For the want of a Monsoon

According to Yahoo Asia Nature will be publishing an article tomorrow that claims that climate change was the cause of the fall of the Tang dynasty. A team of German scientists looked at core samples from Guangdong and determined that the summer monsoon was very weak from about 700 to 900, thus explaining the fall of the Tang in 907.

All I have read is the Yahoo summary, not the actual article. I assume Nature published it because the team did something neat about finding data on ancient climate. If the authors actually claim to be explaining the fall of the Tang, however, this strikes me as lousy history. For one thing, 700 to 900 is a long time, stretching well into the middle Tang, and thus could not really explain the fall of the Tang. More importantly, Guangdong, and I would guess even Jiangnan were pretty insignificant to the Tang. The agricultural heartland was still the Yellow River plain, and the monsoon would seem to have little to do with agriculture there.

Unless I am missing something this seems to be a case of someone finding out something really interesting and then making wild historical claims from it.


  1. I saw an article today about the study as well and the article did make the claim: “What eventually brought down the dynasty were the prolonged droughts, which caused significant crops failures and subsequent peasant uprisings. This ultimately led to the collapse of the dynasty in 907.”

    Your point about Jiangnan and Lingnan is a good one. What effects did the monsoon have, if any, on the North China Plain? I’m interested in reading the full study when it comes out.

  2. Maybe I’m wrong. K.C. Chang’s Shang Civilization p.141 points out that in the oracle bone records there a records of rain for over ten days in a row, which he suggests may show that Anyang was a monsoon area in the Shang. Obviously there are a lot of years between the Shang and the Tang.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.