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Chen Fu nongshu 陳旉農書

Jun 12, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

There are three agricultural treatises with the title Nongshu "Book on agriculture", one written during the Northern Song-period 北宋 (960-1126) by Chen Fu 陳旉 (therefore called Chen Fu Nongshu 陳旉農書), one by Wang Zhen 王禎 (1271-1333, see Nongshu 農書), and one by a certain Master Shen from the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644, see Shenshi nongshu 沈氏農書).

Chen Fu 陳旉 (1075-?) hailed from Jiangsu and was a highly educated person but refused to enter official career. In his preface to the 3 juan-long Nongshu, Hong Xingzu 洪興祖 (1090-1155) says that Chen Fu was a real expert in Buddhist and Daoist writings, but also in books attributed to Shen Nong 神農, the mythological "Divine Husbandman". Chen made his life as a farmer and cultivator of medical drugs. The book Nongshu was finished in 1149, when Chen Fu was already an old man. His own experience in working the fields contributed to the high reliability of the text that differs from conventional books on agriculture like Qimin yaoshu 齊民要術 and Sishi zuanyao 四時纂要 that were compiled by scholars that contented themselves by quoting from ancient texts. Yet contrary to his own ascertainment, Chen Fu himself also quotes from the Confucian Classics and ancient texts. In some statements, his book is even inferior to the famous Qimin yaoshu from the Northern Wei period 北魏 (386-534).

The first part of Chen Fu's Nongshu includes 14 chapters dealing with the general management of a farmer's household and methods of cultivation, from ploughing, the observation of the weather and the seasons, cultivation of various crops, to the use of manure, agricultural tools, and sacrifices after the harvest. The three chapters of the second part are dedicated to the water buffalo, its use and medical care of it. The third part, with 6 chapters, specializes on sericulture, from the cultivation of mulberry trees and silkworm breeding to the treatment of cocoons to obtain silk yarn.

The book was written as a result of Chen Fu's own experience as a farmer, and is therefore enriched with a lot of practical and reliable information. His statements about the amelioration of the soil, the use of manure, and the raising of wet rice shoots are very detailed. The observation of the weather and the seasons was, according to Chen Fu, the basic duty of all farmers. A farmer had to make effective use of the natural laws instead of relying on pure chance. With the help of fertilizers even unfavourable soil could be made useful, and exhausted fields could be made again productive. This statement puts away with the old proverb that after three or five years each soil was exhausted.

Chen Fu divides wet rice cultivation into four classes, namely early-cropping rice, late-cropping rice, cold water mountain rice, and lowland wet rice. All of these field crops had to be treated differently. In the use of material and labour it was important to consider the relation between input and output, and investment had to be made only in fields where the harvest would be accordingly rich. The use of advanced tools was to be combined with hard physical labour. A farmer had to plan in advance in order to obtain the highest yields, and to include a lot of different aspects in his planning. This also included consideration of bad harvest and the preparation of private stocks. Wastage was not the right conduct of a farmer, as Chen Fu says.

The Nongshu covers all aspects of husbandry, from farming to cattle breeding and silkworm raising. The latter theme is to be found in a separate text, the Canshu 蠶書, that is in all editions attached to the Nongshu. The Canshu was written by Qin Guan 秦觀 (1049-1100) or his son Qin Zhen 秦湛 (fl. 1116). The Nongshu is also the earliest Chinese book in which the particularities of southern Chinese agriculture are touched upon.

It was printed during the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279) by Hong Xingzu, who also wrote the preface, but only in a preliminary shape that has been preserved in the Ming-period encyclopeadia Yongle dadian 永樂大典. The text is included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Zhibuzuzhai congshu 知不足齋叢書, Longwei mishu 龍威秘書, Hanhai 函海, Nongxue congshu 農學叢書 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成.

It was published separately in 1956 by the Zhonghua Press with the title Chen Fu Nongshu. In 1965 the Nongye Press 農業出版社出 published it together with Wan Guoding's 萬國鼎 (1897-1963) commentary, under the title Chen Fu Nongshu jiaozhu 陳旉農書校注.

Table 1. Contents of the Chen Fu Nongshu 陳旉農書
1. 財力之宜 Caili The application of force
2. 地勢之宜 Dishi The strength of the soil
3. 耕耨之宜 Gengnou Ploughing and harking
4. 天時之宜 Tianshi The seasons of Heaven
5. 六種之宜 Liuzhong The six seeds
6. 居處之宜 Juchu Living places
7. 糞田之宜 Fentian Fertilization
8. 薅耘之宜 Haoyun Weeding
9. 解用之宜 Jieyong Sparing use of resources
10. 稽功之宜 Jigong Scrutinizing efforts
11. 器用之宜 Qiyong Tools and utensils
12. 念慮之宜 Nianlü Long-term planning
13. 祈報之宜 Qibao Offerings and reports to the spirits
14. 善其根苗之 Shan qi genmiao Ameliorating roots and shoots
15. 牛說之宜 Niushuo A treatise on the water buffalo
16. 牧養役用之宜 Muyang yiyong Raising and utilizing buffaloes
17. 醫治之宜 Yizhi Medical care (of buffaloes)
18. 種桑之法 Zhongsang Raising mulberry trees
19. 收蠶種之法 Shou canzhong Collecting eggs of the silkmoth
20. 育蠶之法 Yucan Breeding silkworms
21. 用火採桑之法 Yong huo cai sang Heating the room while gathering mulberry leaves
22. 簇箔藏繭之法 Cubo cang jian Storage of cocoons in various boxes
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Miao Qiyu 繆啟愉 (1990). "Chen Fu Nongshu 陳旉農書", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Nongye 農業 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 109.