Secular temperature variations and the spatial disparities of war in historical China

Shengda ZHANG, David Dian ZHANG, Jinbao LI, Qing PEI

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Studies about climate change and the variation of the spatial pattern of war are extremely scarce in academia at present. Therefore, the temperature series and battle coordinates in imperial China from AD 5 to 1911 are integrated in this research, and their long-term quantitative relationship is examined by employing mathematical statistics such as one-way ANOVA, as well as the spatial analytical tool, standard deviational ellipse (SDE) in ArcGIS. Meanwhile, the temperature sequence is divided into three multicentennial warm–cold cycles, which are combined with different types of war (all war, agri-nomadic conflict, and rebellion) to reveal the spatial disparity of war under the influence of secular and periodic temperature change. Results show that (1) battle longitude and battle latitude are significantly different between warm and cold phases. (2) SDEs stretch toward the north/west/northwest in warm intervals but retreat south-/east-/southeastward in cold stages. (3) SDEs generally shift southeastward over time, and the variation of latitude is more evident than that of longitude, which corresponds to the overall cooling trend throughout the past 2000 years. Based on these research findings, we conclude that temperature fundamentally regulates the spatial difference of war in imperial China via controlling agricultural and pastoral productivity. This innovative study provides a robust climatological explanation of the historical conundrum why wars in ancient China distribute with specific directions, and it also lays a foundation for spatiotemporal investigations of climate change and human responses at long-term scales in the future. Copyright © 2020 Springer Nature B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)545-564
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number4
Early online date10 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


Zhang, S., Zhang, D. D., Li, J., & Pei, Q. (2020). Secular temperature variations and the spatial disparities of war in historical China. Climatic Change, 159(4), 545-564. doi: 10.1007/s10584-019-02652-x


  • Temperature
  • Spatial disparity of war
  • Historical China
  • One-way ANOVA
  • Standard deviational ellipse


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