Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2012, Vol. 22 ›› Issue (2): 359-370.doi: 10.1007/s11442-012-0932-3

• Historical Geography • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Reconstruction of cropland area and spatial distribution in the mid-Northern Song Dynasty (AD1004-1085)

HE Fanneng1, LI Shicheng1,2, ZHANG Xuezhen1   

  1. 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China;
    2. Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2011-10-24 Revised:2011-12-15 Online:2012-04-15 Published:2012-04-15
  • Contact: Zhang Xuezhen (1981-), Ph.D, E-mail:
  • About author:He Fanneng (1963-), specialized in historical geography and environmental changes. E-mail:
  • Supported by:

    China Global Change Research Program, No.2010CB950102; No.2010CB950901; National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.40971061


To understand historical human-induced land cover change and its climatic effects, it is necessary to create historical land use datasets with explicit spatial information. Using the taxes-cropland area and number of families compiled from historical documents, we estimated the real cropland area and populations within each Lu (a province-level political region in the Northern Song Dynasty) in the mid-Northern Song Dynasty (AD1004-1085). The estimations were accomplished through analyzing the contemporary policies of tax, population and agricultural development. Then, we converted the political region-based cropland area to geographically explicit grid cell-based fractional cropland at the cell size of 60 km by 60 km. The conversion was based on calculating cultivation suitability of each grid cell using the topographic slope, altitude and population density as the independent variables. As a result, the total area of cropland within the Northern Song territory in the 1070s was estimated to be about 720 million mu (Chinese area unit, 1 mu = 666.7 m2), of which 40.1% and 59.9% occurred in the north and south respectively. The population was estimated to be about 87.2 million, of which 38.7% and 61.3% were in the north and south respectively, and per capita cropland area was about 8.2 mu. The national mean reclamation ratio (i.e. ratio of cropland area to total land area; RRA hereafter for short) was bout 16.6%. The plain areas, such as the North China Plain, the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Guanzhong Plain, plains surrounding the Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake and Sichuan Basin, had a higher RRA, being mostly over 40%; while the hilly and mountainous areas, such as south of Nanling Mountains, the southwest regions (excluding the Chengdu Plain), Loess Plateau and southeast coastal regions, had a lower RRA, being less than 20%. Moreover, RRA varied with topographic slope and altitude. In the areas of low altitude (≤250 m), middle altitude (250-100 m) and high altitude (1000-3500 m), there were 443 million, 215 million and 64 million mu of cropland respectively and their regional mean RRAs were 27.5%, 12.6% and 7.2% respectively. In the areas of flat slope, gentle slope, medium slope and steep slope, there were 116 million, 456 million, 144 million and 2 million mu of cropland respectively and their regional mean RRAs were 34.6%, 20.7%, 8.5% and 2.3% respectively.

Key words: land use/cover, spatial distribution of cropland, gridding reconstruction, mid-Northern Song Dynasty