"The King's Harvest" by Brian Lander

The King's Harvest A Political Ecology of China from the First Farmers to the First Empire Brian Lander

Yale Agrarian Studies Series
Publication date:
25 Jan 2022
Yale University Press
320 pages: 235 x 156mm
26 b-w illus.
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A multidisciplinary environmental history of early China’s political systems, featuring newly available Chinese archaeological data

This book is a multidisciplinary study of the ecology of China’s early political systems up to the fall of the first empire in 207 BCE. Brian Lander traces the formation of lowland North China’s agricultural systems and the transformation of its plains from diverse forestland and steppes to farmland. He argues that the growth of states in ancient China, and elsewhere, was based on their ability to exploit the labor and resources of those who harnessed photosynthetic energy from domesticated plants and animals. Focusing on the state of Qin, Lander amalgamates abundant new scientific, archaeological, and excavated documentary sources to argue that the human domination of the central Yellow River region, and the rest of the planet, was made possible by the development of complex political structures that managed and expanded agroecosystems.

Brian Lander is assistant professor of history at Brown University and a fellow of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.

“Over four thousand years of unsustainable growth, Chinese states replaced a diverse ecosystem with a monocropping grain state. All states destroy environments, but only the state can save us. So ancient China's spectres still haunt our modern crisis. A brilliant and disturbing analysis!”—Peter C. Perdue, author of Environmental History in China and the West: Its Origins and Prospects (in Chinese)

The King’s Harvest is an extraordinary achievement that makes a unique contribution to Chinese history, environmental history, and the history of agriculture.”—Ruth Mostern, author of The Yellow River: A Natural and Unnatural History 

The King's Harvest is based on exceptionally sound scholarship, reflecting Brian Lander’s grasp of the most cutting-edge approaches to environmental history and early Chinese history.”—Micah S. Muscolino, author of The Ecology of War in China

Brian Lander has written a richly detailed, engaging, and eminently readable masterpiece of environmental history, interweaving archaeological and textual evidence from Ancient China to demonstrate that ‘Geopolitics are always environmental politics.’”—Rowan Flad, coauthor of Ancient Central China

"Brian Lander argues that the story of our environments is the story of our societies themselves. In The King’s Harvest, he tells in compelling detail the story of ancient China’s environment and the society that made it China.”—Edward L. Shaughnessy, University of Chicago