An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Jiuhuang huomin shu 救荒活民書

May 29, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Jiuhuang huomin shu 救荒活民書 "Book of disaster relief and saving the people" is a treatise on disaster relief compiled by the Southern Song-period 南宋 (1127-1279) scholar Dong Wei 董煟 (d. 1217). The 3-juan long book is enriched by a collection of surviving fragments.

Dong Wei, courtesy name Jixing 季興, style Nanyin 南隱, hailed from Dexing 德興, Jiangxi, and earned his jinshi degree in 1193. He was appointed guard commander (wei 尉) of Xinchang 新昌 (modern Yifeng 宜豐, Jiangxi), a post in which he remained for many decades. Based on his experience he began writing a book on disaster relief that was highly acknowledged by Emperor Ningzong 宋寧宗 (r. 1194-1224), so that Dong was bestowed the title of court gentleman for consultation (yilang 議郎) and his book was made an officially issued book to be distributed in all prefectures. He later became prefect (zhizhou 知州) of Yingzhou 郢州 and then of Rui'an 瑞安. Dong Wei has also written the books Baoxigao 抱膝稿, Shouguo maishu 壽國脈書 and Nanyinji 南隱集.

The Jiuhuang huomin shu is the oldest book of this kind in China. It begins with a description of the duty of rulers to support the people in cases of natural disasters and highlights this obligation with examples from history. The middle part of the book describes concrete measures to bring relief to the afflicted, and the last part includes discussions about disaster relief brought forward by various government officials. The central chapter is an overview of how the local government would support persons struck by natural disasters as drought, locusts and inundation.

Each prefecture (zhou 州) and district (xian 縣) was to have an official so-called "ever-normal granary" (changpingcang 常平倉) that had to be stocked with cheap grain in years of good harvest. This grain could then be sold at a cheap price in bad years. These official granaries were to be supplemented by private "charity granaries" (yicang 義倉) that were distributed in places less easily to reach than the district capitals.

The government also dispatched officials to rich and fortunate households to incite them (quanfen 勸分) to sell grain to the government at a moderate price. Each district magistrate also had to see to it that not too much grain was sold to neighbouring districts, so that in all places there would be sufficient grain to ensure a stable price in cases of need. It was therefore necessary to prohibit that neighbouring districts bought in (di 糴) too much grain. Although cheap grain prices were favourable, it was not desirable that prices were too low because otherwise, peasants would sell their grain elsewhere with the result that the home district would lack sufficient food.

The appendix provides sources on disaster relief from the Sui 隋 (581-618) to the early Song period 宋 (960-1279). It also includes a regulation for the removal of locusts, the Chuhuang tiaoling 除蝗條令.

The earliest surviving print dates from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). The book is included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Mohai jinhu 墨海金壺, Shoushange congshu 守山閣叢書, Zhucong bielu 珠叢别録, Congshu jicheng 叢書集成, and partially in the Huangzheng congshu 荒政叢書 (with the title of Huangzheng quanshu 救荒全書).

There is a short supplement written during the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) by Zhang Guangda 張光大. It was published together with the main text by Zhu Xiong 朱熊 (1801-1864) with the title Jiuhuang huomin buyi shu 救荒活民補遺書.

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