The story appears on

Page B3

September 2, 2016

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Sweet potatoes started a new era in farming

A HEAVY flood inundated farmland in the Jiangnan region south of the Yangtze River in 1608. Xu Guangqi, a scholar of the era, was worried about starving farmers whose crops had been destroyed.

He was told by a businessman from Fujian Province that sweet potatoes grown in his home province can withstand drought and flood, and the crop is more prolific than rice or wheat.

“Xu Guangqi began experimenting with sweet potatoes in his own agricultural field in Shanghai,” says Professor Su Zhiliang from East China Normal University.

“He eventually harvested sweet potatoes the size of large Chinese rice bowls. The tuber could be eaten raw or cooked. It could be ground into powder for brewing wine.”

To promote cultivation of this crop, Xu wrote a famous article entitled “Gan Shu Shu,” which was an introduction to the sweet potato. Later, sweet potatoes became a fixture on rural dining tables and the crop eventually spread to countries like South Korea and Japan.

Some scholars have postulated that Xu’s introduction of this vegetable led to a profound increase in China’s population because sweet potatoes ended severe famine.

“In the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Chinese population was estimated at 20-50 million, but it was recorded at 313 million in 1793,” says Fudan University Professor Li Tiangang.

“The driving force behind this ‘population boom’ was Xu’s agricultural revolution, which caused a rapid growth in farm production and population. Other imported plants of the same period included peanuts, corn and tobacco.”

Xu is also credited with spreading rice cultivation from Jiangnan to the northern city of Tianjin. The resulting explosion in rice cultivation north of the Yellow River changed China’s culinary structure.

“He even experimented in planting European grapes and brewing Western wines,” Li says. “He is considered the father of China’s ‘second agricultural revolution’.”


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend