“Never has there been a flood greater than this”

Climate Memories and the Awareness of a Changeable Climate in 17th-century Jiangnan


  • Erling Agøy University of Oslo




Natural calamities, climate history, Jiangnan, collective memory, Ming-Qing China


From the perspective of collective climate memories, this paper examines how people in the 17th century (1600–1700) in the Jiangnan region of East China related to climate history. This was a century of political and climatic upheavals, affected by a worldwide gradual turn to colder and more unstable weather which included memorable events. Did people have any awareness that the climate was changing around them? I demonstrate that there existed a well-developed tradition of climate history stretching back at least several hundred years. But to speak of a concept of changing climates in Late Imperial China is trickier. A basically stable climate subject only to short-term changes (often linked to the moral actions of rulers and others) was generally assumed in Chinese culture and found various expressions in local customs. Nevertheless, through examining not only the long-standing cultural perceptions of whether it was possible for the climate to change, but also such topics as observed changes in the landscape and fauna, perennial disasters and unprecedented calamities, disasters in ancient history (with all the preceding being possibly expressions of a changeable climate) and individual perceptions, we can attain a more nuanced image of how changeable the climate was in the thoughts of the 17th-century Chinese. In these years we can find those who thought a changing climate impossible, while the Kangxi emperor provides a counter-example of someone who was finely attuned to changes in weather patterns.



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How to Cite

Agøy, E. (2023). “Never has there been a flood greater than this”: Climate Memories and the Awareness of a Changeable Climate in 17th-century Jiangnan. The Journal of the European Association for Chinese Studies, 4, 149–168. https://doi.org/10.25365/jeacs.2023.4.agoey



Culture and Memory