Organized Panel Session
The wetlands of the Jianghan Plain were once among the largest in China, famed for their abundant wildlife, but have since been converted into rice paddies and fish farms. The plain is flooded each summer by the Yangtze and Han Rivers, so agricultural colonization mainly consisted of building and maintaining dikes to keep out the flood waters. Scholarship on the region has tended to focus on recent centuries, for which there is abundant evidence, but this paper will gather scattered references to agricultural colonization from historical documents to show that people were actively managing water control infrastructure in the region from the early Han (c. 200 BCE) to the Song Dynasty (c, 1279 CE). The best documented aspect of this were the construction and gradual strengthening of the large dikes along the Yangtze River, but scattered textual references also reveal a host of smaller water control works that were constructed over the centuries, though we often know little more than their names and locations. When the Song court fled southwards in 1127 and founded the Southern Song in the lower Yangzi, the Jianghan Plain suddenly became a strategic military frontier, and the Song built both defensive canals and agricultural colonies. This relatively well-documented colonization project sheds light on some of the poorly-documented earlier dike works.