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Environment in Asia Series featuring Brian Lander – The Ecology of China’s Early Political Systems

February 7, 2022 @ 10:00 am 11:30 am

Speaker: Brian Lander, Assistant Professor of History, Brown University
Discussant: Ling Zhang, Associate Professor, Department of History, Boston College

By encouraging us to rethink familiar historical processes through an ecological lens, the field of environmental history provides new insights into the past. Lander’s book The King’s Harvest uses such an ecological perspective to examine the formation of political organizations in early China. Early political systems literally ran on solar energy stored in the grain that common farmer paid in tax, so we should think of them as organizations dedicated to mobilizing photosynthetic energy. Early states devoted much of that energy to assembling large groups of men to fight with other groups of armed men, but they also used it to expand farmland, build infrastructure, and increase the human population in the interests of increasing their tax income. This paper will use these insights to explore the history of the state and empire of Qin (c. 800-207 BCE). Qin established the centralized bureaucratic empire which became the standard model of political organization in China, bequeathing subsequent empires with administrative skills that helped them thoroughly transform East Asia’s environments.

Brian Lander studies the environmental history and archaeology of early China. He is an assistant professor of history at Brown University and a fellow at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. He teaches history and environmental studies.

Presented via Zoom

Also streaming on YouTube


February 7, 2022
10:00 am – 11:30 am
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

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