Why has China always had so MANY people?

I was doing some general reading on Wikipedia and came across a chart of world population and distribution. Apparently the proportion of the population in the entire world that is Chinese (or living in what it referred to as the “Chinese empire”) has fluctuated from 22 to 36%, going all the way back to the year 1000. Even assuming that not everyone living in what is now the nation of China is not actually ethnic Chinese, that still means the population of this one part of the world has always been almost a quarter or more of the entire world population for a very long time.

The question that came to me was: Why? China is physically vast, sure, but no bigger than North America, which probably has fewer people today than China did 100 years ago. Why has the population of the Chinese region always been so comparatively large? Does it have abundant resources? Easy-to-deal-with weather? Is there a reason?

No cite, but ISTR reading somewhere once that it largely had to do with an abundant food supply, due to rice having a higher yield than most staple grains.

Two big-ass rivers and lots and lots of flat fertile farmland. See also India.

My guess is most of the population live in non urban areas where larger families are better suited for the lifestyle (agriculture, animal farms, etc). Also, since males are held in much higher esteem (demand), parents keep trying for boys. When the One Child policy was strictly enforced, baby girls were often abandoned or worse.

As for the natural resources, there are few great famines compared to other countries. The vast land mass affords a great amount of shared resources within the country.

Woulntd the Great Lakes region also have abundant water and plenty of nearby farmland? But it hasn’t supported hundreds of millions of people, even now.

Rice (China) and maize (Mexico) were both domesticated about 10,000 years ago or so. Paddyfield rice agriculture, which is much more productive, was developed about 7,000 years ago. But intensive maize production by Native Americans didn’t start in what is now the US until around 1000 AD, and the population would have largely collapsed due to disease after the arrival of Europeans. In 1000 AD, the population of China was already 75 million, so they had a huge head start.

Rice has always provided considerably higher yields and calories per acre than cereal grains.

Through the 1930’s, corn (maize) yields were anywhere from 10-25 bushels per acre, depending on a lot of factors. At 56 pounds per bushel of corn, that’s 560-1,400 pounds per acre - at the very peak in the best of times on good land.

In the Roman era, wheat yields were close to that 1,400 pounds per acre in Italy, but only about 400 pounds per acre in Tunisia. An 8:1 return on your seed was considered ‘average’ in Italy while the only 4:1 in dryer areas was barely profitable.

What was even worse was that Wheat was produced on a 3 year rotation, where a specific plot of land would only be sewn to wheat once every 3 years, limiting production.

Rice, on the other hand, was domesticated somewhere between 8,000 and 13,000 years ago in China and by medieval times was producing up to 2,500 pounds per acre on good land. It also is far more calorie dense than cereal grains (except Corn and Sorghum).

So China could produce a lot more calories and food value off less land, which supported a lot more people.

That and European history is just successive waves of invaders killing off all or most of the existing population, whereas the same isn’t true in China for the most part.

But N.America had no large animals that could be used as beasts of burden to pull carts or used as transportation.So the advancement of civilization moved more slowly.
See Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. A fascinating, easy to read* “history of everything.”

*though not fully accepted by professional anthropologists.

Forgot what is probably the main reason. Since China was united over 2000 years ago by The Yellow Emperor (Qin Shi Huang Di) it’s been under central political rule with no major (i.e. country encompassing, which is geographically near impossible) wars that drastically reduced the population. China as a country has historically expanded, but rarely contracted.

There’s also the importance of filial piety (common to all Asian cultures) where large families ensure that there will always children to care for their live and deceased relatives.

Another thing is China didn’t ban polygamy until the early 20th century…it wasn’t uncommon for the the wealthy guys to have up to 8 wives

Rice, however, requires a huge amount of water to grow. It’s not as if the Romans could have produced the same amount of rice as the Chinese did even if they tried - they lacked the proper geography for it.

Rice does not, in fact, require flooded conditions to grow. Rice can grow quite happily in a dry field. The main reason most rice is grown in paddies is as a form of weed control. Rice can grow in flooded conditions and most weeds can’t. Rice yields are thus much higher in a paddy than a dry field.

I did not know that.

Did European countries use human feces as a fertilizer? Or any other early/ancient civilization?

I am not sure that the answer is Rice. India is a neighbor to China and in different parts of India, different food grains are grown. Coastal regions grow rice but the northern / western states grow wheat / corn.

Historically, population densities in India and China have been comparable. Also within India, there was no big population difference between parts producing rice and parts producing wheat.

It also has nice cold winters. It’s hard to support hundreds of millions of people when you’re waiting for the ground to thaw.

Not only did they have an ample amount of food as mentioned several times, but they had a very HEALTHY diet. It was extremely low in fat. Also, by being an agrarian culture, most people got a lot of exercise every day. Another factor I didn’t see mentioned yet was their highly evolved system of health care that we have often referred to simply as “eastern medicine”. While the Chinese were using herbs, acupuncture, etc, the filthy lice infested Europeans were using leeches and superstition.

And the difference is?

A low fat diet has been the standard for most people everywhere up until recently.

The bulk of the population in all regions of the world were agrarian until recently.

Chinese traditional medicine was no more effective, or less superstitious, than European medicine. Some things worked, some things didn’t, and people couldn’t confidently tell them apart.

Actually, because their farming produced so much food, relatively fewer people had to work on farms, which means that China was always more of an *urban *culture than Europe.

As for fat, until the 20th century when people started going overboard, a high-fat diet was always healthier than a low-fat diet. The body needs fat.