In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Population Dynamics in Pre-Modern China

  • Introduction

Chinese Studies Population Dynamics in Pre-Modern China
Zhongwei Zhao
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0061


China constituted one of the earliest civilizations in the world. During most of the past two millennia, China was also one of the most advanced economies and the home of around a quarter of the world’s population. By the start of the first millennium, the Chinese population was already about sixty million. In the next two thousand years, China’s population growth and economic development significantly influenced the world’s population changes and history. Partly for these reasons, in the study of population and social history, China’s historical population growth, demographic regimes, marriage patterns, and household formation systems are frequently used as examples in the discussion of population changes, microsocial structure, and their relationships with natural resources and economic development in past times. Population changes were one of the key components of Chinese history. The size and density of the population, the rise and fall of fertility and mortality, and the increase and decrease of population movements were not only related to demographic factors such as age structure. They were also strongly affected by political and economic conditions, social institutions and cultural traditions, and natural and social environments. Therefore, studies of demographic history, those conducted recently in particular, often shed new light on economic, political, social, and environmental changes in the past. This bibliography, through reviewing major works published in Chinese and English, provides an introduction to China’s main historical population data sources, major research questions, and debates in the study of Chinese population history. It also introduces recent advances in Chinese historical demography and important research findings made by these developments.

Data Sources

Studies of population history, detailed studies of past demographic changes in particular, rely heavily on surviving population data. China has a long history of collecting demographic data. A large amount of these data are still available, and they have been used widely in the investigation of population history. This section discusses Aggregate Population Statistics, Population or Household Registers, Family or Lineage Genealogies, and some Other Data Sources that have been commonly used in the study of Chinese historical demography. Understanding the nature and characteristics of these historical data is essential for those who want to use them to study population history or want to correctly interpret the results of such studies, including those to be discussed in later sections of this bibliography.

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