Sediment and State in Imperial China: The Yellow River Watershed as an Earth System and a World System

in Nature and Culture
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ABSTRACT

China’s Yellow River is the most sediment laden water course in the world today, but that came to be the case only about a thousand years ago. It is largely the result of agriculture and deforestation on the fragile environment of the loess plateau in the middle reaches of the watershed. This article demonstrates that the long term environmental degradation of the Yellow River was primarily anthropogenic, and furthermore, it explains how the spatial organization of state power in imperial China amplified the likelihood and consequences of landscape change.

Contributor Notes

Ruth Mostern is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Merced, co-Director of the UC Merced Spatial Analysis and Research Center, and Chair of the UC Merced Interdisciplinary Humanities Graduate Group. She specializes in the spatial and environmental history of imperial China, and in digital methods for spatial and world history. She is the author of Dividing the Realm in Order to Govern: The Spatial Organization of the Song State, published by Harvard University Press in 2011. She is a PI on the NSF-funded “Collaborative Research: Center for Historical Information and Analysis” project and on the NEH-funded “World Historical Gazetteer” project. Her co-edited book, Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers, is in contract with Indiana University Press. Address: UC Merced-SSHA, 5200 N. Lake Rd., Merced, CA 95343, USA. E-mail: rmostern@ucmerced.edu.

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