Farmers of Forty Centuries (contents) Next Chapter Previous
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° 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 returns.
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 fertilizer.
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 practices.
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 hurry. This is quite true and made possible for the reason that they are a people who definitely set their faces toward the future and lead time by the forelock. They have long realized that much time is required to transform organic matter into forms available for plant food and although they are the heaviest users in the world, the largest portion of this organic matter is predigested with soil or subsoil before it is applied to their fields, and at an enormous cost of human time and labor, but it practically lengthens their growing season and enables them to adopt a system of multiple cropping which would not otherwise be possible. By planting in hills and rows with intertillage it is very common to see three crops growing upon the same field at one time, but in different stages of maturity, one nearly ready to harvest one just coming up, and the other at the stage when it is drawing most heavily upon the soil. By such practice, with heavy fertilization, and by supplemental irrigation when needful, the soil is made to do full duty throughout the growing season.
Then, notwithstanding the enormous acreage of rice planted each year in these countries, it is all set in hills and every spear is transplanted. Doing this, they save in many ways except in the matter of human labor, which is the one thing they have in excess. By thoroughly preparing the seed bed, fertilizing highly and giving the most careful attention, they are able to grow on one acre, during 30 to 50 days, enough plants to occupy ten acres and in the mean time on the other nine acres crops are maturing, being harvested and the fields being fitted to receive the rice when it is ready for transplanting, and in effect this interval of time is added to their growing season.
Silk culture is a great and, in some ways, one of the most remarkable industries of the Orient. Remarkable for its magnitude; for having had its birthplace apparently in oldest China at least 2700 years B. C.; for having been laid on the domestication of a wild insect of the woods; and for having lived through more than 4000 years, expanding until a million-dollar cargo of the product has been laid down on our western coast and rushed by special fast express to the cast for the Christmas trade.
A low estimate of China's production of raw silk would be 120,000,000 pounds annually, and this with the output of Japan, Korea and a small area of southern Manchuria, would probably exceed 150,000,000 pounds annually, representing a total value of perhaps $700,000,000, quite equaling in value the wheat crop of the United States, but produced on less than one-eighth the area of our wheat fields.
The cultivation of tea in China and Japan is another of the great industries of these nations, taking rank with that of sericulture if not above it in the important part it plays in the welfare of the people. There is little reason to doubt that this industry has its foundation in the need of something to render boiled water palatable for drinking purposes. The drinking of boiled water is universally adopted in these countries as an individually available and thoroughly efficient safeguard against that class of deadly disease germs which thus far it has been impossible to exclude from the drinking water of any densely peopled country.
Judged by the success of the most thorough sanitary measures thus far instituted, and taking into consideration the inherent difficulties which must increase enormously with increasing populations, it appears inevitable that modern methods must ultimately fail in sanitary efficiency and that absolute safety can be secured only in some manner having the equivalent effect of boiling drinking water, long ago adopted by the Mongolian races.
In the year 1907 Japan had 124,482 acres of land in tea plantations, producing 60,877,975 pounds of cured tea. In China the volume annually produced is much larger than that of Japan, 40,000,000 pounds going annually to Tibet alone from the Szechwan province and the direct export to foreign countries was, in 1905, 176,027,255 pounds, and in 1906 it was 180,271,000, so that their annual export must exceed 200,000,000 pounds with a total annual output more than double this amount of cured tea.
But above any other factor, and perhaps greater than all of them combined in contributing to the high maintenance efficiency attained in these countries must be placed the standard of living to which the industrial classes have been compelled to adjust themselves, combined with their remarkable industry and with the most intense economy they practice along every line of effort and of living.
Almost every foot of land is made to contribute material for food, fuel or fabric. Everything which can be made edible serves as food for man or domestic animals. Whatever cannot be eaten or worn is used for fuel. The wastes of the body, of fuel and of fabric worn beyond other use are taken back to the field; before doing so they are housed against waste from weather, compounded with intelligence and forethought and patiently labored with through one, three or even six months, to bring them into the most efficient form to serve as manure for the soil or as feed for the crop. It seems to be a golden rule with these industrial classes, or if not golden, then an inviolable one, that whenever an extra hour or day of labor can promise even a little larger return then that shall be given, and neither a rainy day nor the hottest sunshine shall be permitted to cancel the obligation or defer its execution.