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Simin yueling 四民月令

Jul 17, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Simin yueling 四民月令 "Monthly decretes to the four [groups of] people" is an agricultural treatise from the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220) . It was written by Cui Shi 崔寔 (d. 170 CE), alternative name Cui Tai 崔臺, courtesy name Zizhen 子真 or Yuanshi 元始.

Cui Shi's father Cui Yuan 崔瑗 had been an expert in astronomy and astrology. He hailed from Anping 安平 in the commandery of Zhuojun 涿郡 (near modern Beijing) and is known as the author of the political treatise Zhenglun 政論 that he lectured to Emperor Huan 漢桓帝 (r. 146-167). Cui is praised as one of the eminent scholars of the late Han period, together with Cai Yong 蔡邕. He socially rose from the job as a wine merchant to the office of court gentleman for consultation (yilang 議郎), commander (sima 司馬), governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Wuyuan 五原, and then of Liaodong 遼東, and finally minister (shangshu 尚書). During the time as governor of Wuyuan, Cui purchased a large amount of looms and admonished the local peasantry to cultivate flax to gain some surplus revenue.

The Simin yueling is recorded in the imperial bibliographies of the official dynastic histories Suishu 隋書 (Suishu jingji zhi 隋書經籍志) and Xintangshu 新唐書 (ch. 57-60 Yiwen zhi 藝文志), but not in the Song-period 宋 (960-1279) bibliography Chongwen zongmu 崇文總目. It can be concluded that the original text was lost in the tenth century.

The book is arranged according to the twelve months of the year in imitation to the chapter Yueling 月令 in the ritual Classic Liji 禮記, and it is noted down which agricultural activities the landowner ordered to be fulfilled in each of the months and the three ten-day weeks (xun 旬) of each month. The book names and describes numerous agricultural plants and planting methods, methods to cultivate and process field crops, how to raise cattle, and how to organize a farm in all respects, including ritual sacrifices (jisi 祭祀), family rituals (jiali 家禮) and education (jiaoyu 教育). It thus shows that the large estates of the Han period were able to act as economic entities which were totally self-sufficient. The peasants could furthermore be recruited to defend the estate against robbers and bandits. This was of great importance in a time when the central government more and more lost its grip on the provinces.

The Simin yueling teaches not only how to live a life of self-subsistence, but also how to produce so much goods that they can be sold on the market. Cui Shi stressed that it was also quite clever to use price changes over time to yield higher profits. Larger farms would also profit by hiring out labour force in times of high activities. The book also speaks of aspects of medicine, and the use of wild vegetables to enrich the varieties marketed by an individual farm.

Information about spinning and weaving, food processing and wine production, as well as the construction of buildings and canals. Describes methods of storage. The Simin yueling is the first Chinese text in which the monoicous character of hemp is described and the sequence of male and female florescences mentioned.

Part of the text could be reconstructed from fragments preserved in other agricultural books or in encyclopaedias, a work which was done by the Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholars Yan Kejun 嚴可均 (Silutang leiji 四錄堂類集), Wang Mo 王謨 (included in the collection Han-Wei yishu chao 漢魏遺書抄), Ren Zhaolin 任兆麟 (Xinzhai shizhong 心齋十種), Tao Junxuan 陶浚宣 (Jishanguan ji bushu 稷山館輯補書), Wang Renjun 王仁俊 (Yuhanshanfang jiyi shu xubian 玉函山房輯佚書續編), and Tang Hongxue 唐鴻學 (Yilantang congshu 怡蘭堂叢書).

Part of the text is also included in the series Shuofu 說郛 (Wanwei shantang edition 宛委山堂). All these collections of fragments differ somewhat. Some fragments even escaped the notice of these scholars, like a paragraph quoted in the Yuzhu baodian 玉燭寶典, or a quotation in Xiao Zhihan's 蕭智漢 (fl. 1792) rare book Yueri jigu 月日紀古.

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