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

in Nature and Culture

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.