F.H. King.

Farmers of Forty Centuries; Or, Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan online

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F. H. KING, D. Sc.




We have not yet gathered up the experience of mankind in the tilling
of the earth; yet the tilling of the earth is the bottom condition
of civilization. If we are to assemble all the forces and agencies
that make for the final conquest of the planet, we must assuredly
know how it is that all the peoples in all the places have met the
problem of producing their sustenance out of the soil.

We have had few great agricultural travelers and few books that
describe the real and significant rural conditions. Of natural
history travel we have had very much; and of accounts of sights and
events perhaps we have had too many. There are, to be sure, famous
books of study and travel in rural regions, and some of them, as
Arthur Young's "Travels in France," have touched social and
political history; but for the most part, authorship of agricultural
travel is yet undeveloped. The spirit of scientific inquiry must now
be taken into this field, and all earth-conquest must be compared
and the results be given to the people that work.

This was the point of view in which I read Professor King's
manuscript. It is the writing of a well-trained observer who went
forth not to find diversion or to depict scenery and common wonders,
but to study the actual conditions of life of agricultural peoples.
We in North America are wont to think that we may instruct all the
world in agriculture, because our agricultural wealth is great and
our exports to less favored peoples have been heavy; but this wealth
is great because our soil is fertile and new, and in large acreage
for every person. We have really only begun to farm well. The first
condition of farming is to maintain fertility. This condition the
oriental peoples have met, and they have solved it in their way. We
may never adopt particular methods, but we can profit vastly by
their experience. With the increase of personal wants in recent
time. the newer countries may never reach such density of population
as have Japan and China; but we must nevertheless learn the first
lesson in the conservation of natural resources, which are the
resources of the land. This is the message that Professor King
brought home from the East.

This book on agriculture should have good effect in establishing
understanding between the West and the East. If there could be such
an interchange of courtesies and inquiries on these themes as is
suggested by Professor King, as well as the interchange of athletics
and diplomacy and commerce, the common productive people on both
sides should gain much that they could use; and the results in amity
should be incalculable.

It is a misfortune that Professor King could not have lived to write
the concluding "Message of China and Japan to the World." It would
have been a careful and forceful summary of his study of eastern
conditions. At the moment when the work was going to the printer, he
was called suddenly to the endless journey and his travel here was
left incomplete. But he bequeathed us a new piece of literature, to
add to his standard writings on soils and on the applications of
physics and devices to agriculture. Whatever he touched he






















A word of introduction is needed to place the reader at the best
view point from which to consider what is said in the following
pages regarding the agricultural practices and customs of China,
Korea and Japan. It should be borne in mind that the great factors
which today characterize, dominate and determine the agricultural
and other industrial operations of western nations were physical
impossibilities to them one hundred years ago, and until then had
been so to all people.

It should be observed, too, that the United States as yet is a
nation of but few people widely scattered over a broad virgin land
with more than twenty acres to the support of every man, woman and
child, while the people whose practices are to be considered are
toiling in fields tilled more than three thousand years and who have
scarcely more than two acres per capita,* more than one-half of
which is uncultivable mountain land.

*[Footnote: This figure was wrongly stated in the first edition as
one acre, owing to a mistake in confusing the area of cultivated
land with total area.]

Again, the great movement of cargoes of feeding stuffs and mineral
fertilizers to western Europe and to the eastern United States began
less than a century ago and has never been possible as a means of
maintaining soil fertility in China, Korea or Japan, nor can it be
continued indefinitely in either Europe or America. These
importations are for the time making tolerable the waste of plant
food materials through our modern systems of sewage disposal and
other faulty practices; but the Mongolian races have held all such
wastes, both urban and rural, and many others which we ignore,
sacred to agriculture, applying them to their fields.

We are to consider some of the practices of a virile race of some
five hundred millions of people who have an unimpaired inheritance
moving with the momentum acquired through four thousand years; a
people morally and intellectually strong, mechanically capable, who
are awakening to a utilization of all the possibilities which
science and invention during recent years have brought to western
nations; and a people who have long dearly loved peace but who can
and will fight in self defense if compelled to do so.

We had long desired to stand face to face with Chinese and Japanese
farmers; to walk through their fields and to learn by seeing some of
their methods, appliances and practices which centuries of stress
and experience have led these oldest farmers in the world to adopt.
We desired to learn how it is possible, after twenty and perhaps
thirty or even forty centuries, for their soils to be made to
produce sufficiently for the maintenance of such dense populations
as are living now in these three countries. We have now had this
opportunity and almost every day we were instructed, surprised and
amazed at the conditions and practices which confronted us whichever
way we turned; instructed in the ways and extent to which these
nations for centuries have been and are conserving and utilizing
their natural resources, surprised at the magnitude of the returns
they are getting from their fields, and amazed at the amount of
efficient human labor cheerfully given for a daily wage of five
cents and their food, or for fifteen cents, United States currency,
without food.

The three main islands of Japan in 1907 had a population of
46,977,003 maintained on 20,000 square miles of cultivated field.
This is at the rate of more than three people to each acre, and of
2,349 to each square mile; and yet the total agricultural imports
into Japan in 1907 exceeded the agricultural exports by less than
one dollar per capita. If the cultivated land of Holland is
estimated at but one-third of her total area, the density of her
population in 1905 was, on this basis, less than one-third that of
Japan in her three main islands. At the same time Japan is feeding
69 horses and 56 cattle, nearly all laboring animals, to each square
mile of cultivated field, while we were feeding in 1900 but 30
horses and mules per same area, these being our laboring animals.

As coarse food transformers Japan was maintaining 16,500,000
domestic fowl, 825 per square mile, but only one for almost three of
her people. We were maintaining, in 1900, 250,600,000 poultry, but
only 387 per square mile of cultivated field and yet more than three
for each person. Japan's coarse food transformers in the form of
swine, goats and sheep aggregated but 13 to the square mile and
provided but one of these units for each 180 of her people while in
the United States in 1900 there were being maintained, as
transformers of grass and coarse grain into meat and milk, 95
cattle, 99 sheep and 72 swine per each square mile of improved
farms. In this reckoning each of the cattle should be counted as the
equivalent of perhaps five of the sheep and swine, for the
transforming power of the dairy cow is high. On this basis we are
maintaining at the rate of more than 646 of the Japanese units per
square mile, and more than five of these to every man, woman and
child, instead of one to every 180 of the population, as is the case
in Japan.

Correspondingly accurate statistics are not accessible for China but
in the Shantung province we talked with a farmer having 12 in his
family and who kept one donkey, one cow, both exclusively laboring
animals, and two pigs on 2.5 acres of cultivated land where he grew
wheat, millet, sweet potatoes and beans. Here is a density of
population equal to 3,072 people, 256 donkeys, 256 cattle and 512
swine per square mile. In another instance where the holding was one
and two-thirds acres the farmer had 10 in his family and was
maintaining one donkey and one pig, giving to this farm land a
maintenance capacity of 3,840 people, 384 donkeys and 384 pigs to
the square mile, or 240 people, 24 donkeys and 24 pigs to one of our
forty-acre farms which our farmers regard too small for a single
family. The average of seven Chinese holdings which we visited and
where we obtained similar data indicates a maintenance capacity for
those lands of 1,783 people, 212 cattle or donkeys and 399
swine, - 1,995 consumers and 399 rough food transformers per square
mile of farm land. These statements for China represent strictly
rural populations. The rural population of the United States in 1900
was placed at the rate of 61 per square mile of improved farm land
and there were 30 horses and mules. In Japan the rural population
had a density in 1907 of 1,922 per square mile, and of horses and
cattle together 125.

The population of the large island of Chungming in the mouth of the
Yangtse river, having an area of 270 square miles, possessed,
according to the official census of 1902, a density of 3,700 per
square mile and yet there was but one large city on the island,
hence the population is largely rural.

It could not be other than a matter of the highest industrial,
educational and social importance to all nations if there might be
brought to them a full and accurate account of all those conditions
which have made it possible for such dense populations to be
maintained so largely upon the products of Chinese, Korean and
Japanese soils. Many of the steps, phases and practices through
which this evolution has passed are irrevocably buried in the past
but such remarkable maintenance efficiency attained centuries ago
and projected into the present with little apparent decadence merits
the most profound study and the time is fully ripe when it should be
made. Living as we are in the morning of a century of transition
from isolated to cosmopolitan national life when profound
readjustments, industrial, educational and social, must result, such
an investigation cannot be made too soon. It is high time for each
nation to study the others and by mutual agreement and co-operative
effort, the results of such studies should become available to all
concerned, made so in the spirit that each should become coordinate
and mutually helpful component factors in the world's progress.

One very appropriate and immensely helpful means for attacking this
problem, and which should prove mutually helpful to citizen and
state, would be for the higher educational institutions of all
nations, instead of exchanging courtesies through their baseball
teams, to send select bodies of their best students under competent
leadership and by international agreement, both east and west,
organizing therefrom investigating bodies each containing components
of the eastern and western civilization and whose purpose it should
be to study specifically set problems. Such a movement well
conceived and directed, manned by the most capable young men, should
create an international acquaintance and spread broadcast a body of
important knowledge which would develop as the young men mature and
contribute immensely toward world peace and world progress. If some
broad plan of international effort such as is here suggested were
organized the expense of maintenance might well be met by diverting
so much as is needful from the large sums set aside for the
expansion of navies for such steps as these, taken in the interests
of world uplift and world peace, could not fail to be more
efficacious and less expensive than increase in fighting equipment.
It would cultivate the spirit of pulling together and of a square
deal rather than one of holding aloof and of striving to gain
unneighborly advantage.

Many factors and conditions conspire to give to the farms and
farmers of the Far East their high maintenance efficiency and some
of these may be succinctly stated. The portions of China, Korea and
Japan where dense populations have developed and are being
maintained occupy exceptionally favorable geographic positions so
far as these influence agricultural production. Canton in the south
of China has the latitude of Havana, Cuba, while Mukden in
Manchuria, and northern Honshu in Japan are only as far north as New
York city, Chicago and northern California. The United States lies
mainly between 50 degrees and 30 degrees of latitude while these
three countries lie between 40 degrees and 20 degrees, some seven
hundred miles further south. This difference of position, giving
them longer seasons, has made it possible for them to devise systems
of agriculture whereby they grow two, three and even four crops on
the same piece of ground each year. In southern China, in Formosa
and in parts of Japan two crops of rice are grown; in the Chekiang
province there may be a crop of rape, of wheat or barley or of
windsor beans or clover which is followed in midsummer by another of
cotton or of rice. In the Shantung province wheat or barley in the
winter and spring may be followed in summer by large or small
millet, sweet potatoes, soy beans or peanuts. At Tientsin, 39 deg
north, in the latitude of Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Springfield,
Illinois, we talked with a farmer who followed his crop of wheat on
his small holding with one of onions and the onions with cabbage,
realizing from the three crops at the rate of $163, gold, per acre;
and with another who planted Irish potatoes at the earliest
opportunity in the spring, marketing them when small, and following
these with radishes, the radishes with cabbage, realizing from the
three crops at the rate of $203 per acre.

Nearly 500,000,000 people are being maintained, chiefly upon the
products of an area smaller than the improved farm lands of the
United States. Complete a square on the lines drawn from Chicago
southward to the Gulf and westward across Kansas, and there will be
enclosed an area greater than the cultivated fields of China, Korea
and Japan and from which five times our present population are fed.

The rainfall in these countries is not only larger than that even in
our Atlantic and Gulf states, but it falls more exclusively during
the summer season when its efficiency in crop production may be
highest. South China has a rainfall of some 80 inches with little of
it during the winter, while in our southern states the rainfall is
nearer 60 inches with less than one-half of it between June and
September. Along a line drawn from Lake Superior through central
Texas the yearly precipitation is about 30 inches but only 16 inches
of this falls during the months May to September; while in the
Shantung province, China, with an annual rainfall of little more
than 24 inches, 17 of these fall during the months designated and
most of this in July and August. When it is stated that under the
best tillage and with no loss of water through percolation, most of
our agricultural crops require 300 to 600 tons of water for each ton
of dry substance brought to maturity, it can be readily understood
that the right amount of available moisture, coming at the proper
time, must be one of the prime factors of a high maintenance
capacity for any soil, and hence that in the Far East, with their
intensive methods, it is possible to make their soils yield large

The selection of rice and of the millets as the great staple food
crops of these three nations, and the systems of agriculture they
have evolved to realize the most from them, are to us remarkable and
indicate a grasp of essentials and principles which may well cause
western nations to pause and reflect.

Notwithstanding the large and favorable rainfall of these countries,
each of the nations have selected the one crop which permits them to
utilize not only practically the entire amount of rain which falls
upon their fields, but in addition enormous volumes of the run-off
from adjacent uncultivable mountain country. Wherever paddy fields
are practicable there rice is grown. In the three main islands of
Japan 56 per cent of the cultivated fields, 11,000 square miles, is
laid out for rice growing and is maintained under water from
transplanting to near harvest time, after which the land is allowed
to dry, to be devoted to dry land crops during the balance of the
year, where the season permits.

To anyone who studies the agricultural methods of the Far East in
the field it is evident that these people, centuries ago, came to
appreciate the value of water in crop production as no other nations
have. They have adapted conditions to crops and crops to conditions
until with rice they have a cereal which permits the most intense
fertilization and at the same time the ensuring of maximum yields
against both drought and flood. With the practice of western nations
in all humid climates, no matter how completely and highly we
fertilize, in more years than not yields are reduced by a deficiency
or an excess of water.

It is difficult to convey, by word or map, an adequate conception of
the magnitude of the systems of canalization which contribute
primarily to rice culture. A conservative estimate would place the
miles of canals in China at fully 200,000 and there are probably
more miles of canal in China, Korea and Japan than there are miles
of railroad in the United States. China alone has as many acres in
rice each year as the United States has in wheat and her annual
product is more than double and probably threefold our annual wheat
crop, and yet the whole of the rice area produces at least one and
sometimes two other crops each year.

The selection of the quick-maturing, drought-resisting millets as
the great staple food crops to be grown wherever water is not
available for irrigation, and the almost universal planting in hills
or drills, permitting intertillage, thus adopting centuries ago the
utilization of earth mulches in conserving soil moisture, has
enabled these people to secure maximum returns in seasons of drought
and where the rainfall is small. The millets thrive in the hot
summer climates; they survive when the available soil moisture is
reduced to a low limit, and they grow vigorously when the heavy
rains come. Thus we find in the Far East, with more rainfall and a
better distribution of it than occurs in the United States, and with
warmer, longer seasons, that these people have with rare wisdom
combined both irrigation and dry farming methods to an extent and
with an intensity far beyond anything our people have ever dreamed,
in order that they might maintain their dense populations.

Notwithstanding the fact that in each of these countries the soils
are naturally more than ordinarily deep, inherently fertile and
enduring, judicious and rational methods of fertilization are
everywhere practiced; but not until recent years, and only in Japan,
have mineral commercial fertilizers been used. For centuries,
however, all cultivated lands, including adjacent hill and mountain
sides, the canals, streams and the sea have been made to contribute
what they could toward the fertilization of cultivated fields and
these contributions in the aggregate have been large. In China, in
Korea and in Japan all but the inaccessible portions of their vast
extent of mountain and hill lands have long been taxed to their full
capacity for fuel, lumber and herbage for green manure and compost
material; and the ash of practically all of the fuel and of all of
the lumber used at home finds its way ultimately to the fields as

In China enormous quantities of canal mud are applied to the fields,
sometimes at the rate of even 70 and more tons per acre. So, too,
where there are no canals, both soil and subsoil are carried into
the villages and there between the intervals when needed they are,
at the expense of great labor, composted with organic refuse and
often afterwards dried and pulverized before being carried back and
used on the fields as home-made fertilizers. Manure of all kinds,
human and animal, is religiously saved and applied to the fields in
a manner which secures an efficiency far above our own practices.
Statistics obtained through the Bureau of Agriculture, Japan, place
the amount of human waste in that country in 1908 at 23,950,295
tons, or 1.75 tons per acre of her cultivated land. The
International Concession of the city of Shanghai, in 1908, sold to a
Chinese contractor the privilege of entering residences and public
places early in the morning of each day in the year and removing the
night soil, receiving therefor more than $31,000, gold, for 78,000
tons of waste. All of this we not only throw away but expend much
larger sums in doing so.

Japan's production of fertilizing material, regularly prepared and
applied to the land annually, amounts to more than 4.5 tons per acre
of cultivated field exclusive of the commercial fertilizers
purchased. Between Shanhaikwan and Mukden in Manchuria we passed, on
June 18th, thousands of tons of the dry highly nitrified compost
soil recently carried into the fields and laid down in piles where
it was waiting to be "fed to the crops."

It was not until 1888, and then after a prolonged war of more than
thirty years, generaled by the best scientists of all Europe, that
it was finally conceded as demonstrated that leguminous plants
acting as hosts for lower organisms living on their roots are
largely responsible for the maintenance of soil nitrogen, drawing it
directly from the air to which it is returned through the processes
of decay. But centuries of practice had taught the Far East farmers
that the culture and use of these crops are essential to enduring
fertility, and so in each of the three countries the growing of
legumes in rotation with other crops very extensively for the
express purpose of fertilizing the soil is one of their old, fixed

Just before, or immediately after the rice crop is harvested, fields
are often sowed to "clover" (Astragalus sinicus) which is allowed to
grow until near the next transplanting time when it is either turned
under directly, or more often stacked along the canals and saturated
while doing so with soft mud dipped from the bottom of the canal.
After fermenting twenty or thirty days it is applied to the field.
And so it is literally true that these old world farmers whom we
regard as ignorant, perhaps because they do not ride sulky plows as
we do, have long included legumes in their crop rotation, regarding
them as indispensable.

Time is a function of every life process as it is of every physical,
chemical and mental reaction. The husbandman is an industrial
biologist and as such is compelled to shape his operations so as to
conform with the time requirements of his crops. The oriental farmer
is a time economizer beyond all others. He utilizes the first and
last minute and all that are between. The foreigner accuses the
Chinaman of being always long on time, never in a fret, never in a

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Online LibraryF.H. KingFarmers of Forty Centuries; Or, Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan → online text (page 1 of 22)