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Article

Shuang Chen

The Qing dynasty (1644–1912) experienced one of the fastest population growth rates of the premodern world. The total population grew from well over 100 million in the late 17th century to 430 million in the mid-19th century. This rapid population growth was produced by the proactive response of Chinese families to new and improved economic opportunities after an initial period of war and chaos, especially the recovery and development of agriculture and increased food productivity and living standards from the end of the 17th to the mid-19th century. The social and cultural systems of Qing China were characterized by distinctive patterns of mortality, marriage, and fertility. In terms of mortality, improved living standards and health intervention in the Qing enabled some populations to enjoy a life expectancy comparable to their European counterparts. At the same time, in a largely patriarchal society, families practiced sex-selective infanticide, especially targeting girls, to control family size. Sex-selective infanticide resulted in a skewed sex ratio, which in turn led to a shortage of marriageable women. Therefore, while women married early and universally, a significant proportion of men remained unmarried. Moreover, since marriage in late imperial China was characterized by female hypergamy and male hypogamy, eventually, men with lower socioeconomic status fared poorly on the marriage market. In terms of fertility, historical data show that marital fertility among some Qing populations was low, and families practiced deliberate birth control to achieve a desired number and sex combination of children. Other than regulating their demographic behaviors, families also proactively used strategies such as adoption and migration to keep a balance between family size and resources. Low marital fertility, high infant and child mortality, and the practice of infanticide left some people without a male heir. Childless and especially sonless couples responded by male adoption to continue their family lines. Adoption, especially the adoption of sons, was a prevalent and integral part of the Chinese demographic system during the Qing and functioned to counteract the negative effects of low marital fertility and infanticide. In addition, migration was increasingly common in the Qing dynasty and helped ease regional population pressure on economic resources, thereby making sustained population growth possible. Finally, in the Qing demographic system, gender, socioeconomic status, and family hierarchy significantly affected individuals’ demographic outcomes: the likelihood of dying, being married, and having more children. Gender often had opposite effects on men and women. While household socioeconomic status had significant effects, an individual’s position in the hierarchy within each household was also important in influencing her or his demographic outcomes. This is because the household constituted the basic unit of production and consumption. Often, the household head did not equally allocate resources among all members but instead favored the priority group within the household.

Article

Atholl Anderson

Since the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century the observed ethnic complexity of the Malagasy, the Madagascan people, has been a subject of conjecture in several respects. When did people first reach Madagascar? Where did the different elements of the population originate? What was the sequence of their arrival? What was the nature of their maritime migrations? Early answers to these questions relied on the historical traditions of some Malagasy populations, especially of the Merina and highland groups, and on an extensive archive of historical and ethnographic observations. Recent approaches, through historical linguistics, palaeoecology, genomic history, and archaeology, especially in the last thirty years have provided new perspectives on the enduring issues of Madagascan population history. The age of initial colonization is still debated vigorously, but the bulk of current archaeological data, together with linguistic and genomic histories, suggest that people first arrived around the middle of the first millennium ce or later. Evidence of linguistic origins and human genetics supports the prevailing view that the first people came from Southeast Asia, the majority of them specifically from Borneo. Later Bantu migration from Africa was followed by admixture of those populations and other smaller groups from South Asia, in Madagascar. Admixture in East Africa before migration to Madagascar is no longer favored, although it cannot be ruled out entirely. Voyaging capability is a key topic that is, however, difficult to pin down. There is no necessity in the current data to envisage transoceanic voyages, and no evidence of Southeast Asian vessels in East Africa or Madagascar in the first millennium ce, although it is impossible to rule that out. The safest assumption at present is that contact between Southeast Asia and Madagascar during the period of colonization occurred through the established network of coastal and monsoon passages and shipping around the northern perimeter of the Indian Ocean.

Article

The Oxford English Dictionary defines poverty as “destitution” with respect to lack of wealth and material possessions. It denotes a condition where an individual has inadequate resources and earnings to afford those necessities they require in order to stay alive and well. This condition can stem from extraneous shocks, such as the death of the head of the household or a poor harvest, or can result from systematic factors like power relations or institutions that have, since ancient times, kept some groups in society in precarious conditions. Descriptions of poverty are plentiful in ancient and medieval texts, which tend to characterize poverty with regard to natural, cultural, and personal features. In sharp contrast, the emergence of poverty as a public policy concern did not become evident until the latter part of the 19th century. It is also noteworthy that the means of measuring poverty that began to emerge in 19th and early 20th centuries identified poverty as a cultural or individual trait, rather than as a consequence of legal or administrative policy making. These latter day quantitative methods of measurement also provide the earliest evidence base for the design of public policies for poverty alleviation and advancing human development.

Article

Billy So and Sufumi So

Often considered one of the most prosperous dynasties in China’s two-thousand-year imperial history, the Song dynasty lasted for about three hundred years (960–1276 ce). The dynasty is sometimes credited with having developed the world’s first modern economy. While the Song economy lacked such essential characteristics of modern economic growth as science-based ways of improving industrial output and law-based capital markets, there was an undeniable presence of market forces that depended on a combination of product specialization, industrialization, urbanization, commercialization, monetization, and the widespread use of credit instruments. Such are the modern tendencies that many scholars have seen in Song China. The Song’s commercial growth predated the development of trade and commerce in late medieval Europe that began in the 11th century. None of the European cities of this period could compare in population size or trade volume to those in Song China. Neither the use of paper currency nor the burgeoning growth in agricultural production and commercialization existed in Europe’s commercializing economy. From this angle, Song China deserves to be recognized as the world’s first modern economy.

Article

China and India together account for over one-third of the world’s population and both countries have considerably fewer women than men.. With long histories of skewed sex ratios and gender discrimination, these two countries have experienced a sharp decline in the birth of girls since the late 20th century. The unfolding and intimate relationship between gendered social structures, son preference, fertility decline, and new sex determination technologies has had serious demographic and social consequences, resulting in millions of “missing” girls, surplus males, bride shortages, and possibly, rising levels of gender violence. Even as women’s socio-economic indicators such as life expectancy, literacy, education, and fertility have improved, families continue to show a preference for sons raising questions between the tenuous relationship between development and gender equality. The advantages of raising sons over daughters, supported by traditional kinship, family, and marriage systems, appear to have got further entrenched in the era of neoliberal economies. Family planning policies of both nations, advocating small families, and the advent of pre-natal sex selection technologies further set the stage for the prevention of birth of daughters. Governments in both countries have since banned sex determination and launched policies and schemes to redress the gender imbalance and improve the value of the girl child. While these policies have not been highly successful, other social forces such as urbanization and rising educational levels are beginning to transform the way girls are perceived. A kernel of hope seems to be emerging at the beginning of the 21st century, as some improvement is visible in the sex ratio at birth in some of the worst affected regions in the two countries.

Article

When composed of hunter-gatherers, Asia’s population numbered perhaps 1–2 million. But the emergence of agriculture saw population growth, and it appears likely that by 1 CE the continent’s population exceeded 100 million. For China and Japan, there are data which shed light on their population histories during pre-modern times. Moreover, both countries experienced rapid demographic transitions in the 20th century—substantially limiting the associated extent of population growth. For the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, there are almost no population data prior to the late 18th century, although what happened subsequently is better recorded. Both these diverse regions experienced fairly protracted modern demographic transitions and substantial population growth. West Asia’s population is thought to have been of similar size in 1900 as in 1 CE. During the 20th century, however, most countries in West Asia experienced late birth-rate declines and very substantial population growth. Throughout history, the level of urbanization in Asia has generally been extremely low. Nevertheless, the continent contained most of the world’s most populous cities, though that situation changed temporarily in the 19th and 20th centuries. That said, after 1950 mortality decline fueled urban growth. As a result, by 2020 Asia once again contained most of the world’s largest cities, and about half of the continent’s people lived in urban areas. The population history of Asia has generally involved very slow population growth. The main explanation has been that death rates were high, marriage was early and universal, fertility was uncontrolled, and so birth rates were high too. However, research has increasingly suggested that in some areas the levels of fertility and mortality which prevailed in pre-modern times are better described as “moderate” rather than “high.” Moreover, as in Europe, there were regulatory mechanisms which helped to maintain a degree of balance between human numbers and the resource base.