There are three texts of the title Nongshu "Book on agriculture", one written by the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126) scholar Chen Fu 陳旉 (also called Chen Fu Nongshu 陳旉農書), one by the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) master Wang Zhen 王禎, and one written by a Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar called Master Shi, the Shenshi nongshu 沈氏農書.
Wang Zhen 王禎, courtesy name Wang Boshan王伯善, came from Dongping 東平 (modern Dongping, Shandong ) and was a district magistrate in Jingde 旌德 (modern Jingde, Anhui) and later in Yongfeng 永豐 (modern Yongfeng, Jiangxi). In this position he actively promoted the amelioration of agricultural tools, raising methods for trees, hemp and cotton, and began writing the 20 juan "scrolls" long book Nongshu. The book is enriched with an appendix that includes a text on moveable letter printing (Zao huozi yinshu fa 造活字印書法), a technique that was relatively new at that time. This text is the earliest explanation of this topic. Wang Zheng's Nongshu was finished in 1313. It is composed of three parts, firstly a general overview of all topics and issues of agriculture and sericulture (Nongsang zongjue 農桑總訣), in 6 collections (ji 集). In this part the author provides information about the importants of wheather, the soil, techniques of plughing, weeding and planting, fertilizing, irrigation, harvesting, as well as the breeding of cattle and silkworms. It consists of quotations from older books as well as by texts compiled by Wang Zhen himself, based on his experience. Wang Zhen describes different types of rice (long-grained non glutinous rice xian 籼 or jing 粳, and glutinous rice nuo 糯) and their cultivation method, and explains that vegetables (shucai 蔬菜) were better cultivated directly side by side in large fields (muzhong 睦種) and melons (gua 瓜) in compartments (quzhong 區種). Plants befallen by parasites could be cured by smashed Sophora root (kushen gen 苦參根) and lime (shihui 石灰). Wang Zhen also explains six methods of propping (jiajie 嫁接). Secondly, an explanation of all agricultural products (Baigupu 百穀譜) in 11 collecions. The author informs about the types of crops, their names, designations and origins, and methods of cultivation in different regions. Wang Zhen describes various kinds of grain like wet rice, dry rice or wheat, and a large number of vegetables, from planting, rearing, harvesting to storing and processing. He also mentions crops in Southeast Asia and other foreign countries like rice (dao 稻), fragrant rice (xiao xiangdao 小香稻), water melons (xigua 西瓜), spinach (bocai 菠菜) and hemp (zhuma 苧麻) that came into use in China during the Yuan period. Thirdly, descriptions (in poems and rhapsodies) of a wide range of various tools and implements used in these two branches of economy, enriched by 273 of drawings (Nongqi tupu 農器圖譜) in 20 collections. These illustrations are accompanied by texts describing the use, origin and production of various tools in agriculture. For some, poems are quoted related to the objects. Not all implements were still in use during the Yuan period, but the Nongshu is a source in which information of ancient and obsolete tools is preserved.
The illustrations make Wang Zhen's Nongshu a real treasure of agriculture in ancient China. His book unite information on agricultural techniques in both northern and southern China, which is not seen in older tests that mostly concentrate on farming in the Yellow River plain in northern China. The Nongshu is also the first book that methodically describes all methods of the use of soil, like polders (weitian 圩田), paddy fields (weitian 圍田), embankment fields (guitian 櫃田), floating farmland (jiatian 架田), terrace fields (titian 梯田), muddy fields (tutian 塗田), and the like, with different shapes of field compartment and diverse irrigation methods.
The Nongshu is enriched with an appendix of "Miscellaneous records" (Zalu 雜錄) that includes a text on moveable letter printing (Zao huozi yinshu fa 造活字印書法), a technique that was relatively new at that time, and a text on preservation methods for buildings (Fazhi changsheng wu 法制長生屋), among these even the creation of fire-proofness. This text is the earliest explanation of this topic.
In the first print of the book that was published in 1204 it is said that the text consisted of three different writings, namely the three parts of which the transmitted version consists. It is therefore quite sure that Wang Zhen never planned to publish his writings as a coherent book.
The compilers of the imperial reprint series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 praised the high quality of Wang Zhen's Nongshu in contrast to the much simpler books Nongsang jiyao 農桑輯要 and Nongsang yishi cuoyao 農桑衣食撮要. The Nongshu was included in the huge Ming period encyclopaedia Yongle dadian 永樂大典, with a size of 8 juan. This version was used during the compilation of the Siku quanshu, but was revised and polished to a 22 juan long version. It is also included in a reprint series of high-quality palace prints, the Wuyingdian juzhenban shu 武英殿聚珍版書. In other editions the text is arranged in 37 juan, with one juan missing. In 1956 the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局 published a joint version of three books with the title Nongshu (Shenshi nongshu 沈氏農書, Chen Fu Nongshu and Wang Zhen Nongshu 王禎農書), and a separate edition of Wang Zhen's Nongshu. In 1963 the Nongye Press 農業出版社 also published this book, as well as a new edition in 1981 that includes Wang Youhu's 王毓瑚 commentary. Wang Zhen's Nongshu is also included in the series Wanyou wenku 萬有文庫.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 1646.
Lin Qitan 林其錟 (1994), "Wang Zhen Nongshu 王禎農書", in: Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Jingji 經濟, Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, p. 221.
Wang Guozhong 王國忠 (1996). "Wang Zhen Nongshu 王禎農書", in: Zhongguo xuehu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Keji 科技, Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, p. 414.
Yang Zhimin 楊直民 (1990). "Wang Zhen Nongshu 王禎農書", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe 中國大百科全書, Nongye 農業, Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 1274.
1-6. 農桑通訣 Nongsang Tongjue General notes on agriculture and silk production
7-26. 農器圖譜 Nongqi Tupu Pictures and notes on agricultural instruments (etc.):
7. 田制門 Tianzhi
8. 耒耜門 Leisi
9. 钁臿門 Juecha
10 .錢鎛門 Qianfu
11. 銍艾門 Zhiai
12. 杷朳門 Paba
13. 蓑笠門 Suoli
14. 蓧簣門 Diaokui
15. 杵白門 Chubai
16. 倉廩門 Canglin
17. 鼎釜門 Dingfu
18. 舟車門 Zhouche
19. 灌漑門 Guangai
20. 利用門 Liyong
21. 麰麥門 Moumai
22. 蠶繅門 Cansao
23. 蠶桑門 Cansang
24. 織絍門 Zhiren
25. 纊絮門 Kuangxu
26. 麻紵, 雜錄 Mazhu, Zalu, Miscellaneous
27-36. 穀譜 Gupu:Notes on useful plants
27-28. 穀屬 Gushu Grain-like crops
29. 蓏屬 Luoshu Melon-like crops
30-31. 蔬屬 Shushu Vegetables
32-34. 果屬 Guoshu Fruits
35. 竹木 Zhumu Bamboo and trees
36. 雜類 Zalei Miscellaneous plants