University of Cambridge > > The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure - seminar series > Regional Man-land Relationship in the Northern Chinese Frontier in History

Regional Man-land Relationship in the Northern Chinese Frontier in History

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Please note earlier start time of 12.10pm. Sandwiches and fruit will be available at the start.

The Ancient northern Chinese frontier zone comprises all or part of seven modern Chinese provinces, Gansu Province, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, Shanxi, Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang, in an arc spanning more than 2,000 km and ranging from the deserts of Central Asia to the Manchurian forests. Indeed the northern frontier regions have gained near-mythic proportion in Chinese history and culture. Today three dimensions of the North China frontier are particularly important: its geopolitical significance along the Mongolian, Russian borders; its environmental fragility; and its multicultural population and heritage. A historical geography of this region will provide an important and fundamental basis for contemporary understanding and management of regional issues concerning peoples and environments.

Academic research on the northern frontier regions and their significance in Chinese history and development became significant with the landmark studies of Owen Lattimore in the 1920s and 1930s. Lattimore described a frontier increasingly polarized between two vastly different cultures: the Chinese realm of walled cities with intensive, sedentary agriculture and the nomadic world of the steppe with extensive, mobile economy—neither in the long run, able to subdue the other—-separated by the Great Wall, and a transitional zone took shape between the two groups of peoples where political and cultural affiliation vacillated in response to overall geopolitical advantage. Lattimore’s work not only contributed to a better understanding of China, but added new dimensions to world-wide study of frontiers as well.

Seven decades later, in changed intellectual circumstances and with a wealth of new empirical research, the old issue seems worth reopening. The field of historical geography provides a rich and diverse context for studies of frontier history. Historical geographers particularly concerned with understanding historical trends in human use of the environment, environmental history, and settlement patterns. Through an integration of natural science, social science and humanities methodologies, we could be able to achieve a broad-ranging and comprehensive analysis which maintains relevance to contemporary environmental and settlement issues. Thus historical geography serves as a center for the research, which will then draw on multidisciplinary research works in related fields such as history, archeology, and environmental science. Within this broad framework, the research plan will mainly focus on the following four parts: the ecology of frontiers, man-land relationship in history, driving factors behind the landscape changes, and the frontiers and social changes in history.

This talk is part of the The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure - seminar series series.

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