Locust Control in Late Imperial China

Locusts appeared in China’s historical record as early as the Shang Dynasty and were perceived as a perennial threat thereafter. This talk will introduce a study of locust control in late imperial China that examines how Chinese officials and statecraft thinkers understood and sought to control locust infestations. Writings of seminal figures like Xu Guangqi (1562-1633) illustrate their knowledge of locust biology and behaviour – which informed the methods they advocated for the eradication and prevention of outbreaks. These contrasted with the official rituals and popular cults to a variety of gods that persisted in the hope of warding off locusts alongside advances in empirical knowledge of the insects. Accounts in the Veritable Records (shilu) and local gazetteers indicate the occurrence of locust disasters as well as the efforts made to control them. This is therefore a statecraft project that contributes to environmental history and the history of science, and also addresses the religious beliefs and practices and broader culture of locusts discernible in a wide range of texts.

Desmond Cheung 張海浩 (BA Cambridge, MA SOAS, PhD University of British Columbia) is a historian of imperial China with a focus on the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). He is currently completing a book on the creation and meanings of the famous sites of Hangzhou during the Ming. He is also working on the history of locust control in imperial China. His publications include articles on locust control, Ming city walls, the history of Christianity in China, and Chinese World War II films. He teaches Chinese history and Classical Chinese in the Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures at SOAS.