War and the origins of Chinese civilization

44 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2024

See all articles by Zhiwu Chen

Zhiwu Chen

University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Business Economics (HKU Business School); Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong

Peter Turchin

University of Connecticut - Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Wanda Wang

HKU Business School, The University of Hong Kong

Date Written: April 22, 2023

Abstract

Why did complex societies, characterized by densely-populated walled cities, first arise in northern China, jump-starting early Chinese civilization? We explore this question in three steps. First, the North, especially the alluvial plains along the Yellow and the Yangtze Rivers, had generally flatter terrains than the South. Second, by dividing China’s landmass into 100 km ×100 km grid-cells and using our archaeological database, we demonstrate that cells with flatter terrains faced higher war threats in prehistoric and early historic times, where war threats are respectively proxied by each cell’s number of excavated military grave goods for the Neolithic period (8000−1700 BCE) and by its number of recorded conflicts for the Eastern Zhou (770−221 BCE, the earliest period for which war data are available). Third, we establish that during both the Neolithic and the Eastern Zhou, higher war threats led to the construction of more settlements with defensive walls and moats, resulting in more walled cities (i.e., early cradles of civilization). Thus, warfare was a key driver of the evolution of complex societies. This finding is robust after controlling for irrigation potential, agricultural productivity, and threats from the steppe, as well as under alternative specifications.

Keywords: Complex societies, early civilization, geography, warfare

JEL Classification: N25, N45, O13, Z13

Suggested Citation

Chen, Zhiwu and Turchin, Peter and Wang, Wanda, War and the origins of Chinese civilization (April 22, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4736571 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4736571

Zhiwu Chen

University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Business Economics (HKU Business School) ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong
Hong Kong

Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong ( email )

Room 328-348, Main Building
The University of Hong Kong
Pokfulam
Hong Kong

Peter Turchin

University of Connecticut - Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology ( email )

Storrs, CT 06269-1063
United States

Wanda Wang (Contact Author)

HKU Business School, The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Hong Kong
China

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
124
Abstract Views
320
Rank
421,079
PlumX Metrics