What aspect of Chinese characteristics contributed to its huge population throughout history?
Timothy Chu, vegetarian, search analyst/software engineer
China's population comes from the proximity of three great river systems (Yellow, Yangtze, and Pearl), the introduction of new crops (in China's case, rice in the Song Dynasty), and a stable empire. Historians attribute these river systems and viability of agricultural land to the growth of civilization and populations around the world. And though China has a historically large population, it was comparable if not less than contemporary empires of similar size in Persia and India, from the earliest days of civilization up until the mid 20th century.
There's a curious phenomenon in Chinese population that sheds light on the factors governing China's population. You can see it in the below graph:
Noe that the Tang dynasty (one of the largest and most prosperous) has a comparable population with the Han, which preceded it by 700 years. China's population holds stable at ~49 million for a thousand years from 2 AD to 1000 AD. This occurred in spite of innumerable scientific and cultural advances (including China's Four Great Inventions). So what's the deal? China's population hit its carrying capacity in terms of arable land.
Consider the large spike in 1103. This spike is due to the spread of rice culture from Vietnam. The population surge was confined to China's wet, Southern regions where rice flourished. The decrease in the Yuan is due to the breakdown of the Song Dynasty and the devastating Mongol Wars. The rise in the Ming coincides with the spread of potatoes and other crops from the new world, which opened up previously unused land for agriculture. The increases in the Qing are due to increasing numbers of new world crops being introduced, as well as the spread of rice terracing and improved irrigation techniques.
译文来源：三泰虎 http://www.santaihu.com/46583.html 译者：Joyceliu
Chinese civilization sprang up near two large river valleys, the Yellow River and the Yangtze River. The capital of every main Chinese dynasty except the Yuan and the Qing was located on one of these two rivers. These vast river systems endowed China tremendous agricultural potential., and for most of history most of China's population was concentrated in the areas surrounding these two rivers.
The introduction of new strains of rice from Vietnam caused the population to double from the ~50 million of the Han and Tang dynasties (206 BC - 195 AD and 618 AD- 907 AD respectively ) into the ~118 million of the Song dynasty in 1120 AD. Rice was able to grow in very wet regions which were previously not suited for agriculture and high caloric output. The population growth of the Song is almost entirely confined to rice growing areas, and the advent of rice shifted the Chinese population center away from the North towards the South near the Yangtze River. The introduction of crops from the New World, such as potatoes and sorghum, had a similar effect
Chinese civilization flourished under the post-Qin dynasties of China, which were by and large stable for hundreds of years. Stable institutions and functional infrastructure allowed China to achieve its full agricultural potential. Additionally, the Confucian mores of most Chinese dynasties emphasized the importance of agriculture and of benevolent policies towards farmers (in the Han dynasty around 0 AD, the emperors believed that if the government was inhumane to his people, it would cause earthquakes!). This meant the government was very concerned for the welfare of farmers, and this can be seen through the writings and transcribed political debates in the Emperor's court from the days of the early Han (~160 BC).
It is true that for many centuries, China did have some of the most advanced agricultural practices in the world for much of history; nevertheless, this was not a chief driver of population as the most upvoted answer to this question asserts.
Julien Benney, studied at RMIT University
Essentially, the factor that causes China’s huge population is a combination of three factors that rarely meet:
1.sizeable areas of extremely fertile soils that could support rural population densities higher than many cities in Australia and the United States
2.these fertile soils occurring in a climate with a hot and humid period that allowed for very high-yielding cereals
3.the existence of mammals with strong enough herd structures for domestication to allow for easy plowing
These two factors are a direct result of the continuing uplift and erosion by ice of the Himalayas, which has created via cycles of loess deposition and erosion the extremely fertile soils of Northern China.
Whereas the median level of available phosphorus in soils throughout geological history has been around 5 parts per million, the average in Northern China is twenty to thirty times that level (one hundred to 150 parts per million). The figures are similar for key chalcophile nutrients like zinc and copper (except in dry areas where they become less available but still abundant). As a result, nutritious plants could be grown to very high yields highly sustainably for virtually no chemical inputs (aside from animal waste) as the soils renew themselves so consistently.
Andy Lee Chaisiri, a fan of the swords
Chinese technology was 1,000+ years ahead of everyone else (in certain fields)
Like this, but with horses and rice.
Imagine if today's crops suddenly became 30x more productive, that would cause a population boom, right? Agriculture is how human populations exploded in size compared to hunter-gatherer civilizations. So let's talk about some of those tools of agriculture and how population booms were achieved in an era of horse and plow:
Seed Drill: "What if we planted the seeds under the soil?"
Seed drills are tools that bury seeds at a correct depth in a timely manner. Planting seeds at a good depth increases the chances of an individual seed sprouting, without being eaten by birds. The use of seed drills also allows for planting in nice orderly rows with good spacing so the sprouting plants have enough room to draw nutrients from the soil without mutually starving each other. Not every grain will germinate, but using seed drills to plant crops in rows increases the chances of any individual grain germinating. This allows you to eat more grains because you know only a small quantity is needed to replant fields.
Chinese were using metal multi-tubed seed drills as early as 200BCE. Seed drills make an appearance in Europe in 1566CE, about 1700 years after their appearance in China.