Project No.H-01
Project NameHistorical Evolution of the Adaptability in an Oasis Region to Water Resource Changes


○Research Subject and Objectives Objectives and Results

1. Original objectives and their attainment


  The Heihe River, which straddles the provinces of Qinghai and Gansu in western China, as well as of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, is a typical inland river that starts in the Qilian Mountains fed by glaciers, and flows north across the Silk Road, where it is distributed into numerous oases from the foothills of the mountains, crossesthe desert region and continues to the plains, before finally flowing into and being absorbed by the terminal lakes. Recently, the underground water levels around the downstream area centered on Ejina in particular have fallen dramatically. Wells that have always been in use before have suddenly run dry. Nearby vegetation is also on the verge of crisis. Juyanze is also a shadow of its former self. These facts are major problems for the people who live in the Ejina region in particular. In order to get a clue to solve those problems of water shortages, the Oasis Project aimed at reconstructing the history of the interaction between people and nature for the last 2000 years in a Chinese arid region. It was hoped that we may learn something important for creating our new manner of living that could assure future capability.

  It was found that the basin has experienced intermittent water shortages, and people's adaptation for the water problems in the last 2000 years. Global climate change caused changes in water resources in the mountains, the source area of water, at sometime in the history. At the same time, however, people's activities including how to distribute water among the people contributed significantly the water shortages. These findings, however, were obtained mainly for eras of Xixia-Yuan Dynasties, and Qing Dynasty. For the periods of Han and Tang Dynasties, relatively poor understanding was made, because of poor historical documents left, and natural proxies covering this long time period were less abundant.

○Progress and Results in 2018

1. Specific research findings

  The Heihe Basin is a region where farming was developed by numerous colonial soldiers sent there to confront the Xiongnu during the Han Dynasty 2000 years ago. At that time, the area of the Juyanze Lake was as large as 1600 km2. The lake area has started decreasing thereafter, and this is considered due to the development of irrigation farmland. Also, this is the start of the formation of a lake called Sogo-noor Lake. Thereafter, the region's population

fell temporarily, but increased during each of the following dynasties: Tang, and Xixia-Yuan. In the latter period, it also became clear that the flow path of the Heihe River, which pours into a lake at the end, moved westwards from Kara Khoto at that time, and present Gashon-noor Lake started to form, which, although dried up today, still existed until several decades ago.

  Three-dimensional views were created of photos from a satellite called "Corona" of the ruins of the agricultural lands that extend around Kara Khoto, and their geographic extent was determined by combining the photos with on- site investigations. As a result, the agricultural lands around Kara Khoto during the Xixia and Yuan Dynasties in the period that Kara Khoto flourished, were determined to be of approximately twice large than the modern Ejina Oasis.

  Further, the results of analyzing the ice cores extracted from the Qilian Mountains showed that the air temperature from the end of the Yuan through the early Ming dynasties gradually fell. This era contrasts favorably with the modern era of global warming. In other words, the volume of river flow per annum became less than the total annual precipitation concomitant with the growth of the glaciers due to the cooling effect.

  Which water canals were created during which periods can be understood by matching the names of the irrigation routes at the Zhangye Oasis in Gansu Province. Many of the original water routes are still in use today. As a result, it is clear that many large-scale water routes were constructed during the Yuan Dynasty, and were used to develop vast tracts of agricultural land. This development of farmland definitely increased the volume of water drawn from the river around the oases, and consequently the downstream region of Kara Khoto was visited with water shortages.

  That from the end of the Yuan Dynasty through to the start of the Ming Dynasty, the once proud and prosperous Kara Khoto become buried in the sand can be considered to be due to the multiplied effects of both so-called natural phenomena such as a reduction in glacial runoff due to the period of cooling and human activities such as drawing an excess of water from the oasis region. There are also written reports left by bureaucrats who performed on-site inspec-

tions that during the Qing Dynasty as well, downstream areas frequently suffered water crises due to excessive water drawing midstream. It is thought that a similar phenomenon also occurred during the Qing Dynasty.

  At present, water shortages are evident. Recently, the underground water levels around the downstream area centered on Ejina in particular have fallen dramatically. Wells that have always been in use before have suddenly run dry. Nearby vegetation is also on the verge of crisis. Juyanze is also a shadow of its former self. The cause, basically, is the increase in the volume of water consumption for irrigation farming at the oases located midstream, such as Zhangye and Jiuquan in upstream Gansu Province, since water supply from the mountains has increased lately.

  Two countermeasures to this problem have been established: forestation, and limits to the water drawn from the river in the mid-flow basins. The volume of the flow downstream has increased due to the limits on water that can be taken, but oasis farmers, for whom the volume of water they can take has been reduced, have come to dig wells to use the subterranean aquifers to augment their shortages in order to maintain their arable land. For forestation, a policy of "Ecological Relocation", in which herdsmen from the foothills of the mountains are moved to the area around the oasis, has been adopted. The displaced herdsmen, however, have to develop fresh arable land to graze their animals. Although only natural, their fresh farming regions need water. Hence, the oases need more water now than ever, and

shallow wells in the downstream area and even around midstream region of Zhangye have started to dry up. To supplement this, an abundance of deep wells are now being dug.

  The cultivation of deep underground aquifers takes an unconscionable amount of time. In that sense, old aquifers are better thought of as natural resources that, once lost, are extremely difficult to regain, in the same way as oil. The water has started to be used in abundance. This is considered the major problem at the moment.

  The regions described above experienced repeatedly the phenomenon similar today of the increase in acute water consumption due to a rapid artificial increase in the population and the concomitant agricultural development in addition to natural fluctuations. Furthermore, it is clear that the modern phenomenon of downstream water shortages also occurred many times in the past. The only thing to say is that history has been repeating itself.


2. Research findings outside of original expectations

"Ecological Relocation" is the first to be mentioned. Most of people, excluding Chinese officials who promoted this Chinese policy, were not aware of the policy; we were not either when the project started. Realizing the importance of the policy, as a result of our field studies, we have published a book entitled "Ecological Relocation-Chinese Environmental Policy" was published in Japanese. It was translated into Chinese, and published in China, and is going

to be published in English shortly by a Swiss publisher.

  On modern satellite pictures of the Hexi Corridor, we found lines of the entrance to the shafts of underground conduits. They appeared to be a proof for the presence of so called Qanat or Karez, which has been considered to distribute with an eastern limit of Taklamakan Desert. Field investigations were made, and it was found that underground canals

were actually constructed, and the construction technique was quite similar to that of the Qanat. The existence of the underground conduits indicates people's development of water resources, extending farther and farther.


3. Important issues that remain to be addressed and plans to deal with them in the future

  In the history over the arid and semiarid regions of central Eurasia, relations between agrarians and nomads have played a very important role. This is attributed to the people's way of living with settlements or mobility. The relations of the life manner with the natural environment are of importance. When and where they are not in accordance,environmental problems appear to have created. This is considered a big issue, and it is considered difficult to make clear within the flame work of the Oasis Project. A new project was, hence, launched, which entitled "Historical interactions between hybrid society of ethnic groups and the natural environment in a semi-arid region, central Eurasia" as a new project of RIHN. The project is in the stage of "Pre-research Project", and will be a full scale research project from next fiscal year.

  Analyses of huge amount of documents, collected from the First Historical Archives of China, have not been completed. A research proposal was, hence, submitted to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for further research.


Relevance of Research Findings to RIHN's Philosophy


1. How deeply have these findings delved into a chosen form of "human-nature interaction" that you believe constitutes a global environmental problem?

  People would realize a problem when it happens. When it happens, people would react to the problem, hoping to solve it. People, however, are not wise enough to predict all the results of their reaction. Some results are led by natural reaction, and the others by human's subsequent reactions. In many cases, the reaction itself would produce new problems, and people react to overcome those new problems. This has been repeated for long, and I would say that the

link of those relations would be called "human-nature interaction".

  People have tried to solve problems by extending their system, and at present, the range of the system on which people's livelihoods depends has expanded to a global scale. This can also be rephrased as meaning that the methods used by people to solve their problems under the idea of expanding the scale of the system have reached their final destination. The meaning of so-called "globalization" lies herein.

  There are, however, limits to the global system. This is the era of globalization, in which the whole world is used as part of the system. When a problem occurs, the system has no room into which to expand further to solve the problem, even if an attempt at further expansion is made. Expansion to the Moon and to Mars is still a far-off conversation.That is to say, our system has expanded as far as it can go, and it can only be said that we have now reached an era in which existing methods for solving problems by expanding the range of the system can no longer be used.


2. How well has the process of achieving "better human life in the future" been revealed?

  First of all, it is most crucial to understand that present situation is a result of the past changes. For considering the future, it is the only way that we learn from the past, since we can only be dependent on empirical relations. In the study area of "history", less attention was paid to studies to delve into the "human-nature interaction".

  "History" should be studies to examine what has happened in the past, utilizing all the information that we can get. However, a bunch of people who only knows how to read old documents have kept an exclusive possession. It is of importance, therefore, to promote studies to examine past changes not only by historians but by expertise of all academic disciplines. This is the way to achieve "better human life in the future".

  We have just examined the history only in a specific river basin of the Heihe River located in an grid area, centralEurasia.

  Similar studies, first of all, should be conducted at varieties of places all over the world, in order to understand how the present situation has been created. Based on these results, we have to consider how we can shift to a new paradigm required at present. This is what we left for further studies.


3. To what degree have requirements concerning integration, internationality, and leadership been fulfilled?

  As expected, integration of results from multi-disciplinary areas resulted in new understandings, which would not have been achieved by studies of a single discipline. Inter collaboration between data of dendro-chronological analysis, ice core analysis, sediment core analysis, and documents records is one of the examples. When some found a lines of the entrance to the shafts of underground conduits, another found old documents which mention the contribution of historical person in detail. These are just two examples of fruitful results with multi-disciplinary approach. Foreign researchers participating in the international symposium on the Humanity and Nature in Khara Khoto Region, held in Ejina in last September, appeared to have surprised how we have obtained many information, which were presented by our project members at the symposium. The secret lies only in the multi-disciplinary approach.

  We have organized another international symposium, in addition to the above one, in Lhasa, also in China. In those symposia, many mass media came, and reported to general public, and they were good opportunities for us to have Chinese people realize what we have achieved.

Also, NHK made a documentary film introducing our activities as one of their Silk Road series, and it was on air in 2005. Publications not only in Japanese but Chinese and English contributed to disseminate our activities. This was followed by a further chance for publish our research results in a series of publications (8 volumes are planed to publish at present) which UNESCO plans to promote: History of Water and Civilization.


4. What has this research project done to accumulate knowledge that will help improve global environmental problems?

  As for data for further use, enormous amount of old documents of Qing Dynasty from the First Historical Archives of China should be mentioned. Not so many people are aware of those data, which have been just stored in a huge storage of the institute. Our use of those documents would stimulate the other researchers for the use of the documents in their future studies.

  What we say as a conclusion of the project, as for the conceptual flame work, is what we can say based upon our research results only. What we say may not be true or may not be applicable at another region, because what people do depends on the culture of the people, which is different from place to place. We do have to promote further research at different places, but with the same approach, hoping to understand fully what the global environmental problems are.


5. What has been achieved through cooperation with other research projects?

  Roughly speaking, inter-project cooperation has not been good, because each project was planed, and started independently. Certainly a kind of cooperation has been promoted when required, in such an occasion as that we had a inter-project session in RIHN pre-Symposium held in 2005. Real cooperation, however, has to be accomplished by discussing together from the initial planning of the project, and by managing the project in the stage of the progress. A criticism for series of RIHN projects that they have no link to each other is considered correct, since no system is established for managing all RIHN projects.

  With this situation, a good cooperation is to be made only when a new issue to be examined is proposed as a result of a project, and a project to tackle with the issue is implemented, succeeding the previous project.

○Project Members

NAKAWO, Masayoshi ( RIHN,supervision )

ENDO, Kunihiko ( Nihon University,historical reconstruction )

KATO, Yuzo ( RIHN,historical reconstruction )

KUBOTA, Jumpei ( RIHN,process studies )

KONAGAYA, Yuki ( National Museum of Ethnology,process studies )

SATO, Atsushi ( National Institute for Disaster Prevention and Earth Science,historical reconstruction )

SUGIYAMA, Masaaki ( Kyoto University,historical reconstruction )

SOMA, Hidehiro ( Nara Women's University,historical reconstruction )

TAKEUCHI, Nozomu ( Chiba University,historical reconstruction )

FUJII, Yoshiyuki ( National Institute of Polar Research,historical reconstruction )

FUJITA, Koji ( Nagoya University,process studies )

WATANABE, Tsugihiro ( RIHN,process studies )

AISINGIORO, Ulhicun ( Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University,historical reconstruction )

AKIYAMA, Tomohiro ( Nagoya University,process studies )

AZUMA, Kumiko ( National Institute of Polar Research,historical reconstruction )

ARAKAWA, Shintaro ( Tokyo University of Foreign Studies,historical reconstruction )

IGURO, Shinobu ( Otani University,historical reconstruction )

ISHII, Yoshiro ( Okayama University,process studies )

ITO, Tatsuya ( Fukui University of Technology,historical reconstruction )

INOUE, Mitsuyuki ( RIHN,historical reconstruction )

UETAKE, Jun ( Tokyo Institute of Technology,historical reconstruction )

UJIGASHI, Yasuyuki ( Fukui University of Technology,historical reconstruction )

OHTA, Keiichi ( The University of Shiga Prefecture,process studies )

YANG, Haiying ( Shizuoka University,process studies )

OZAKI, Takahiro ( Kagoshima University,process studies )

ONO, Hiroshi ( Kyoto Tachibana Women's University,process studies )

KINOSHITA, Tetsuya ( RIHN,historical reconstruction )

KOHSHIMA, Shiro ( Tokyo Institute of Technology,historical reconstruction )

KOHNO, Mika ( National Institute of Polar Research,historical reconstruction )

KODAMA, Kanako ( Nagoya University,process studies )

KOBAYASHI, Osamu ( Ehime University,historical reconstruction )

KONYA, Keiko ( Hokkaido University,process studies )

SAKAI, Akiko ( Nagoya University,process studies )

SATOW Kazuhide ( Nagaoka Institute of Technology,process studies )

SATOH, Takayasu ( Osaka University,historical reconstruction )

Kicengge ( RIHN,historical reconstruction )

SHIRAISHI, Noriyuki ( Niigata University,historical reconstruction )

SHIRAIWA, Takayuki ( RIHN,historical reconstruction )

Shinjilt ( Kumamoto University,process studies )

SUGIYAMA, Kiyohiko ( Komazawa University,historical reconstruction )

SEGAWA, Takahiro ( Tokyo Institute of Technology,historical reconstruction )

TAKAHASHI, Shigehiro ( Nagoya University,process studies )

TAMAGAWA, Ichiro ( Gifu University,process studies )

TSUJIMURA, Maki ( Tsukuba University,process studies )

NAITO, Nozomu ( Hiroshima Institute of Technology,process studies )

NAKAZAWA, Fumio ( Shinshu University,historical reconstruction )

NAKATSUKA, Takeshi ( Hokkaido University,historical reconstruction )

NAGANO, Takanori ( RIHN,process studies )

NAKAMURA, Kenji ( Nagoya University,process studies )

NAKAMURA, Tomoko ( Tohoku University,process studies )

NARAMA, Chiyuki ( Nagoya University,historical reconstruction )

NARITA, Hideki ( RIHN,historical reconstruction )

HAMADA, Masami ( Kobe University,historical reconstruction )

HIYAMA, Kuniharu ( Nagoya University,process studies )

HIROBE, Muneto ( Okayama University,process studies )

Huhubator ( Showa Women's University,process studies )

FURUMATSU, Takashi ( Kyoto University,historical reconstruction )

HORI, Kazuaki ( Meijo University,historical reconstruction )

HORI, Sunao ( Kohnan University,historical reconstruction )

Mailisha ( Rikkyo University,process studies )

MATSUKAWA, Takashi ( Otani University,historical reconstruction )

MATSUDA, Yoshihiro ( Nagoya University,process studies )

MATOBA, Sumito ( Hokkaido University,historical reconstruction )

MIKI, Naoko ( Okayama University,process studies )

MURATA, Taisuke ( Nihon University,historical reconstruction )

MORIYA, Kazuki ( Kyoto University,historical reconstruction )

MONDA, Yukako ( Okayama University,process studies )

YATAGAI, Akiyo ( RIHN,process studies )

YAMAGUCHI, Satoru ( National Institute for Disaster Prevention and Earth Science,process studies )

YAMAZAKI, Yusuke ( Kyoto University,process studies )

YAMANAKA, Ichiro ( Kyoto University,historical reconstruction )

YAIVIAMURO, Shin'ich ( Kyoto University,historical reconstruction )

YUBA, Tadanori ( Kyoto Tachibana Women's University,historical reconstruction )

YOSHIKAWA, Ken ( Okayama University,process studies )

YOSHIDA, Setsuko ( Shikoku Gakuin University,process studies )

YOSHIMOTO, Michimasa ( Kyoto University,historical reconstruction )

WATANABE, Mitsuko ( RIHN,historical reconstruction )

○Future Themes

 Communication of Research Findings


1. Communication to general society

  The forum, symposia, and the other meetings organized by RIHN are excluded here.

A couple of occasions were provided to address our results to general public, which include lectures and open discussions at Club meetings, at Training course of UNESCO, UNESCO meeting, symposia relating with Silk Road.

  General books for non-researchers have been published: three from Kodansha Publishing Co. Ltd., two from Showado Publishing Co. Ltd, one form NHK Publisher. Another book has been published, which describes the last 50 years history of the Heihe Basin, from the view point of local people.

  DVDs were created: one introduced the project, and the other reported the progress of the project. They were presented at several meetings, and copies were distributed to eight countries by request. A DVD, which reports the final results, has been completed.


2. Communication to academic circles

  Academic papers, publications, presentations of specific aspect attracted by only specialists of individual research disciplines are excluded here, because the project aims at integrating research results from multi-disciplines, although specific results for a single research area has been certainly obtained.

  Even at meetings of a single field, several presentations were made, stressing that integrated approach with many disciplines would produce such and such results for example, which has never been achieved by studies of a single discipline. The meetings included of academic societies, university lectures, special seminars etc. In most cases, the approach has been appreciated. In particular, in the organized two symposia held in China, a series of presentations made by members of the project appears to have given a strong impact to the other participants. The proceedings of the Khara Khoto symposium has been published, and distributed. DVDs introducing the project, and the progress report of the project were highly appreciated, and many request came to distribute the copies of the DVDs. They were hence

distributed to those who placed a request, although we are not sure if they were shown at each country.


 Progress from April 1st, 2006 to March 31st, 2007


  In situ observations has been mostly completed in last year, but such additional observations has been carried outas the identification of past agricultural land, and follow up studies on Populus euphratica trees. Also, the presence of underground water conduits like Qanat or Karez was suggested on satellite images, and a field observation was made. As the result, water source of the water conduits was not groundwater but river water. The construction technique, however, are very similar to those for Qanat or Karez. The underground water systems were introduced at least in Ming era, and have been basically used till today.

Based on those data so far obtained from old documents and natural proxies, the change of the terminal lakes) of the Heihe River, in area has been analyzed. The result indicated that the lake area change is attributed to the development of farmland rather than to climate changes.

  An international symposium on "the Humanity and Nature in Khara Khoto Region" was organized at Ejina, the terminal oasis of the Heihe River. About 60 papers were presented of which roughly half were by members of the Oasis Project.



Outcome from April 1st, 2006 to March 31st, 2007


  The output of the project includes Project Report on an Oasis-region Vol. 6 (No. 2) and two volumes of Special Issue of the Project Report, in addition to individual publications, which are not listed here. Several books have been published to disseminate the research results to general public. A movie entitled "Where did the oasis water go?" was also produced, either with Japanese, Chinese or English narrations. They are available as DVDs. The proceedings of the Khara Khoto symposium are now available.

Research Presentations

【Oral Presentation】

An international symposium on the Silk Road was held in Nara . which was coorganized by the Oasis Project., 2004.02.28.