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Between the 8th and 11th centuries the population of Húnán increased fivefold, spurred on by a prosperous agricultural industry along with southerly migration. Under the Ming and Qing dynasties the region was one of the empire’s granaries, and vast quantities of rice were shipped over to the depleted north.

By the 19th century, Húnán began to suffer from the pressure of its big population. Land shortage and landlordism caused widespread unrest among Chinese farmers and hill-dwelling minorities. This contributed to the massive Taiping Rebellion and the communist movement of the 1920s, which later found strong support among Húnán’s peasants, establishing a refuge on the mountainous Húnán–Jiāngxī border in 1927.