An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Shenshi nongshu 沈氏農書

May 31, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald
Shenshi nongshu 沈氏農書

Shenshi nongshu 沈氏農書 "Master Shen's Book on Agriculture", often shortly called Nongshu 農書, is a short agronomical text written by a certain Master Shen who lived during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). It must not be confused with Chen Fu's 陳旉 (1075-?) Nongshu (Chen Fu Nongshu 陳旉農書) and Wang Zheng's 王禎 (1271-1333) book of the same title (Wang Zhen Nongshu 王禎農書).

Master Shen hailed from Lianchuan 漣川 in the prefecture of Huzhou 湖州 (in the region around modern Wuxing 吳興, Zhejiang), but nothing is known about his real name and the circumstances of his life. The book is a general description of the agriculture in the region of Huzhou during the Chongzhen reign-period 崇禎 (1628-1644) of the late Ming era.

The book is divided into four parts. The first (Suiyue shiyi 逐月事宜) describes the seasonal activities and the "monthly commands" (yueling 月令) concerning the clearness of the sky, precipitations, various works and preparations in the course of the year. The second part (Yuntian difa 運田地法) explains the work in irrigated fields for different plants, but mainly rice and mulberry trees cultivated between the field compartments. The third part (Canwu 蠶務) is dedicated to sericulture, but also to six kinds of domestic animals like pigs, sheep and poultry. The last part (Jiachang riyong 家常日用) is a resume of useful knowledge for the daily life of peasants, especially the processing of foodstuff.

Master Shen's book covers all important aspects in agriculture during the late Ming and mentions a lot of important aspects not found in other books. For instance, he mentions the importance of the colour change of manure, or the transplantation of wheat shoots. The statements of the Shenshi nongshu are very reliable because the author was himself an experienced practitioner.

Master Shen stressed the importance of agriculture over all other business, and explained that the cultivator had to care for his fields with all his heart. This attitude had to be perpetuated to the next generations. A proper management would result in higher yields than a lean management. Successful management required that all agricultural activities were planned beforehand and had to take into consideration all eventualities. Owners of a larger estate might combine cattle breeding with cultivation and food processing (including textile business and liquor production), and so run a proto-industrialized form of agricultural enterprise. These three fields could also mutually profit from each other. Cattle breeding, for instance, enhanced the output of cultivation by its contribution of manure. As an entrepreneur, master Shen provided detailed calculations about the cost, output and profit of a farm. For such a calculation he established fix numeric relations (ding'e 定額) for field work (amount of work per person), consumption (leaves eaten by each silkworm) or output (amount of grain needed for each unit of wine).

The Shenshi nongshu criticizes errors made by a lot of peasants when believing common sayings. More manure or more intense labour, the book says, does not necessarily lead to a greater output. It was also not better to generally plant rice shoots very dense, but the distance from plant to plant depended on the velocity of the water current, the amount of manure, the depth of ploughing and finally, from the type of rice. Shen's detailed descriptions of their treatment and the rules for cutting and preparing mulberry trees surpass any statements found in older books.

The Shenshi nongshu was first included in Zhang Lüxiang's 張履祥 (1611-1674) collected works Yangyuan xiansheng quanji 楊園先生全集 (also called Yangyuan quanshu 楊園全書) from the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) because Zhang had first published the book and written an appendix. It found later entrance into the series Zhaodai congshu 昭代叢書, Xuehai leibian 學海類編, Tongxuezhai congshu 通學齋叢書, Ranlige congshu 然藜閣叢書 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成. Is is also referred to in the register of existing books that was compiled for the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書. In 1956 the Zhonghua Shuju Press 中華書局 published a joint edition of three nongshu 農書 books, among them the Shenshi nongshu. In 1959 the Shenshi nongshu was published separately by the Nongye Press 農業出版社, including the supplement by Zhang Lüxiang.

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, 1648.
Lin Qitan 林其錟 (1994). "Shenshi nongshu 沈氏農書", in Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Jingji 經濟 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 332.
Wang Guozhong 王國忠 (1996). "Shenshi nongshu 沈氏農書", in Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Keji 科技 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 442.
Wang Da 王達 (1990). "Shenshi nongshu he Bu nongshu 《沈氏農書》和《補農書》", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Nongye 農業 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1013.
Wang Jiahua 王加華 (2008). "Cong Shenshi nongshu kann chuantong shiqi Jiangnan cansangqu de turang gengzuo 從《沈氏農書》看傳統時期江南蠶桑區的土壤耕作", Zhongguo shehui jingji shi yanjiu 中國社會經濟史研究, 2008 (2): 25-31.
Yan Qinghua 嚴清華 (1987). "Shenshi nongshu jingying guanli sixiang chutan 《沈氏農書》經營管理思想初探", Wuhan Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 武漢大學學報(哲學社會科學版), 1987 (6): 45-48.
You Xiuling 游修齡 (1989). "Shenshi nongshu he Wuqingzhi 《沈氏農書》和《烏青志》", Zhongguo keji shiliao 中國科技史料, 1989 (1): 80-84.
Zhou Bangjun 周邦君 (2007). "Mingmo Huzhou daozuo yu zaihai fangzhi wenti: Yi Shenshi nongshu wei jichu de kaocha 明末湖州稻作與災害防治問題——以沈氏《農書》為基礎的考察", Nanjing nongye daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 南京農業大學學報(社會科學版), 2007 (1): 82-87.
Zhou Bangjun 周邦君 (2008a). "Shenshi, Zhang Lüxiang lun zaihai fangzhi: Yi Nongshu he Bu nongshu hou wei zhongxin 沈氏、張履祥論災害防治——以《農書》和《補農書後》為中心", Jiangsu Shifan Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 江蘇師範大學學報(哲學社會科學版), 2008 (2): 120-124.
Zhou Guangxi 周廣西 (2006). "Shenshi nongshu suo zai shuidao shifei jishu yanjiu 《沈氏農書》所載水稻施肥技術研究", Nanjing nongye daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 南京農業大學學報(社會科學版), 2006 (1): 69-72.

Bu nongshu 補農書 "Supplement to the Book on Agriculture"

The Bu nongshu 補農書 "Supplement to the Book on Agriculture" is a supplement to the Shenshi nongshu 沈氏農書. It was compiled by the Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Zhang Lüxiang 張履祥 (1610-1674), who gave up his official career and lived the life of a peasant in his hometown. As a highly educated scholar he began writing down all he knew and had experienced as a landlord. The result of his notes was added to the book Shenshi nongshu that had been written by an unknown author in the 1630s in the region of Tongxiang 桐鄉, Zhejiang. Zhang's supplement was finished in 1658. It consists of 22 paragraphs that describe particular themes of farming. Of particular interest are his statements of the cultivation of red beans (meidou 梅豆 or 眉豆), hemp (dama 大麻), chamomile (ganju 甘菊) and taro (yunai 芋艿) in the region of Tongxiang.

Both texts became an inseparable unit, but because the authorship of the main text is unclear, the Shenshi nongshu is included in Zhang Lüxiang's collected works Yangyuan xiansheng quanji 楊園先生全集. In 1983, the Nongye Press 農業出版社 published an annotated separate version, the Bu nongshu jiaoshi 補農書校釋.

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, 1650.
Wang Da 王達 (1992). "Shenshi nongshu he Bu nongshu 《沈氏農書》和《補農書》", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Nongye 農業 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1013.
Lai Zuolian 賴作蓮, Mao Zhimin 樊志民 (2000). "Bu nongshu suo jian jingying dizhu guanli de xiandaihua yinsu 《補農書》所見經營地主管理的現代化因素", Nongye kaogu 農業考古, 2000 (3): 121-124.
Li Yan 李燕, Wang Jiahua 王加華 (2020). "Guifan shehui shijian zhiyu de yinyu: Bu Nongshu yueling xiangzheng yiyi tanxi 規範社會事件秩序的隱喻:《補農書》“月令”象徵意義探析", Nongye kaogu 農業考古, 2020 (4): 18-25.
Ma Xinrong 馬欣榮 (2004). "Bu nongshu suo jian jingying dizhu de jingjing celüe 《補農書》所見經營地主的經營策略", Xibei Nonglin Keji Daxue xuebao 西北農林科技大學學報, 2004 (3): 105-108.
Wang Da 王達 (1990). "Jianshu Bu nongshu ji qi zai Jia-Hu diqu nongshi zhi diwei 簡述《補農書》及其在嘉湖地區農史之地位", Nongye kaogu 農業考古, 1990 (1): 374-376+378.
Xue Guozhong 薛國中 (1981). "Cong Bu nongshu tansuo shiwu zhi shiqi shiji Zhongguo nongcun jingji guanxi de bianhua 從《補農書》探索十五至十七世紀中國農村經濟關係的變化", Wuhan Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 武漢大學學報(哲學社會科學版), 1981 (5): 84-91.
Yan Yuhuai 顏玉懷, Zou Dexiu 鄒德秀 (2002). "Bu nongshu de nongye jingying guanli sixiang yanjiu 《補農書》的農業經營管理思想研究", Zhongguo nongshi 中國農史, 2002 (4): 92-98.
Yang Shengmin 楊生民 (1979). "Cong Bu nongshu kann Mingmo Qingchu Zhejiang Jia-Hu diqu de nongye zibenzhuyi mengya wenti 從《補農書》看明末清初浙江嘉、湖地區的農業資本主義萌芽問題", Beijing Shiyuan xuebao 北京師院學報, 1979 (2): 57-67.
Yang Zhimin 楊直民 (1994). "Bu nongshu tiyao 《補農書》提要", in Ren Jiyu 任繼愈, ed. Zhongguo kexue jishu dianji tonghui 中國科學技術典籍通彙, part Nongxue 農學 (Zhengzhou: Henan jiaoyu chubanshe), Vol. 4, 1-2.
Yu Rongliang 俞榮梁 (1985). "Jianli shengtai nongye shi nongye xiandaihua de biyou zhi lu: Bu nongshu de qishi 建立生態農業是農業現代化的必由之路——《補農書》的啟示", Nongye kaogu 農業考古, 1985 (1): 9-19.
Yu Rongliang 俞榮梁 (1989). "Nonghu jiating de jianye jingying qushi ji qi lishi guiji: Jian lun Bu nongshu zhong nonghu jingying de tese 農戶家庭的兼業經營趨勢及其歷史軌跡——兼論《補農書》中農戶經營的特色", Gujin nongye 古今農業, 1989 (1): 95-99.
Zhang Kai 章楷 (1962). "Cong Bu nongshu kann sanbai nian qian Zhexi nongmin de shifei jishu 从《補農書》看三百年前浙西農民的施肥技術", Zhejiang nongye kexue 浙江農業科學, 1962 (2) : 92-93.
Zhou Bangjun 周邦君 (2008b)."Bu nongshu suo jian nongcun jiage ji qi xiangguan wenti 《補農書》所見農村價格及其相關問題", Gujin nongye 古今農業, 2008 (4): 42-54.
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Zhou Bangjun 周邦君 (2009a). "Bu nongshu suo jian feiliao jishu yu shengtai nongye 《補農書》所見肥料技術與生態農業", Changjiang Daxue xuebao (Ziran kexue ban) 長江大學學報(自然科學版), 2009 (1): 102-106.
Zhou Bangjun 周邦君 (2009b). "Bu nongshu yu Mingmo Qingchu Jiangnan geng-du wenhua 《補農書》與明末清初江南耕讀文化", Nongye kaogu 農業考古, 2009 (1): 135-140.
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Zhou Bangjun 周邦君 (2009d). "Cong Bu nongshu kann nongye yu huanjing wenti 從《補農書》看農業與環境問題", Henan Keji Daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 河南科技大學學報(社會科學版), 2009 (4): 20-22.
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