Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2015, Vol. 25 ›› Issue (4): 451-484.doi: 10.1007/s11442-015-1180-0

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Evolution, accessibility and dynamics of road networks in China from 1600 BC to 1900 AD

Chengjin WANG1(), César DUCRUET2, Wei WANG1,3   

  1. 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), UMR 8504 Géographie-cités, F-75006 Paris, France
    3. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China;
  • Received:2014-02-10 Accepted:2014-06-30 Online:2015-04-15 Published:2015-04-15
  • About author:

    Author: Wang Chengjin (1975-), Associate Professor, specialized in economic geography and transport geography.

  • Supported by:
    Key Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, No.KZZD-EW-06-02;Exploratory Forefront Project for the Strategic Science Plan in IGSNRR, CAS, No.2012QY004;National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41171108


Before the emergence of modern modes of transport, the traditional road infrastructure was the major historical means of carrying out nationwide socio-economic exchange. However, the history of transport infrastructure has received little attention from researchers. Given this background, the work reported here examined the long-term development of transport networks in China. The national road network was selected for study and the 3500 years from 1600 BC to 1900 AD was chosen as the study period. Indicators were designed for the maturity level of road networks and an accessibility model was developed for the paths of the shortest distance. The evolution of the road network in China since the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC) was described and its major features were summarized to reveal long-term regularities. The maturity level of the road network and its accessibility was assessed and regions with good and poor networks were identified. The relationship between China’s natural, social, and economic systems and the road network were discussed. Our analysis shows that the road network in China has a number of long-term regularities. The continuously expanding road network follows a path of inland expansion especially towards the border areas. However, its coverage and accessibility are characterized by a core-peripheral configuration, which has close relationships with, not only the natural conditions, but also national defense and warfare. The centralization of national power, national land governance, postal transport, the transport of specialized cargos, and international trade are also related to the development of the road network. This research draws attention to the evolving regularities of transport networks.

Key words: China, road networks, historical evolution, accessibility, dynamic mechanisms