This second part of the sixth volume of Joseph Needham's great enterprise is the first to be written by a collaborator. Francesca Bray, working closely with Dr Needham, has produced the most comprehensive study of Chinese agriculture to be published in the West. From a huge mass of source material, often confusing and obscure, , and from first-hand study in China, she brings order and illumination to a crucial area of Chinese technological development. Miss Bray sees agriculture as a system of technology holding a balance between nature and society: it represents an interplay between what is allowed by the natural environment and what is hindered by the state of society. She thus begins her book with an account of the ecological background to China's agricultural history and with a thorough survey of the source material. The main body of the book is an account, organised broadly along the lines of the great medieval Chinese treatises, of the technological history of agriculture, with major sections devoted to field systems, implements and techniques (sowing, harvesting, storing) and crop systems (what has grown and where and how crops rotated). The crops studies in detail are those without which no Chinese could survive: cereals, legumes, oil crops, tubers, fibre crops, vegetables and fruit - the crops, in other words, of self sufficiency in times of hardship and of commercial enterprise in times of prosperity. The concluding section contrasts Europe's Agricultural Revolution with agrarian change in North China in the Han and with the 'Green Revolution' in South China in the Sung. Important distinctions between dry-grain and wet-rice agriculture are noted with the consequent variations in the development of Chinese society. In the theoretical analysis which concludes this section we find a vital contribution to the elucidation of the main question posed by Dr Needham's work: why did the Scientific Revolution which transformed the world take place in Europe and not in China?
, Francesca Bray
Cambridge University Press
Country of Publication:
Series: Science and Civilisation in China
18 June 1984
Professional and scholarly
List of illustrations; List of tables; List of abbreviations; Author's note; Part 41. Agriculture; a. Introduction: 1. General characteristics of Chinese agriculture; 2. Agricultural regions; 3. Origins of Chinese agriculture; b. Sources: 1. The yueh ling or agricultural calendars; 2. Agricultural treatises; 3. State-commissioned compilations; 4. Monographs; 5. Supplementary sources; 6. The content of the Chinese sources, and the implications for historical interpretation; 7. A comparison with the European tradition; c. Field systems: 1. Land clearance and reclamation; 2. Shifting cultivation; 3. Permanent fields; d. Agricultural implements and techniques: 1. Tillage implements; 2. Sowing; 3. Fertilisation; 4. Weeding and cultivation; 5. Harvesting, threshing and winnowing; 6. Grain storage; e. Crop systems: 1. Crop rotation; 2. Millets, sorghum and maize; 3. Wheat and barley; 4. Rice; 5. Legumes; 6. Oil crops; 7. Tuber crops; 8. Fibre crops; 9. Vegetables and fruits; f. Conclusions: Agricultural changes and society - stagnation or revolution?: 1. Did China contribute to Europe's Agricultural Revolution?; 2. Agricultural revolution in China?; 3. Development or change?; Bibliographies; General index.
Reviews for Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 6, Biology and Biological Technology, Part 2, Agriculture
[An] astonishing and enduring study...[Needham brings] depth of emotion and technical finesse to his task. Jonathan Spence, New York Review of Books Perhaps the greatest single act of historical synthesis and intercultural communication ever attempted by one man. Laurence Picken, Cambridge University