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Environments, people and mining in the Far Southwest of China since 1500: Cross-disciplinary explorations

Summary
摘要
Team
Cooperation partners

Potato fields in Zhaotong, Northeastern Yunnan, at 1800-2000 m
Potato fields in Zhaotong, Northeastern Yunnan, at 1800-2000 m (© Nanny Kim)

What this project is about

The mountain zone in the Far Southwest of China is known for its biodiversity and its rich cultural traditions. The lower crunch zone of the Himalayas with mountain ranges between 4000 and 2000 m includes Yunnan province and adjoining areas of Sichuan and Guizhou province as well as of Burma (Myanmar), Vietnam and Laos. Through most of the historical period, the region used to be sparsely populated by many different peoples who mostly remained relatively independent from the major states, with only small pockets of relatively level land controlled by the Chinese empire and settled by Han Chinese and sinicized peoples. Today, it has become a focus of tourist development. Romantic visions picture lush forests, lofty mountains and village life in harmony with nature. In fact, many landscapes look worse than the potato fields in the photo above.

The region is also geologically active and rich in metal deposits. Mining goes back to the prehistoric period, but seemingly played no role in the Chinese expansion into the Southwest. For reasons that are discussed here, mining decreased in historical visibility through the late imperial period, while exploitation by Chinese and for the Chinese market expanded. The first goal was silver, followed by copper, tin, and zinc. Iron mining developed similarly but went virtually unrecorded. In the High Qing, copper and zinc became important for the imperial mints that cast cash coins in great quantities. For this reason, we have records on copper mines from the early 18th century onwards. We have a window on copper and zinc, but many blank spots remain.

There are major open questions:

  • Mining and smelting are known to have massive environmental impacts. Has historic mining left the denuded landscapes that we see today?
  • How could large mines “appear” in the borderlands when imperial subjects were prohibited from entering them?
  • Why would local lords tolerate the dirt and mess of mines in their territories that were not protected by the Chinese empire?
  • How could mining towns with populations above 10,000 persons wax and wane without anyone noticing and without causing conflict?
  • Intensive mining was a Chinese enterprise. But the late imperial increase of Han and Muslim Chinese populations has been presented as in-migration of military colonists or peasant settlers. Were miners recruited from the landless poor or from runaway soldiers? Why would people become landless and impoverished when land was available and why would soldiers prefer becoming miners?

Possibilities of pursuing these questions by traditional historical methods are limited because written materials are scarce. However, many issues involve questions of locality. A combination of spatial analysis with traditional and less traditional history therefore could be a useful approach:

  • If we know the actual site of a mine, chart remains and slag heaps, we can gain an idea of its scale even in the absence of records.
  • If we reconstruct networks of settlements, communications and land uses, we can chart influences on local societies and environments.
  • Networks of roads and trade give access to investigating economic and cultural integration as a locally specific process.
  • Vegetation models that reconstruct processes of change on the basis of fuel consumption, access and time offer the possibility of mapping historical landscape change directly caused by mining.

All these exercises have the methodological attraction of being specific and falsifiable.

Yang Yuda has collected historic and modern information on silver mines over many years, identifying and assessing the large mines, several of which were unknown before. (Read more: Silver mines, Fieldwork reports)

Nanny Kim has reconstructed transport systems and used spatial analysis to demonstrate that miners were no paupers but recruited workers and specialists attracted by high incomes in the borderlands (paper in publication).

Yang Yuda and Nanny Kim have undertaken fieldwork to identify sites and reconstruct technologies in 2011, 2014 and 2015. (Read more...)

This project focuses on historic vegetation models to spatially assess the landscape changes caused by mining.

Summary

At their southeastern end, the Himalayas form a much folded mountain zone that separates China from Indochina, descending from the top of the world to tropical jungles. The Far Southwest of China is the highland part of this zone and roughly congruent with modern Yunnan province. The area, which is about the size of France, contains plateaus that have been centres of human cultures since prehistoric times and rugged hinterlands that into the twentieth century were little influenced by human activities. For its cultural richness as well as its biodiversity, the region is predestined for research on interactions of human societies with their environments. Factors creating different dynamics and transformations include natural and cultural barriers, a variety of land use systems, compartmentalized diversification, far-flung commercial networks, and migration and economic penetration that was often driven by the exploitation of mineral resources.

The core of the proposed project is the analysis of the environmental history of three mining areas through the last five centuries. Contributions to research on the history of technology and the environment consist in advancing knowledge on an under-researched regional history that is of comparative interest as a non-European case of preindustrial mining on a large scale. A methodological contribution will be realized in the development of applied methods for researching environmental history under conditions of data scarcity that are expected to permit calibrated comparative analyses of developments in different periods and world regions.

The project applies an inter-disciplinary approach that combines historical and geographic methods. The applicant has developed and tested the approach in collaborative projects with Hans-Joachim Rosner (geography, Tübingen University) and Yang Yuda (historical geography, Fudan University, Shanghai) during the DFG research group Monies, Markets and Finance in China and East Asia, which Hans Ulrich Vogel directed from 2005 to 2011. It overcomes limitations due to the scarcity and one-sidedness of predominantly Chinese materials and widens the basis of sources beyond traditional written sources to data from dendrochronology and stratigraphy, as well as from fieldwork and oral histories. By localizing data sets, it employs a new tool of data cross-checking, correcting, confirming and falsifying. In this process, specific questions can be addressed by targeted search for decisive evidence and interpretations tested in models of landscape change.

The project aims at attaining specific and falsifiable results in environmental history and ultimately at identifying factors that tip the balance between sustainable, unsustainable yet relatively stable, and degrading systems. It thus expects to achieve a reassessment of cultural preferences, system trends and technological options historical environmental change and hopes to contribute to ongoing environmental issues.

 

明清时期中国西南和边疆地区的矿业\地方社会与环境变迁:历史与地理跨学科的探讨

概要

喜马拉雅高原东南角逐渐从雪山下落到热带森林,是地壳折叠的地区、山脉重叠陡险。交通不便的山区自古以来形成分割中国和东南亚的边疆地区。云南省是这个地区中海拔还比较高的部分,文化地理由仅仅占地区面积的3%的坝子和山区形成,坝子从史前时期以来发展文化中心,偏僻山区直到20世纪认为改造影响不大。云南文化多样化和生态多样化和地理关系密切,高山和低谷、坝子和山坡、适合人住与不适合人去都形成独特的条件和动机,包括隔绝与交往、小区域与长途贸易网、长期稳定与突然转变。其中在移民迁入和社会经济改造起到核心动机的作用经常是地下资源:矿产

本项目的核心是对云南三个矿区近五百年的环境史进行系统分析。中国西南地区明清时期的矿业迄今研究有限,和欧洲以及日本中世纪以来的矿业史差别明显。资料和了解虽然有限,明清时期的大矿是工业化之前金属矿大规模开采的重要案例,对中国技术史和经济史的理解有重大意义,同事从比较历史学的角度对人类的社会、资源利用与环境关系的研究十分重要。

为了克服资料稀少的困难,本项目应用一套跨越历史学和地理学的研究方法,包括史料批判性分析、数据的标量化、分段分析,分段可否定、确定或调节。项目组织人2005年到2011年参加图宾根大学傅汉斯教授组织《中国和东亚钱币、市场和财务,1600年到1900年》科研小组,利用和图宾根大学地理系罗汉斯教授和复旦大学历史地理研究院样煜达副教授跨学科的合作机会发展科学方法。资料方面除了传统史料以外一面用其他史料,如口述历史、遗迹和田野考察等,一面用科学数据,如树木年代学、沉积柱分析等。一切数据用地理信息系统进行确定空间位置之后加以分析。经过分段分析可以提出研究问题,根据初步结果和新提出的问题针对性差资料。最后结果要发展环境变迁模型,对历史上的环境变迁的理解进行确定或否定

本项目的目标是达到环境史上相对具体可靠的结果,以此提高人与环境关系的理解,进一步了解可持续状态、不可持续状态、不可持续但暂且还比较稳定状态的微妙平衡和失去平衡的因素。本项目期待通过环境变迁中文化选择、技术条件等因素起到的作用更深入的了解对目前的人类的选择和局限提供参考资料。

The team

杨煜达 Yang Yuda (复旦大学中国历史地理研究院 Institute of the Historical Geography of China, Fudan University)

Yang Yuda has pursued silver and copper mining in the Southwest of China and in the borderlands beyond for many years.

Cooperation on borderland silver mines since 2009, with intensive exchange on related issues of social, cultural, economic and environmental history.

Hans-Joachim Rosner and Andy Braun (Institute of Geography, Tübingen University)

Hans-Joachim Rosner and Andy Braun use GIS to analyse landscape change through time.

Cooperation with Hans-Joachim Rosner on copper mines in northeastern Yunnan during the Qing period, 2006-2011 and continuing exchange with Hans-Joachim and Andy on everything concerning landscapes and GIS.

Partners (alphabetically)

Name Affiliation Expertise Area of cooperation
Bello, David Washington and Lee University Environmental history of China Environments, cultural and political representations
Bermann, Lex Harvard University Historical geography, GIS, databases WebGIS, technical issues and hosting
Chen, Hailian (陈海连) Tübingen University History of mining and metallurgy in Qing China Zinc and copper mines
Giersch, Pat Wellesley College Commerce in Western Yunnan, Bai minority Trade networks, mobility and Bai culture
Giraldez, Arturo University of the Pacific Global silver flows Global silver flows, silver mines in Latin America
Janku, Andrea SOAS, London Attitudes towards the environment, disasters and hazards Environments, disasters, and cultures
Kaske, Elisabeth Carnegie Mellon University Economic history, financial systems economic and cultural trends, history of the Qing period
Lan, Yong (蓝勇) Southwestern University, Chongqing Historical geography of Southwestern China Environmental transformations, trade networks
Li, Xiaocen (李晓岑) Technological University Beijing Metallurgy and archaeology Smelting technologies, joint fieldwork
Ma, Jianxiong (马健雄) Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Ethnology Caravan transport in Western Yunnan, oral history
Popplow, Marcus Technological University Berlin History of technology Technological and environmental transformations, esp. in agriculture
Vogel, Hans Ulrich Tübingen University Social history, history of mining Mining in China
Zhou, Qiong (周琼) Yunnan University, Kunming Environmental history Historical environments in Yunnan
Last edited by: SV
Latest Revision: 2016-02-15
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