b. 1562 China
d. 1633 China
Living during the troubled Ming Dynasty, Xu Guangqi combined his energy and interest in scientific improvement to develop and strengthen the State: his interest in military technology was used in the formation of the defence of the State, whilst his interest in irrigation and crop husbandry was put to use in programmes of famine relief. He was a friend and protector of the Jesuit community in China, and between 1607 and 1610, when he was forced to absent himself from the political scene, he devoted his time to the study of the irrigation systems practised by the Jesuits, and also the cultivation of new crops.
Stimulated by these studies he continued to collect information on agricultural technology even after he returned to political life. In addition he prepared a number of draft texts of an agricultural treatise, which he intended to provide a practical guide to agricultural practice, but which would also give an indication of the solutions to China's economic problems at the time. Despite the fact that he had amassed a huge amount of material, it was left to the Chinese scholar Chen Ziling (Chhen Tzu-Ling) to edit the draft, which was finally published six years after the death of Xu Guangqi in 1633.
The treatise, called the Nong Zbeng Quan Shu (Wade-Giles transliteration: Nung Cheng Chhuan Shu), is a massive work quoting from some 299 sources, sometimes verbatim. In addition to parts dealing with husbandry, there are also large sections devoted to rural administration and to the development of rural light industry, as well as to the introduction of cash crops such as cotton. The Ming dynasty fell in 1644, and the policies set out by Xu Guangqi within this treatise were never implemented.