China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

By Peter C. Perdue | Go to book overview

Appendix E

Climate and Harvests in the Northwest

The distinctive climate of the northwest greatly influenced its grain markets. The Climate Research Center has published yearly charts and maps of wet and dry years in China from 1470 to 1979 (Zhongyang Qixiangju Qixiang Kexue Yanjiuyuan "ZQQKY", Zhongguo Wubainian Hanlao Fenbu Tuji "Beijing: Ditu Chubanshe, 1981"). They grade the amount of rainfall in each prefecture into five categories: 1 = "very wet," 2 = "wet," 3 = "normal," 4 = "dry," and 5 = "very dry." The compilers use extensive information from gazetteers all over the empire, although they have not consulted the memorial reports on rainfall in the Beijing archives. If these data are reliable, we may use them to gain a general picture of rainfall conditions over the empire and to examine the impact of years of drought. How plausible are these data? Table D.i compares harvest reports from Gansu with the rainfall data in this compilation. As it shows, the four driest years do correspond to lower harvest yields across Gansu. Furthermore, we have an extensive report of a relief campaign conducted by Governor General Nayancheng in Gansu in 1810, a year, according to him, of severe drought. This year is indeed classified as a drought year in the Hanlao compilation (ZQQKY, map, p. 176). The year 1759, which we know to have been a time of drought, poor harvest, and high prices, is portrayed as a time of major drought in the northwest (ZQQKY, map, p. 150). Broadly speaking, the data in this compilation are usable as indicators of the rainfall conditions across the empire.

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