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Epidemiol Infect. 2009 Oct;137(10):1361-8. doi: 10.1017/S0950268809990136. Epub 2009 Jun 4.

Epidemic and population patterns in the Chinese Empire (243 B.C.E. to 1911 C.E.): quantitative analysis of a unique but neglected epidemic catalogue.

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Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, Queens College-CUNY, Flushing, NY 11365, USA.


A catalogue of dates and places of major outbreaks of epidemic diseases, that occurred in the Chinese Empire between 243 B.C.E. and 1911 C.E., combined with corresponding demographic data, provides a unique opportunity to explore how the pressure of epidemics grew in an agrarian society over 2000 years. This quantitative analysis reveals that: (1) the frequency of outbreaks increased slowly before the 12th century and rapidly thereafter, until 1872; (2) in the first millennium of our era, the people of China lived for decades free of major epidemics; in the second millennium, major outbreaks occurred every couple of years, but were localized; (3) in the more recent centuries, these outbreaks were as common, but disseminated to more places. This evolution, closely matching the demographic growth, was similar in the north and south of China, and therefore may have been similar in other regions of the world.

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