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Ancient Chinese Agriculture And Its Association With Ancient Chinese Culture

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Agriculture is an important part of Ancient China. Farming has always been the nature of Chinese culture. The influence agriculture had on the culture and tradition, the development in science and technology, and the society in that period can be obtained from several historical texts and books. In this paper, we study the agricultural practice and reforms made in ancient agriculture and their influence on the culture and development of society. Agriculture in ancient China was more labor-intensive still inventions and use of different techniques ranging from a simple metal plough to complex water-powered bellows can be found. These techniques helped shape ancient agriculture to be more productive and Chinese society and culture to develop and expand. The traditional Chinese calendar and the festivals celebrated also reflect the agriculture culture in ancient China. With the year starting with sowing of seeds and ending on harvesting. China's growth of farming over the history has certainly played a major part in the development of the country with the largest population in the world. (Liu, Duan and Yu, 2013)


Since ancient times, China has been an agricultural country (Zeng, 2015) . Every dynasty back then attached great importance to agriculture and its development. Emperors themselves practiced and accumulated knowledge of farming. So now we have a several books and text describing the farming culture and methods used back then. Two of these books are: Fan Sheng Zhi Shu (The Book of Fan Shengzhi) and Wang Zhen Nong Shu (Agricultural Treatise of Wang Zhen).

Fan Sheng Zhi Shu, book of the western Han Dynasty presents the understanding of principles of farming from choosing the time, to soil fertilization, irrigation, and even harvesting. It presents agriculture as a joint effort of Heaven, Earth and People. Similarly, Wang Zhen Nong Shu, the book of Yuan Dynasty has information on weather conditions and human effort, description of large cereals and even fruits and about 300 different real objects of that time. This detailed knowledge of the seeds, weather, soil properties, irrigation and those large number of farming instrument which were in use were unknown to the other part of the world. From this information, we can say that ancient agriculture in China had high scientific and technological level of understanding. Infrastructure development to facilitate farming and distribution of foods were also developed in ancient China.For example, The Dujiangyan and The Grand Canal. Dujiangyan is an ancient irrigation system constructed around 256 BC by the State of Qin as an irrigation and flood control project, which is still in use today. (UNESCO, 2018)

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Farming in ancient china was also diverse. With numbers of grains and cereals, fruit farming, sericulture and horticulture also developed. ‘The earliest authentic record of artificial cultivation of fruit is seen in Ancient Chinese Agriculture. Tangerines originate in South China. Kiwifruit was cultivated back in the Tang Dynasty. Tea Plant is native to China. China is also among the earliest countries to plant mulberry trees for sericulture’. (Zeng, 2015)

Influence on Culture and Tradition

The Book Fan Sheng Zhi Shu has mentioned the basic farming concept of ancient China. From the very beginning, Farming has been taken as a joint effort of three dimension- Heaven, Earth and People. The seasonal change, weather and timing representing Heaven and the geographic advantages like terrain position, soil character representing Earth when utilized in conjunction with manpower(people) result in good agricultural production. This concept has shaped the culture and tradition in ancient China. With this concept and to guide farming work we can see the development of 24 solar terms and the ancient Chinese agriculture calendar.

The 24 Solar Terms

24 Solar Terms is a knowledge system created by Chinese ancestors to guide the agriculture production and daily life in an agricultural civilization society by observing the sun, nature, and climate.(Yang, 2018) 24 solar terms consist of 12 major solar terms and 12 minor solar terms.

Chinese Agricultural Calendar

The Agricultural Calendar is an integrated lunar-solar calendar as it embraces the movement of the moon as well as that of the Sun. The calendar was useful to farmers to count the days with the help of moon phases. Even now the major festivals like Spring Festival (first day of the first lunar month to the fifteenth day of first month on the Chinese lunar-solar calendar), Dragon boat festival (the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunar-solar calendar) are based on Chinese Lunar Calendar.


  1. Hinsbergh, G. Van (2016) The 24 Solar Terms of the Traditional Chinese Calendar, China Highlight. Available at: (Accessed: 28 April 2020).
  2. Liu, Y., Duan, M. and Yu, Z. (2013) ‘Agricultural landscapes and biodiversity in China’, Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. Elsevier B.V., 166, pp. 46–54. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2011.05.009.
  3. UNESCO (2018) Mount Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System - UNESCO World Heritage Centre, World Heritage Convention. Available at: (Accessed: 28 April 2020).
  4. Yang, X. (2018) ‘Chinese traditional perceptions of the calendar year: Implications of Jieqi for contemporary product development and sustainability’, Tourism Management. Elsevier Ltd, 64, pp. 202–217. doi: 10.1016/j.tourman.2017.08.013.
  5. Zeng, X. (2015) ‘Agriculture’, in A History of Chinese Science and Technology. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 351–429. doi: 10.1007/978-3-662-44257-9_6.
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