ZENG, Xiongsheng

Research Institute of History in Natural Science, Scientifica Sinica, Beijing PR CHINA

(Agricultural Archaeology 1998(3):292-311. Transl./interpreted by W. Tsao, Ph.D. 10/10/01; ed. by B. Gordon)



        The pronunciation of huang-lu (yellow rapid-ripening rice), an historic Chinese variety, suggests it existed in northern Wei Dynasty (386-543), but was not very popular until Song Dynasty (960-1279). Since then, the southward economic shift saw many new land uses like paddies and dikes, but due to natural conditions and human activities were weak; e.g., liable to waterlog and flood. But huang-lu’s fast ripening and water resistance permitted proper ripening, surpassing actual need. It could also use the limited time before and after flooding to complete growth from sowing to harvesting. These traits met economic needs and natural conditions; e.g., land reclamation from water. Hence, huang-lu promotion and popularity played an important role in grain supply and population growth after Song Dynasty. I compare the famous early ripening drought-resistant champa rice introduced by Song Emperor Zhen Zong (998-1022) from Fujian in the year 1012, and suggest huang-lu influence in Chinese history exceeds champa. This is because paddy fields were larger than mountain ones, and flood resistant varieties are better in cultivation than dry ones after Song Dynasty.


INTRODUCTION: A not-yet-noticeable rice variety

        Though recorded in "Qi min yao shu", huang-lu (huang=yellow; lu=fast-ripening)* is a rice variety whose pronunciation appears to have attracted general attention only after Song and Yuan Dynasties The most noticeable Song Dynasty variety is none other than zhan-cheng (champa in Japanese), first introduced by Song Dynasty Emperor Zhen Zhong in 1011. History states "As Yangtze, Huai and east and west Zhejiang paddy rice always suffered severely under drought, Emperor Zhen Zhong sent envoys to Fujian to retrieve 30,000 hu** of zhan-cheng seeds, so-called dry paddy rice(1)", which was planted in higher fields. Its promotion by the Emperor was well recorded in history and popularized in folklore. In addition to its historical implication, zhen-chang rice also met the needs of rice production methods. The production of early season xian rice also paved a solid foundation for the development of dual-season rice(2).

        Song and Yuan Dynasty agricultural books on southern rice production say zhan-cheng was less influential than huang-lu; e.g., 138 years after importing zhan-cheng, Chen Fu’s "Nong Shu" (Nong=agriculture; Shu=book) written in Shao Xing 19th year (1149) indicates he was "dwelling in seclusion as an hermit" and "farming by his own hands" in Xishan. He also mentions he once visited Hong Xinzhu in Yiezhen. After the book was finished, some scholars believed he lived in Xishan, Yangzhou(3) (Jiangsu Province), while others believed Xishan, Hangzhou(4) (Zhejiang Province), due to his description of mulberry tree cultivation in Anji County, Zhejiang(5). No matter in Jiangsu or Zhejiang, both are where zhan-cheng was promoted by Emperor Zhen Zhong, and zhan-cheng is absent in his book. Does this mean there was no need for it in his limited living environment? Apparently not, because zhan-cheng is suitable for higher fields. Although he states he was cultivating "dry paddy rice" in "high fields"(6) in Xishan, its growing period of "5-6 months (150-180 days) from planting to harvest" does not match true early-variety(7) rice. As we know zhan-cheng has a "growing period of 100-110 days and is a popular variety in Zhejiang, Fujian and Huainan(8)", it is evident his dry paddy rice in high fields is not zhan-cheng.

        Zhan-cheng is also recorded in Song and Yuan Dynasty’s "Wang Zhen Nong Shu" showing southern rice production concerns a variety of dry paddy rice. It says "As zhan-cheng is suitable for cultivating in higher Fujian fields, farmers call it hen zhan (hen=dryland; zhan=first word of zhan-cheng). Except for its big tasty grain making a good early-variety, data on place of import, suitable fields for cultivation, etc., appear to be quoted from previous books. However, "Song History, Section of Food and Merchandise" shows it "compares to typical Chinese rice, but zhan-cheng has longer spikes and awnless, with little difference in grain size". Two possible reasons exist for grain size discrepancy in both books: (1) obvious error by Wang Zhen, author of "Wang Zhen Nong Shu"; and (2) rice imported from Fujian is another zhan-cheng variety, which was only in Fujian when Wang was writing his book. Obviously, neither "Chen Fu Nong Shu" nor "Wang Zhen Nong Shu" recorded the famous zhan-cheng imported by Emperor Zhen Zhong of Song Dynasty.

        The long lost agricultural book "He Pu" (He=growing grain crop; Pu= clan record) has the first record of zhan-cheng in Section "San Bian" (San=three; Bian=to distinguish): "Now, Xichang has early and late Zhan he (Zhan=first word of zhan-cheng; he=growing grain crops), originating from Zhan Cheng State in Nanhai, imported to China 40-50 years ago"(9). As "He Pu" was completed between 1086 and 1094, 70-80 years after zhan-cheng importation, this matches the timing of zhan-cheng cultivation in Xichang (now Tahe, Jiangxi Province). Of the 44 rice varieties in "He Pu", chi mi zhan he is likely the only one belonging to zhan-cheng.

        In Song and Yuan Dynasty, agronomists are relatively more familiar with huang-lu, their southern agricultural books detailing its seeding, harvesting, suitable area and biological traits, making it more important than zhan-cheng at that time. It’s different names in various areas imply cultivation throughout Jiangnan, the main rice production area.

        Unfortunately, as huang-lu research is far less than zhan-cheng this paper emphasizes the former, starting with its name, biological traits, historic implications based on land development, food production and population growth. It unavoidably compares it with zhan-cheng.

1. The Name

        Huang-lu (yellow-fast-ripening) is first mentioned in "Qi Min Yao Shu" (ca. 620 AD) by Jia Sixie of north Wei Dynasty, with lu (land) having a different Chinese character (* page 1): "Now, we have rice varieties huang-weng (yellow-jar), huang-lu (yellow-land), qing-bai (green-tar), Yuzhang qing-dao (Yuzhang green rice), wei-zi (purple-tail), qing-zhang (green-stick), fei-qing (flying dragonfly), chi-jia (red-shell), wu-ling (black-hill), da-xiang (great-fragrant), xiao-siang (small-fragrant), bai-di (white-ground); dual-season gu-hui (mushroom-ash) and you-shu (high-glutin)"(10). As huang-lu (yellow-land) biological traits are ignored, scholars believe it is the same huang-lu (yellow-fast-ripening) popular in Jiangnan in Song and Yuan Dynasty, based on its similar pronunciation(11). "Xing Tang Shu" (New Tang Dynasty Book) states huang-lu mi (mi=rice grain) and wu-jie mi(12) were two articles of tribute, with the same huang-lu mi also mentioned in famous Tang poems(13). The character lu in "Xing Tang Shu" resembles that in huang-lu (yellow-land), but has the he (grain) radical, the latter having the "fu" (hill) radical. The character lu in huang-lu mi and huang-lu (yellow-early ripe) differ but are interchangeable in classical literature. Mi can be da mi or xiao mi (big or small grain), but in the classical jiu gu liu mi (jiu=nine; gu=grain; liu=six; mi=rice grain), only the first 6 of 9 (millet, panicle millet, rice, sorghum, gourd, soybean, hemp, cardamom) bear grain. As the dominant Yangzhou clay is suitable for cultivating rice, huang-lu mi is likely huang-lu. Another huang-lu record is in "Ji ji" (Ji=worshiping; ji=story) by Xu Chang: "When lu rice ripens, farmers worship it on the 9th day of the 9th month"(14). As huang-lu traits described later emphasize lu, its above use is obviously identical to huang-lu.

        "He Pu" (1086-1093) by Zhen Anzi of north Song Dynasty was the first to record huang-lu (yellow-fast-ripening) in Song and Yuan Dynasty: "Early Jiangnan huang-lu is harvested on the July 23Dashu festival, with a second crop planted immediately and harvested on October 23 Shuangjiang festival"(15). Huang-lu (rapid-ripening) was later written in Chen Fu’s "Nong Shu" (pre-1149) as huang-lu (yellow-green) rice: "the Zhou Li (Zhou=Zhou Dynasty; Li=doctrine) book says it ‘grows in swampy areas and planted at Mangzhong’, with dual meaning of the latter. Zhen State used mangzhong as seed (zhong) with awn (mang), as in huang-lu (yellow-green) rice; the other refers to planting after Mangzhong (June 6). As heavy rain falls between Xiaoman (May 21) and Mangzhong festivals, huang-lu is planted in paddies at Xiazhi (June 21), taking 60-70 days from sowing to harvesting, and allowing planting after early flooding"(16). Huang-lu (yellow-fast-ripening) rice records also occur in local south Song Dynasty topographies: Kuaiji in Jiatai 1st year (1201) says: "A variety planted in the 7th month and ripening at the first frost is called huang-lu (yellow-fast-ripening, the word lu like the word ‘land’ but with a he radical)". In one of the most complete character books# , "Shuo Wen" (shuo=discussion; wen=written character), lu refers to late-sown early-ripening plants"(17). Besides Chen Fu’s use of huang-lu (yellow-fast-ripening) rice in "Nong Shu", it is twice mentioned in Yuan Dynasty’s Wang Zheng "Nong Shu" (1300), showing it was suitable for low flooding fields, taking ca. 60 days from sowing to harvesting to avoid early season flooding"(18).

        Briefly, four ways to write huang-lu are: huang-lu he (yellow-fast-ripening plant), huang-lu gu (yellow-green rice grain), huang-lu dao (yellow-fast-ripening rice) and huang-lu dao (yellow-fast-ripening, lu resembling land but with he radical). While absent in official Ming and Qing Dynasty agricultural papers(19), it has many name variations in local topographies (Table 1).

        Why does huang-lu have so many name variations? Where did he and gu originate? How can different lu be used for the same variety? These are confusing questions needing answers.


Table 1. Various Names for Huang-lu Rice





huang-lu dao (lu=land)

Songjiang (Jiangsu)

Also chan-ming (cicada singing) dao, ban-xia (half-summer) dao etc., based on local dialects

Songjiang local topography, Vol. 6, (1631)

huang-lu gong (lu=land)

Fengyang (Anhui)

Also huang-hua (yellow-flower) dao

Di Xiong Ji lue, Vol. 3 (1599)

huang-lu gong (lu=six)

Fengyang (Anhui)

In market, also zhang po ke (swell to break shell)

Fengyang New Book, Vol. 5 (1621)

huang-lu gong dao(20) (lu=egret)

Wuhe (Anhui)


Wuhe County Topography, Vol. 2 (1673)

huang-lu gong (lu=dew)

Luan (Anhui)


Luan Prefecture Topography, Vol. 1(1555)

huang-long dao (long=dragon)

Wuli, Jiasan, Pinghu, Huzhou (Zhejiang)

Xian rice, like reed (lu) is able to grow in flooded place, also called lu xian

Huzhou Prefecture Topography, Vol. 32 (1874)

huang-long (long=dragon)

Yueqing, Pingyang (Zhejiang)

Rice with black awn is called wu mang long, red awn as hong mang long, etc.,


huang-lu he (lu=six)

Yugan (Jiangxi)

Field dries after the 7th month, for late rice, huang-lu, wu-gu, etc. are more suitable

Yugan County Topography, Vol. 2 (1669)

Lu-he (lu=six)

Sien (Guangxi)

Lu-he, also called lu-hong glutinous rice(22)

Laibing County Topography, Vol. 1 (1937)

huang-lu (lu=fast-ripening, as land )

Jiangdu, Ganquan, Dongtai, Tongzhou. (Jiangsu)


Jiangdu County Topography of Keng Xi period (1662-1722)

huang-lu dao (lu=fast-ripening, as land))

Xiaoshan (Zhejiang)

Planting in 6th month and harvesting in 8th month

Xiaoshan County Topography, Vol. 3 (1557)

huang-lu (lu=fast-ripening)

Dinghai, Pujiang (Zhejiang)

For planting in high areas, seeding in early 4th month and harvesting at end of 5th month

Pujiang County Topogarphy, Vol. 9 (1776)

huang-lu geng (lu=fast-ripening)

Ningguo (Zhejiang)

Also called xiang geng, hong-lu geng, etc.

Ningguo County Topography, Vol. 3 (1812)

Lu-he (lu=fast-ripening, as land)

Sien (Guangxi)

Dry land rice planting early, in 4th month, and ripening early, in 7th month

Sien Prefecture Topography, Imported from Jiangnan

Lu gu (lu=fast-ripening)

Sien (Guangxi)

Seeding in late 3rd month and harvesting in 7th month

Sien Prefecture Topography, Imported from Jiangnan

*no variation exists in huang (yellow) in various names, while lu is phonetically identical. When a third character exists, dao= general rice plant; gong=lord (respecting rice); he=growing grain plant; geng=stem (representing plant). While gu translates as "valley", it represents another character gu meaning cereals-note by WT.

        Geographic philologists explain why dao is also gu or he in local history and geography. The latter were used in southern dialects before Chinese language unification; e.g.s, gu is preferred in local dialects in upper Yangtze basin, Kunming, Quging, Zaotong, and Wenshan in Yunnan, Huajie and Guanlin in Guizhou, and Guanxian and Zhongxian in Sichuan. He is preferred on the SE coast, Zhangle and Puchen in Fujian, Wenzhou, Ningbo, and Jiaxing in Zhejiang, Shanghai, Suzhou in Jiangsu, Dengmai and Qiongshan on Hainan Island, Yangshan, Taishan, Xinghuai, Guangzhou and Maixian in Guangdong, Tongxing, Qingzhou, Yueling, Guiping and Zhongshan in Guangxi, Genxhou, Jian and Nanchang in Jiangxi, Shanghong, Zhangding, Jianning and Shaowu in Fujian, Hengyang, Xiangxiang and Changsa in Hunan, etc. Northern dialects prefer dao(23). As "He Pu"s author was born in Xichang, Jiangxi, it is reasonable to believe the varieties popular there also occur in the book, the same reason why a book noting varieties is called "He Pu" (He=growing grain crop; Pu= clan record), and huang-lu dao also occurs as huang-lu he. It is unimportant whether Chen Fu, author of "Chen Fu Nong Shu" farmed in Xishan in Jiangsu or Zhejiang because gu is preferred in both, as are names like huang-lu gong (lu=land), huang-lu gong (lu=six), huang-lu gong (lu=egret) transferred from huang-lu gu. Further, long in huang-long dao is dragon, stressing this rice’s water adaptation, with the long sound like lu. While "Wang Zheng Nong Shu"s author was from east Shandong, he once served as a southern court official but preferred the northern dialect, his mother tongue. His book covers north and south agricultural businesses, but is in official language, using huang-lu dao instead of huang-lu he or huang-lu gu. As geng was used often to represent rice, huang-lu geng was also used in certain places.

        One must understand why lu changed from "rapid-ripening" to "green" in "Chen Fu Nong Shu", and to "land" with a he radical, "six", "ergot", etc., in local topographies. I believe the so-called lu (6) varieties in the "Nong Shu" section: "Conditions suitable for lu (6) varieties"(24) are actually lu or dryland crops; and with some reservations(25) my teacher, You Xiuling agrees...##. Chen Fu also says: "this book was completed in Shao Xing 19th year (1149), with unavoidable mistakes after years of reprinting"(26). Could lu variation be an unnoticed mistake in the final print(27)? If this went unnoticed by renowned scholar Chen Fu, no wonder other similar sounding characters occur in local topographies; e.g.s, lu (6) he, lu (rapid-ripening) he, lu (rapid-ripening) gu, etc., on the same variety in Guangxi Province(28); Wan-lu (late land) dao in Yong Zheng period (1723-1736), but wan-lu (late 6) dao in Dao Guang peiod (1821-1851) for the same variety in Liuzhou(29). This is because only the word’s phonetic sound occurred when local topographies were completed.

2. Huang-lu Traits

        Although its name varies, huang-lu traits are unique, reflecting on the word lu. Lu was used in crop variety names as early as the Book of Odes(30) (31). "Mao Heng Zhuan" (Mao Heng= person’s name; Zhuan=biography) states: zhi is a grain crop planted earlier than others, zi later than others, zhong ripening slower than others, and lu ripening faster than others. "Zhou Li" says: "Last spring, the queen gathered all the servants in the palace to plant Zhong-lu variety, offering the harvest to the King as a gift"(32). While Zhong-lu is recorded together in local topographies, it is actually two different rice varieties, zhong and lu. According to "Shuo Wen" lu ripens rapidly, indicating huang-lu is a fast-ripening variety, its biological traits listed below.

        (1) Timing of late sown huang-lu coincides with local conditions and cultivation. Before its introduction, historic data shows it was usually seeded in late 3rd-early 4th lunar month (Table 2).

Table 2. Rice Seeding Dates Recorded in Ancient Agricultural Documents



Equivalent dates

Lan Sheng Zi Shu

Sowing starts 100-110 days after "winter solstice".

ca. April 10

Si MinYue Ling

Planting keng (japonica) rice in 3rd month

mid April-mid May

Qi Min Yao Shu

3rd month is considered best for sowing, first part of 4th month average, and post-mid 4th month inferior

mid/late March-early April

Song Hui Yao Gao

As 2nd & early 3rd month southern soil is warm, ca. 2" high seedlings are transplanted. This is delayed in colder Huainan

Early to mid March to early April

He Pu

Planting early varieties at the beginning of spring and harvested under slight to high warmth (festivals). Imported early variety in Jiangnan is planted in 1st and 2nd month

Early varieties planted ca. beginning to mid February; late ones planted in early April.

        "Lan Sheng Zi Shu" and "Qi Min Yao Shu" describe sowing dates for northern varieties, usually ca. 3rd lunar month, with mid-late 4th lunar month not ideal. It is sown much earlier under southern warmer climate, with possible dual-harvests. Earlier varieties are usually sown in 1st or 2nd lunar month, 1-2 months earlier than northern rice. Those sown in 3rd lunar month are not considered true early varieties, and there is absolutely no early variety sown in 4th lunar month. Historic records show late varieties usually sown in early 4th lunar month in the south, with huang-lu dao sowing "after Mangzhong festival (ca. June 6)" until "weeding is finished at Dashu festival (ca. July 23)"; 2-5 months later than other varieties. As huang-lu dao can be sown later, it was usually considered and treated as late-season. Possible derivatives are hong lu wan dao(33) (hong=red, lu=fast-ripening, wan=late, dao=rice), popular in Zhejiang in Ming and Qing Dynasties, and wan lu he(34) (wan=late, lu=six, he=growing rice plant) popular in Guangxi in Qing Dynasty.

        (2) Lu means early-ripening (p.1 footnote). Huang-lu dao grows quickly and can be sown late, with harvest at the same time or earlier than other varieties. "Chen Fu Nong Shu" says huang-lu dao can be harvested 60-70 days after sowing, with "Wang Zhen Nong Shu" saying even faster at <60 days. Growing periods for this variety in other documents are given below (Table 3).

Table 3. Growing Period of Huang-lu Rice

Sowing date

Harvesting date

Growing days


Da Shu festival,

July 22 -24

Shuang Jiang festival,

October 23-24


He Pu

7th lunar month

First frost


Xiaoshan Topogarphy,

Jiajin (Ming dynasty)

Early June



Xiaoshan Topography,

Jiajin (Ming dynasty)

Early April

End of May


Pujiang Topography,

Qianlong (Qing dynasty)

        It appears huang-lu dao growing period is 60-90 days, very short compared with Song and Yuan Dynasty or modern varieties. Historically, huang-lu dao has probably the shortest growing period of all varieties.

        Many classics show Song Dynasty varieties are usually harvested around Shuangjiang festival (October 23-24), except huang-lu dao; e.g.s: "harvesting rice in 10th month"(35) in Book of Odes; "harvesting rice after Shuangjiang"(36) in "Qi Min Yao Shu"; and "rice grain like new pearls in paddies at the end of each 10th month"(37) in a Tang Poem. If rice was generally sown in 3rd month, it took ca. 200 days before harvest in 10th month. The classic "Za Yin Yang Shu" says rice growth is >150 days: "Rice begins germination simultaneously as willow buds, flowers ca. 80 days later and ripens 70 days after"(38). North Song Dynasty (960-1126) records say growth is 150-165 days for early varieties and 180-200 days for late ones(39). As early south Song Dynasty (1127-1278) "Chen Fu Nong Shu" says "early rice growth in high fields takes 5-6 months", it took much longer than huang-lu dao.

        One must stress the true meaning of lu is fast or early-ripening, not late-planted. Zhi in the Book of Odes means late-planted when used with lu; but lu began implying late-planted and early-ripening to stress fast-ripening in later farming. Thus, Song Dynasty huang-lu dao was mostly planted after flooding as a replacement or late-planted crop. It was called true early variety due to environmental and economic change. Yuan Dynasty Wang Zhen’s "Nong Shu" records it as early-crop before predicted flood (40), and some Ming and Qing Dynasty farmers valued it together with famous dai li gui (dai=to bring; li=plough; gui=return)(41), also called "60 days", and "sown in 3rd month and harvested in 5th month"(42) as early variety, or "early autumn planting"(43) as late variety due to its fast-ripening.

        (3) Huang-lu dao grows well in high groundwater or permanently submerged fields. It is also called huang-long dao (yellow-dragon rice) because dragon represents rain mythologically, lu xian(45) (reed rice) or lu zhong(46) (reed variety) because the reed (Phragmites communis) grows well in submerged areas. As xian implies early ripening(47), lu xian was called early-ripening variety in local topographies(48). Huang-lu dao can also endure drought, as seen in Pujiang topography: "Pujiang is a hilly area often experiencing drought due to lack of irrigation, implying huang-lu or tuo li gui is suitable for planting in higher places"(49).

        From the above, huang-lu dao is fast-growing and ripening, flood and drought resistant and sewn after early variety harvest for famine-relief. It also has these special traits: (1) direct sewing as restorative crop, (2) yellow to beige color; later bred to red to black(50) (51) and (3) obvious awn.

3. Varieties like Huang-lu

        When huang-lu dao gained popularity in Song and Yuan Dynasty, similar varieties also appeared; e.g.s, "60 Days"(52), "80 Evenings"(53), "100 Days"(54), etc.(55) also had short growing periods or were named by color (black or red), early ripening (lu), obvious awn (mang dao) or direct sowing (sa miao; sa=broadcast; miao=seedlings). While having different names, all had specific huang-lu dao traits or the same variety with different names; e.g.s, typical wu gu (wu=black; gu=rice grain) and hong dao (hong=red; dao=rice).

        Wu gu is also called wu gu zi (gu zi=rice grain), wu kou dao(56) (kou=mouth; dao=rice), leng shui jie (leng=cold; shui=water; jie=bearing seed), leng shui dao (cold water rice), hei dao (hei=black; dao=rice) or wan wu dao (wan=late; wu=black; dao=rice)(57). First reported in south Song Dynasty(58), it was popular in various places in Jiangsu(60) (61) (62) (63), Zhejiang(64), Jiangxi(65) and Hubei. Typically, it was "black shelled with noticeable awn" and sown very late in 7th lunar month or early to mid autumn according to local topographies. Based on its typical late variety 9th-10th harvest months, wu gu growth was 60-90 days, and thus valued like "60 Days", a variety like huang-lu dao in some local topographies(66). Wu gu was often used as second crop in dual-cultivation for its late sowing quality and as restorative after autumn flood for water resistance. He jiao wu (he=crane; jiao=leg; wu=black) is like wu gu with huang-lu dao traits and was popular in Jiangsu(67) in Qing Dynasty. To distinguish color difference but with other trait parallels, it was often cited in local topographies together with huang hua dao (huang=yellow; hua=flower; dao=rice), a huang-lu dao synonym.

        Although wu gu is named from its black awn, its red grain inspired it also as "red rice" or chi mi (chi=red color; mi=rice grain). Song Dynasty records show red rice or chi xia mi (chi=red; xia=rosy clouds; mi=rice) is not top grade, but was planted "in higher fields because it ripened rapidly and endured dryness"(69) (70) like wu ou dao.

        Chi mi was still used in Ming and Qing Dynasty, with more names added in Hubei(71), Guangdong(72) and Jiangsu(73) (74) (75). When introduced to Zhejiang in late Ming Dynasty, chi mi was called chi xian, chi ban xian (chi ban=red spots) or jiangxi xian and taizhou xian(76) from its origin. Ming Dynasty agronomist Zhang Luxian said it "is a late-sown early ripening variety"(77), drought-resistant and once considered a mutant huang-lu dao variety(78) (79). When taken to Japan chi mi kept its original early ripening suitability for low and wet field growth. Japanese literature says it was popular coastally under Ming Dynasty contact, with steady production even without fertilization. It is ancient as it needs only coarse cultivation compared to modern varieties(80).

        Many other rice varieties with huang-lu dao qualities existed in Ming and Qing Dynasty. Some can be sown directly((81), some planted very late(82), some planted in low fields(83) and some sown very late directly in lower fields(84) or as a famine-relief crop(85).

4. Huang-lu Popularity

        Huang-lu dao’s many names suggest its historical popularity, appearing in literature as early as north Wei Dynasty, but only becoming popular after Song Dynasty when its special qualities were needed for economic and environmental change.

        China’s economic and population centre began moving south in Tang and Song Dynasty, with the northern political centre depending on the south to provide national food needs. Rice became the most important top-5 grain crop, with Ming Dynasty Song Yinxing saying "70% of the national population lives on rice and only 30% on wheat, barley, sorghum and millet"(86).

        To meet rice production needs, southern paddy field development became unavoidable. After years of growth, most southern land suitable for rice was cultivated, leaving only hills and swamps. Hills were developed using terraces and the popular zhan-cheng (champa) rice, while swamps were used for huang-lu dao and related varieties.

        In lacustrine and riverine areas farmers first used primitive hu tian (hu=lake; tian=fields), sa tian (sand fields) or tu tian (road fields) on lake beds, sandbanks or along banks at ebb tide, then more advanced wei tian (diked fields) or ju tian (boxed fields).

        Seasonal waterlevels in many lakes like Tai and Poyang on the middle and lower Yangtze change noticeably. Poyang floods in late March-early July, with Gang, Fu, Xing, Yao and Xiu River feeders submerging in May-June and emerging and resuming inflow in October-March drought, with dry land in December-January. Modern floodlevels to 22 m increase lake surface to 2935 km2, while droughts decrease levels by 1 m and surface to 340 km2, a change of 2595 km2 or 88%. The resulting large area comprises a small sandy beach, larger muddy bank and hu tian, a grassy shoal just above waterlevel that is exposed 250-327 days annually(87).

        Hu tian may include wei tian (diked fields) in some literature(88), but there are differences. Wei tian is an agricultural field protected by dikes, while hu tian on the dried lakebed is unprotected(89) (90) and easily flooded, therefore used mainly for growing water chestnuts, lotus roots and other aquatic crops and not ideal for rice(91).

        Sa tian (sand field) is "a cultivated field formed by river sand on a bank or dried bed, protected by reeds and found along the Yangtze and Huai Rivers"(92). As these easily flooded fields change shape and size, their land tax is irregular(93) (94), and farmers must grow drought-resistant quick-ripening crops. To manage land change, Song Dynasty farmers invented ji yang (ji=to lodge at; yang=seedling), where "seedlings from rice sown at the beginning of summer are temporarily kept in high fields until floods subside".(95) As flooding is hard to predict and the use of high fields uneconomic, "Shen Si Nong Shu" (Shen’s Agricultural text) says Tai Lake farmers had good results by buying seedlings from other areas(96). As this involved much labor and cost, it was affordable only by rich farmers(97) and was unable to solve late planting problems, making selection of fast-ripening varieties very important.

        As huang-lu dao was perfect for flood resistance, it was planted in shallows and popular in hu tian in Wuchen, Jiasan, Pinghu, Tai Lake, etc.(98). Its fast growth allowed ripening before flood or post-flood restoration(99) in Ming and Qing Dynasty and was regularly grown at Poyang Lake after flood(100). Similar varieties are wu gu zi (wu kou dao(101), etc.), mian yu dao, chi xian, mang cai, san miao, etc., also cultivated in Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei, Zhejiang and Anhui. Of these, chi xian attracted the most attention from agronomists and topography authors due to its success in the 1908 flood.

        Chi xian likely originated in Jiangxi, Jiangsu, etc., and taken to Tongxian, Zhejiang in Ming Dynasty Wanli period (1573-1620) and then to Haining and nearby areas. Records beyond Haining Topography say: "most Haining rice are late varieties, some with red grain. Official records state the Wanli 35th year (1608) flood destroyed all rice seedlings. A Jiading official distributed red xian seeds to farmers…with a good autumn harvest"(103). Other stories exist.

        Hu tian are only used in dry years or after flood. As it has no dike, rice growing always faces flood danger with no harvest guarantee. The higher tan tian (tan=shoal; tian=field) is similar and submerges later. Diking around hu tian and tan tian converts them to wei tian and permanent rice paddy. Chen Fu’s "Nong Shu"says: "As lower areas submerge readily, farmers must survey natural features and build dikes at higher points"(105). Similar description is in Yuan Dynasty Wang Zhen’s agricultural textbook (106) (108). Ju tian (ju=counter; tian=field) resembles wei tian but with higher dikes. Wei tian and ju tian are obviously more advanced man-made fields than hu tian and tan tian.

        Wei tian prolongs hu tian’s rice growing limitations and provides a chance for huang-lu dao and other fast-ripening varieties. Some authors exaggerate by saying huang-lu dao "always has good years and no flood damage". As diked wei tian developed from hu tian, it remained low and flood damage persisted. "Luling Liudu Topography" says, "Farmers worried about flooding but not drought because water can be transported from nearby lakes and rivers, while flood submerges whole areas…"(109). Wang Guodong, a Qing Dynasty prefecture in Hunan, reported to the Emperor: "In spring and summer, Dongting Lake waterlevel rises to submerge the whole area, while in autumn and winter it falls, exposing thousands of hectares of good field. Nearby farmers build dikes to farm, but flood danger persists because the whole area is low, so they build stronger dikes"(110), but higher thicker dikes does not guarantee protection. As some wei tian "readily submerge in flood, farmers only harvest once or twice in ten years"(111); e.g., Poyang Lake in Jiangxi(112). As farmers had to construct or repair dikes under flood, a rapid growth rice was very beneficial.

        While wei tian did not alter the need for fast-growth drought-resistant rice, its increased area lead to such varieties. As fields flooded near rivers and lakes, wei tian dikes extended fields, but flood damage grew more after wei tian if dikes broke. Wei tian was also labor-intense.

        The above is theoretical; the actual situation is much worse. Uncontrolled wei tian growth lowered reservoir and water conservation capacity, flooding even more. A Song Dynasty Shaoxing 23rd year (1153) official reported: "Tai Lake originally benefitted a large area of west Zhejiang, but recently, soldiers built ba tian (ba=dike; tian=fields) on its shore. Water was only used for irrigating ba tian in drought and unavailable to farmers, while in flood the whole area submerged, seriously damaging nearby farmland"(115). Thus, Song Dynasty officials debated wei tian’s benefits and damages at Tai Lake(114) (115) and other areas(116) (117) (118) (119).

        As riverbed and lakeshore farmland needs rose with increased Ming and Qing Dynasty population, it even included small ponds(120), their location extending from Tai, Poyang and Dongting Lakes on the middle Yangtze River, and especially those in Jiangxi, Hunan, and Guangdong, with expected rise in flood frequency; e.g., Poyang County had 88 floods, 61 in Ming and Qing Dynasty. Of these, 25 were in 276 years of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644; once every 11 years) and 36 in 226 years of Qing Dynasty (1644-1875, from Shunzhi to Tongzhi, once every 6.3 years).

        Ming scholars thoroughly understood the link between flood and wei tian. Famous author and philosopher Gu Yanwu said: "water conservation is corrupted when farmers covetous of water benefits occupy emerged land along the river and irresponsible officials profit from it, as water has nowhere else to go"(121), a situation true in both Yellow and Yangtze basins(122) (123). Original wei tian enlarged farmland to produce more food for increased population, but irresponsible planning sometimes caused more damage than benefit, as Gu Yanwu repeated(124).

        Paddy flood damage is not stopped by jia tian (jia=frame; tian=fields) or feng tian (feng= an aquatic grass; tian=field). Chen Fu’s agriculture text says: "In deep water areas, farmers work on flood-impervious wood-framed paddies" floating on feng, the root of aquatic grass gu (now called jiao bai). After much time, the thick floating root mass became feng tian, first seen in Tang Dynasty poems(125), but pre-existing in Yizhen, Jiangsu, as early as Jin Dynasty (265-419)(126). While the grass seed gu mi (gu=aquatic grass; mi=rice) was also eaten, the cultivated rice, though unspecified in literature, was water-resistant, possibly huang-lu dao or its ancestor.

        The above historic floods stem from: (1) creation and (2) enlargement of hu tian, wei tian, etc., which broaden uncontrolled flood; and (3) diking. Their combination increased flood frequency, replacing drought historically and popularizing huang-lu dao and like varieties.

        The need for wei tian, ju tian, hu tian, sa tian and tu tian differed with rice variety. Diking to protect farmland changed hu tian’s vulnerable situation by delaying flood damage and allowing diked wei tian time for production. Flood-susceptible wei tian not only allowed huang-lu dao varieties for flood restoration but also an early pre-flood harvest. Generally, the lower the elevation and earlier the flood, the shorter the growing period of the variety needed.

        Early ripening varieties were sown at spring onset to avoid summer drought and harvested before the end of summer to avoid autumn flood(127). In pre-1950 Jiangsu, varieties became particularly popular to farmers in the large area north of Yangtze River (except the coast) and the Huai-Yang hilly area, where floods occurred frequently due to Huai River damming(128). In Yangzhou, "…in lower Jiangzhou, farmers plant mostly "40, 50 & 60-day", qu qian wu, wang jiang nan and other early varieties"(129). As farmers in low areas like Gaoyou, Jiangsu, "…can hardly rest during highwater and may lose their homes in autumn, they plant mostly early ripening varieties…"(130), with only one harvest "before the 1950’s"(131). In Qing Dynasty Qianlong period (1736-1796), "40, 50 & 60-day" and 6 other early varieties grew(132), still inadequate to satisfy need. Another early variety, "30-day", bred in Daoguang 15th year (1835)(133), was later grown throughout Jiangsu, and remained a good variety in the 1950’s(134).

        Although many early rice varieties were successfully bred historically, Song and Yuan Dynasty huang-lu dao did not disappear, as Ming Dynasty records show this variety was still grown in fields of Fengyang County, Anhui Province(135).

5. Huang-lu Implications

        He Bingdi’s Early Ripening Rice Varieties in Chinese History said the 11th century "agricultural revolution" was a rapid basic population growth initiator, with "dry-resistant zhan-cheng (champa) rice import the top fast-ripening variety, extending growth to lowland, valleys, riverbanks and hills…changing land use and doubling rice growing. These varieties greatly influenced food supply and directly increased population"(136). His point is well accepted(137).

        Zhan-cheng was also suited to highlands, with increased food production and population, but after Song Dynasty, rice growing rose not only via terraces, but to even lower places (wei tian, jia tian, etc.); i.e., farmland growth was not confined to land but extended to water. Several questions are worthwhile. What did terraces offer in China for food supply? Is food produced more from hilly land or rivers or lakes?

        I think higher food production and population increase is tied mainly to farmland made from rivers and lakes. While terracing grew after Song and Yuan Dynasty and solved the food supply for mountain people, terrace rice was minor nationally; e.g., SE hilly Fujian with heavy terracing did not become a major granary, though "terraces were everywhere and irrigated from nearby creeks", such that "not a drop of water was lost nor a single inch of land unused"(138). As zhan-cheng was first cultivated here, supplementary food came from other provinces(139), and I therefore conclude zhan-cheng import did not change the fundamental food supply.

        Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasty food sources concentrated around Tai, Poyang and Dongting Lakes in the middle and lower Yangtze basin. Despite its high population, much food was sent to other areas, provoking post-Song-Yuan period sayings like "Suzhou and Huzhou crops ripen, so things will be adequate elsewhere", and similar ones voiced in Suzhou, the Lake area and Guangdong. Rice there was mainly on wei tian and not terraces.

        As aforementioned, rapid uncontrolled wei tian growth devastated the original ecology, enhanced flooding and faced strong opposition. But large scale construction never stopped in Song Dynasty because it supplied food throughout China. In Chunsi 11th year (1184), 1489 wei tian or >7200 qing (1 qing=100 mu, or English acre) and >480 li (like English mile) of dikes (140) (141) (142) existed in west Zhejiang.

        Such immense diking needed accurate survey, detailed calculation, large labor force and material, organized work load and long term governmental planning (143) (144), plus individual cooperation.

        Ming and Qing Dynasty wei tian expanded further; e.g., 15172 zhang (zhang=ca.10’) of dikes and 21000 mu wei tian in Xianyin County, Hunan in 1644, expanded by 1746 to 123766 zhang and wei tian to 167000 mu, providing even more farmland.

        Massive wei tian growth increased rice production, consolidating Jiangnan’s position in the national granary(145). Thus, farmland from riverbed and lakeshore was the major factor in population growth(146).

        Like paddy in dry areas, wei tian cannot escape drought or flood. Thus, fast-ripening drought-resistant varieties like huang-lu dao are more suited than zhan-cheng for growing in hu tian and wei tian and played a more important role than zhan-cheng in population increase.


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  152. Local dialect "In Jiangnan, keng rice is called xian"
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  154. See 8.
  155. Wuyi County Topography (1698), p. 246
  156. Taiping County Topography (1540), Vol. 2, p. 237
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  159. See 86.