Expansion of chinese paddy rice to the yunnan-guizhou plateau

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Fuminori, Sigaya, International Research Center for Japanese Studies,

3-2 Oeyama-cho, Goryo, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto 610-1192 Japan

(Agricultural Archaeology 1998(1):255-262). Transl. Japanese>Chinese by Baiyun Xang; transl. Chinese>English by Dr. W. Tsao, 7/25/2002, ed. by B. Gordon)
Researchers have long debated two crucial questions on the topic of E Asian rice, esp. rice culture on the Chinese mainland: (1) origin of cultivated paddy rice, and (2) its route of spread to Korea and Japan.
To solve these questions, Zuohe Agriculture University Prof. Hezuo Yexi began studying East Asian ancient paddy rice origin and culture in 1990, collecting pertinent data from Japan, China and Korea(1), and focussing on cultivated rice origin in China’s Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. Zhongchuan Yuanjieping(2) and Dubu Zhongshi(3) also sought cultivated rice in Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau and north Indian Assam using isotope analyses of rice from Thailand, Burma and Yunnan because Yunnan, esp. Xichuang Banna area, retains concentrated multi-types, which. Hezuo thinks were brought by immigrants(4). These questions of wide N-S China distribution of paddy rice culture, while relying on archaeological material, rest on the literature, and some aspects remain unachieved.
As more archaeological material is needed for further understanding, this work supplements my paper Beginning of Yunnan Cultivated Rice by concentrating on the question of "Yunnan rice brought by immigrants” in various historic periods.
Records show remote Yunnan entered local government in Qin Dynasty. The “SW minority records” in “Historical Record” says “Qin Dynasty’s Cang E suggested building 5-che (English foot) wide roads so officials can visit remote tribal areas”. One 5-che road goes SW in accord with the record of a Sichuan plank road built by Li Bing. “Historical Record” says “Qin Dynasty ended after 10 years, and Han Dynasty saw the abandonment of remote areas”, with “some Sichuan people enriching themselves by occasionally coming to rob merchants of their horses, servants and buffalo”.
In Yuan Sou 2nd year (123 BC), Han Wu Emperor (Han Dynasty ruler, 140–87 BC) finally ruled north Yunnan(5). Thereafter, official prefectural posts were established by subsequent Empires in Yunnan to rule SW Yie tribes.
“Historical Record” Jian Yuan 6th year (135 BC) mentions constructing a road to Ye Lang State (now central Guizhou), Han Wu Emperor specifically “appointing Meng to lead >10,000” to transport much food south from Hunan Province. As similar records occur elsewhere in the book, it confirms food was brought to the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau from central provinces.
Han Shu” (Book of Han Dynasty) says food transport south was not confined to Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. When Han Dynasty’s Han Wu Emperor conquered Qian (western tribe), Guangdong, and Guangxi, he established 17 prefectures from Guangdong to south Sichuan. The record is unclear but explicable: food and other necessities for officials sent to the 17 prefectures (7 in place of SW Yie, 9 in south Guangdong and 1 in Guangxi) were provided by neighboring rather than home prefectures. Section “Ping Huai Shu” in “Historical Records” says enlisting the unemployed under “shang tun” (shang=trade, tun=assembling) to move SW to the Yie tribe, implies many utensils and crop seeds taken to Yunnan, south Yue (including Guangdong, Guangxi and part of Vietnam) and Xiang-Gui area (Guizhou). These descriptions are indirectly proven by recent archaeological data.
In 1972, rice and other seeds and fruit remains were found in Mawangdui Han grave 1 in Changsha City, Hunan Province(6). Bamboo slips used to record wills of the deceased show these seeds were ritually buried, but some slips and their hemp sacks are unfortunately partly decayed or do not match wooden labels on the bamboo boxes. But their study allows comparison of modern and ancient names of the same object. The following are 5 labels (regular characters)1 with data concerning rice:
These three relate to rice seed:

117(7)th label – dried sweet rice food, 1 box and 2 silk pouches.

118th label – “dao nei” (fresh white rice), 1 box and 2 silk pouches.

130th label – 6 utensils for rice food, 2 for picking and 6 for holding food.

These two relate to rice grain:

144th label – white rice feed, 2 dan (100 catties) and 2 cloth pouches.

145th label – fresh rice grain, 2 dan and 2 cloth pouches.

In addition, there are bamboo slips attached to hemp bags and 1 dan of white rice feed.

While many rice remains were allegedly in the grave, actual quantity is unreported, but the National Bureau of Historical Relics identified and interpreted them in 1978(8).
Four identified rice seed types, “Ma 01” (Mawangdui site sample #1), “Ma 02”, “Ma 03” and “Ma 05”, are reported as follows:
Ma 01: an indica with coarse awn hair, like “hong mi dong nian” (hong=red, mi=rice grain, dong=winter, nian=sticky) and “chang li chan nuo“ (chang=long. li=grain. chan=sound of flowing rice grain, nuo=glutinous) varieties are now in Hunan Province. Zhou Jiwei suggests this variety resembles “lian dao gu” (dian dao=sickle, gu=seed) now cultivated in Yunnan in size, smooth awn and slanted end grain. Moreover, current Yunnan rice is considered a dryland type.
Ma 02: a japonica like current east China varieties, but like some Hunan indica. Zhou Jiwei believes it resembles local “leng shui dao” (leng=cold, shui=water, dao=rice) in Yunnan.
Ma 03: a japonica rare in Hunan with big long grain like “X hei meng2 and “Yanghebao bai pi da dao” (Yanghebao=place name, bai pi=white skin, da dao=large rice) NW varieties. Zhou Jiwei suggests it resembles Yunnan “han gu” (han=dry, gu=rice seed) and Han grave remains in Luoyang (details unprovided, but likely from the Shao Gou Han grave).
Ma 04: a japonica from its short hairy awn, and possibly a glutinous japonica like that in the Jingshan site, Hubei Province.

Zhou Jiwei of Yunnan Provincial Research Institute of Biological Resources Development says “some Mawangdui Han grave remains (Ma 01-Ma 04) can be considered smooth-husk type, but no such type grows on lower Yangtze but is popular in Yunnan, especially Dianchi area, as both paddy and dryland varieties”. He adds “it is possible Mawangdui remains are smooth-husk but their quantity is moderate. It is also difficult to identify them after cleaning because their smooth-husk is severely damaged, a problem demanding future attention”. The smooth-husk is a Japanese dryland variety. As modern genes continue from ancient ones, archaeological remains and current varieties could not be totally unrelated.

As all Mawangdui rice remains are carbonized, DNA comparison with modern varieties is difficult(9)(10). While Juteng Yangyilang et al. identified genes; e.g., Hezuoyexi Jiusheng’s report, we can only discuss regional traits and geographic distribution based on carbonized rice grain morphology(11). Similarity between Mawangdui 1 rice and current Yunnan cultivars noted by Zhou Jiwei provides important meaning in researching rice propagation.
But Zhou Jiwei did not compare Mawangdui rice with other regional cultivars. You Xiuling’s report(12) of Qing Dynasty records 3429 cultivars in 14 of 16 provinces. If a quarter are repeats, the remaining 2571 show 530 in Zhejiang, 525 in Jiangsu and 261 in Yunnan. You Xiuling says “this figure appears much less than actual, representing only a small part because 41379 cultivars are recorded in various places from 1952 to 1958”.
Any conclusion drawn from Mawangdui 1 rice must include its smooth-husk traits absent in lower Yangtze Basin cultivars.
Using Zhou Jiwei’s report, I think cultivars like Mawangdui rice 1 and those identical to Ma 02 and Ma 03 are still grown in Yunnan and other places after 2100 years. This may prove my hypothesis that Yunnan multiple cultivars result from many exchanges. Records of rice unhusked or not must be discussed in future.
Most rice in excavations or graves is unhusked. Chen Wenhua’s paper “Chinese prehistoric rice remains” (1994) says only 2 of 106 sites (excl. Taiwan) specify grain. Zhejiang Province Jiaxing grave has 4000 year-old seed, husk and grain. Poorly preserved grain is hard to identify, while phytoliths occur in thick husks. In any case, seed appears to account for most remains.
Four big “Warring States” (403-221 BC) granaries, named “Jie Bu” or “Xing Gan”, were found in 1976 in Xinggan County, Jiangxi Province(13).
The only excavated one is 61.5x11 m (675.5 sq. m) on Gan River but without river access. Destroyed by fire, its balustrade construction with central keel is based on the distribution of many potsherds, pillars, caves and 4 ditches perpendicular to its width. The fire made 0.3-1.2 m of charcoal, but much grain survived, which Chen Wenhua says “is morphologically japonica with indica traces; i.e., >1 type was stored”. As Zhou Jiewei also found 17 other grains, this granary was not used to store official crops, but possibly for military rations.
Husked rice will not generally germinate except under laboratory conditions, but that in the Warring State granary germinates.
Big West and East Han Dynasties graves have sideroom granaries to store food for the afterlife, with many seeds, including rice, wheat, barley, millet, sorghum, 6 vegetables and 7 fruits in the Mawangdui 1 W sideroom. As aforementioned, rice is unhusked.
Some Han Dynasty Luoyang Shaogou grave pottery granaries bear the character “dao” (rice), but have only husks. Others bear “Wan Dan Bai Mi” (wan=10,000, dan=100 catties, bai mi=white rice grain), “lu mi” (tribute rice), etc. The word “mi” means both rice and small grain, originating from the word “sorghum”. “Mi” also represents unhusked rice grain(14).
Two stone grinding mills and model windmills for husking are in Luoyang Shaogou grave(15). Grain was stored and husked before cooking because people believed the deceased must husk and mill grain to make rice or wheat powder.
In sum, unhusked rice was stored for the military and the dead from the Neolithic to Han Dynasty. Thus, rice brought by soldiers to Yunnan was unhusked and able to germinate.
Ke dao(16) ( ke=guest, dao=rice) first occurred in a document in Lobowen Han grave 1 in 1978 in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomy Region. “Ke dao” is indica, with “ke” meaning foreign.
The unique Lobowen 1 grave has a huge 9.88x7.2 m wood outer-coffin and 7 small wood coffins with 1 male youth and 6 young females in 2 lines at the bottom, atop which is a large coffin holding the gravemaster. The gravemaster was a middle-aged male from Zhongyuan (now Henan), and those in small coffins were his servants.
Its bronze objects date to 179-164 BC Western Han Dynasty, the archaeological report saying the gravemaster was Han and servants minorities, but is in regular Chinese characters.
Han Dynasty rules forbade burying living people, but the report on Zao Mei, a King of South Yue State (now Vietnam), says 4 wives and 6-12 cooks were buried alive when he died in 124 BC. Zao Tuo, Mei’s grandfather and South Yue State founder in Lingnan, was a Han born in Shandong, who took the Lingnan local custom of burying many people alive with him. Thus, the whole South Yue State and its western part believed in living burials in Han Dynasty.
Ke indica(17) in the grave document is definitely foreign and most likely a cultivar from Lingbei3, a more advanced area. Han influence and military conquest imported good cultivars, with the following data the author’s opinion.
In 1975, 4 Western Han “ying gu” (rice plant) bundles with 18-19 cm long spikes occurred in pottery granaries in Fenghuangshan grave 167 in Jiangling, Hubei Province. Each spike has 41-72 grains, all fresh golden-yellow when excavated but greying later, according to 1980-1992 observation. No description of these rice spikes occurs in the granaries.
You Xiuling says this rice is mid-late japonica very like superior modern rice cultivars; e.g.s, “Gui Hua Qiu”, “#10509”, “Hong Xu”, etc. He believes Western Han rice cultivation had a very high standard because the grain number per ancient cultivar compares to 80 (mean) on “Gui Hua Qiu”, 80-90 on “#10509” and 90-100 on “Hong Xu”. If the number of plants per unit area is alike, ancient cultivar productivity was half that of modern ones (no distinguishable differences in wt./100 grains exist in ancient and modern cultivars).
One must note “ying gu” is unprocessed rice plant never seen in other sites. Of 16 Western Han samples collected by Chen Wenhua, the one in grave 167 is the only one other than husk.
As Table 1 shows no difference in rice forms in Yellow or Yangtze Basins, differences in samples from grave 167 and other sites are not due to different locations. This table is based on Chen Wenhua’s statistics, adjusted with sample data at excavation. As rice growing shifted from Yellow to Yangtze Basins in Han Dynasty(18)(19), their grain should all be husked.
Based on the above, remains in grave 167 have unique implications, a possible one being that buried rice was a superior “ke dao” cultivar worth taking to the otherworld with the whole spike. In any case, rice was propagated under the name “ke dao”.
Rice propagation was not initiated only by Han movement in Han Dynasty, but research on rice propagation is difficult because only a few of the following Three Kingdom (220-277) sites are excavated in interior China. Many North and South Dynasty (420-589) sites are excavated in Jiangnan, with little excavation elsewhere, making comparison meaningless.
After Western and Eastern Jin Dynasties, several empires, especially Song, were invaded in the Northern Wei Empire by a Tartar tribe in SE Mongolia. As locusts destroyed all vegetation and fur on livestock in early Eastern Jin Dynasty, 80-90% of officials were punished by exile. Most moved south to Nanjing and Zhenjiang and founded the North and South Epoch court, as seen in graves of Wang and Gu nobles in Laohushan site in north Nanjing.
Southward movement brought a bright future to South Dynasty(20). Although wild elephants were extant in South Chi (479-501) period, the recorded mass of people caused much change (21).
The Jin Book’s Du Tan Story says tens of thousands of families moving from Bashu, Sichuan to settle in Hunan and Hubei, “exiled others, causing a grudge”. Jin Book’s Sun En Story says he escaped from Shaoxing to the sea, but supported by local people, invaded Shangyu and killed the County Governor. In another invasion of Shaoxing, he gathered thousands and fought the Jin Empire by alternating between land and sea.
Many groups moved at that time, at times carrying no food. Jin Book’s Li Te Story says “in Yuan Kang period (291-300), Di tribe rebel Chi Wannian caused huge disturbance in Guanxi and years of starvation. Thousands of families moved to Hanzhou area for food”, passing Hubei and arriving in Sichuan. SE minorities later came under the control of the Chinese government.
The above can be summarized:
1. Chinese government came to rule Yunnan via 3 routes through Sichuan and Hunan, but as agriculture and business started from central China seeds and merchandise, rice cultivars in Yunnan and the surroundings formed after repeated importation.
2. Grain in graves is mostly unhusked rough rice, the natural form for storage and broadcast, implying it was introduced by groups and propagated elsewhere.
3. Rice storage on spikes later became popular, as seen in SE Asia and even Yunnan. Japan’s abundant archaeological data shows more than half of Nai Liang period granaries store rice with stems and spikes. Han Dynasty “Ke dao” was specifically labeled, implying farmers strove to obtain a superior cultivar for seed selection.
4. Under the Hainan model, the Han exiled minorities(23). After Jin Empire movement south, Jiangnan people were exiled to mountain and coast, but took seed and grew rice where many rice cultivars had been absent; e.g., Yunnan, where rice cultivars increased continuously.
5. Rice propagation towards NE Asia paralleled human movement from the mainland. Time and space similarities between the Yunnan minority and Japanese Yayoi culture show the former is not the home of the latter, both having the same root in Jiangnan. Yayoi did not grow from a Yunnan minority culture but has a brotherhood relationship.
















Henan W Luoyang

W Han



Arch. Report 1963(2):48

Beijing Huangtugang



Beijing Botanical Garden













Hunan Changsha Mawangdui 1 grave

W Han


sack,bamboo basket

Mawangdui 1 grave report 221

Guangxi Gui Luobowan

W Han


outer grave room soil

Cultural Features 1978(9):32

Hunan Yujiatai

E Han


grave earth

Hunan Archaeology(2):207

Table 1. Han Dynasty excavated site rice data (Chen et al., 1989 China Paddy Rice Origin)

*original report does not differentiate (I)indica & (J)japonica, but was based on Chen. #not in original(p.261)
[1] Prof. Hezuo Yexi (compiler): East Asian paddy rice origin and ancient paddy rice culture in Japan, China and Korea 1995, 332pp.

[2] Zhongchuan Yuanjieping: Asian Rice 1975:172. Recent DNA research shows past Chiangnan rice was mainly japonica. For indica origin, one must compare indica and japonica, with huge difference in latter. Certainly. Indica dominating Tang rice 11 centuries later is another matter.

[3] Dubu Zhongshi: Rice Road 1977. Japan Broadcast Publication Association.

[4] Jiangu Wenze: Yunnan Sketch on Origin of Paddy Rice, see [1]:257,266.

[5] Sichuan Province includes Jianwei County (Shaotong really belongs to Yunnan), while Yuesong and Yangke Counties were established with Guizhou Province as center.

[6] Hunan Province Museum, China Academy of Science, Institute of Archaeology: Mawangdui grave 1 (main text) 1973:162.

[7] mi character originally meant small grain, but here means husked uncooked paddy rice.

[8] Hunan Agriculture Academy of Science, China Academy of Science, Plant Research Location: Zoological and Botanical specimens in Mawangdui grave 1, Changsha 1978:104.

[9] Zhouji Weizhu: Ancient Rice Investigation in Yangtze Basin (transl. by Xiaoze Zhengren). China Paddy Rice Origins 1988:111-130.

[10] Successful analysis of DNA in carbonized rice, Jiangsu Caoxianshan rough rice Juzuoteng Yilang data: Analytical results of rice in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Hemudu plant remains [1]:60-63. Juzuo Teng Yang data substitutes light shell rice for field rice.

[11] Hezuo Yexi Jiusheng: East Asian Ancient Paddy Rice Origin. See [1]:3-52.

[12] You Xiuling (Dadao Cheng Er transl.): China Ancient Rice Variety Resources, see [1]:53-59. You Xiuling: China Paddy Rice Variety Resources History Textual Research, Agricultural Archaeology 1981(2):2-24.

[13] Chen Wenhua: Excavated carbonized rice from Warring States grain warehouse, Xinggang County, Jiangxi Province (transl. by Dubianfanglang) [1]:134-137.

[14] Luoyang Area Archaeology Excavation Team: (Luoyang Shaogou Han grave) 1959:112-114, 206-207.

[15] Cultural Exhibit: Historic Atlas of Ancient Chinese Agricultural Science and Technology 1991:198.

[16] Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Museum: (Luobowan Han grave in Guangxi Gui County) 1988:147.

[17] Specimen M1:365 is “ke dao” XX; M1:364 is one dan of “ke dao”. Sees note [14].

[18] Hubei Province Museum: Jiangling Huangshan grave 167 investigation. Cultural Features 1975(3).

[19] Neolithic rice once grew on the Yellow River east bank, but post-Han Dynasty records and excavated site data of paddy rice are vague.

[20] You Xiuling: Western Han Dynasty rice analyses, Agricultural Archaeology 1981(2). Songshu says Zhenjiang has 33 prefectures and 75 counties. Wasteland between Zhen Town and Daomaoshan gradually became rice paddies in Quantao Prefecture. See also Yangtze River Water Conservation Historic Strategy, pp.70-76, Water Conservation Electric Power Publishing House, 1979.

[21] Suzhe: "Ancient Chinese tribal plough and spread of paddy rice culture", with [1]:267-272. In quoting Yongming 11th year, white elephant and 9-headed bird appear in Wuchang. White elephant is Buddhism's auspicious omen.

[22] Zhenjiang peripheral wasteland was opened up initially in north, first to dry farmland, then to paddy fields.

[23] Jiangu wrote Research on ancient Chinese environmental archaeology, Ministry of Education scientific research budget. Also Jin Guanshu’s representative report pp.44-52, Tianli University 1992.

1 The text specifies “information on wooden labels are in regular characters” (i.e. not mainland China simplified characters) but the latter are used– note by WT

2 The first Chinese character in this term is absent in Kangxi Dictionary, while the 2nd and 3rd characters represent “black awn” – note by WT

3 “Lingbei” or “north of the pass” is likely a printing error, as it is north of Hingan Ling, Mongolia and unsuited for rice. Original Japanese may be “…from Lingnan, an area north of the South Yue State…” – note by WT

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