Organized Panel Session
This paper introduces new, high-resolution paleoclimatological data from East Asia and attempts to identify correspondences between climate change and historical events. To date, historians and archaeologists interested in this topic have been hampered by the lack of precise paleoclimatological data. Such data, however, is now available.
Here I present reconstructions of summer temperatures in East Asia over the past 1200 years and summer precipitation in Central Japan over the past 2600 years. These make use, respectively, of huge datasets of tree-ring widths and tree-ring cellulose oxygen isotope ratios.
Both reconstructions exhibit temporal variations at many scales ranging from interannual to millennial, enabling us to explore various interesting connections between climate change and historical events. At one end of the scale, people seem to have adapted to centennial-scale variation without undue difficulty, indeed without even being aware that the climate was changing. At the other end, they were highly attuned to short, interannual variations and were capable of reacting to them with anti-disaster measures. In contrast to these two cases, medium-term, multi-decadal variations in temperature and precipitation often resulted in large-scale famine and wars. Examples may be seen both in Japan and China in the third century BCE and the second, sixth, tenth, fourteenth, and eighteenth centuries CE, all of which were characterized by social unrest and regime shifts. Identifying such correspondences between climate change and social change is an important first step toward understanding what factors have promoted, or hampered, societal resilience in different countries and periods in East Asia.