable organizational and logistic feat, starvation was largely averted, and what might have been a major economic dislocation had negligible effect on the region's economic growth" (Skinner 1985: 283).

Floods: "Crises in the grain transport system were part of a general breakdown of public functions in the early decades of the [19th] century, stemming in part from bureaucratic malfeasance. In the case of grain transport, malfeasance merely compounded physical difficulties in a complex canal system that was joined at its mid-point to the Yellow River Conservancy (responsible for flood-prevention activities – A.K., A.M., D.K.). The physical difficulties of the system stemmed from silting caused by heavy soil erosion… By the late eighteenth century, the bed of the Yellow River had risen to dangerous heights, threatening the dikes and causing observers to predict the change in its course which finally came in 1853… Carelessness, ill-advised economies and intentional negligence in the Yellow River Conservancy had become a marked concern in official memorials after 1780, and corruption continued to plague the administration in the early nineteenth century. By many accounts, the aim of the water conservancy administration appears not to have been flood prevention, but rather the keeping of a careful balance whereby floods could occur at intervals regular enough to justify a continuing flow of funds into the water conservancy administration. Stories of three-day banqueting circuits and continuous theatrical performances along the south river conservancy suggested that only 10 per cent of the sixty million taels that annually supported the water conservancy were spent legitimately… By the Tuo-kuang era (1821 – 1850 – A.K., A.M., D.K.) the water conservancy, like the Grand Canal, had become a haven for unemployed bureaucrats" (Mann Jones and Kuhn 1978: 121).

It appears important to note that the functional scheme above does not account for negative feedbacks (e.g., the negative feedback between the growth of female infanticide rates [ultimately caused by population pressure] and the population growth rates). Note that not all such negative feedbacks have been adequately spelled out even yet – e.g., the influence of the growth of monasticism (caused to a considerable extent ultimately by population pressure) on population growth rates.

Some of the mechanisms outlined in the scheme above are rather China-specific, for example, Bringing under cultivation marginal lands in upstream areas " Deforestation/soil degradation in upstream areas " Silting of the Yellow River bottom " Increasing severity of floods " Growing number of indicators that the dynasty has lost the "Mandate of Haven" and should be replaced by a new dynasty " Rebellions. One could hardly find this mechanism working in, say, Egyptian political demographic cycles (see the next issue of our Introduction to Social Macrodynamics [Korotayev and Khaltourina 2006: Chapters 2–5]).

Some other factors have countervailing effects. For example, female infanticide, on the one hand, delays demographic collapse by decreasing population growth rate; but, on the other hand, it speeds it up by promoting the growth of banditry, as well as numbers of males having no chance to get married, who make ideal potential recruits both for bandit networks and for rebel armies. Though such factors are immensely important if we would like to model dynamics of many particular variables during demographic cycles (for example, life expectancies at age 1 and higher [as was convincingly demonstrated by Lavely and Wong 1998: 736–8])[2], it seems possible to ignore them on the level of basic models of demographic cycles. Hence, in the next chapter we will restrict ourselves to the modeling of just a few of what we consider the most basic mechanisms of political-demographic cycle dynamics.


[1] As was shown by Shepherd (1988), this was just one of the sources of the origins of tenancy. Another was created by the capital investments of landowners in various land-improvement schemes (irrigation, land reclamation etc.). What is more, Shepherd suggests that in Late Imperial and especially Republican China the second source was even more important than the first. However, his own data also indicate that during earlier cycles the first source of tenancy was more important than in the latest periods of Chinese history.

[2] And we believe such factors should be taken into account in future more comprehensive models.



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