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Climate Shocks, Dynastic Cycles, and Nomadic Conquests: Evidence from Historical China


  • Qiang Chen

    (School of Economics, Shandong University)


Nomadic conquests have helped to shape world history, yet we know little about why they occurred. Using climate and dynastic data from historical China since 221 BCE, this study finds that the likelihood of nomadic conquest increased with less rainfall proxied by drought disasters, which drove pastoral nomads to attack agrarian Chinese for survival. Moreover, consistent with the dynastic cycle hypothesis, the likelihood of China being conquered increased when a Chinese dynasty was established earlier (and hence was weaker, on average) than a rival nomadic regime. These results survive a variety of robustness checks, including using the latitude of the Sino-nomadic border as an alternative dependent variable. The dynastic cycle effect also persists in an extension to world history. The effects of other climate shocks, such as snow, frost, and temperature anomaly, are not robust.

Suggested Citation

  • Qiang Chen, 2012. "Climate Shocks, Dynastic Cycles, and Nomadic Conquests: Evidence from Historical China," SDU Working Papers 2012-01, School of Economics, Shandong University.
  • Handle: RePEc:shn:wpaper:2012-01

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Markus Brückner & Antonio Ciccone, 2011. "Rain and the Democratic Window of Opportunity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(3), pages 923-947, May.
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    2. Olivier Damette & Stephane Goutte & Qing Pei, 2020. "Climate and nomadic migration in a nonlinear world: evidence of the historical China," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 163(4), pages 2055-2071, December.
    3. Chiu Yu Ko & Mark Koyama & Tuan†Hwee Sng, 2018. "Unified China And Divided Europe," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 59(1), pages 285-327, February.
    4. Jianxin Cui & Hong Chang & George S. Burr & Xiaolong Zhao & Baoming Jiang, 2019. "Climatic change and the rise of the Manchu from Northeast China during AD 1600–1650," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 156(3), pages 405-423, October.
    5. Lloyd Chigusiwa & George Kembo & Terrence Kairiza, 2023. "Drought and social conflict in rural Zimbabwe: Does the burden fall on women and girls?," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(1), pages 178-197, February.
    6. Qiang Chen, 2015. "Climate Shocks, State Capacity and Peasant Uprisings in North China during 25–1911 ce," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 82(326), pages 295-318, April.
    7. Yang, Lu & Hamori, Shigeyuki, 2023. "Modeling the global sovereign credit network under climate change," International Review of Financial Analysis, Elsevier, vol. 87(C).
    8. Jiwei Qian & Tuan‐Hwee Sng, 2021. "The state in Chinese economic history," Australian Economic History Review, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 61(3), pages 359-395, November.
    9. Ali, Daniel Ayalew & Deininger, Klaus & Monchuk, Daniel, 2020. "Using satellite imagery to assess impacts of soil and water conservation measures: Evidence from Ethiopia’s Tana-Beles watershed," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 169(C).
    10. Qiang Chen, 2014. "Natural Disasters, Ethnic Diversity, and the Size of Nations: Two Thousand Years of Unification and Division in Historical China," SDU Working Papers 2014-01, School of Economics, Shandong University.
    11. Shunran Wang & Fangping Rao & Xianlei Ma & Xiaoping Shi, 2022. "Farmland Dispute Prevention: The Role of Land Titling, Social Capital and Household Capability," Land, MDPI, vol. 11(10), pages 1-14, October.
    12. Haiwen Zhou, 2023. "Unification and Division: A Theory of Institutional Choices in Imperial China," Annals of Economics and Finance, Society for AEF, vol. 24(1), pages 13-37, May.
    13. Weiwen Yin, 2020. "Climate Shocks, Political Institutions, and Nomadic Invasions in Early Modern East Asia," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 64(6), pages 1043-1069, July.
    14. Kevin Sylwester, 2019. "Imperial Synchronicity in Eurasia: 300 BCE To 1500 CE," Eurasian Journal of Economics and Finance, Eurasian Publications, vol. 7(2), pages 59-73.
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    More about this item


    Nomadic conquests; climate shocks; dynastic cycles;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N4 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development

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