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Zhiben tigang 知本提綱

Jan 19, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhiben tigang 知本提綱 "Guide to a network of knowing the fundaments (of human beings)" is actually a Confucian treatise written by Yang Shen 楊屾 (1699-1794), who is known better as the author of a book on Shaanxi sericulture, Binfeng guangyi 豳風廣義. The Zhiben tigang, however, includes a central chapter (Xiuye 修業, Nongze 農則) on farming traditions of northwest China. The text was annotated by a friend of Yang, Zheng Shiduo 鄭世鐸. The Zhiben tigang was printed in 1747. It consists of 14 chapters and has a length of 10 juan.

The texts includes an introduction and an afterword, and focuses in four chapters on the aspects farming (Gengjia 耕稼), sericulture (Sangcan 桑蠶), tree cultivation (Shuyi 樹藝), and animal breeding (Chumu 畜牧). The author holds that all aspects of agriculture were influences by the two Yang 陽 factors Heaven (weather) and fire (heat), and the two Yin factors 陰 earth (soil) and water (see Yin and Yang theory). The mutual support of these factors, and the harmonious combination of the five agents (yinyang jiaoji, wuxing hehe 陰陽交濟,五行合和) would result in a good harvest. Before ploughing, the soil had the character of "lesser Yin" (shaoyin 少陰), stagnant in nature, and blocked by the "greater Yin" (taiyin 太陰) character of the cold water in it. Through the ploughing process, Yang was brought into the soil and the cold and stagnant character removed in order to nourish the life of plants.

The part Nongze 農則 "Rules of farming" focuses on the use of land, and explains how it was possible to obtain several harvests per year by following a threefold ploughing sequence of shallow – deep – shallow. The texts emulates models for better fertilization by "three appropriate" (sanyi 三宜) methods. The book thus combines theory and practice.

The text of the chapter can be found in Wang Yuhu's 王毓瑚 (1907—1980) collection Qin-Jin nongyan 秦晉農言 from 1957.

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