Shanxi, Greater China, and the Famine

Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley

in Tears from Iron

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2008 | ISBN: 9780520253025
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520934221 | DOI:
Shanxi, Greater China, and the Famine

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It was in Shanxi Province that the Incredible Famine threw its longest shadow. The province lost its pre-famine population of between fifteen and seventeen million people to starvation, disease, and flight. Before the famine struck, however, Shanxi had been thriving. As one of the few parts of China not severely affected by one of the three gigantic mid-nineteenth-century rebellions, in the early 1870s, the province was home to the lucrative Hedong saltworks, an impressive banking network, and merchants powerful enough to dominate China's trade with Mongolia and Russia. This chapter examines how the drought that struck between 1876 and 1878 resulted in a devastating famine that brought such a wealthy and strategically important part of the empire to its knees. It considers how the formidable challenges facing the Qing Empire in the late nineteenth century hampered the state's ability to prevent a drought from escalating into a major famine.

Keywords: Shanxi Province; Incredible Famine; pre-famine population; major famine; Qing Empire; Hedong saltworks

Chapter.  10388 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Asian History

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