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Water management, transport, and the development of market towns in the Lake Tai region, eleventh-sixteenth centuries

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Although recent studies of the Lake Tai region have tended to treat the area as homogenous, this paper will use a historical geography approach to explore some of the differences in development within the region over time. While the basic topographical difference between the highlands and the lowlands had a pro found influence on agricultural development, these physical characteristics are not enough to explain the specific history of the region. Instead, social and institutional processes played a key role. This paper looks at the period between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries, which saw extensive growth in the region, including the expansion of agriculture and maritime shipping, as well as the growth of market towns (shizhen), a distinctive type of settlement characterised by extensive trade and commerce in an otherwise rural area. In order to trace these developments, the article will focus on changing water management systems (including land reclamation using polders, irrigation and dredging rivers to make them navigable) as well as the establishment of administrative units, which reveal the changing importance of various regions as well as the effects of extra-regional activities such as the transport of grain tribute.
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Keywords: China; Lake Tai Lake; Yangtze Delta; irrigation; market town; polder; shizhen; water management

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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