This lecture tells a climatic story of how modern China has taken its current geographical shape and how it continues to grapple with the tensions between a unified modern nation-state and the presence of the past laden with numerous imperial, civilizational, and cultural encounters induced by forces of climatic change over the last eight hundred years. It treats modern China not merely as having a uniform political system with its distinct ideological values and governing patterns, but, more critically, as a multi-ecological, multi-climatic, multi-ethnic, multi-civilizational zone which traces its divergent roots to both Chinese and non-Chinese cultures.
Situated in the environmental contexts of the historical Mongol-China-Manchu nexuses, this lecture takes a climatic-ecological reading of their imperial encounters and discusses how the Little Ice Age (1200s-1800s) intensified their violent interactions, eventually leading to the formation of modern China as the outcome of combined human factors and environmental forces. It wishes to present a thesis that the inadvertent co-creation of modern Chinese territory by these three historical imperial polities is expressed in three arenas of their interactions, conflicts, and conquests, namely ecologically complementary livelihood making, environmentally-conditioned imperial expansions/cessations, and the climatically insensitive, modern political governing of meteorologically patterned and ecologically unique ethnic groups. In addition to the formulation of this thesis, this lecture also re-highlights modern China not merely as an East Asian nation as conceived in traditional area studies but also as an inter-Asian state as it intersects and/or encompasses parts of Northeast Asia, Inner Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. Its formation possesses a visible historical record of imperial encounters and human migrations due to climate change.
Guest speaker: Dan Smyer Yü, Ph.D.
The Center for Trans-Himalayan Studies
Yunnan Minzu University