peting forms of human adaptation, and nowhere has the contrast been sharper or its significance greater than in China.
From the eighteenth century, when the French philosophes first took an interest in this subject, until the early 1900s, Western historians thought of this frontier as hard and absolute, dividing two self-contained, alien worlds. Foreign scholars, new to East Asia, were influenced by the well-articulated and pervasive Chinese view, that drew a sharp line between (Chinese) civilization and (nomadic) barbarism. The cultural distinctness and geographical isolation of the nomads reinforced this interpretation. In the literature, nomads were presented as survivors of mankind's primitive past, following a way of life that offered nothing to and demanded nothing from outsiders.
Although accepting the essential differences between pastoral and agrarian peoples, Lattimore (1940) was the first to draw attention to the importance of interactions between these ways of life. Later work, by Barth (1961), Khazanov (1984), and other anthropologists, went further to stress the interdependence of nomadic and settled societies. More recently, Barfield (1989), Jagchid and Symons (1989), and Waldron (1990) have portrayed China's inner Asian frontier historically as the site of contact, influence, and change in both directions. Steppe pastoralists and Han farmers engaged in significant, mutually beneficial trade of grain, metals, medicines, and luxury goods for livestock, furs, and other animal products. Demographic equilibrium among the pastoral peoples depended on slow, steady settlement, which drew off surplus population and kept a favorable balance between people and resources on the steppe. The ebb and flow of political power, rather than dividing enemies, gave first one side then the other an opportunity to embrace, influence, and be influenced by its opposite. The Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) conquered China on horseback but ruled it by adopting Chinese techniques. When the Chinese of the Ming (1368–1644) retook their country, they erected a state apparatus along lines inherited from the Mongols and enrolled thousands of Mongols in their armies and civil service. Meanwhile, Yuan loyalists on the steppe attracted Chinese followers from among believers in proscribed religions, such as the White Lotus sect of Buddhism, and erected Chinese-style cities, such as Koko Khota, site of Hohhot, the present capital of Inner Mongolia. Out of this dialogue emerged the late Imperial Chinese state—a blend of institutions, particularly military institutions, borrowed from the steppe, with a culture that was essentially Chinese.
The balance of power and influence along the frontier has shifted with changes in technology. The supremacy of the nomads was based on the mounted archer, who combined rapid mobility with formidable firepower. The introduction of firearms gradually rendered mounted warfare obsolete, whereas the railroad, iron plow, irrigation pump, and other modern agricultural devices paved the way for the expansion of land-hungry Chinese peasants north. Today, the farmer reigns supreme in northern China; the spread of