Ancient Chinese Farming Techniques

Written by michelle labbe
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Ancient Chinese Farming Techniques
In China's Hunan Province, archaeologists have discovered grains of rice from as long ago as 6000 B.C. (rice image by alri from

Agriculture in China has a history of over 10,000 years. As part of the three major centres for the development of agriculture in ancient times, China is notable as one of the first countries to cultivate rice. Because only 10 per cent of land in China is suitable for farming, even the earliest Chinese agricultural techniques were designed for maximum efficiency to support its large and growing population.

Row Crop Farming

China was the earliest civilisation to farm by planting in rows rather than broadcasting, or scattering seeds at random in a field. This orderly technique allowed farmers to irrigate more effectively and produce a higher crop yield.

Irrigation Control

Because irrigation and wet-farming techniques were crucial for cultivating rice, a staple of the Chinese diet, the Chinese developed superior irrigation techniques.

One ancient innovation, the Dujiangyan irrigation system, is still around today. Its ingenious design has made it into a modern tourist attraction. Invented over 2,200 years ago, the Dujiangyan system was built to control flooding in the plains around the Minjiang River, but unlike even most modern dams, the one at Dujiangyan still allows water and aquatic life to flow through. This control over water is superior to that of even most modern dams, which block the flow of water (See References 3).

Farming Tools

Iron ploughs were a significant early farming tool in Chinese agriculture. In the third century B.C., improved casting techniques and abundant iron supplies led to the design of iron ploughshares called kuan. During the same era, the Greeks and Romans were still using flimsy designs of wood and rope. The iron ploughs used in China made furrowing fields and planting crops in rows much easier.

Waterwheels were also important tools in early Chinese agriculture. Water power was used to grind grain, and large rotary waterwheels developed at around the same time as in Europe, sometime in the second century B.C. China relied on water power for milling grain much more than Western civilisations, which tended to use human or animal labour to power their mills. Chinese workers used water power to operate billows and operate hydraulic hammers for hulling rice and crushing ore.

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