An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Nongzheng quanshu 農政全書

Jul 17, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Nongzheng quanshu 農政全書 "Whole book on agricultural activities" is an agricultural encyclopaedia compiled by the late Ming-period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Xu Guangqi 徐光啟 (1562-1633), courtesy name Zixian 子先, style Xuanhu 玄扈.

Xu hailed from Shanghai 上海 and earned his jinshi degree with the age of 36 sui. In 1604 he participated a second time in the metropolitan examination and in 1632, as an elderly man, was appointed Minister of Rites (libu shangshu 禮部尚書) and Grand Academician (daxueshi 大學士) of the East Pavilion 東閣. A year later he was transferred to the post of Grand Academician of the Hall of Literary Profundity (Wenyuange 文淵閣) but he died soon thereafter. His posthumous title is Duke Wending 徐文定公. Xu Guangqi is very famous for his cooperation with the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (Chinese name Li Madou 利瑪竇, 1552-1610) together with whom he translated European treatises in astronomy, mathemetics and mechanics, like Euclid's "Elements" (original Greek title Stoichéia, in Chinese as Jihe yuanben 幾何原本). He also compiled a treatise about the correction of the Chinese soli-lunar calendar, the Chongzhen lishu 崇禎曆書. Xu Guangqi was also very interested in firearms because of their usefulness in the campaigns against the Jurchens (the eventual Manchus).

The 60-juan-long Nongzheng quanshu is only one of several books on agriculture that Xu Guangqi had authored. Others were Nongyi zashu 農遺雜疏, Tunyanshu 屯鹽疏, Zhong mianhua fa 種棉花法, Ganshushu 甘薯疏, Zhongzhu tushuo 種竹圖說, Yikenling 宜墾令, Nongji 農輯 and Beigenglu 北耕錄.

The Nongzheng quanshu is divided into 12 chapters that include a general introduction into agriculture (Nongben 農本), an overview of the field systems (Tianzhi 田制) of China through history, basic themes of farming (Nongshi 農事) like ploughing and the observation of weather and climate, hydraulics (Shuili 水利), farming tools (Nongqi 農器), the art of tree cultivation (Shuyi 樹藝), sericulture (Cansang 蠶桑 and Cansang guanglei 蠶桑廣類), the cultivation of plants (Zhongzhi 種植), cattle breeding (Muyang 牧養), the processing of agricultural products (Zhizao 製造), and famine relief (Huangzheng 荒政).

The greatest part of the book consists of quotations from older texts that was only slightly amended or altered. Xu Guangqi nevertheless was able to bring these quotations in such a form that the text of the Nongzheng quanshu appears in a coherent shape. He also commented many statements for clarification and rectification, based on his own research in agriculture. The Nongzheng quanshu is a complete overview of all aspects of farming in traditional China and shows the level that agriculture had reached in the seventeenth century.

Particularly useful are the many illustrations in the Nongzheng quanshu that deal with with disaster relief in China's northwestern region, irrigation and many tools and implements.

The introduction of the Nongzheng quanshu is based on the idea that agriculture was the root of the whole economy in the empire. A short book of Feng Yingjing 馮應京 (1555-1606), Guochao zhongnong kao 國朝重農考 "Investigations to the appreciation of farming under Our Dynasty", is therefore especially quoted to ground this thesis. The chapter Nongshi covers a large amount of aspects of farming, like management, opening wasteland, consideration of the seasons, or prognostication of the weather. It focuses on the opening of new land (tunken 屯墾) and quotes from ancient books, common sayings and from Xu Guangqi's own experience. The chapter on irrigation quotes extensively from the respective chapter in Wang Zhen's 王禎 (1271-1333) book Nongshu 農書 from the Song period 宋 (960-1279; chapters Guangai tupu 灌溉圖譜 and Liyong tupu 利用圖譜) and comments on these texts. The Nongzheng quanshu also includes instructions on hydraulic engineering by the Italian Jesuit father Sabatino de Ursis (Chinese name Xiong Sanba 熊三拔, 1575-1620, chapter Taixi shuifa 泰西水法 "Irrigation methods of the Far West"). The chapter on disaster relief quotes the two books Jiuhuang bencao 救荒本草 and Yecaipu 野菜譜 that focus on the collection and use of wild plants as a supplement to and substitute of staple food during period of crop failure or inundations.

The Nongzheng quanshu was actually not completed during Xu Guangqi's lifetime, but this task was left to Chen Zilong 陳子龍 (1608-1647), who amended the text and rearranged it. It was first printed in 1639 by Zhang Guowei 張國維 (1595-1646) and Fang Yuegong 方岳貢 (d. 1644). It is estimated that Chen Zilong cut about about a third of the whole original text, mostly redundant statements, and instead added some more text, constituting about 20 per cent of the original. Instead of his revision the text still includes a lot of errors.

The oldest print of the Nongzheng quanshu is known as the Pinglu Hall edition 平露堂本. It was again published in 1837 in Guizhou (the Guizhou edition 貴州本), in 1843 in Shanghai by Wang Shoukang 王壽康 (the Shuhai Hall edition 曙海樓本) and in 1874 by the public Shandong Press 山東書局 (the Shandong edition 山東本). In 1956 the Zhonghua Shuju Press 中華書局 published a modern edition with a commentary written by Zou Shuwen 鄒樹文, and in 1979 the Shanghai Guji Press 上海古籍出版社 launched an edition with a commentary by Shi Shenghan 石聲漢, the Nongzheng quanshu jiaozhu 農政全書校注.

The Nongzheng quanshu is included in the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書.

Table 1. Contents of the Nongzheng quanshu 農政全書
1.-3. 農本 The roots of agriculture
4.-5. 田制 Field allotment and taxation
6.-11. 農事 Agricultural matters
12.-20. 水利 Water conservancy
21.-24. 農器 Agricultural tools
25.-30. 樹藝 The art of planting
31.-34. 蠶桑 Silkworms and mulberry trees
35.-36. 蠶桑廣類 Silkworms and mulberry trees extended: (Cotton and hemp)
37.-40. 種植 Growing trees
41. 牧養 Raising cattle
42. 製造 Fabricating (liquors)
43.-60. 荒政 Disaster relief and medical herbs
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, 1647.
Wu Deduo 吳德鐸 (1990). "Nongzheng quanshu 農政全書", 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, 833.