Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2021, Vol. 76 ›› Issue (1): 3-14.doi: 10.11821/dlxb202101001

• Theoretical Exploration •     Next Articles

Changes of the physical and human geographical environment in China during the past 2000 years

GE Quansheng(), ZHU Huiyi   

  1. Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
  • Received:2020-03-23 Revised:2020-12-03 Online:2021-01-25 Published:2021-03-25
  • Supported by:
    Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA23000000)


Understanding the changes of physical and human geographical environment during the past 2000 years in China is beneficial to establish the position, direction, focus areas, and initiatives of "Beautiful China" construction. In this paper, we integrated the results published in research papers, summarized the general characteristics of geographical environment changes in the history, and explored the implications of these changes on the construction of ecological civilization. The results implied that historical changes in China's land surface had been mainly manifested by the multi-scale quasi-periodic fluctuations and regional differentiation of climate, the fragmentation of the Loess Plateau, the expansion of desertified land in the northern regions, the gradual migration of delta coasts, the large scale shrinkage of lake systems especially in the Yellow River and the Yangtze River basins, and the decline in area of forests and the grasslands of northern China. Meanwhile, the economic and social changes were prominently reflected in the population growth and pattern changes, the migration of economic center to the southeast, the expansion of cultivated land to the periphery, and the transportation network evolution. From the above results, we could achieve the following enlightenments: in the future, the deserts in the northern region would still exist, and the lake systems in the middle and lower reaches of both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River were difficult to restore. The grain transportation from the south to the north disappeared in the history. But there was still much room for improvement in the coverage rate of forests, the transportation network could still achieve a higher level, and at the same time, we must mitigate the risk from climate change in the coastal cities.

Key words: China, physical geographical environment, socio-economic environment, historical change, during the past 2000 years