Chinese revolutions and rice prices change

Chinese revolutions and rice prices change

Bogdan Góralski

Library of the Historical Institute of University of Warsaw

Chinese history is written by changes in the price of rice – the basic Chinese cereal. Each major increase in rice prices was preceded by a period of low prices in which agricultural property was concentrated in the hands of huge landowners. Then always followed a price increase causing social discontent and the outbreak of popular uprisings that changing the Chinese authorities. Then happen deconcentrating of land ownership by dividing landowners’ agricultural assets between starving crowds of people and the rule of the new dynasty. And so the elites ruling China change from the rise in rice prices to the next rise. As a result of the recent People’s Revolution in China in the early 1980s, there was another deconcentrating in agricultural ownership due to the global rise in food prices. The land possessed for many years by rural communist communes was transferred to Chinese peasants, and so far there is no shortage of food in China because 800 million producers produce it very effectively. Unfortunately, another global climate change is coming, which will increase global food prices. I am writing below about the causes of this future climate and food disaster.

Fig 1  Rice Prices in the Yangzi Delta, 1638–1935 (taels of silver per shi)

Source of the graph: Chinese History in Economic Perspective, Edited By
Thomas G. Rawski and Lillian M. Li,  UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS

Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford © 1992 The Regents of the University of California;brand=ucpress

Chapter One
Secular Trends of Rice Prices in the Yangzi Delta, 1638–1935, by Yeh-chien Wang

An excerpt from above book:

“In Table 1.1, I have compiled an annual price series for the delta from 1638 through 1935 by combining four shorter series as follows: a Shanghai series for 1638–95, a series for Suzhou City (the capital city of Suzhou Prefecture) covering 1696–1740, a Suzhou Prefecture series for 1741–1910, and a Shanghai series for 1911–35. There are, however, a number of years for which price data are missing. In such cases, I have filled out the missing data by extrapolation (marked with an asterisk in the third column); for the years 1862–64, when Suzhou was occupied by the Taiping rebels, I have used Shanghai prices.

Chapter Six
Land Concentration and Income Distribution in Republican China, by Loren Brandt and Barbara Sands

An excerpt from above six chapter ,page 179:

“These remarks by the British historian Richard Tawney typify much of the thinking both in China and in the West about the growing concentration of landholdings in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century rural China”.

This excerpt from the above-cited book confirms the concentration of agricultural ownership in China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries caused by a reduction in rice prices in the period 1860-1885 caused by a favorable climate. Then followed a climate deterioration and a sharp rise in rice prices (Fig. 1) (and all food?), Which triggered the Chinese Revolution.

Fig. 2 Comparison of rice prices in China and wheat in England in the period 1361-1910

Source of China rice prices: Peng Xinwei, p. 459 in Monetary History of China Quanlian Publishing, Shanghai: 1957.

Source of England wheat prices: Wilhelm Abel (1935), Agrarkrisen und Agrarkonjunktur in Mitteleuropa vom 13. bis zum 19. Jahrhundert, Berlin1935,                         Tabelle 1.

The price of grain in China is four times higher than in England for a unit of 100 kg in England – 100 liters in China. A significant increase in food prices in England and China in the seventeenth century is due to the deterioration of the climate and deterioration of the harvest, which causes the expansion of the Manchu to the South and the rise to power the Qing dynasty in China and the religious wars in Europe, the migration of Europeans to other continents and the expansion of the Swedes to the south of the Baltic Sea to Poland so-called Swedish Deluge. The Swedish Deluge resulted from a lack of food caused by an unfavorable climate, which I describe in ResearchGate in a work entitled Short climatic history of Poland (Góralski B. 2018).

1628 1646 Peasant uprising in China under the slogans of equal division of land. Manchurians gain power in China – expansion to the South of the peoples of the north. From 1630 Polish grain exports are falling and it has been rising since 1730. oziębienie historyczne

In the period preceding the rule of the Qing dynasty, the agricultural property was concentrated in China, which later resulted in the upraise of Chinese peasants in the period 1628-1646 under the slogans of equal division of land, i.e. deconcentrating of landed land ownership. In the period 1750-1830 in Europe, there was a great increase in food prices, which caused the French Revolution in overpopulated France and began the process of the enfranchisement of peasants in feudal Europe. Enfranchisement was, in fact, a process of the deconcentrating of agricultural property, which was to improve the feeding of rebellious peasants, i.e. increase food production. Most likely, the processes of enfranchisement were carried out by kings and aristocracy for fear of a revolting peasantry and the urban poor. Protests resulting from high food prices lasted in Europe until the Spring of Nations, i.e. until 1850, that is almost until the improvement of climatic conditions in Europe. After 1830, steamers began to transport American grain to Europe and wheat prices dropped significantly, which lasted until the 21st century. In China during the Qing Dynasty (1650-1850), the population increased to 300 million, but another rise in rice prices ended their rule. It is characteristic that at the same time food prices began to change in England and China from 1880-1890 and in England prices dropped and in China soared. This was due to the displacement of the earth’s shell in such a way that in the US and Europe climatic conditions improved and in China deteriorated, which caused great differences in food prices between England and China. This climate inversion between the West and the East is shown in Figure 3, where between 1921-1925 the fertility of European populations decreases and the fertility of the Japanese population increases. This indicates better climatic conditions in Japan than in Europe at that time. There is also decreasing fertility of European populations (In France, a decrease in fertility since the French Revolution) and happen an increase in fertility of the Russian population until the Bolshevik revolution. This also proves that climatic conditions are improving from west to east Europe (the amount of precipitation has been increasing in Russia since 1850), which greatly affects the feeding of European populations. After 1935, the living conditions of the population deteriorated because the fertility of European populations dropped dramatically. The decreasing fertility chart for the French population testifies to the disappearance of French life optimism after the French Revolution. This was probably caused by a huge concentration of agricultural and industrial property in France, which prevents small businesses from doing business, causing visible economic stagnation and protests by the impoverished population of France. Rescue for France and Europe in the deconcentrating of agricultural and industrial property, in which case there is a possibility of resettlement of Asian peasants to Europe. This will have beneficial effects on the world and the dying economy of the West.

Fig. 3 Total European and Japanese fertility Data from 1801-1950 from the European part of Russia come from (Glass 1965: 97 tab.20). (author of the drawing Bogdan Góralski). Birth rates (crude birth rate) in populations covered by revolutions and wars in the period of 1750-1955.

Data 1750-1840 for France. Dawid Victor Glass, World Population, tab. p. 101

Data 1841-1955 for France, Germany, England, Austria D.V.Glass, World Population, tab. pp. 68-69

Data for Austria-Hungary until 1906.

To calculate the birth rate in the English population, data from the book Wrigley E.A., Schofield R.S., “The Population History of England 1541-1871. A reconstruction. London 1981:

Data from Table 7.8 on pages 208-209 on the size of the population: Quinquennial English population totals 1541-1871

Data from Table A2.3 on pages 496-502 about the number of births.

Data from these two tables above were used to calculate the crude birth rate in England

Data 1801-1950 for the European part of Russia: Dawid Victor Glass, World Population, tab.20, p. 97

Data for Japan: from 1911-1943 from the Statistical Year-Book of the League of Nations, p. 41

Data for Italy: Dawid Victor Glass, World Population, tab. p. 68.

Fig. 4 Demographics of China (orange dots) against the background of changes in rice prices (blue, we play silver per hectoliter of rice) and changes in Chinese dynasties and governments

Source of China rice prices: Peng Xinwei, p. 459 in Monetary History of China Quanlian Publishing, Shanghai: 1957.

Demographics of China data:


Each increase in rice prices resulted in a decreasing of the Chinese population, and as we said earlier, every major change in rice prices resulted in a change of government in China:

from 1393 MING dynasty,

1650-1850 Qing dynasty,

1928-1950 Republic of China,

from 1950- ??? The People’s Republic of China.

Who will rule China after another future rise in rice prices ???

Warsaw, 30 December 2019                       

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