Population and Environment in Asia
since 1600 AD
REVI, DRONIN AND DE VRIES
Given the limited time and the clearly overly large ambition to sketch Mappae Mundi for all places and times in human history and pre-history, we now take a big leap and focus on the last 400 years. Around the year 1000 AD about two out of every three human beings lived in Asia and some 70% of economic activity took place there (Maddison 2001). The larger part lived in the densely populated plains of China and India. By the year 2000 AD still about 60% of the world population lived in Asia but its share in economic activity had declined to 37%–at least when measured as the gross domestic product (GDP). Probably the dominant phenomenon of the intervening millennium has been the expansion of European peoples and their activities to most of the 'empty' regions of the world. This is the topic of Chapter 10. In this chapter we attempt to give an impression of how the two-thirds of the human population in Asia was doing, with an emphasis on population-environment interactions.
There are two reasons why the population-environment dynamics in Asia are important. Firstly, as the anthroposphere is expanding extensively and intensively, the population in Asia–and its socio-economical and cultural patterns–will have an enormous impact on how the world population will move to the next ecological regime because of its sheer momentum and its relatively low level of economic activity. Secondly, the population in several parts of Asia was confronted in this period with the limits of the carrying capacity of the environment. This manifested itself in famines and revolts whenever and wherever the socio-economic and institutional mechanisms used to sustain the rather large population densities were inadequate. As such they provide valuable insights in the various ways people coped–or failed to cope–with such pressures in these regions and probably in similar situations earlier and elsewhere.1 Our accounts will be about India, Indonesia and Siberia; we failed to receive one about China. We are fully aware that this eclectic approach with regard to this important part of our Mappae