Rising grain prices in response to phased climatic change during 1736-1850 in the North China Plain

November 11, 2019

A recent study analyzed the links between climate change and grain price anomalies in the North China Plain (NCP) During the Qing Dynasty.The study, titled "Rising grain prices in response to phased climatic change during 1736-1850 in the North China Plain", was published in SCIENCE CHINA Earth Sciences. The corresponding author is professor Fang Xiuqi of Beijing Normal University.

Food security, as the foundation of economic and social security, has long been regarded as a key issue for understanding the impacts of historical climate change. Grain price is one of the important indicators for measuring food security. When the climate changed from a relatively warm phase to the cold phase around the turn of the 19th century during the Little Ice Age, social economy of the Qing Dynasty experienced its prosperity to decline. Meanwhile, the social and economic impacts of climate change became increasingly prominent in NCP. In the above climate impact transmission process, the grain price change and its role from agricultural production crisis to social crisis need to be discussed.

The study was based on the grain price data of the Qing Dynasty and the reconstructed historical temperature and precipitation series in NCP. From the viewpoint of climate change impact on food security, the study analyzed the links between climate change and grain price anomalies in the NCP during 1736-1850, as well as natural and socioeconomic background of grain price extremes.

The study found that the grain price anomaly in the NCP during 1736-1850 was close related to climatic transition. In correspondence with the climatic transition around 1781-1820, the original grain prices became increasingly higher, and the variance and anomaly amplitude increased significantly. There was a significant negative correlation between precipitation and grain price during 1781-1820. Moreover, the two series showed remarkable periodic resonance, with a negative phase during 1781-1820. The correspondence between grain price extremes and drought events was in phases, and extreme drought events directly led to the striking grain price spike during 1811-1820.

Socioeconomic factors also played an important role in the grain price spike during 1811-1820. The Tianli Uprising in 1813 exacerbated the grain price spike. This shows that, climate change could have a pronounced impact on grain price through the pathway of "precipitation-grain production-grain price-famine-uprising-grain price", in parallel with the pathway of "precipitation-grain production-grain price".
See the article: Wen Y, Fang X, Liu Y, Li Y. 2019. Rising grain prices in response to phased climatic change during 1736-1850 in the North China Plain. Science China Earth Sciences, 62: 1832-1844, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11430-018-9431-y


Science China Press

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