SONG DYNASTY (960-1279) ECONOMICS AND AGRICULTURE

SONG DYNASTY (960-1279) ECONOMICS AND AGRICULTURE

20080216-paper money brook.jpg
Early paper money
The Songs ruled an empire rich in silk, jade and porcelain. They sent trading ships to India and Java and presided over a period of growth in trade and an expansion of the Chinese empire. Trade increased in the Indian Ocean partly as a response to the threat from Islamic intrusions into the area. Even so trade was not a respectable vocation and the emperor seized the property of merchants to create government monopolies.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Farmers in Song China did not aim at self-sufficiency. They had found that producing for the market made possible a better life. Farmers sold their surpluses in nearby markets and bought charcoal, tea, oil, and wine. Some of the products on sale in the city depicted in the scroll would have come from nearby farms, but others came from far away. In many places, farmers specialized in commercial crops, such as sugar, oranges, cotton, silk, and tea. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer afe.easia.columbia.edu/song <|>]

Merchants in the cities became progressively more specialized and organized. They set up partnerships and joint stock companies, with a separation between owners (shareholders) and managers. In large cities merchants were organized into guilds according to the type of product they sold. Guilds arranged sales from wholesalers to shop owners and periodically set prices. When the government wanted to requisition supplies or assess taxes, it dealt with the guild heads.

“The many rivers and streams of the region facilitated shipping, which reduced the cost of transportation and, thus, made regional specialization economically more feasible. During the Song period, the Yangzi River regions became the economic center of China. <|>

The role of merchants in the Song (and throughout Chinese history) belies the conventional stereotype of China suppressing merchant activity. Robert Hymes of Columbia University wrote: “The older Tang market system, which had strictly confined trade to cities and within cities to specific sites and hours, utterly broke down as urban commerce spread throughout cities and into extramural mercantile quarters. Over long distances, large cities and whole regions of dense population came to depend on ship-borne bulk trade in staple goods, especially rice. Over shorter distances, trade penetrated the countryside, drawing farmers into new periodic market centers and rapidly proliferating market towns.” [Source: Robert Hymes, from “Song China, 960-1279,” in Asia in Western and World History, edited by Ainslie T. Embree and Carol Gluck (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1997).

Good Websites and Sources on the Song Dynasty: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; San.beck.org san.beck.org ; BCPS bcps.org ; Good Websites and Sources on the Tang Dynasty: Wikipedia ; Google Book: China’s Golden Age: Everday Life in the Tang Dynasty by Charles Benn books.google.com/books; Empress Wu womeninworldhistory.com ; Good Websites and Sources on Tang Culture: Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org ; Tang Poems etext.lib.virginia.edu enter Tang Poems in the search; Tang Horses persiancarpetguide.com China Vista chinavista.com

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; 2) Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; 4) Ancient China Life ancientchinalife.com ; 5) Ancient China for School Kids elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

Books: 1) Cambridge History of China Vol. 5 Part One and Part Two (Cambridge University Press); 2) Benn, Charles, “Daily Life in Traditional China: The Tang Dynasty,” Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002; 3) Schafer, Edward H. “The Golden Peaches of Samarkan,” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963; 4) The Culture and Civilization of China, a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press). You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.

Song Dynasty Trade and Commerce


Song river ship

The Song dynasty is notable for the development of cities not only for administrative purposes but also as centers of trade, industry, and maritime commerce. The landed scholar-officials, sometimes collectively referred to as the gentry, lived in the provincial centers alongside the shopkeepers, artisans, and merchants. A new group of wealthy commoners--the mercantile class-- arose as printing and education spread, private trade grew, and a market economy began to link the coastal provinces and the interior. Landholding and government employment were no longer the only means of gaining wealth and prestige.

The Songs ruled an empire rich in silk, jade and porcelain. They sent trading ships to India and Java and presided over a period of growth in trade and an expansion of the Chinese empire. Trade increased in the Indian Ocean partly as a response to the threat from Islamic intrusions into the area. Even so trade was not a respectable vocation and the emperor seized the property of merchants to create government monopolies.

Frances Wood, curator of the Chinese collection at the British Library told the BBC: "Under the previous dynasties, the cities were fairly rigidly controlled. Markets were held on fixed days, on fixed points and so on. "By the Song dynasty, you begin to get ordinary city life as we know it. Cities are much freer, so commerce is much freer." [Source:Carrie Gracie, BBC News, October 17, 2012 \=\]

Peter Bol of Harvard University told the BBC the Chinese economy was far more commercialised than it had ever been before: "The money supply has increased 30-fold. The merchant networks have spread. Villages are moving away from self-sufficiency and getting connected to a cash economy. The government no longer controls the economic hierarchy, which is largely in private hands... it's a far richer world than ever before." \=\

Carrie Gracie of the BBC News wrote: “But all this created problems. As large land-owning estates grew, so did the number of people who were unwilling to pay their taxes - and the more rich people evaded tax, the more the burden fell on the poor. There was also problem with the neighbours. The Song emperors often found themselves at war on their northern borders. Jin and Mongol invaders were annexing Chinese land, so lots of money had to be spent on defence, and inflation took hold. The dynasty was plunged into crisis. \=\

Expansion of Commerce under the Northern Song

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The Song founders established their court at a city that had not previously served as a dynastic capital. The city of Kaifeng lay in China’s midlands, just south of the Yellow River. The decision to take Kaifeng as a base rather than the Tang capital of Chang’an reflected a change in the circumstances and goals of the dynasty. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“Chang’an had been considered ideal by the Tang because of its status as the terminus of the “Silk Route,” the channel of foreign trade through Central Asia, and because of its strong military defensibility. The new Song government was far less interested in these advantages. Kaifeng was better suited to Song goals because it had become a terminus of the Grand Canal – its connection by canal with the southern urban center of Hangzhou made it a focus of internal commerce. The Song aspired to focus on building the wealth and social cohesion of the heartland regions of China, and a capital located at Kaifeng was ideal for these purposes. /+/



“For almost 1000 years, since the disastrous Yellow River floods of the early first century, the population of China had been gradually shifting from the fertile but dry lands of the North towards the South, a region characterized by a warm, moist climate and by a multitude of naturally navigable waterways. This shift accelerated during the peaceful years of the early Song, as farmers sought to open new lands in the South on which to grow rice, which was becoming increasingly popular throughout China, and also to produce other crops that Northerners would find exotic and attractive, such as tea. /+/

“In the South, crops could be grown year round, and Major North-South canals fostered a lively inter-regional trade that heated China’s economy to levels unseen before in the world. The South became particularly wealthy. Farming populations began to grow at spectacular rates, and enormously wealthy merchant families began to purchase large tracts of land, rent them out to peasant tenants, collect high rents, and use their wealth to gather together in increasingly large urban centers, where the upper classes lived in remarkable luxury. The growth of some of the largest Chinese cities, such as Guangzhou (Canton) and Nanjing, dates from this period.” /+/

Song Dynasty Shops and Commerce

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” by Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145) provides a wealth of detail on the varieties of commercial activity of its day. Kaifeng, like other large cities, had developed into a vast trading center, in addition to being the political seat of the country. This economic expansion was aided by an increasingly sophisticated transportation network and the establishment of trade guilds that specialized in movement of commodities over land and through the Grand Canal by large-scale merchants and itinerant peddlers. The more easily goods were moved throughout the country, the more local specialization in production was possible, and overall production as a result increased dramatically. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\]

“A close-up view of vendors on the rainbow bridge, shows a different type of commercial setting. The gentleman seated at the center of the table is a prognosticator by trade; his signs advertise his fortune telling abilities. The scene of vendors' tables located just off a busy street corner near the inner city wall is framed by the following signs: across the front, The Family of Assistant Zhao; next to the women, facing front, Care for the Five Wounds and Seven Injuries and Deficiencies of Speech; perpendicular to the shop front, facing right, Regulation of Alcohol-related Illnesses and Prevention of Injury, Genuine Prescriptions of the Collected Fragrances Remedy. The signs behind the fence identify the permanent shops behind these temporary vendors; the larger sign to the left (behind the seated man) is for a wine shop of "Premium Quality", and the other narrow sign to the right (partially obscured by a column) indicates a silk merchant's shop.” /=\



Commerce During the Southern Song

China's per capita income adjusted for inflation was higher at the end of the Song Dynasty in the 1270s than it was under Mao in the 1950s. Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The influx of people into South China was actually an economic boon. While lands in the fertile North China Plain had been the heartland of Chinese agricultural production for millennia, there was a great deal of land in the South that had never been cleared for cultivation, and the settlers who fled from the invasion began to open these lands and bring them into production. Southern agriculture was based on rice, and rice had become a dietary item in great demand in the North. In the eleventh century, new strains of rice that allowed farmers to raise two crops in a season had been introduced, and now these contributed to an outburst of productivity in the expanding agricultural lands of the south. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“The Song, when based at Kaifeng, had made sure that the Grand Canal was in good repair, and now, although North and South were under different jurisdictions, the canal became the central conduit for an active inter.regional trade, including not only staples from the South such as rice and tea, but a wide variety of goods that climate or traditional cultural made scarce in one region or the other. As trade grew in volume, new devices were developed to support it. Coinage had been dramatically increased during the early Song, so that cash payments could facilitate trade. Now, with commerce reaching new levels, paper currency was developed, and new banking institutions were invented to allow for investment, credit, and cash savings. But it is questionable the truly dramatic leap in agricultural output and commercial activity of the Song era would have occurred without the migrations that followed the Jurchen invasions, forcing exploitation of southern resources that had lain untouched before. The economic growth in the South resulted in rapid urbanization. During the Southern Song period, a number of southern cities are estimated to have housed populations close to one million – the largest cities in the world at the time. These concentrations further spurred the development of diverse markets for craft goods, such as ceramics, of which the Song craftsmen became unsurpassed masters (which is books. In response, Song artisans invented movable type and launched a printing industry unmatched in the world. /+/

Maritime Trade During the Song Dynasty

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Trade between the Song dynasty and its northern neighbors was stimulated by the payments Song made to them. The Song set up supervised markets along the border to encourage this trade. Chinese goods that flowed north in large quantities included tea, silk, copper coins (widely used as a currency outside of China), paper and printed books, porcelain, lacquerware, jewelry, rice and other grains, ginger and other spices. The return flow included some of the silver that had originated with the Song and the horses that Song desperately needed for its armies, but also other animals such as camel and sheep, as well as goods that had traveled across the Silk Road, including fine Indian and Persian cotton cloth, precious gems, incense, and perfumes. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer afe.easia.columbia.edu/song <|>]

“There was also vigorous sea trade with Korea, Japan, and lands to the south and southwest. From great coastal cities such as Quanzhou boats carrying Chinese goods plied the oceans from Japan to east Africa. (The major port of Quanzhou that dominated trade in the Song dynasty is not to be confused with Guangzhou. Guangzhou, located further south on the Chinese coast, did not become an important port until the Qing dynasty, when it was known to European traders as “Canton.” <|>

“During Song times maritime trade for the first time exceeded overland foreign trade. The Song government sent missions to Southeast Asian countries to encourage their traders to come to China. Chinese ships were seen all throughout the Indian Ocean and began to displace Indian and Arab merchants in the South Seas. Shards of Song Chinese porcelain have been found as far away as eastern Africa. <|>


Song junk


“Chinese ships were larger than the ships of most of their competitors, such as the Indians or Arabs, and in many ways were technologically quite advanced. In 1225 the superintendent of customs at Quanzhou, named Zhao Rukua (Zhao Rugua or Chao Ju-kua, 1170-1231), wrote an account of the countries with which Chinese merchants traded and the goods they offered for sale. Zhao's book, Zhufan Zhi (commonly translated as "Description of the Barbarians"), includes sketches of major trading cities from Srivijaya (modern Indonesia) to Malabar, Cairo, and Baghdad. Pearls were said to come from the Persian Gulf, ivory from Aden, myrrh from Somalia, pepper from Java and Sumatra, cotton from the various kingdoms of India, and so on. <|>

“Much money could be made from the sea trade, but there were also great risks, so investors usually divided their investment among many ships, and each ship had many investors behind it. In 1973 a Song-era ship was excavated off the south China coast. It had been shipwrecked in 1277. Seventy-eight feet long and 29 feet wide, the ship had twelve bulkheads and still held the evidence of some of the luxury objects that these Song merchants were importing: more than 5,000 pounds of fragrant wood from Southeast Asia, pepper, betel nut, cowries, tortoiseshell, cinnabar, and ambergris from Somalia.” <|>

On the importance of maritime trade, Lynda Noreen Shaffer wrote: “The new importance of the south [of China] also encouraged China to face south toward the Southern Ocean (the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and parts between) for the first time, and Chinese maritime capabilities developed steadily from the twelfth century to the fifteenth.” [Source: Lynda Noreen Shaffer, In “A Concrete Panoply of Intercultural Exchange: Asia in World History,” in Asia in Western and World History, edited by Ainslie T. Embree and Carol Gluck (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), 840]

Southern Song (1127-1279) Maritime Trade

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “In the Southern Song period, communication in art and culture with foreign lands occurred not only through exchange among people and goods with the Jin dynasty to the north, but also in the development of trade with areas to the southeast and southwest. Of particular importance was the expansion of foreign trade via sea routes. With the rise of large harbors dealing in foreign trade at Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Lin'an, and Mingzhou (Ningbo, Zhejiang), the area of trade expanded to the South China Sea and west to as far as Persia, the Mediterranean Sea, and East Africa. The development of Chan (Zen) Buddhist painting and calligraphy was also an important link for the spread of Song culture. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ ]

“The Southern Song was a time of commerce, with paper money in wide circulation as well as gold, silver leaves or ingots being common currencies, whereas its copper coins went beyond the borders and became the key medium of exchange in many surrounding nations. Through the frontier trading posts, the jewelry and porcelain of the Jin State arrived in the Jiangnan and vast quantities of tea, silk, and herbs of the Southern Song shipped north. Jin and Song as a result shared kindred spirit artistically and literarily. Sea routes also took Chinese merchandise far and wide to many other Asian countries; foreign merchants reaching the shores of China in return brought enriching cultural messages. At the same time, the Taiwan Island and its nearby islets saw the coming and going of the Southern Song traders; their footprints are still here today for us to reminisce about a splendid past.” \=/



Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: ““Economic activity and the rising demand for goods was a major spur to scientific and technological creativity, and the foremost historian of the history of science in China has maintained that virtually every core invention of Chinese science traces its origins or a significant innovation to the Song period. For example, the rising output of goods in the South created incentives for the development of maritime trade, so that Chinese goods could reach new markets abroad. The old Silk Route was no longer available to the Song, and, in any event, climate changes had made it much less hospitable to caravan travel than had been the case during the Tang. So for the first time in Chinese history, the merchant class turned towards the sea as a potential commercial highway. Responding to this need, craftsmen applied known technology to create the maritime compass, which allowed ships to navigate as far as the Red Sea, to trade with Middle Eastern markets. Shipbuilding became a major industry, and a host of inventions led to the construction of technologically advanced ships, adaptable to both commercial and military uses.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

From Copper Coins to Paper Notes During the Song Dynasty

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Helping to grease the wheels of trade during the Song was the world’s first paper money. For centuries, the basic unit of currency in China was the bronze or copper coin with a hole in the center for stringing. Large transactions were calculated in terms of strings of coins, but given their weight these were cumbersome to carry long distances. As trade increased, demand for money grew enormously, so the government minted more and more coins. By 1085 the output of coins had increased tenfold since Tang times to more than 6 billion coins a year. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer afe.easia.columbia.edu/song <|>]

“The use of paper currency was initiated by merchants. To avoid having to carry thousands of strings of coins long distances, merchants in late Tang times (c. 900 CE) started trading receipts from deposit shops where they had left money or goods. The early Song authorities awarded a small set of shops a monopoly on the issuing of these certificates of deposit, and in the 1120s the government took over the system, producing the world’s first government-issued paper money. The earliest example of paper currency that survives today is the great Ming circulating treasure note, from 1375.” <|>


Yuan dynasty banknote printing plate

Marco Polo described the use of paper currency during the Mongol Yuan dynasty: With these pieces of paper, made as I have described, he [Kublai Khan] causes all payments on his own account to be made; and he makes them to pass current universally over all his kingdoms and provinces and territories, and whithersoever his power and sovereignty extends. And nobody, however important he may think himself, dares to refuse them on pain of death. And indeed everybody takes them readily, for wheresoever a person may go throughout the Great Kaan’s dominions he shall find these pieces of paper current, and shall be able to transact all sales and purchases of goods by means of them just as well as if they were coins of pure gold. And all the while they are so light that ten bezants’ worth does not weigh one golden bezant. [Source: Marco Polo and Rustichello of Pisa, “Book Second, Part I, Chapter XXIV: How the Great Kaan Causeth the Bark of Trees, Made into Something Like Paper, to Pass for Money over All His Country,” in The Book of Ser Marco Polo: The Venetian Concerning Kingdoms and Marvels of the East, translated and edited by Colonel Sir Henry Yule, Volume 1 (London: John Murray, 1903). This book is in the public domain and can be read online at Project Gutenberg. Chapter XXIV begins on page 587 of this online text */*]

“Furthermore all merchants arriving from India or other countries, and bringing with them gold or silver or gems and pearls, are prohibited from selling to any one but the Emperor. He has twelve experts chosen for this business, men of shrewdness and experience in such affairs; these appraise the articles, and the Emperor then pays a liberal price for them in those pieces of paper. The merchants accept his price readily, for in the first place they would not get so good a one from anybody else, and secondly they are paid without any delay. And with this paper-money they can buy what they like anywhere over the Empire, whilst it is also vastly lighter to carry about on their journeys. And it is a truth that the merchants will several times in the year bring wares to the amount of 400,000 bezants, and the Grand Sire pays for all in that paper. So he buys such a quantity of those precious things every year that his treasure is endless, whilst all the time the money he pays away costs him nothing at all. Moreover, several times in the year proclamation is made through the city that anyone who may have gold or silver or gems or pearls, by taking them to the Mint shall get a handsome price for them. And the owners are glad to do this, because they would find no other purchaser give so large a price. Thus the quantity they bring in is marvellous, though these who do not choose to do so may let it alone. Still, in this way, nearly all the valuables in the country come into the Kaan’s possession.” */*

Iron, Steel and Coal During the Song Dynasty


Yuan dynasty smelting

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ During Song times, heavy industry — especially the iron industry — grew astoundingly. Iron production reached around 125,000 tons per year in 1078 CE, a sixfold increase over the output in 800 CE. Iron and steel were put to many uses, ranging from nails and tools to the chains for suspension bridges and Buddhist statues. The army was a large consumer: steel tips increased the effectiveness of Song arrows; mass-production methods were used to make iron armor in small, medium, and large sizes; high-quality steel for swords was made through high-temperature metallurgy. Huge bellows, often driven by waterwheels, were used to superheat the molten ore. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer afe.easia.columbia.edu/song <|>]

At first charcoal was used in the production process, leading to deforestation of large parts of north China. By the end of the 11th century, however, coal had largely taken the place of charcoal. Marco Polo wrote about coal: “It is a fact that all over the country of Cathay there is a kind of black stones existing in beds in the mountains, which they dig out and burn like firewood. If you supply the fire with them at night, and see that they are well kindled, you will find them still alight in the morning; and they make such capital fuel that no other is used throughout the country. [Source: Marco Polo and Rustichello of Pisa, “Book Second, Part I, Chapter XXX: Concerning the Black Stones That Are Dug in Cathay, and Are Burnt for Fuel,” in The Book of Ser Marco Polo: The Venetian Concerning Kingdoms and Marvels of the East, translated and edited by Colonel Sir Henry Yule, Volume 1 (London: John Murray, 1903). This book is in the public domain and can be read online at Project Gutenberg. Chapter XXX begins on page 603 of this online text */*]

“It is true that they have plenty of firewood, too. But the population is so enormous and there are so many bath-houses and baths constantly being heated, that it would be impossible to supply enough firewood, since there is no one who does not visit a bath-house at least 3 times a week and take a bath - in winter every day, if he can manage it. Every man of rank or means has his own bathroom in his house....so these stones, being very plentiful and very cheap, effect a great saving of wood." */*

Textiles, Silk and Ceramic During the Song Dynasty

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The common people mostly wore clothes made of plant fibers such as hemp and ramie, and, at the end of the period, cotton — but the most highly prized fabric at home and abroad was silk. The feeding of silkworms (which devoured vast quantities of mulberry leaves), the cleaning of their trays, the unraveling of the cocoons, the reeling and spinning of the silk filaments — all this was women’s work, as was the weaving of plain cloth on simple home looms. Professional weavers, mostly men working in government or private workshops, operated complex looms to weave the fancy damasks, brocades, and gauzes favored by the elite. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer afe.easia.columbia.edu/song <|>]

“In Song times China was a ceramics-exporting country. Song kilns produced many kinds of cups, bowls, and plates, as well as boxes, ink slabs, and pillows (headrests). Techniques of decoration ranged from painting and carving to stamping and molding. Some kilns could produce as many as 20,000 objects a day for sale at home and abroad. Shards of Song porcelain have been found all over Asia.

Seeds of an Industrial Revolution in China, 1000-1200


Chinese steam machine

Mark Elvin wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review, “Early in the 11th century, Chinese government arsenals manufactured more than 16 million identical iron arrowheads a year. In other words, mass production. Rather later, in the 13th century, machines in northern China powered by belt transmissions off a waterwheel twisted a rough rope of hemp fibers into a finer yarn. The machine used 32 spinning heads rotating simultaneously in a technique that probably resembled modern ring-spinning. A similar device was used for doubling filaments of silk. In other words, mechanized production, in the sense that the actions of the human hand were replicated by units of wood and metal, and an array of these identical units was then set into motion by inanimate power. [Source: "The X Factor," by Mark Elvin, Far Eastern Economic Review, 162/23, June 10, 1999 <<>>]

“Common sense thus suggests that the Chinese economy, early in the millennium just coming to a close, had already developed the two key elements of what we think of as the Industrial Revolution: mass production and mechanization... Much later, from the middle of the 19th century on, China had to import, then service, adapt, and even at times improve, mechanical engineering from the West. This was done with considerable flair, particularly by Chinese firms in Shanghai, a city which during treaty-port days turned into a nonstop international exhibition of machine-building. So Chinese technical capability can hardly be said to have withered in the intervening centuries... Why did the first industrial revolution not take place in China, as it seems it should have?’ <<>>

Agriculture and Rice During the Song Dynasty

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The Song dynasty (960-1276) saw a tremendous increase in Chinese agricultural productivity. Double- and triple-cropping in the irrigated fields of south China and the Introduction and dissemination of improved strains of rice and new farming techniques made these increases possible and, in turn, supported a growing population. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“Millet, wheat, and sorghum were the basic subsistence crops in the north, while rice predominated in the south. Rice was grown primarily south of the Yangzi River. This area had many advantages over the north China plain, as the climate is warmer and rainfall more plentiful. The mild temperatures of the south often allowed two crops to be grown on the same plot of land — a summer and a winter crop. <|>

“Farmers in Song China did not aim at self-sufficiency. They had found that producing for the market made possible a better life. Farmers sold their surpluses in nearby markets and bought charcoal, tea, oil, and wine. Some of the products on sale in the city depicted in the scroll would have come from nearby farms, but others came from far away. In many places, farmers specialized in commercial crops, such as sugar, oranges, cotton, silk, and tea. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer afe.easia.columbia.edu/song <|>]

Rice Farming During the Song Dynasty


Tang-era farm workers

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “During Song times, new developments in rice cultivation — especially the introduction of new strains of rice from what is now Central Vietnam, along with improved methods of water control and irrigation — spectacularly increased rice yields. Rice was used primarily as food, but was also used to brew the wine consumed in homes and taverns. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer afe.easia.columbia.edu/song <|>]

“As grown throughout East Asia before modern times, rice required much labor — to level the paddy fields, clear irrigation ditches, plant and especially transplant the seedlings, as well as to weed, harvest, thresh, and husk. Farmers developed many varieties of rice, including drought resistant and early ripening varieties, as well as rice suited for special purposes such as brewing. They also remade the landscape by terracing hilly land, so that rice could be grown on it. Agricultural manuals helped to disseminate the best techniques for rice cultivation.” <|>

Lynda Noreen Shaffer wrote: “In the early part of the Song dynasty... a new variety of early-ripening rice was introduced into China from Champa, a kingdom then located near the Mekong River Delta in what is now Vietnam, and by 1012 it had been introduced in the lower Yangzi and Huai river regions.... Because the variety of rice was relatively more drought-resistant, it could be grown in places where older varieties had failed, especially on higher land and on terraces that climb hilly slopes, and it ripened even faster than the other early-ripening varieties already grown in China. This made double-cropping possible in some areas, and in some places, even triple-cropping became possible... the hardiness and productivity of various varieties of rice were and are in large part responsible for the density of population in South, Southeast, and East Asia. According to the Buddhist monk, Shu Wenying, the Song Emperor Zhengzhong (998-1022), when he learned that Champa rice was drought-resistant, sent special envoys to bring samples back to China.” [Source: Lynda Noreen Shaffer, from “A Concrete Panoply of Intercultural Exchange: Asia in World History,” in Asia in Western and World History, edited by Ainslie T. Embree and Carol Gluck (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), 839-840]

Han-Lu Rice

20120525-Rice_Plants_(IRRI).jpg
rice plants
Agriculture in the Song Dynasty was in part revolutionized by the use of fast-ripening Han-lu rice. Xiongsheng Zeng wrote in “Huang-lu Rice in Chinese History”: “ The pronunciation of huang-lu (yellow rapid-ripening rice), an historic Chinese variety, suggests it existed in northern Wei Dynasty (386-543), but was not very popular until Song Dynasty (960-1279). Since then, the southward economic shift saw many new land uses like paddies and dikes, but due to natural conditions and human activities were weak; e.g., liable to waterlog and flood. But huang-lu’s fast ripening and water resistance permitted proper ripening, surpassing actual need. It could also use the limited time before and after flooding to complete growth from sowing to harvesting. [Source: “Huang-lu Rice in Chinese History” by Xiongsheng Zeng, Research Institute of History in Natural Science, Scientifica Sinica, Beijing, (Agricultural Archaeology 1998(3):292-311. Transl./interpreted by W. Tsao, Ph.D. 10/10/01; ed. by B. Gordon, carleton.ca/~bgordon/Rice<^>]

These traits met economic needs and natural conditions; e.g., land reclamation from water. Hence, huang-lu promotion and popularity played an important role in grain supply and population growth after Song Dynasty. I compare the famous early ripening drought-resistant champa rice introduced by Song Emperor Zhen Zong (998-1022) from Fujian in the year 1012, and suggest huang-lu influence in Chinese history exceeds champa. This is because paddy fields were larger than mountain ones, and flood resistant varieties are better in cultivation than dry ones after Song Dynasty. <^>

“He Bingdi’s Early Ripening Rice Varieties in Chinese History said the 11th century "agricultural revolution" was a rapid basic population growth initiator, with "dry-resistant zhan-cheng (champa) rice import the top fast-ripening variety, extending growth to lowland, valleys, riverbanks and hills…changing land use and doubling rice growing. These varieties greatly influenced food supply and directly increased population" Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasty food sources concentrated around Tai, Poyang and Dongting Lakes in the middle and lower Yangtze basin. Despite its high population, much food was sent to other areas, provoking post-Song-Yuan period sayings like "Suzhou and Huzhou crops ripen, so things will be adequate elsewhere", and similar ones voiced in Suzhou, the Lake area and Guangdong. <^>

Website on Rice Cultivation in China: Ancient Chinese Rice Archeological Project, Carleton University carleton.ca/~bgordon/Rice ]

“On Farming” (Nongshu) by Chen Pu


One way in which farming techniques were spread around the empire was through the printing and circulation of handbooks on farming. One of the more famous handbooks was “On Farming” (Nongshu, “Book of Agriculture”), written by Chen Pu (Chen Fu 1076-1154) in 1149. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

Chen Pu's “On Farming” is the oldest existing book exclusively on the subject of rice farming in southern China, and comprised of more than 12,000 characters in three scrolls. It was first written in the 19th year of Shaoxing period (1149). The first scroll described the production, operation and techniques of a farming business; the middle scroll focused on breeding of cattle; and the last scroll showed on the raising of silkworms. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ ]

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: Chen Pu “had adopted the sobriquets "Secluded Quanzhenzi in Xishan" and "Quanzhenzi of Rushi"; he was a Taoist of the Quanzhen School. Chen had lived as a hermit in Xishan at Yizhen County of Huaihai East Road (now Yihui County of Jiangsu Province), producing on his own farm. Besides relying on his own agricultural observations, he had also sought advice from older farmers, finally completing this book at the age of 74, in the manner of “The Art of Governing the People and Essential Farming Activities in Four Seasons” from earlier dynasties. \=/

“In addition to planting of rice, “On Farming” also expounded upon the so-called "six crops". The "six crops" are "upland crops", referring to crops on dry land, that is hemp, millet, sesame, soybean, radish, Chinese cabbage and wheat. Chen Pu's attention to upland crops had a special historical importance. Since Song Dynasty, the government had emphasized the importance of upland plantations from the perspective of defense against natural disasters. According to governmental orders and letters of persuasion from local officials to farmers, the policy was to increase rice production in the north while promoting more upland plantation in the south – the traditional rice plantation regions – so as to make preparation in the event of food shortages. Based on experiences in planting of upland crops in the south, Chen Pu concluded that the order of planting is important in the planting of upland crops, and one should plant different crops according to the month of the year.” \=/

“On Farming”: Finance and Labor

On “Finance and Labor,” Chen Pu wrote in “On Farming”: All those who engage in business should do so in accordance with their own capacity. They should refrain from careless investment and excessive greed, lest in the end they achieve nothing. Tradition has it, “Profit comes from a little; confusion comes from a lot.” In the farming business, which is the most difficult business to manage how can you afford not to calculate your financial and labor capacities carefully? Only when you are certain that you have sufficient funds and labor to assure success should you launch an enterprise. Anyone who covets more than he can manage is likely to fall into carelessness and irresponsibility; under such conditions, he cannot reap even one or two out of every ten portions, and success will certainly elude him. Thus, to procure more land is to increase trouble, not profit. [Source: “On Farming (Nongshu)” by Chen Pu (Chen Fu), 1076-1154, translated by Clara Yu from “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”,” edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York:The Free Press,1993), 188-191 <|>]

“On the other hand, anyone who plans carefully, begins with good methods, and continues in the same way can reasonably expect success and does not have to rely on luck. The proverb says, “Owning a great deal of emptiness is less desirable than reaping from a narrow patch of land.” Too true! I have the following example to prove my point. In ancient times there was a great archer, Pu Qie, who was able to draw a delicate bow and string to orioles on one arrow, high in the clouds. The reason he could achieve such dexterity in aiming was that he had more strength than needed to draw the bow. If the bow had been heavier than he could handle, he would have trembled and staggered under its weight; then how could he have gotten his game? By extension, for the farmer who is engaged in the management of fields, the secret lies not in expanding the farmland, but in balancing finance and labor. If the farmer can achieve that, he can expect prosperity and abundance.” <|>

“On Farming” by Chen Pu: Topography


millet field

On Topography, Chen Pu wrote in “On Farming”: “Concerning mountains, rivers, plateaus, lakes, and swamps, their altitudes differ and so their temperatures and degrees of fertility do also. Generally speaking, high lands are cold, their springs chilly, their soil cool. The tradition that “In the high mountains there is more winter,” refers to the constant windy cold. Also, these areas are more prone to droughts. On the other hand, low lands are usually fertile but prone to flooding. Thus, different methods of land management are required for different terrain. [Source: “On Farming (Nongshu)” by Chen Pu (Chen Fu), 1076-1154, translated by Clara Yu, from “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”,” edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 188-191 <|>]

“In the case of high land, choose a spot where water can converge and dig a reservoir of appropriate size. (For every ten mu of land, two or three mu should be set aside for the reservoir.) In late spring and early summer when rainfall is frequent strengthen the embankments and deepen and widen the reservoir so that it will have enough space to contain the water. On the embankments plant mulberry and pomegranate trees on which cows can be tethered. The cows will be comfortable under the shade of the trees; the embankments will be strengthened because the cows constantly tread on them; and the mulberry trees will grow beautifully because of the nourishing water. Whenever there is a drought, the water in the reservoir can be released for irrigation, and whenever there is heavy rainfall, the crops will not be harmed by floods. As to lowlands, because they are easily flooded, you must study their topography and build high, wide embankments surrounding the area most likely to be inundated. On the slopes of the embankments vegetables, hemp, wheat, millet, and beans can be planted. On either side you can also plant mulberry trees and raise cows. <|>

“Because of convenient water and grass, the cows can be successfully raised with little effort. For lakes and marshy swamps, use the “rape.turnip soil” system. First, bind logs together to form a base for the field. Let the base float on water but remain tied to land. Then lay the “rape.turnip soil” on the wooden platform and plant there. As the platform floats on water, it rises and falls with the water level, so the crops are never lost to floods.” <|>

“On Farming” by Chen Pu: Plowing


Han-era iron plow

On plowing, Chen Pu wrote in “On Farming”: “Early and late plowing both have their advantages. For the early rice crop, as soon as the reaping is completed, immediately plow the fields and expose the stalks to glaring sunlight. Then add manure and bury the stalks to nourish the soil. Next, plant beans, wheat, and vegetables to ripen and fertilize the soil so as to minimize the next year’s labor. In addition, when the harvest is good, these extra crops can add to the yearly income. For late crops, however, do not plow until spring. Because the rice stalks are soft but tough, it is necessary to wait until they have fully decayed to plow satisfactorily. [Source: “On Farming (Nongshu)” by Chen Pu (Chen Fu), 1076-1154, translated by Clara Yu from “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”,” edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 188-191 <|>]

“In the mountains, plateaus, and wet areas, it is usually cold. The fields here should be deeply plowed and soaked with water released from reservoirs. Throughout the winter, the water will be absorbed, and the snow and frost will freeze the soil so that it will become brittle and crumbly. At the beginning of spring, spread the fields with decayed weeds and leaves and then burn them, so that the soil will become warm enough for the seeds to sprout. In this way, cold as the freezing springs may be, they cannot harm the crop. If you fail to treat the soil this way, then the arteries of the fields being soaked constantly by freezing springs, will be cold, and the crop will be poor. When it is time to sow the seeds, sprinkle lime in the wet soil to root out harmful insect larvae.” <|>

“On Farming” by Chen Pu: Six Kinds of Crops

On the different kinds of crops grown in China, Chen Pu wrote in “On Farming”: “ There is an order to the planting of different crops. Anyone who knows the right timing and follow the order can cultivate one thing after another and use one to assist the others. Then there will not be a day without planting, nor a month without harvest and money will be coming in throughout the year. How can there then be any worry about cold, hunger, or lack of funds? Plan the nettle hemp in the first month. Apply manure in intervals of ten days and by the fifth or sixth month it will be time for reaping. The women should take charge of splicing thread and weaving cloth out of the hemp. [Source: “On Farming (Nongshu)” by Chen Pu (Chen Fu), 1076-1154, translated by Clara Yu from “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”,” edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 188-191 <|>]

20120527-cannabis Industrialhemp.jpg
hemp
“Plant millet in the second month. It is necessary to sow the seeds sparsely and then roll cart wheels over the soil to firm it up; this will make the millet grow luxuriantly, its stalks long and its grains full. In the seventh month the millet will be harvested, easing any temporary financial difficulties. <|>

“There are two crops of oil hemp. The early crop is planted in the third month. Rake the field to spread out the seedlings. Repeat the raking process three times a month and the hemp will grow well. It can be harvested in the seventh or the eighth month. In the fourth month plant beans. Rake as with hemp. They will be ripe by the seventh month. In mid-fifth month plant the late oil hemp. Proceed as with the early crop. The ninth month will be reaping time. <|>

“After the 7th day of the seventh month, plant radishes and cabbage. In the eighth month, before the autumn sacrifice to the god of the earth, wheat can be planted. It is advisable to apply manure and remove weeds frequently. When wheat grows from the autumn through the spring sacrifices to the god of the earth, the harvest will double and the grains will be full and solid. <|>

“The Book of Songs says, “The tenth month is the time to harvest crops.” You will have a large variety of crops, including millet, rice, beans, hemp, and wheat and will lack nothing needed through the year. Will you ever be concerned for want of resources?” <|>

“On Farming” by Chen Pu: Housing

Chen Pu wrote in “On Farming”: “The ancient kinds who reigned over subjects in all four directions and took advantage of the earth in the right seasons must have had good principles. They decreed that five mu of land should be set aside for housing, out of which two and a half mu were for a cottage erected in the center of the fields. [Source: “On Farming (Nongshu)” by Chen Pu (Chen Fu), 1076-1154, translated by Clara Yu from “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”,” edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 188-191 <|>]

“In the period of plowing and sowing, move into this cottage to facilitate management and provide supplies for the farm workers. At the same time start a garden and plant vegetables. Along the walls, mulberry trees can be planted for the breeding of silkworms. In this manner you will live up to the system exemplified by the ancients. <|>

“When the ninth month has come, transform the vegetable garden into a harvest processing area. In the tenth month, when the harvest is done and the year’s work finished, you can rest as compensation for your labor of plowing and sowing in the spring. Now move the whole family, both old and new, back to the house. For if you stay too long in the cottage in the fields, your house will become dilapidated as a result of neglect.” <|>

“On Farming” by Chen Pu:Fertilizer and Weeding

On fertilizer and weeding, Chen Pu wrote in “On Farming”: “ At the side of the farm house, erect a compost hut. Make the eaves low to prevent the wind and rain from entering it, for when compost is exposed to the moon and stars it will lose its fertility. In this hut, dig a deep pit and line it with bricks to prevent leakage. Collect waste, ashes, chaff, broken stalks, and fallen leaves and burn them in the pit; then pour manure over them to make them fertile. In this way considerable quantities of compost are acquired over time. Then, whenever sowing is to be done sieve and discard stones and tiles, mix the fine compost with the seeds, and plant sparsely in pinches. When the seedlings have grown tall, again sprinkle the compost and bank it up against these roots. These methods will ensure a double yield. [Source: “On Farming (Nongshu)” by Chen Pu (Chen Fu), 1076-1154, translated by Clara Yu from “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”,” edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 188-191 <|>]


Song grain mill

“Some people say that when the soil is exhausted, grass and trees will not grow; that when the qi [material force] is weak, all living things will be stunted; and that after three to five years of continuous planting, the soil of any field will be exhausted. This theory is erroneous because it fails to recognize one factor: by adding new, fertile soil enriched with compost, the land can be reinforced in strength. If this is so, where can the alleged exhaustion come from? <|>

“The Book of Songs says, “Root out the weeds. Where the weeds decay, there the grains will grow luxuriantly.” The author of the Book of Rites also remarks, “The months of midsummer are advantageous for weeding. Weeds can fertilize in the fields and improve the land.” Modern farmers, ignorant of these principles, throw the weeds away. They do not know that, if mixed with soil and buried deep under the roots of rice seedlings, the weeds will eventually decay and the soil will be enriched; the harvest, as a result, will be abundant and of superior quality. <|>

“There is method to weeding. In the Zhou dynasty, Minister Ti, who was in charge of the weeding, ruled that “In the spring the weeds begin to sprout and grow and in the summer one has to go and cut them down daily.” This is to say, in the summer the weeds grow easily, therefore, one should labor every day to curb their growth. “In the autumn one should hoe them with measure.” This means chopping offs the seeds so that they will not reach the soil. “In winter one should go and plow the fields daily.” That is because the crops have now been reaped, and plowing through the roots of the weeds will expose them to snow and frost, so that they decay and do not revive the next year. Also, they can serve as fertilizer for the soil.” <|>

“On Farming” by Chen Pu: Concentration

Chen Pu wrote in “On Farming”: “If something is thought out carefully, it will succeed; if not, it will fail; this is a universal truth. It is very rare that a person works and yet gains nothing. On the other hand, there is never any harm in trying too hard. [Source: “On Farming (Nongshu)” by Chen Pu (Chen Fu), 1076-1154, translated by Clara Yu from “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”,” edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 188-191 <|>]

“In farming it is especially appropriate to be concerned about what you are doing Mencius said, “Will a farmer discard his plow when he leaves his land?” Ordinary people will become idle if they have leisure and property. Only those who love farming who behave in harmony with it, who take pleasure in talking about it and think about it all the time, will manage it without a moment’s negligence. For these people a day’s work results in a day’s gain, a year’s work in a year’s gain. How can they escape affluence?

As to those with many interests who cannot concentrate on any one and who are incapable of being meticulous, even if they should come by some profit, they will soon lose it. For they will never understand that the transformation of the small into the big is the result of persistent effort. <|>

“To indulge in pleasure and discard work whenever the chance arises and to meet matters only when they become urgent is never the right way of doing things. Generally speaking, ordinary people take pride in having the prosperity to indulge in temporary leisure. If there should be a man who remains diligent in prosperity everyone else will mark him as a misfit, so great is their lack of understanding!” <|>

Image Sources: Paper Money, Brooklyn College; Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

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