An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Buhuang yaojue 捕蝗要訣

May 31, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Buhuang yaojue 捕蝗要訣 "Important formulas to trap locusts" is a book on pest control written during the mid-Qing period 清 (1644-1911) by an unknown writer. It is based on 20 rules for pest control, Buhuang yaoshuo 捕蝗要說, promulgated in 1856 by the provincial government of Zhili 直隸 (today approx. Hebei), where a plague of locusts had befallen many districts. This publication was accompanied by 12 illustrations (Buhuang tushuo 捕蝗圖說) showing how locusts could be caught or eliminated. It was introduced by Qian Xinhe 錢炘和, who was provincial administration commissioner (buzhengshi 布政使). The Japanese scholar Amano Motonosuke 天野元之助 (1901-1980) assumes that the book was identical with Pu Songling's 蒲松齡 (1640-1715) Bu huangchong yaojue 捕蝗蟲要訣, while Peng Shijiang 彭世獎 (b. 1936) believed that the author was Yang Miren 楊米人.

The text is directed towards district magistrates who had to organize the collective fight against pests of locusts, for instance, by forming work groups, purchasing the necessary equipment, or preparing prayers against the pest. The text basically discerns between flying (feihuang 飛蝗) and "earth" locusts (tuhuang 土蝗). The latter were called tumazha 土螞蚱 and were rather harmless. The author explains that the larvae of flying locusts were growing in ponds and puddles, for which reason humid places had to be dried up. The belief that locust larvae were the transformed progeny of fish and crabs shows that scientific knowledge merged with superstition. Another method of reducing the impact of the plague was to cultivate plants which the insects would not devour.

Figure 1. People catching locusts
People catching flying and non-flying locusts with clamped nets and hand nets. 1872 Jiangning Fanshu 江寧藩署 (Provincial gvt. in Nanjing) edition.

The book was reprinted in 1857 in the province in Shaanxi, and some public print-shops throughout the empire like Chongwen Shuju 崇文書局本 in Hubei (1869), Jiangning Fanshu 江寧藩署 (1872) or Jiangsu Shuju 江蘇書局 (1891). Most of these editions consists of the illustrated and the textual part, but the 1891 edition adds an appendix of eight rules for the elimination of locusts (Chu huang ba yao 除蝗八要), which is actually a chapter of Li Xingfu's 李惺甫 semi-public rules Xianxing buchu huangnan yaofa 現行捕除蝗蝻要法.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1652.
Wang Yuhu 王毓瑚, ed. (1964). Zhongguo nongxue shulu 中國農學書錄 (Beijing: Nongye chubanshe), 271.
Xia Jinglin 夏經林 (1993). "Buhuang yaojue tiyao《捕蝗要訣》題要", in Gou Cuihua 茍萃華, ed. Zhongguo kexue jishu dianji tonghui 中國科學技術典籍通彙, part Shengwu 生物卷 (Zhengzhou: Henan jiaoyu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 851-852.