Friday, April 22, 2011

F.H. King on the Chinese Farmer and the Yellow River

From yesterday's reading of Franklin Hiram King's 1911 tome, Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea, and Japan (originally titled Farmers of Forty Centuries; Or, Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan), two passages stand out.

About the farmer, about whom "when one stops and studies the detail in such gardens he expects in its executor an orderly, careful, frugal and industrious man, getting not a little satisfaction out of his creations however arduous his task or prolonged his day," but, instead finding him "clad as the nature of his duties and compensation have determined," one "may be disappointed or feel arising an unkind judgment," he writes:
    Many were the times, during our walks in the fields and gardens among these old, much misunderstood, misrepresented and undervalued people, when the bond of common interest was recognized between us, that there showed through the face the spirit which put aside both dress and surroundings and the man stood forth who, with fortitude and rare wisdom, is feeding the millions and who has carried through centuries the terrible burden of taxes levied by dishonor and needless wars. Nay, more than this, the man stood forth who has kept alive the seeds of manhood and has nourished them into such sturdy stock as has held the stream of progress along the best interests of civilization in spite of the driftwood heaped upon it.
About the river whose history "is one of disastrous floods and shiftings of its course," which carries "no less than 4,000 cubic yards of water per second, and three times this volume when running at flood," and is held back by only by levees, he asks:
    What must be said of the mental status of a people who for forty centuries have measured their strength against such a Titan racing past their homes above the level of their fields, confined only between walls of their own construction? While they have not always succeeded in controlling the river, they have never failed to try again. In 1877 this river broke its banks, inundating a vast. area, bringing death to a million people. Again, as late as 1898, fifteen hundred villages to the northeast of Tsinan and a much larger area to the southwest of the same city were devastated by it, and it is such events as these which have won for the river the names "China's Sorrow," "The Ungovernable" and "The Scourge of the Sons of Han."

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