China's 7,000-Year-Old Crop

By Baoxin, Hu; Shuja, Chang | UNESCO Courier, December 1984 | Go to article overview

China's 7,000-Year-Old Crop


Baoxin, Hu, Shuja, Chang, UNESCO Courier


China's 7,000-year-old crop

PADDY rice cultivation has a long history in China. A passage from The Book of Songs, which describes how "dates are gathered in August and rice harvested in October to make wines for the spring to celebrate your enjoyment of longevity', testifies that as early as 3,000 years ago under the Western Zhou Dynasty, Chinese people in Shaanxi province harvested rice and made rice wine. But the cultivation of paddy rice can be traced much further back. Excavations in 1973-1974 in Hemudu village of Yuyao county, Zhejiang province, revealed that indica rice grown in the area of Hangzhou Bay has a history of at least 7,000 years.

A high level of intensive paddy rice cultivation was achieved under the Han Dynasty (202 BC to 220 AD). Records of the transplantation of paddy rice can be found in the Simin Yueling (Farmer's Almanac) written during this period, and by the 6th century, a number of outstanding, comprehensive, theoretical works on paddy rice cultivation had been written.

According to Li Bozhong, "the technique of rice-wheat multiple cropping was introduced in a few of the most developed districts approximately during the reign of the Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu (650-704) during the Tang Dynasty (618 to 906 AD). It was generally adopted during the early and middle Tang Dynasty, mainly in the Changjiang Delta, the Chengdu Plain and along both banks of the Changjiang River'.

From the middle of the Tang Dynasty period, the Huanghe River Valley suffered from continuous wars and the feudal rulers depended more and more on revenues in kind from the south to defray their huge State expenditures. The point was reached when nine-tenths of the revenues collected from the whole country came from the area south of the Changjiang River. Since, in the area south of the Changjiang, it costs twenty to thirty per cent less to cultivate a paddy field than an equivalent area of dry land crop, the peasants tended to grow more paddy rice so as to increase their income.

Under the feudal system, exploitation of tenants by the landlords was extremely severe. Su Shi, a great writer of the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279 AD) described how "income was divided into two halves between the landlord and the tenants'. Rent was mainly collected in kind, but by the end of the feudal period, money rent was also being collected and payment was being made in silver. However, the basis of the rent was still in kind as the sum of silver to be collected would be the price of a fixed amount of grain sold on the market.

Rice is thought of as having always been the principal food of the Asian people. Although this is basically true today, during the long period of feudal rule in China, only the rich and middle-class families could afford to eat rice daily. The peasants who did the tilling were obliged to eke out a bare existence on wheat, barley, miscellaneous grains, potatoes and taros.

Following the reclamation of the Changjiang River valley, new farming techniques including the use of ploughs, harrows and earth-breakers, and new cultivation techniques with emphasis on the raising of healthy rice seedlings were gradually introduced. Great improvements were made in farming implements. Crooked shaft ploughs, earthbreakers and earth-cutters were invented. Irrigation implements using water-power to raise water automatically, such as waterwheels, dragon-bone water lifts and windmill water carriers, came into widespread use.

Many large-scale irrigation projects were undertaken, such as the famous Dujiang Yan Weir in Sichuan Province, the Ling Qu Canal in Guangxi Province, the Zhengguo Qu Canal in Shaanxi province, and the Zhangshui Qu Canal in Linzhang county, Hebei province. In the south, many small-scale irrigation systems were built. To increase the sources of fertilizer, many methods of collecting and making composts were devised, involving the use of dung from cattle-sheds, the rotting of various organic substances, the fermentation of cake manure, and the burning and baking of dung. …

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