State Management of River Dikes in Early China: New Sources on the Environmental History of the Central Yangzi Region


in T'oung Pao
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While it is generally believed that the agricultural colonization of the middle Yangzi wetlands began in Tang-Song times, newly discovered texts show that the early Han state administered river dikes in the region. The texts, which were written between 192 and 121 bce, calculate dike sizes in order to estimate corvée requirements for dike maintenance and discuss the area of new farmland to be created. Our picture of the early history of the Yangzi region has been distorted by the northern focus of early texts, but archaeological discoveries are correcting this bias and suggest that the conversion of the Central Yangzi lowlands to farmland began many centuries earlier than previously believed.


On pense en général que la mise en valeur agricole des marais du moyen Yangzi a commencé sous les Tang et les Song. Or, des textes récemment découverts montrent que dès le début des Han l’État administrait des digues dans la région. Rédigés entre 192 et 121 avant notre ère, ces textes contiennent des calculs sur les dimensions des digues servant à évaluer les besoins en travail corvéable pour leur entretien, ainsi que des considérations sur la superficie de nouvelles terres cultivées à ouvrir. Alors que nous nous faisions une image de l’histoire ancienne du bassin du Yangzi déformée par les textes anciens, qui privilégient la Chine du Nord, les découvertes archéologiques remettent les choses en perspective et suggèrent que la mise en valeur des basses terres du moyen Yangzi a démarré de nombreux siècles plus tôt qu’on ne croyait.


State Management of River Dikes in Early China: New Sources on the Environmental History of the Central Yangzi Region


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References

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Figures

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    The central Yangzi region, including locations mentioned in the text and the modern cities of Changsha and Wuhan. The Jiangling indicated here is the Han dynasty location; the modern city of Jiangling is situated to the south. The former Yunmeng Marsh is now the Jianghan Plain. Thanks to Guo Yongqiang 郭永強 and Yitzchak Jaffe for help in making this map. 

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    Yicheng and Ruo. Based on map NH49.3 of the US. Army Map Service’s 1:250,000 Series L500 map of China, 1954. Courtesy of the Univ. of Texas Libraries, the Univ. of Texas at Austin.47
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    The area where the Li River flows eastwards into the lowlands on the western edge of Dongting Lake near the modern town of Liyang. Note the network of dikes. Based on map NH49.11 of the US. Army Map Service’s 1:250,000 Series L500 map of China, 1954. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, the University of Texas at Austin.


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