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Modeling Population Distribution in Chinese History

Investigator  Peter Bol, FAS East Asian Languages and Civilization Department
Affiliation  Other - FAS

Chinese population data go back 2000 years. The challenge was to distribute this population across the landscape in a manner that most likely reflects patterns of settlement, rather than assuming that population density within an administrative unit is uniformly distributed.

For this reason, an automated model was created for combining political and physical geography. Using SRTM data, this model generated slopes and stream flows which, when taken together with the locations of administrative seats from the China Historical GIS project and historical population data, provided a means of distributing population.

Testing with far more detailed contemporary data has shown that the model can predict settlement patterns with a very high degree of accuracy.

Much in history is directly tied to the spatial distribution of population, the most important resource governments had available to them.