An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Qimin yaoshu 齊民要術

Jul 17, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Qimin yaoshu 齊民要術 "Important methods to condition the people's [living]" is one of the oldest agronomical treatises of China. It was written by Jia Sixie 賈思勰 (fl. 544), a scholar of the short Eastern Wei period 東魏 (534-550). Jia hailed from Yidu 益都, modern Shandong, and was governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Gaoyang 高陽. He had the opportunity to observe the farming activities in the regions of Jingxing 井陘, Huguan 壼關 and Shangdang 上黨 (all in modern Shanxi and Shaanxi) and was himself a sheep breeder.

The Qimin yaoshu comprises 92 chapters arranged in 10 juan. About the author virtually nothing is known but in his foreword he at least explains that he collected quotations from all types of books, especially from older agronomical treatises like the Fan Shengzhi shu 氾生之書 and the Simin yueling 四民月令 as well as interviews of experts on agronomy.

Jia Sixie does not only describe how to plant and rise different kinds of crops or how to breed cattle, but also describes the preparation and storage of some materials based on agronomical products, like wine, glue, oil, fibres, dyestuffs, ink, or cooking products processes (pickling) and products like yeast, sugar and soy sauce (juan 7 to 9). Besides staple food (juan 1-2) he explains the cultivation of vegetables (juan 3), fruits and mulberry trees (juan 4), the latter's leaves being used as fodder for silkworms. Juan 6 describes cattle breeding and fish-farming. In juan 10 he also describes plants not common in central China, and his book is thus a very important source for agriculture in early China. Jia Sixie quotes from more than 150 ancient books and thus preserved many fragments of texts that are otherwise lost (e.g. Fan Shengzhi shu, Simin yueling or Tao Zhugong's 陶朱公 Yangyujing 養魚經), and also many "country sayings" (geyao 歌謠).

The "Miscellaneous Chapter" (Zashuo 雜説) of the book and the chapter Huozhi 貨殖 "Trade" had been added later.

The Qimin yaoshu is the oldest completely surviving agricultural text of China. Jia Sixie stresses the importance of agriculture for the welfare of society and the whole state, and supports his argument by quotations from ancient masters like Ren Yan 任延, Wang Jing 王景, Huangfu Long 皇甫隆, Ci Chong 茨充, Cui Shi 崔寔, Huang Ba 黄霸, Gong Sui 龔遂 and Shao Xinchen 召信臣. Further proofs of this assumption come from the chapter Hongfan 洪範 of the Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents" and other Confucian Classics where the kings of the Zhou dynasty 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE) are admonished to "appease, enrich and instruct the people".

Compared to older agronomical texts like the Fan Shenzhi shu from the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE), the scope of agricultural fields is widely enlarged in the Qimin yaoshu. It includes not only the cultivation of plants, but also cattle breeding, forestry and the processing of products. A successful farmer, Jia Sixie says, would not only mechanically do his work, but would critically observe the seasons, weather, and the quality of the soil, in order to adapt his work to these factors. Such a method would save labour and increase yields (yongli shao er chenggong duo 用力少而成功多). For the amelioration of the soil, better ploughing methods had been developed, in combination with the selection of better seeds. Jia Sixie therefore describes 86 types of various seeds in his book.

For the windy and dry spring season of northern China he recommended deep-ploughing for the first cultivation of a field, but a shallow reverting of the soil in autumn, and vice versa. Between phases of cultivation it was profitable for the preservation of moisture to level the ground and to weed out undesired grasses and herbs. Crop rotation, he says, also helps to keep the fertility of the soil. Green beans (lüdou 緑豆) planted first would enrich fertility, and had to be followed by small beans (xiaodou 小豆) or sesame (huma 胡麻). Besides methods of sowing the author also describes different methods of plant propagation like striking (qiancha 扦插), stolons (yatiao 壓條), division (fenzhu 分株) or propping (jiajie 嫁接). The author seems to not have highly estimated a kind of marketization of agricultural products, as advocated by the late Han-period scholar Cui Shi 崔寔 (d. 170 CE, author of Simin yueling), but he rather preferred a kind of self-subsisting farming for a single although large—household.

Quotation 1. Production of meat condiment
肉醬法:牛、羊、麞、鹿、兔肉皆得作。取良殺新肉,去脂,細剉。(陳肉乾者不任用。合脂令醬膩。) For meat condiment: beef, mutton, venison, hare [or meat of any game] will do; always use good, freshly slaughtered meat. Pick away fats, and mince finely. (Meat aged or dried is not good; fat makes the product over-unctuous.)
曬麴令燥,熟擣,絹簁。大率肉一斗,麴末五升,白鹽兩升半,黃蒸一升, (曝乾,熟擣,絹簁。) 盤上和令均調,內甕子中。 (有骨者,和訖先擣,然後盛之。骨多髓,既肥膩,醬亦然也。) 泥封,日曝。寒月作之。宜埋之於黍穰積中。 Dry some wine starter in sunshine, when very dry, pound fine and sift. Take 10 parts of finely-chopped meat, 5 of starter powder, 2.5 of white table salt, 1 of yellow mould (pounded fine when dry and sift). Mix well in a pan, then move into a pottery jar (Pound bony parts well before adding. Marrowy bones will make the condiment greasy.), seal with mud and bake in sunshine. If made in winter days, bury the jar in millet chaff [to keep warm].
二七日開看,醬出無麴氣,便熟矣。 Check the mixture after 27 days, and if no further gases from the starter are visible, the condiment is ready.
Example of one important aspect of domestic economy, namely the preparation of meat condiment. Shih (1974: 83-84) explains that in old times, meat condiments were more widespread than soybean condiments (soy sauce). Translation slightly altered and complemented.

The oldest surviving print of the Qimin yaoshu dates from the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126, printed by the Institute for the Veneration of Literature, Chongwenyuan 崇文院), but only 4 fascicles of this edition are preserved in Japan. The Qimin yaoshu is to be found in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Sibu congkan 四部叢刊, Mice huihan 祕册彙函, Jindai mishu 津逮祕書, Sibu beiyao 四部備要, Wanyou wenku 萬有文庫, Xuejin taoyuan 學津討原 and Jianxi cunshe congkan 漸西村舍叢刊.

There are two 20th-century commentaries on the Qimin yaoshu, namely Shi Shenghan's 石聲漢 (1907-1971) Qimin yaoshu jinshi 齊民要術今釋 and Miao Qiyu's 繆啟愉 (1910-2003) Qimin yaoshu jiaoshi 齊民要術校釋. A study and partial translation has been produced by Shih, Sheng-han (1974), A Preliminary Survey of the Book Ch‘i Min Yao Shu: An Agricultural Encyclopaedia of the 6th Century (Peking: Science Press).

Chen Ming 陳明, Chai Fuzhen 柴福珍, Zhang Farui 张法瑞 (2015). "Cong Qimin yaoshu zhong de nongyan kann Beiwei nongye wenming 從《齊民要術》中的農諺看北魏農業文明", Nongye kaogu 農業考古, 2015 (6): 289-292.
Fan Chuyu 范楚玉 (1991). "Jia Sixue nongye jingying sixiang 賈思勰農業經營思想", Zhongguo nongye baike quanshu 中國農業百科全書, Vol. Nongye jingji 農業經濟卷 (Beijing: Nongye chubanshe), 80.
Hui Fuping 惠富平, Sun Yanbing 孫雁冰 (2020). "Qimin yaoshu nonggeng wenhua jiazhi de zai renshi 《齊民要術》農耕文化價值的再認識", Zhongguo nongshi 中國農史, 2020 (2): 50-57.
Li Jing 李靜 (2016). "Qimin yaoshu jiuqu zhizuo jishu de chuancheng yu fazhan 《齊民要術》酒麯制作技術的傳承與發展", Niangjiu keji 酿酒科技, 2016 (10): 118-121.
Li Ronghua 李榮華 (2014). "Cong Qimin yaoshu kann nanfang yinshi wenhua de beichuan 從《齊民要術》看南方飲食文化的北傳", Zhongguo nongshi 中國農史, 2014 (3): 17-23.
Li Xiaoping 李小平 (2006). "Qimin yaoshu zhong de liangci ji qi tedian 《齊民要術》中的量詞及其特點", Guangxi shehui kexue 廣西社會科學, 2006 (9): 153-156.
Lin Qitan 林其錟 (1994). "Qimin yaoshu 齊民要術", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed.Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Jingji 經濟 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 96.
Miao Qiyu 繆啟愉 (1990). "Qimin yaoshu 齊民要術", 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, 865.
Min Zongdian 閔宗殿 (1994). "Qimin yaoshu tiyao 《齊民要術》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. 1, 17-20.
Ni Genjin 倪根金 (1998). "Qimin yaoshu nongyan yanjiu 《齊民要術》農諺研究", Zhongguo nongshi 中國農史, 1998 (4): 79-88.
Ni Li 倪莉 (1997). "Qimin yaoshu zhong zhicu gongsi yanxi 《齊民要術》中制醋工藝研析", Ziran kexue shi yanjiu 自然科學史研究, 1997 (4): 357-367.
Sheng Bangyue 盛邦躍 (2000). "Shilun Qimin yaoshu de zhuyao zhexue sixiang 試論《齊民要術》的主要哲學思想", Zhongguo nongshi 中國農史, 2000 (3): 79-82.
Wang Fuchang 王福昌 (2013). "Zhongguo gudai nongshu de xiangcun shehui shiliao jiazhi: Yi Qimin yaoshu he Sishi zuayao wei li 中國古代農書的鄉村社會史料價值——以《齊民要術》和《四時纂要》為例", Beijing Linye Daxue xuebao 北京林業大學學報, 2013 (3): 7-11.
Wang Guozhong 王國忠 (1996). "Qimin yaoshu 齊民要術", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed.Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Keji 科技 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 387.
Wang Jianguo 汪建國 (2008). "Jiedu Qimin yaoshu de zhiqu de niangjiu gongyi 解讀《齊民要術》的制麯和酿酒工藝", Zhongguo niangzao 中國釀造, 2008 (16): 106-108.
Wang Ling 王玲 (2005). "Qimin yaoshu yu Beichao Hu-han yinshi wenhua de ronghe 《齊民要術》與北朝胡漢飲食文化的融合", Zhongguo nongshi 中國農史, 2005 (4): 13-19.
Wang Yuhu 王毓瑚, ed. (1964). Zhonggou nongxue shulu 中國農學書錄 (Beijing: Nongye chubanshe), 28.
Xiao Kezhi 肖克之 (1997)."Qimin yaoshu de banben 《齊民要術》的版本", Wenxian 文獻, 1997 (3): 249-254.
Xiao Kezhi 肖克之, Zhang Hewang 張合旺 (1999). "Qimin yaoshu anjiu gaishuo 《齊民要術》研究概說", Zhongguo nongshi 中國農史,1999 (2): 95-99.
Yang Bo 楊博 (2019). "Chutu jiandu suo jian Qimin yaoshu yuanyuan kaolüe 出土簡牘所見《齊民要術》淵源考略", Nongye kaogu 農業考古, 2019 (4): 195-201.
Yang Jian 楊堅 (2004). "Qimin yaoshu suo jizai de roushi jiagong yu prengren fangfa chutan 《齊民要術》所記載的肉食加工與烹飪方法初探", Zhongguo nongshi 中國農史, 2004 (3): 22-29.
Zhang Wanyi 張婉儀, Li Ronghua 李榮華 (2019). "21 shiji yilai Qimin yaoshu yanjiu zongshu 21世紀以來《齊民要術》研究綜述", Nongye kaogu 農業考古, 2019 (6): 265-272.
Zhao Jianmin 趙建民 (2008). "Qimin yaoshu zhijiang jishu ji jiang de pengren yinyong 《齊民要術》制酱技術及酱的烹飪應用", Yangzhou Daxue pengren xuebao 揚州大學烹飪學報, 2008 (4): 14-20.
Zhao Lei 趙雷 (1992)."Qimin yaoshu yu Zhongguo yinshi wenhua 《齊民要術》與中國飲食文化", Zhongguo nongshi 中國農史, 1992 (1): 94-10.
Zhou Yiliang 周一良 (1992). "Qimin yaoshu 齊民要術", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 764.