2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 248

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New Applications of Regional Systems Analysis in Chinese History

Organizer and Chair: Mark G. Henderson, Mills College, USA

Discussant: Daniel Little, University of Michigan, Dearborn, USA

An unprecedented amount of geographically referenced historical data from China is now available. Whether attempting to explain specific incidents or the evolution of cultural patterns, social scientists across disciplines can tap such varied data sources as the postings of bureaucrats, the founding dates of temples, detailed weather and land use statistics, and records of household fertility. These datasets allow researchers to put traditional local fieldwork and documentary sources into geographical and historical context, facilitating meaningful comparisons and explaining heretofore unexplained differences. Working across the disciplinary boundaries of history, geography, and political science, the panelists here have overcome both theoretical and technical challenges to assimilate these data sources. Each of these papers adapts, expands, or challenges the spatial approach proposed by G. William Skinner in his AAS Presidential Address on “The Structure of Chinese History.” These research projects pose testable hypotheses based on this framework and will report on ways that this market-based geographical conception of China may lead to different findings compared with an administrative conception of China as constituted by provinces and prefectures. Participants will also share their experiences in managing spatial datasets, exchanging practical techniques for integrating data from different sources and georeferencing systems. The session will combine the format of an organized panel with elements of a poster session. Illustrated presentations will be framed by the discussant's comments on Skinner’s “spatial imagination” and its applicability to current research. Time will be reserved for participants to discuss and interact with large-scale maps from each project.

Spatial Structure of the Great Leap Famine in the Lower Yangzi Macroregion
Mark G. Henderson, Mills College, USA

With the largest urban population of China’s macroregions, the Lower Yangzi region was nonetheless basically self-sufficient in grain through the Great Leap Forward. This makes it a good place to conduct a detailed regional study of the spatial patterns of industrialization, grain procurement, and resulting famine in the late 1950s. Building on previous work examining the internal spatial structure of the Lower Yangzi region and its system of cities, centered on Shanghai, this paper shows how the economic geography of the region constrained the options available to party cadres as they were radicalized and mobilized to promote promote rapid urban industrialization. This analysis facilitates a reexamination of Skinner’s conception of the macroregion, using historical sources to map economic networks as they were reshaped by transportation improvements and administrative reorganizations in the first decade of the People’s Republic. Detailed historical spatial data on transportation systems, weather, land use, and demographic outcomes help us track the unfolding of the Great Leap disaster from its first appearance in specific rural counties to lingering effects in the urban centers.

The Xinyang Incident: A Spatial Investigation of Causes and Responses
Anthony Garnaut, University of Melbourne, United Kingdom

The Xinyang Incident was the term coined in CCP internal discussions of 1961 to refer to cadre abuse of power in Xinyang prefecture, Henan, during the Great Leap Forward. This Incident led to the purging of the prefecture leadership and also to the political demise of Henan Party secretary Wu Zhipu, who had been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Great Leap policies. Subsequently, Xinyang has emerged as the most popular site for local case studies of the famine, the subject of at least two monographs as well as substantial sections in the recent books on the famine by Yang Jisheng and Frank Dikotter. Until now, little effort has been made to relate the timing, scale and nature of the famine in Xinyang to the national experience, or even to explain why cadre abuses were more prevalent in some counties and communes within Xinyang than others. By combining published accounts of politics in Xinyang with spatially referenced data on cropping patterns, weather, grain procurements and demography, this paper attempts to provide an integrated account of the political economy of famine in one prefecture of central China.

The Structure of Tibetan History: A Regional Systems Survey
Karl E. Ryavec, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, USA

This study presents the preliminary results of a Regional Systems survey of the historical macro-regional structure of Tibet. Based on the history of Buddhist temple building as one measure of local economic development, G. W. Skinner’s Regional Systems Theory is utilized to explain the long-term socioeconomic development of Tibetan cultural regions in terms of cores and peripheries that together constitute a larger civilization. Specifically, the historical trajectories of spatially disparate core-based temple building activity are compared to determine the extent of regional variation in Tibet’s historical socioeconomic development. Most studies of Tibetan history base generalizations about regional and national development on historical periods, while by contrast this study attempts to improve our understanding by placing relevant disaggregated data in a fine-grained spatial framework that better reflects the detailed structure of Tibet’s regional economies and societies.

Environmental and Imperial Geography Along the Yellow River
Ruth Mostern, University of California, Merced, USA

The Yellow River is the most sediment laden river in the world, and over ninety percent of the silt comes from regions that traverse the friable and erosion-prone loess plateau, the grasslands and fragile soils that constituted imperial China’s sedentary-pastoralist frontier. Both Chinese and steppe regimes fortified the frontier, supported settlers, and mounted battles there. When tensions were high and farms and garrisons proliferated, the quantity of silt entering the river increased, with disastrous consequences in the core imperial heartland of the lower river floodplain. The Yellow River had both an environmental and imperial geography. Nevertheless, no imperial regime had an office that oversaw the river system along its entire course. The loess plateau was a military matter; while the office in charge of the floodplain also oversaw the Grand Canal, which carried rice from the fertile south to the semi-arid north. The lower course of the river was integrated into a north-south (core-core) economic system rather than an east-west (core-periphery) environmental system. This paper introduces information from spatial analysis and the historical record to locate the Yellow River in the political geography of the empire and in environmental systems geography. It explores two propositions. First, that settlement and fortification on the loess plateau correlated with siltation and flooding downriver (though climate change was relevant as well); and second, that imperial spatial ideology, by viewing the upper course and the lower course as separate problems, made it difficult to observe and manage the river as a whole.