Subsistence, Environment Fluctuation and Social Change: A Case Study in South Central Inner Mongolia

Gregory G. Indrisano

PhD Thesis 2006

According to the early Chinese textual accounts, the polities of the Central Plain beginning in the Zhou, colonized the territory north of the Wei River, through the Ordos Region under the Great Bend of the Yellow River and north to the borders of modern Mongolia. The historical model suggested that military expansion and cultural diffusion expaned the agricultural lifeway of the empire through population replacement, but the texts do not describe the social and political environment into which these policies were imposed. Liangcheng County, in central Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, is an excellent location to study the integration of populations into the Central Plain politial system (500 BCE-200 CE). Archeological survey provides the diachronic perspective that is necessary to examine the process of integration and to facilitate an understanding of how the intrusive social systems affected the indigenous social and political environment.

During the chaotic Warring States period, Central Plain bureaucrats co-opted the feudal manor system of Western Zhou and created a system of compact villages that assisted administrative control and increased agricultural production. The data here suggests that it is the village system that is exported to Liangcheng. Although the traditional interpretation suggests population replacement, in Liangcheng a settlement system characterized by single family homesteads on land that is not productive for agriculture persists from the Neolithic to the Han Dynasty period. The combination of new farming villages introduced during the Warring States period and the persistence of dispersed homesteads sites suggests a gradual process of acculturation to Central Plain social norms, not a wholesale replacement of population. Not until the Han Dynasty does a majority of the populace move into villages on the best agricultural lands.

The stability of the settlement pattern from the Neolithic into the Warring States period in similar locations that are not particularly advantageous for agriculture suggests that indigenous subsistence systems changed little until the Han Dynasty, implying that in Liangcheng, subsistence responded not to environmental fluctuation, but to social and political change.