An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Mumianpu 木棉譜

May 31, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Mumianpu 木棉譜 "About cotton cultivation" is a brief agricultural treatise written during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) by Chu Hua 褚華 (c. 1810), courtesy name Wenzhou 文洲 or Qiu'e 秋萼. His dates of life are unclear, but it is known that he lived during the Qianlong reign 乾隆 (1736-1795) and hailed from Shanghai. The Mumianpu was written in the early 19th century.

The Mumianpu summarizes information on cotton cultivation and processing in China. The book details the complete set of cultivation techniques from seeding and sowing to fertilization, weeding, intercropping, and cotton picking (zhuohua 捉花).

The cotton farmers of the Shanghai region used a dense-planting method, which was possible by special fertilizing methods. In winter, farmers sew wheat and cotton side by side. The wheat sprouts would thus protect the roots of the cotton bushes against the cold.

The book describes the operation by one person of a pedal-moved cotton gin (jiaota zhache 腳踏軋車) to remove cottonseeds (mianzi 棉籽). For "beating the cotton" (tan mian 彈棉), a 5-foot-long wooden bow was used to make the cotton "disperse like snow and light as smoke" (san ruo xue, qing ru yan 散若雪,輕如煙). By using a pedal-moved spinning wheel (jiaota fangche 腳踏紡車), more than one pound of cotton yarn can be spun per day. Skilled female workers are able to operate 3-4 spindles (muding 木錠) at a time. Iron spindles (tieding 鐵錠) result in cotton yarn of much higher fineness and quality.

For weaving, flatbed looms (ping zhiji 平織機) with two healds (zong 綜) are used. The finest cloth was produced in Sanlintang 三林塘 (today part of Pudong 浦東). The text also mentions several types of weave like twill weave (xiewen bu 斜紋布) or various patterns made in case of jacquard fabric (tihua bu 提花布) like the "overlapping-rhomb pattern" (fangsheng wen 方勝紋), elephant-eye patterns or clouds. Even flower-damask fabric (hualing bu 花綾布) can be made by a combination of cotton (weft, wei 緯) and silk (warp, jing 經) yarn. Before dyeing, cloth can be scraped in order to obtain flanell cloth (garong bu 刮絨布). Apart from dyeing and bleaching (piaobai 漂白), the Mumianpu also highlights two techniques of printing, namely "multi-color scratch printing" (duose gua yinhua 多色刮印花), and matrix printing (loukongban taose yinhua 縷空版套色刷印花).

From the social perspective, the author reports the background of the shrine of Huang Daopo 黃道婆, a Shanghai weaving expert from the late 13th century. Another interesting information is that sugarcane planters from Fujian and Guangdong used to weave cotton cloth during the off-season. There were southern merchants specialized in selling sugarcane on the Shanghai markets while buying cotton or cotton cloth to bring it back southwards.

Although the Mumianpu records in detail many aspects of the cotton textile production in Shanghai, it is mostly based on hearsay or superficial knowledge, or on rather general books like Nongzheng quanshu 農政全書, and therefore includes quite a few unreliable information.

The book is an important source for the cotton industry in the region of Shanghai in the mid-Qing period. It is included in the series Yihai zhuchen 藝海珠塵, Zhaodai congshu 昭代叢書, Nongxue congshu 農學叢書 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成初編 and Shanghai zhanggu congshu 上海掌故叢書.

Gao Hanyu 高漢玉, Huang Guoliang 黃國梁 (1984). "Mumianpu 木棉譜", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Vol. Fangzhi 紡織 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 196.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996), Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 1, p. 1651.
Lin Qitan 林其錟 (1994). "Mumianpu 木棉譜", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Jingji 經濟卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 431.
Wu Jianxin 吳建新 (1995). "Mumianpu 木棉譜", in Zhongguo nongye baike quanshu 中國農業百科全書, Vol. Nongye lishi 農業歷史卷 (Beijing: Nongye chubanshe), 219.
Xu Xinwu 徐新吾 (1980). "Guanyu dui Mumianpu zhong suo jibu shangye ziben xingzhi de shangtao 關於對《木棉譜》中所記布商業資本性質的商討", Shanghai shehui kexue 上海社會科學, 1980 (1): 112+82.