East Asian World Revolutions?

Christopher Chase-Dunn and Manjing Gao

Institute for Research on World-Systems

University of California-Riverside

Image result for white lotus society

The White Lotus Society

Draft v. 11/17/19 8586 words

To be presented at the annual conference of the Social Science History Association, Chicago, November 21-24, 2019

* Thanks to Hiroko Inoue and E.N. Anderson for help with dating the expansion of the East Asian system.

This is IROWS Working Paper #131 available at http://irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows131/irows131.htm

Abstract: The idea of “world revolutions” comes from studies of the Europe-centered (“modern”) world-system, referring to periods in which protests, rebellions and revolutions broke out in the same decades in different parts of the system. We propose to evaluate the world revolution hypothesis as it may have operated in the East Asian world-system since the Bronze Age. We will examine the timing of protest and rebellion events to see if they cluster in time and across space. We consider economic and political contexts, synchronies of rebellions, and connections among those that rebelled and among those that sought to repress or ameliorate the rebellions. And we will eventually quantitatively test hypotheses about the interactions among within-state and between state conflicts, the role of rebellions in dynastic cycles and the relationships between rebellions and changes in the scale of polities and cities in the East Asian world-system.

The Comparative Evolutionary World-Systems Perspective

Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) reconfigured the world-system perspective that emerged to study the modern Europe-centered system by making some of the theoretical concepts more flexible.  This enabled comparisons between spatially small world-systems with medium-sized regional systems and the now-global world-system of today. Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) defined world-systems as systemic interaction networks that link settlements[1] and polities[2] in reciprocal interaction networks that condition the reproduction and change of local social structures.[3] The word “world” here refers to the world of systemic interactions (exchange, warfare, diplomacy, communication, intermarriage, etc.) that reproduce the social structures and institutions of human groups. In this sense “worlds” were small when transportation and communication technologies imposed a tyranny of distance that constrained the consequences of interaction to extend relatively short distances. These were the small social worlds in which people lived (see also Chase-Dunn and Mann 1998 and Chase-Dunn and Lerro 2017).

Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) noted that different kinds of systemic interaction often have different spatial scales. Bulk goods (food) networks (BGNs) were usually smaller than political/military networks (PMNs) in which independent polities were making war and security alliances with one another. And, these political/military networks were smaller than prestige goods trade networks (PGNs) in which goods that were very valuable relative to their weight were traded in down-the-line exchange networks[4] or carried by long-distance traders.  The spatial bounding of world-systems must choose a focal locale and then use the principal of “fall-off” to determine the distances from that point to the outer edge of the interaction system (Renfrew 1975, 1977). This is usually at most two or three indirect (non-contiguous) links in small world-systems. Systemic networks in which individual settlements are linked with other settlements typically cross the borders between independent polities (so they are “international.”)

            Once one has spatially bounded the interaction networks starting from a focal settlement, then the issue of core/periphery relations can be examined.  The modern core/periphery hierarchy is often discussed in terms of the Global North and the Global South. The Global South is composed of small, poor and relatively powerless peripheral countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and larger semiperipheral countries (i.e. Mexico, Brazil, China, Indonesia, India, Russia), or smaller countries at middle levels of economic development (i.e. Taiwan, South Korea, Israel, South Africa) that are in the present-day semiperiphery. The contemporary core is composed of most of the national societies in Europe and North America, but also Japan and Australia. But core/periphery relations may also be studied in earlier world-systems.[5]  Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) distinguish between “core/periphery differentiation,” which exists when polities with different degrees of population density[6] systemically interact with one another, and “core/periphery hierarchy” which exists when some polities exploit and dominate other polities. Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997: Chapter 5) also propose that the phenomenon of “semiperipheral develop” is an important cause of sociocultural evolution[7] in which polities in semiperipheral positions often are the agents of increases in the scale and complexity of world-systems.[8] Notably, social movements have often emerged from the non-core.

Social Movements in the Long Run

We contend that social movements have been important causes of social change since the Stone Age. Most scholars who study social movements[9] contend that they are a modern phenomenon that emerged in the context of the European Enlightenment. The main idea used to justify not studying premodern social movements is the claim that premodern or primitive movements were “reactive, backward and parochial”, whereas modern movements are “proactive” (e.g Hobsbawm 1957).  This is usually conflated with distinctions between those movements that are deemed to be “functional” because they involve one or another version of secular humanist ideology as distinct from those that employ ideas based on religion.[10] “Proactive” movements are deemed to be rational efforts to engage and modify political institutions, especially states, whereas reactive movements are more expressive and concerned with ideologically inspired identities.  Ho-Fung Hung’s (2011: Introduction) careful and insightful study of protests during the mid-Qing dynasty in China provides a useful overview of the teleological distinction between modern and pre-modern social movements from Marx and Weber and including the work of many of the leading lights in the sociological social movement literature. Charles Tilly’s studies of the structural roots of contentious behavior in the West are very valuable, but Tilly excuses ignoring the non-West and premodern social movements based on the distinction between reactive vs. proactive movements (Tilly and Wood 2013).  The problem here is that many Western and recent social movements are reactive in the sense that they do not rationally propose institutional solutions to problems, and many non-Western and premodern movements engaged with states and proposed changes in state institutions. So, this distinction as applied to earlier periods and other world regions, is specious. It is a poor excuse for ignoring the phenomena of collective behavior and social movements in non-Western and premodern world history and prehistory.

The East Asian World-System

                The unit of analysis for our proposed study is the East Asian world-system. We use the approach developed by David Wilkinson (1987, 1999a, 1999b) for estimating the spatio-temporal boundaries of this systemic interaction network. Wilkinson focusses mainly on what Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) call the political-military network (PMN), an international system of allying and fighting states. The geopolitics of security is a systemic feature of all world-systems, but we also wish to consider the possibility that prestige goods exchange (PGN) may have constituted a systemic link between East Asia and the West prior to the time that the two regions became durably linked by political/military interaction during the 19th century (the Opium Wars). Figure 1 is a diagram that portrays what we think happened regarding the waves of expansions and contraction of what Wilkinson calls Central Civilization[11] and the East Asian system of states since the emergence of cities and states in each region. 

Figure 1: The Expanding East Asian and Central Systems Since the Bronze Age

 Figure 1 displays a stylized representation of the expansions and interconnections between the Eastern and Western world-systems. The Central System was formed out of a merger between two relatively autochthonous, but adjacent, state systems that emerged in Mesopotamia and Egypt. And the East Asian system emerged in the valley of the Yellow River (Huang He) and then became connected with and adjacent state system in the Yangtze River Valley. Both systems had two points of origin and a merger between the states and cities of two river valleys. Because the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers are less distant from one another than are Mesopotamia and Egypt the merger occurred more quickly.  The East Asian and Central systems are also different regarding what happened subsequently. They both expanded but the center of the East Asian system did not move much from its area of origin while the center of the Central system migrated further and further West from Western Asia/North Africa to Europe to North America. This study focusses mainly on the hypothesis of world revolutions in East Asia but eventually we will want to compare what we find with research on the world revolutions of the Central System.

            The expansion of the East Asian political-military network started with the emergence of cities and states in the Yellow River valley. The rise and fall of Chinese dynasties produced larger and larger polities which met and incorporated polities in the Yangtze and Pearl River Valleys, Central Asia, North Asia, Korea, Japan, Mainland Southeast Asia and Island South East Asia. So, the system we are studying kept getting larger before it was eventually incorporated into the expanding Central System in the 19th century CE.

          The East Asian world-system in which states and cities first emerged in the Yellow River Valley expanded in a series of waves in which prestige goods exchange, political-military interaction and bulk goods exchange expanded.  This is the spatio-temporal unit of analysis that we are studying.[12] In Table 1 we proposed estimated years in which these different kinds of spatial interaction became systemic in the sense that the linked polities had become dependent on the interactions for social reproduction. These estimates are based on our reading of the histories of trade and geopolitical interaction. Generally, a region has been already considering and making efforts to manipulate the geopolitical actions of foreigners prior to actual conquest of that region.  David Wilkinson’s (1999: 502) definition of what we call the political-military network is as follows: “ …(a historically-autonomous political-military-diplomatic transactional network, not part of a larger such network.”

Connections from the Yellow River (Huang He) to:

Prestige Goods and Communications Network

Political-Military Network

Bulk Goods Network

Yangtze River Valley

1100 BCE*

1100 BCE*[13]or 725 BCE[14]

600 CE*

Pearl River Valley

(Zhu Jiang)

800 BCE*

300 BCE#

800 CE#

Central and North Asia

1000 BCE*

325 BCE#^[15]

1000 CE*


1000 BCE*

400 BCE#[16]

1200 CE*


500 BCE*

400 CE*

1400 CE*

Mainland Southeast Asia

200 CE*

200 BCE#[18]

1100 CE*

Island Southeast Asia[19]

600 CE*

1300 CE*

1200 CE*[20]


100 CE

600 CE *[21]

1900 CE

South Asia

600 CE*

1300 CE*[22]

1900 CE*

Central System

200 BCE*[23]

19th century CE^

20th century CE*

Table 1: Connections of the interaction networks of the East Asian World-System

* = merger;  # = engulfed and  ^ = engulfed by.

Interaction connections can be non-systemic or systemic. In Table 1 the dates indicate when substantial interaction has emerged, but it may not yet be system in the case of prestige goods exchange and communications.  On the other hand, Political-Military interaction (the highlighted column in Table 1) is always systemic. The years chosen indicate what David Wilkinson calls “durable” connections. In most cases there were previous episodic connections, but these are not deemed to have risen to the high bar of systemic connectedness. There were also different kinds of connection.  Following Wilkinson, we distinguish between mergers, in which two different systems come together based on interaction at the edges, versus engulfment in which one system conquers all or a large part of another. And there are two kinds of engulfment: getting engulfed by another system or engulfing another system. In Table 1 we use these symbols to distinguish between these different kinds of connection: * = merger;  # = engulfed and  ^ = engulfed by.

                Our estimates in Table 1 allow one degree of separation, If China and Korea were interacting geopolitically, and Korea and Japan were interacting geopolitically we include Japan in the East Asian state system. South Asia and East Asia became connected through Mainland Southeast Asia indirectly at the point at which there were systemic connections between Mainland Southeast Asia, China and South Asia. All the regions in Table 1 were incorporated by either colonialism or clientelism into the modern world-system in the 18th and 19th centuries of the Common Era.  We will include the Asian regions, including South Asian in the modern system after 1830 CE.

             Regarding core/periphery relations in the early East Asian system (500 BCE) Wilkinson (1999: 517) quotes Eberhard “The Far Eastern system remained polycultural: ‘there was a very small area in which only Chinese lived, and a large area surrounding it [but within the "Chinese' states] that was. occupied by non-Chinese," Liao hunters, Yao hunters, Yueh sailors, Tai rice growers, Tibetan sheep breeders, Turkish horse-breeders, Mongol cattle-breeders, Tungus pig-breeders(Eberhard, 1967, 18-22).”

            Regarding states and interstate systems in Southeast Asia around 550 CE, Wilkinson (1999:551) says: “In the second half of this century the Funanese vassal kingdom of Chenla, (proto Cambodia) rebelled and began the conquest of Funan. (Coedes, 61, 65-68.) David Chandler (1996: 26-27) doubts the might, centralization, extent and durability of Chenla, which he sees, following Claude Jacques, as a collection of small entities only sometimes led by one leader. This is in a sense old news, since evidently the same could be said of "China" at most moments after its inception, and a fortiori of the steppe khaganates and other semi-peripheral formations. But the duration of unity is worth problematizing in principle at the "state" level, as well as at the system level, despite the practical problems that will normally preclude extensive analysis of both problematic levels


The World Revolution Hypothesis

In the modern world-system there has been a spiral of interaction between world revolutions and the evolution of global governance.  World revolutions are periods in world history in which many rebellions break out across the world- system, often unconnected with one another, but known, and responded to, by imperial authorities. Since the Protestant Reformation in Europe

such constellations of rebellions and social movements have played an important role in the evolution of global governance in the Europe-centered system because the powers that could best handle collective behavior challenges were the ones who succeeded in competition with challenging elites. It is possible that similar phenomena existed in other prehistorical and historical world-systems, such as East Asia. Oscillations in the expansion of trade networks, the rise and fall of chiefdoms, states and empires, and increasing synchronization of trade and political cycles may have been related to waves of social unrest that occurred in the same time periods among polities that were interacting with one another (world revolutions). Indeed, something of this kind has been suggested by Ravi Palat (2018):

Asian social movements are an especially interesting topic because the Taiping Rebellion, the first Indian War of Independence (the Sepoy Mutiny), the religious disturbances in the Asian provinces of the Ottoman Empire all occurred roughly around the same time and can be linked to the reversal of the flows of gold and silver between Asia and Europe and its consequences to the regional linkages within Asian empires.

https://gss3.bdstatic.com/-Po3dSag_xI4khGkpoWK1HF6hhy/baike/c0%3Dbaike80%2C5%2C5%2C80%2C26/sign=92373138b33533fae1bb9b7cc9ba967a/9f2f070828381f3062cb359fab014c086e06f032.jpg            The idea of “world revolution” is a broad notion that encompasses all kinds of acts of resistance to hierarchy, regardless of whether they are coordinated with one another, but that occur relatively close to one another in time. Usually the idea of revolution is conceptualized on a national scale as an overthrow of a regime and the reorganization of social relations within a national society. Several changes are required in order to use the revolution concept at the world-system level. In the modern (Europe-centered) world-system there is a global polity, a world order, or what Immanuel Wallerstein[i] calls the “geoculture.” World orders are those normative and institutional features that are taken for granted in large-scale cooperation, competition and conflict. The world polity, and its context in the world economy, is the arena of contestation within which world revolutions have occurred and that world revolutions have restructured.




Baidu Peasant Uprising Atlas https://baike.baidu.com/pic/


Boswell and Chase-Dunn (2000) focused on those constellations of local, regional, national and transnational rebellions and revolutions that have had long-term consequences for changing the world orders of the modern system. The designation of world revolutions in the Europe-centered system has employed years that symbolize the totemic events that indicate the nature of the complex events that are world revolutions. For the modern world-system the world revolutions after the Protestant Reformation have been symbolized by the years 1789, 1848, 1917, 1968 and 1989.[24] Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein (1989) analyzed the world revolutions of 1848, 1917, 1968 and 1989. They observed that the demands put forth in a world revolution did not usually become institutionalized until a later consolidating revolt had occurred. The revolutionaries appeared to have lost in the failure of their most radical demands, but enlightened conservatives who were trying to manage subsequent hegemony ended up incorporating some of the reforms that were earlier radical demands into the current world order to cool out resistance from below. It is important to tease out the differences as well as the similarities among the world revolutions. Both the contexts and the actors have changed from one world revolution to the next.[25]

Before local and regional social movements began communicating and aiding one another they were indirectly linked through the hierarchical structures of the world-system – mainly the colonial empires of the core powers. Though local rebels in the far-flung colonies of the British Empire did not usually know about one another, the Home Office knew when local rebellions broke out and prepared plans and policies to accommodate or repress them.  Thus were the rebellions indirectly connected with one another through the hierarchical institutions of the system.

This view of the modern world-system as constituting an arena of economic and political struggle over the past several centuries includes the idea that global civil society has existed all along (Kaldor 2003). Global civil society includes all the actors who consciously participate in world politics. In the past of the Europe-centered system global civil society was mainly composed of statesmen, military leaders, religious leaders, scientists, financiers, international merchants, cosmopolitan literary figures[26] and the owners and top managers of chartered companies such as the Dutch and British East India Companies.  This rather small group already saw the global arena of political, economic, military and ideological struggle as their arena of contestation. Transnational political organizations and elite movements have existed in the Western system at least since the Protestant Reformation. Indeed, these can be thought of as global political parties (Chase-Dunn and Reese 2011).  The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was an explicitly internationalist organization formed to advance the counter-reformation Movements from below have been increasingly transnational since the world revolution of 1789. Politics in the modern system can be analyzed as contention between a left and right, both influencing the center and these all co-evolving (Nagy 2017).

World Revolutions in the East Asian System?

East Asia saw periodic eruptions of popular heterodox religious movements and peasant rebellions. (Anderson 2019).  Owen Lattimore’s (1940:531) description of the Chinese dynastic cycle serves as a stylized depiction that includes these rebellions.

Although the social outlook of the Chinese is notable for the small honor it pays to war, and although their social system does not give the soldier a high position, every Chinese dynasty has risen out of a period war, and usually a long period. Peasant rebellions have been as recurrent as barbarian invasions. Frequently the two kinds of war have been simultaneous; both have usually been accompanied by famine and devastation, and peace has never been restored without savage repression. The brief chronicle of a Chinese dynasty is very simple: a Chinese general or a barbarian conqueror establishes a peace which is usually a peace of exhaustion. There follows a period of gradually increasing prosperity as land is brought back under cultivation, and this passes into a period of apparently unchanging stability. Gradually, however, weak administration and corrupt government choke the flow of trade and taxes. Discontent and poverty spread. The last emperor of the dynasty is often vicious and always weak -- as weak as the founder of the dynasty was ruthless. The great fight each other for power, and the poor turn against all government. The dynasty ends, and after an interval another begins, exactly as the last began, and runs the same course.

            While this model does not apply equally well to all the early and late dynasties and it contains tropes that the Chinese continue to believe about themselves (that they are relatively peaceful) the description is reminiscent of Ibn Khaldun’s model of the foxes and wolves in the dynastic cycles he studied and of the Turchin and Nefadov (2009) model of the “secular cycle.” What remains is to add world-system level variables including the hypothesis of world revolutions.[27]

https://gss1.bdstatic.com/9vo3dSag_xI4khGkpoWK1HF6hhy/baike/crop%3D0%2C13%2C574%2C379%3Bc0%3Dbaike80%2C5%2C5%2C80%2C26/sign=1760b0aa5b43fbf2d163fc638d4ee6b1/adaf2edda3cc7cd95c2ca17b3101213fb80e910b.jpg It was in a period of high peasant landlessness and poverty during the Han dynasty that large numbers of poor people were drawn to worship the Queen Mother of the West who grew longevity peaches that, once eaten, made people immortal (Hill 2015). The Queen Mother lived in a mythical palace on a mountain somewhere in the West. This idea seems to have been present as early as the Shang Dynasty, but recurrent eruptions of the worship of the Queen Mother corresponded with periods in which there were large numbers of landless peasants. The attraction of stressed masses to “pie in the sky when you die” reoccurs in world history. The White Lotus movement was another heterodox popular movement that first emerged during 11th century CE and became powerful during the Yuan dynasty. Ming dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang was an adept. It had ideological elements such as gender equality, vegetarianism and egalitarianism that reappeared in the gigantic Taiping Rebellion in the middle of the 19th century (Michael 1966; Spence 1996). The Taiping rebellion was part of an interesting confluence in which the East Asian dynastic cycle was becoming entwined with the world revolutions of the West. The Taiping founder and leader, Hong Xiuquanread a pamphlet about God and Jesus that a Christian missionary from Tennessee had had translated into Chinese. After failing the imperial examination Hong had a dream in which it was revealed to him that he was Jesus’s brother. The movement began peacefully as a ritual and vegetarian dinner society, but when local authorities were threatened and engaged in repression it mushroomed into a military organization that conquered and held Nanjing for several years.  As many as thirty million people died as the Qing dynasty fought for decades to extinguish this movement.



Baidu Peasant Uprising Atlas https://baike.baidu.com/pic/

Ho-Fung Hung (2011) found that proactive movements that confronted local authorities and engaged with the imperial center, often led by local gentry, emerged in waves during the Qing dynasty.  He contends that there was a cycle in which proactive movements and reactive movements oscillated during the mid-Qing dynasty. He argues that the Western emergence of proactive movements focusing on popular sovereignty (rather than filial loyalty) was unidirectional, leading to the establishment of parliamentary democracies in the West. This is somewhat of an oversimplification of the contentious nature of the emergence of “centrist liberalism” in the West (Wallerstein 2011). The world history of the first half of 20th century (two world wars, Bolshevism and Fascism) surely contradicts the idea of a smooth transition to capitalist democracy in which rational proactive movements fine-tuned the ability of human institutions to meet the needs of the people. Identity movements, religious fundamentalism and populist nationalism in the 21st century strongly suggest that the modern world-system has not risen above reactive social movements. But Hung is probably right that the different ideological constructions (filial piety vs. popular sovereignty) as well as different degrees of importance of millenarianism (present but less important in Asia) have been responsible for the somewhat different trajectories of politics and economics in the East and the West.

            We plan to use the spatio-temporal chronograph of the expansion of the East Asian system presented in Table 1 to look for the existence of world revolutions in East Asia. This will involve coding social unrest events – rebellions, revolutions, civil wars, coups, riots, protests and demonstrations – what Charles Tilly and Sydney Tarrow (2015) call contentious events. In principle we would like to include both small and large events. In practice we know that the recording of historical contentious events is incomplete. When a dynasty is strong and organized records are more likely to be systematically kept. When there is chaos or only small-scale polities the occlusions are greater.  This introduces measurement error in the record of contentious events that is related to one of the things we are also studying -- the rise and fall of dynasties. This source of error needs to be kept in mind when we are interpreting findings.  In principle we would like to know about all the contentious events in all the areas we are studying as shown in Table 1. That is a high bar that we know we cannot attain, especially for the earlier periods.  We are also interested in interpolity warfare and interstate conflicts and are coding that separately for East Asia so that we can examine its relationship with contentious events (Cioffi and Lai 1995, 2001; Chase-Dunn et al 2018). These forms of conflict often overlap, but for the purposes our study we will try to separate them.

            We will code the timing and location of all the contentious events we can find out about from the Shang dynasty until the early 19th century of the Qing dynasty in China, Central and North Asia, Korea, Japan and mainland and island Southeast Asia. Here is our coding scheme for contentious events:  

1-      Coup A (successful)

2-      Coup B (unsuccessful)

3-      Secession struggle

4-      Rebellion A- internal- against a state of which one is a part

5-      Rebellion B- against an external state that has conquered one’s region.

6-      Succession Struggle

7-      Revolution

8-      Civil War

9-      Bandits

10-  Labor Strikes

Each event may have more than one of these scores.

Regarding chronology, there is much more scholarly consensus regarding calendar years for Bronze Age China than there is for other world regions we have studied but there are still big disputes among scholars regarding calendar years of events in the Bronze Age (Wilkinson 1999:508; Keightley 1978).

 After we have compiled this data set we will be able to see how contentious events are distributed across space and time. The idea of world revolutions suggests clustering of contentious events in time and in different locations.  But, as has been the case for the Europe-centered system, the events may not break out in all regions of the system. The spatial distribution of contentious events in the Europe-centered system has varied from world revolution to world revolution, and this may also turn out to be the case in the East Asian system.

            Our first foray into the coding of East Asian contentious events is using lists of rebellions that we find in English and Japanese Wikipedia and the Baidu Peasant Uprising Atlas.[28] We also searching for studies like that of Ho-Fung Hung’s (2011) that have used archival evidence to code protest events.

David Zhang and Harry Lee and their colleagues are pioneers in the long-range study of East Asian conflict and its relationships with climate change (Zhang et al. 2006, 2007, 2015a and b; Lee 2018). They built on the earlier research of J. S. Lee (1931, 1933), who studied the relationship between “internal wars” and climate change in China.

The Zhang et al. (2006) findings for the number of rebellions from 1000 to 1911, counting events per decade, is shown in Figure 2. Zhang et al. (2006) said, “We  . . . categorized wars on the basis of types of participants, particularly the leaders of the two sides in the armed conflicts, as either “rebellion” or “others” (state and tribal wars) (405). The rebellions were predominantly peasant uprisings induced by famine and heavy taxation, since farmers were always the first to suffer from declining agricultural production. The three outstanding peaks of warfare were dominated by peasant uprisings. Wherever they occurred rebellions are always significantly correlated with temperature  . . ..”


Figure 2: Rebellions in China 1000 CE to 1911CE: Source Zhang et al 2006: 406, Figure 2d.

In the appendix to their 2015 article, Zhang et al. (2015b) say more about the relationship between climate and conflict: “What caused the cycles of nomadic invasion and retreat or the expansion and shrinkage of agriculturist empires? Lee (1933) conjectured that the power of nature was the ans­wer. Some scholars have found strong statistical relationships between climate change, war, population and dynastic cycles in Eurasia and the world by using high-resolution temperature reconstructions and fine-grained historical datasets.”

This study decomposed history into different time domains and found that the multi-centennial geopolitical changes are associated with climate change, but the short-term changes (less than 200 years) do not exhibit any rhythmic pattern. This implies that those short-term geopolitical changes might be associated with social and political changes that are nonlinear and irregular (no continuous frequency). The results indic­ate that a complex system may be controlled by different factors at different spatial and temporal scales. When a selected factor has a characteristic time-scale which is adequate to the scale of the considered process, while all the other factors have significantly different time-scales, we can consider the selec­ted factor as the most evident one that controls the process (Korotayev et al. 2006). In this study, we could infer our eco-geopolitical hypothesis by the fact that the long-term geopolitical and precipitation frequencies were strongly coherent in China at the multi-centennial scale, but the short-term geopolitical changes, even if they were of lower magnitude, might have been controlled by other, unknown factors (Zhang et al. 2015b: 15-16).

The Zhang (2006) paper shows that there have been cyclical waves of rebellions in China from 1000 until 1911. This is consistent with the hypothesis that the East Asian world-system experienced world revolutions, but further research is needed to include rebellions in Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia, and to examine the relationships between these and dynastic cycles and upsweeps of polity and settlement sizes. The question as to why cold spells should cause increased conflict is complicated. Regarding peasant rebellions Zhang et al. argue that it was declining agricultural production, famine, and taxation that stimulated rebellions. The studies by Zhang et al. usually found a two or three-decade lag between cold peaks and the onset of conflict. Harry Lee (2018) suggests that a bad climate and decline in agricultural productivity often sets the stage for natural disasters (floods) or sociocultural catastrophes (famines, epidemics) that serve as the proximate causes of the outbreak of rebellions.


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Appendix to Zhang et al 2015b Appendix S3 Further materials and methods. Appendix S4 References geb12247-sup-0001-si.docx

Zhongguo Junshishi [A military history of China] 1985 zhongguojunshishi

Editing Committee of China's Military History: 1985, Tabulation of Wars in Ancient China, People's Liberation Army Press, Beijing    AUTHOR:  Fu, Zhongxia ;   Zhongguo jun shi shi. 2 volumes

[1] The term “settlement” includes camps, hamlets, villages, towns and cities. Settlements are spatially bounded for comparative purposes as the contiguous built-up area.

[2] We use the term “polity” to generally denote a spatially-bounded realm of sovereign authority such as a band, tribe, chiefdom, state or empire. One indicator of state territory is the ability to extract tribute, but as David Wilkinson (1999:574) notes: “"Tribute" of course has to be interpreted. Extortion, bribery, subsidy, taxes, trade, hire, and charity all involve a flow of wealth, and the flow itself has no unambiguous meaning.”

[3]  The important insight is that all human polities have systemic interactions with their neighbors, so it does not make sense to study them one at time.

[4]  In down-the-line exchange goods move from group to group to group.

[5]  Core, semiperiphery and periphery are relational concepts whose empirical content varies across systems. 

[6] The size of the largest settlements is one useful indicator of population density and of core-periphery differentiation. Core polities have larger settlements. Peripheral polities are nomadic or have smaller settlements.

[7] The term “evolution” still requires explanation. Here we are discussing sociocultural evolution, not biological evolution. Social science can discover the causes of changes in the degree of complexity and hierarchy of human societies without taking a position on whether this has been a good or a bad thing. Ideas about progress and regress are important matters of values but they need not be settled to know the causes of patterned social change.


[8] These changes in scale are being studied by the Settlements and Polities (SetPol) Research Working Group at the Institute of Research on World-Systems at the University of California-Riverside. The project web site is at http://irows.ucr.edu/research/citemp/citemp.html We use the populations sizes of settlements and the territorial sizes of polities as quantitative indicators of scale and complexity.

[9] We use a broad definition of social movements and collective behavior in the spirit of what Tilly and Tarrow (2015) mean by “contentious politics.”


[10] Confucianism is a version of secular humanism that emerged in China during the Axial Age.

[11] “Central Civilization” is the political-military network that was formed by the merger of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian state systems around 1500 BCE. We modify Wilkinson’s term slightly to call this entity the Central System.

[12] David Wilkinson (1999: 505) uses the term “Far Eastern” for this system.  He says “This system, the subject of the current paper, began when a polyculture in the Yellow River valley produced one and then many cities over 3000 years ago. This expanding civilization, with its polity of states, hegemonies and empires, probably soon collided and fused with another, begun in the upper Yangtze ba'lin perhaps even earlier. Continuing to grow outward, it early began to interact regularly trade wise with other macrosocial systems (Central and Indic) to form a larger oikumene (tradenet). At its greatest extent the Far Eastern system included contemporary China, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, Mongolia, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and also early Japan. The Far Eastern network was absorbed through war and diplomacy into Central civilization in the late 19th and/or early 20th centuries, between the First Opium War and the First World War. Before that time, it went through a long sequence of changes in macropolitical structure.

[13] Wilkinson (1999: 507). Re the late Shang dynasty “The system’s boundaries were now more likely 500 x 500 miles, with extensions into parts of the Huai and Yangtze basins. But the during the early Zhou dynasty “… the Huai, Han and Yangtze’s basins remained outside the system.”

[14] Wilkinson (1999:511) says “There probably was a Yangtze civilization/world system simultaneous with and parallel to the Ycllow River system, and only coupling to it at about this time. The Yangtze system was probably hegemonic, its hcgcmon being the state of Ch'u (probably Man "barbarians," Miao-Yaos, Pullcyblank 460) in the upper Yangtze basin, which had had some previous brief collisional interaction with Chou.”

[15] Wilkinson (1999: 521) The Chin dynasty gets into it with the Hsiung-Nu in Central Asia.

[16] Wilkinson (1999: 519) says “Beyond Yen there had by now formed a proto-Korcan state in southern Manchuria and northwest Korea, a confederated kingdom of walled town-states, Ko-Choson ("Ancient Choson, 11 "Old Choson").”

[17] Wilkinson (1999:505) contends that a separate Japanese PMN “budded off Far Eastern system mid 1st millennium AD.” He includes the Yamato state in 350 CE as part of the East Asian system (1999: 542). And of 375 CE he says In southern Japan, a strong unified state, Wa or Yamato, had by now formed. Packchc (on the Korean peninsula) sought Japanese protection and became a vassal in 397” (Wilkinson 1999: 543).

[18] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southward_expansion_of_the_Han_dynasty Wilkinson (1999:524) says: “However, by 200 BC, the Far Eastern world-system has grown once again. Partly because of the peripheral effects of the Ch'in empire, the field of inquiry and narrative must now expand far beyond its imperial territory, which can hereafter be treated only as the cultural-political-economic-demographic core of a system at whose semiperiphcry

significant politics were forming under core pressure. Roughly these may be identified as: NE, (proto-) Korean; N, Steppe (Hun!Hsiung-nu, Sicnbi/Hsicn-pi, Turk/Tu-chiich, Avar/Juan-juan, Mongol, etc); NW, Kashgaria (Tarim basin); SW, mountain (Tibcto-Burman, Tai); SE, coastal (Yiich/Vict). The system's extent is now about 1000 X 1300

miles. (Sec Herrmann 9; Pcnkala 18) Core state claims of hegemony (and universal empire) must be evaluated in some relation to these politics, at least when they are citified. At the same time, the geographic extent of semiperipheral polities often overstates their relative politico-military and economic-demographic weight in the system.”


[19] Wilkinson (1999:503) depicts a separate Indonesian PMN that included Malaya and some of coastal Vietnam that may have shared a semiperiphery with what we are calling the East Asian PMN.

[20] Batten (2003:178)

[21] Wilkinson (1999:555) says of 600 CE: “Sui and Tolos/Uighur allies crushed the Togon state 608-609 and drove the Togon out of Kokonor, coming into touch with Tibet, a settled kingdom with towns which had recently undergone a dynastic change; it sent embassies to Sui in the same years. After Sui fell, Togon revived and returned to Kokonor, alternating raiding with tribute; and Tibet expanded to become a major power.”

[22] Indirect connections between South Asia and East Asian PMNs started much earlier (225 CE) when relations developed between Funan (an Indianized state in the Mekong Delta and Chinese states to the north (Wilkinson 1999: 538)

[23] Wilkinson (1999:557) says of Yunnan “In the 640's (CE) the T'ang again sought more direct control, moving against walled cities of the Man people, hoping to control a route to India.”

[24] 1955, the Year of the Bandung Conference of Non-aligned Nations, should be added to this list to represent the great wave of decolonization that emerged after World War II.

[25] Colin Beck (2011) used Charles Tilly’s coding of contentious events in Europe to study the waves of world revolutions in the modern system. What has not yet been done is a quantitative study of world revolutions in the modern system that includes contentious events in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

[26] The republic of letters was a group of enlightenment scholars from different European countries who corresponded with one another. Whiteneck (1996) studied the transnational “epistemic communities” that promoted the ideology of free trade in the 19th century.

[27] This is the task taken up, but not yet completed by Inoue and Chase-Dunn (2018).

[28] The excel data set containing our coding of East Asian contentious events will be available at  http://irows.ucr.edu/cd/appendices/eastasia/eastasiaapp.htm