The Systematization of Environmental Management in Han
The above may seem too much philosophy for a book on the environment, but the present section will, hopefully, show otherwise. In Han, the above ideas developed into the Huang-Lao tradition of philosophy and statecraft (Chang Chun-shu 2007a: 119-20), which was loosely based on the mythical reign of the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) and the teachings of Laozi. It was actually a syncretic tradition that integrated major and useful insights from the other schools but integrated them into a basic stock that was essentially the soft-path Legalism referred to above. The Yellow Emperor was recognized as a god in early centuries but was progressively euhemerized, becoming a "real" human ancestor by the mid-fourth millennium ВСЕ (Chang Chun-shu 2007a: 122). In spite of the implications of some modern sources (such as Chang), the Huang-Lao was a very loose "school." Anyone who agreed that government should be moderate—not too light, not too strict—could be included, especially if he or she believed that cosmological principles encouraged such policies and operated in this world through subtle correspondences.
Later writings in the Han Dynasty considerably expanded this view, locking conservation policies into the imperial government (E. Anderson 1988). Xunzi's principles are found especially in the Li Ji, a record of court ceremonies and rales that dates from the Warring States period but was organized, arranged, and extended in the early Han Dynasty. In general, the Li Ji rales were designed to prevent overhunting, overcutting forests, and seasonally inappropriate behavior such as taking female animals in the spring. They also include specifications of how many people the lords were expected to feed, at least in the ancient days. By mid-Han, the seasonal rales had been forced into the straitjacket of Han cosmology, but they were not mere logical extensions of it; they are far too sensible to have started as anything but pragmatic environmental regulations.
Further research on conservation of resources in ancient Chinese thought has turned up a great deal (E. Anderson 2001). Han thought on the environment turns out to be strikingly complex, sophisticated, and accordant with twenty-first-century knowledge. We know that mainly from a series of huge compendia of Warring States lore, heavily reconstructed or actually created during Han times. Han authors loved to give distinction to their words by fathering them on a famous name or famous document. Indeed, they usually preferred to remain anonymous, submerging their work in the alleged writings of some earlier sage—a behavior rather surprising to a modern academic! The extremes of this tendency were reached in the Shen Nong herbal and the Yellow Emperor's classic of internal medicine. Shen Nong was a purely mythical ox-headed god of agriculture who supposedly lived in the twenty-eighth century ВСЕ. (He is the source of those Western-secondary-literature claims that such-and-such a plant was known in China in "2737 ВСЕ." This means it was mentioned in his herbal, which in present form dates from the sixth century CE.) The Yellow Emperor was similarly mythical, and even earlier in imagined time.
Similarly fabricated or reedited were Zhou court manuals (the Zhou Li and Li Ji) and various collections of lore. Authentic works like Zhuangzi's writings received gratuitous additions. Delightful fiction such as the Liezi material (Graham i960) was passed off as real philosophical writing. I strongly doubt if educated people were fooled at the time. They no doubt took these attributions in the spirit that Berkeley hippies took the newspaper columns of "Dr. Hip Pocrates" (Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld) in the 1960s. But for modern scholars, who must try to sort out Han creativity from authentic Warring States thought, the whole business is either a nightmare or a fascinating detective story—depending on the scholars' sense of humor.
Conservation of resources had become scientific by Han times, if not by late Warring States. The early Daoist texts (Yates 1997: 163), the Huainanzi (Ames 1994, esp. 163, 201; Liu An 2010; see below), and other works specifically counsel the conservation and management of plants, game animals, agricultural land and resources, and other renewable resources.
The most thorough and insightful material by far is that compiled under the name of Guan Zhong, known as Guanzi—Philosopher Guan. W. Allyn Rickett (1965,1985,1998), in his monumental edition of the Guanzi material, does a particularly fine job of explaining the work in English. Guan Zhong (supposedly d. 645 ВСЕ) was a leading political advisor to Duke Huan of Qi (r. 685-643 ВСЕ). The book attributed to him is a vast and fascinating miscellany. It seems to have been the product of patronage in a grand intellectual establishment, the Jixia. This assemblage of government-supported intellectuals, planners, knights, and other statecrafters was a true think tank in the modern sense and had been created under the Tian kings of Qi (A. Meyer 2011). This was by no means the first intellectual academy in China; the state of Wei had had, a century or two earlier, a huge university-like establishment in which Mencius and other philosophers had taught.
The Guanzi and legalist works like The Book of Lord Shang counsel keeping statistics: detailed numbers on population, agriculture, and so on—a concept fairly new to the West in the eighteenth century. Useful backup advice includes "those who are skilled in shepherding their people are certain to know first of all the condition of their land" (Rickett 1998: 224).
The Guanzi contains much Qi material going back to the 300s and 200s
ВСЕ. It was finally compiled under Han. The parts often contradict each other.. The writing styles are late Warring States or Han, and very often in the dialect of the old state of Chu, implying that this work—though starting life in Qi—may very well have been put together at the court of Liu An, along with the very similar Huainanzi (see below). (Thus, pace Meyer, who emphasizes its early Qi origins, I place it with the Han materials—they are much more comparable.) Most of it is Daoist or Huang-Lao (see below) in inspiration, but it wanders over the philosophic map, often combining Confucian, Legalist, Daoist and other ideas, as do other Han compilations. As Andrew Meyer (2011) and many others have pointed out, philosophers and politicians took ideas where they found them. Orthodoxy of the Western type was not a concept in ancient China.
The book is extremely detailed and sophisticated in regard to agriculture, geography, and economics. It is devastating to the old—and still commonly held—Western stereotype of the Chinese as dreamy sorts whose thinking was mystical and unworldly. For instance, a fascinating insight into the times, and an apparently accurate assessment, is "The most skillful peasant can support five people, those of medium ability can support four, while the least skillful can only support three. The most skillful women can provide clothing for five people, those of medium ability can provide clothing for four, while the least skillful can only provide clothing for three" (Rickett 1998: 441). Guan—or the Chu or Han scholar who used Guans name—properly cautions against disrupting any peasants work! "If a single peasant is not engaged in farming, someone will suffer hunger; if a single woman does not engage in weaving, someone will suffer cold" (459). With this level of production, there was very little scope for taxation, war, or mistaken policy. Every state operated at the edge of subsistence. As the Han emperor Wu Di was to discover, taxing the empire at a rate necessary for serious long-continued military action quickly brought rain and could not be sustained.
Guan had much to say about how to use clever (sometimes downright Machiavellian) means to raise revenues. One of the more humorous ones involves tricking people with religion. Guan (or Guans mouthpiece a few centuries later) advised the duke not to tax construction, animals, or trees, since it would lead to hindering the production thereof, but instead to tax ghosts and spirits—by getting everyone to sacrifice and taking a share of the revenues and production thus stimulated (453). The ruler can also take advantage of comets and other scary portents to hold expensive ceremonies and charge the rich: "Thus the wise make use of the spirits while the stupid only believe in them" (488). Cynicism was never more cheerfully deployed. Ones heart goes out to the barefaced cheekiness of Guan's followers. (One may also be amused at the foolishness of certain later polities that exempt churches from taxation and thus lead to the creation of thousands of vast pseudo-churches that are nothing but economic and political scams.)
We have noted already the use of bulrush mats for sacrifices as a way of stimulating the bulrush industry in otherwise unproductive marshes (482). These passages perfectly anticipate John Maynard Keynes (see esp. 304ff.). Rickett thinks this was only for emergencies and not a general theory, but it is hard to read the translation that way—it seems to be a general theory, basically identical to Keynes's.
Advice also involves knowing the land—where to find metal ores, what lands can be used only for grazing, when to cull herds, and so on. Guan pointed out that landholders living in rocky, mountainous areas generally conquer those living in fertile lowlands because the mountaineers are forced to be more thrifty and prudent (470). (My Scottish ancestors would agree.) He sensibly advocated avoiding large reservoirs by having many small ones and cultivating more intensively, advice that is still state-of-the-art in international development. He mentions winter wheat specifically (473).
Guan took agriculture seriously: "Anyone who has claimed to be capable of being minister of agriculture, when found to be incapable, shall be killed and his blood smeared on his [i.e., presumably the government's] altar to Land" (Rickett 1998: 433). There is no evidence the advice was ever taken, but it deserves to be revived for economic advisors today, in China and elsewhere.
Some of the good management principles now associated with fengshui are attested in the Guanzi. It counseled the ruler to site his capital above the flood line but below the area that could go dry in a drought and to have an encircling canal and protecting mountains to provide water and storm protection (Rickett 1965: 74; 1998: 242S.). All these are familiar tenets of modern fengshui. They were probably old by Han. There are excellent directions for flood control, including planting dikes with "thorns and brambles in order to secure their earth. Mix in [junipers] and willows to provide against flooding" (Rickett 1965: 79-80, correction taken from 1998 trans.). These and many other bits of excellent practical advice are mixed with cosmology and numerology in the Guanzi, just as in modern fengshui.
A long, brilliant, and highly sophisticated discourse on soils and crops (Rickett 1998: 259ff.) has been often described in Western literature (e.g., Needham 2004: i23ff.; his equations to modern soil types are shaky). Rickett's translation is more accurate about descriptions and trees than earlier versions, enabling us to see that Guan ranks loams formed under deciduous forest as the highest quality, and on down through alluvial clays, somewhat saline alluvial soils, and so on, to saline or alkaline soils as the worst. (Intruded into the account is an utterly irrelevant, and irreverent, humorous send-up of the Five Tones of the Chinese mystical scale; see Ricket 1998: 263.)
Guan recognized ninety soil types, but most are mere color variants; each major soil type has variants for each of the five colors. Su soils are best: "when wet, they are not sticky, when dry they are not totally lacking in moisture" (Rickett 1998: 268), and do not harden, erode away, or lose moisture; that is, they are loams with good water retention qualities. They are suitable for millets and (when unfarmed and undisturbed) grow tung trees, oaks, elms, willows, mulberries, poplars, and similar trees—that is, they are typical of second-growth valley forests. When they appear as deep loams on hillsides, they nourish second-growth trees like jujube, catalpa, and big-leaf oak. Marshes in areas with su soils are filled with fish, and in general the lands are fertile. Next come the wu soils, which are loose and porous, with earthworms. They are good for panic millet and support tung trees, oaks, catalpa, Prunus species, jujubes, pears—in general, similar trees as on the su soils. They are in fact forest loams, apparently somewhat more podzol-like than the rich su leaf molds. Then come the wei soils, which do not form hard clods or break into fine dust, and they too retain moisture and do not easily erode; they grow trees similar to the others, as well as medicinal herbs, ginger, smartweed, and other annuals characteristic of fertile woodland alluvium.
Then follow the yin soils, black and powdery. They grow rice and are good for animals but are 20 percent less fertile than the first three soil types. Trees are not listed, but from the description I take these soils to be alluvial and derived from forest podzols. Then come the rang and fu soils, described very briefly in similar terms. Following these are the distinctly inferior ju soils: wet, loess-like, and not very fertile; they are probably waterlogged alluvial soils derived from loess. Lu, jian, and piao soils follow, and then sandy (sha) soils, which have dust and sand and would appear to be low-grade wash from eroded hills. Then come the ge soils: "as rocky as a stone pile and unable to withstand flood or drought" (Rickett 1998: 280). Then comes you, which smells like manure, that is, soggy, waterlogged, poorly drained soil. Then zhuang, "the color of a rats liver" (280; interesting in view of the fact that some Chinese of the time believed a rat had no liver—Guans writers were, as usual, scientifically perceptive). Then come zhi, which "may become completely saturated and disintegrate, or [when dry], they may crack and lose their vitality," and they raise rice; that is, they are poor, clay rich, probably acidic alluvial soils. Then other poor types bring us to the worst: the jie soils, salty and bitter. But even they can raise some types of rice—a tribute to the tough, diverse, often salt-tolerant rices of old China.
Guan observes that people will fight for a country whose resources are adequate to maintain them (Rickett 1998:141). Very many essays discuss ways (some devious) for assuring an adequate supply of grain for famine relief, war, and other hardships. A point very often emphasized is that the people must not be called away during the critical planting, weeding and harvesting seasons (177ff.), because loss of work at these times guarantees grain shortages. In general, a good ruler will help the people, adjust supply and demand to keep prices low, maintain a supply for famine relief, and so on, including quite modern-sounding (but impossibly idealistic) social welfare (227s.).
Another focus of the Guanzi is on water management. One chapter is a sort of hymn to water, making it the basis of all things, from plant growth to national character. Chu has fine water, hence its virtuous people; rival states have turbulent, polluted water (more evidence for a Chu origin for the book). This chapter reminds one of Greek speculation on which "element" was the most basic. Other chapters are much more practical and discuss the actual ways of controlling rivers and floods. One source apparently thought the character for "water" could be analyzed as a symbol for a man and a woman with a stream of semen between (Rickett 1998:103). This notion is quite consonant with Han sexual mysticism. More practical are references to various degrees of water need in land, up to "land that has been flooded in order to raise fish and turtles" (389); aquaculture was already well known at the time. It was supposedly invented by the semi-mythical millionaire Fan Li. In any case, it goes well back into Zhou days.
Major government rewards go to experts in raising animals, trees, melons and gourds, vegetables, fruits, silkworms, and so on, and to those skilled in medicine and in crop science (1998: 401). Directions for evaluating and managing land according to its potential include very specific and excellent ones (e.g., 419).
The geography, however, could be erratic. A famous passage about metals (see Golas 1999 for an extended discussion) states: "If, on a mountain, hematite lies near the surface, iron may be found below.... If lead lies near the surface, silver may be found below.... If cinnabar lies near the surface, gold ore may be found below. If magnetite is found near the surface, copper may be found below" (424). The first two are accurate enough guides to be useful, but not the second two; someone was overextending.
Possibly less useful, but extremely informative, are the elaborate calendars of what the ruler should do at any given time of year. The ruler had to plow a ceremonial furrow or two at the start of the plowing season, and the empress had to oversee rearing some silkworms, so that the forces of heaven would aid these activities for the whole country. Punishing criminals had to be done in the winter (the season of death; fall was possible also) but not in the spring or summer, the seasons of birth and growth. Some of these ceremonial calendars occur in the Guanzi and add a great deal of practical, homey advice ("Care for [the people] with kindness. Draw them to you with humaneness" and so on; Rickett 1965: 201).
A longer and more complete calendar in Huainanzi has a more elaborate cosmology but less advice (Liu An 2010). Many of the rules found in the Guanzi are taken and combined with Mencian and Daoist thinking in the Huainanzi (Liu An 2010), piled under the direction of King Liu An of Huainan in the 120s BCE in the Former Han Dynasty. This makes the Huainanzi a central conservation text in Chinese history, since it brings together the best and most nature-conscious of Confucian and Daoist traditions in one authoritative source. The same group of scholars apparently compiled the Zhuangzi in the form we know it today, and a great deal of the latter is repeated verbatim in the Huainanzi, showing that the environmentalist implications often seen in the Zhuangzi (see Girardot et al. 2001) are real, not modern romancing.
Along with the work of Dong Zhongshu, the Huainanzi was a main defining document in the cosmology of qi and the Five Phases. All things depend ultimately on heaven but operate through the endless circulation of qi through the world. It has hotter and colder aspects, and these become the yang and yin aspects of things.
Pragmatic conservation is worked into that cosmology. Thus, the obviously practical and rational instruction that, in spring, "Nests must not be overturned nor the unborn young killed, likewise neither young creatures nor eggs" (Huainanzi, Liu An 2010: 183) is worked into a cosmological idea of spring as the season of birth and new life. Spring is also a time for nurturing orphans and the childless "in order that [these policies] may communicate ... to the growing sprouts" (184). It is not a time for hunting, burning brush or weeds, or drainage or major public works (184-85). It is not a time for netting fish. For the same reason, it is the season for pardons, not for executions of criminals.
Summer is a time for guarding and tending crops. One cannot build up earthworks (it damages the fields) or cut down large trees (2010:187). Burning off brush is still prohibited. One should not put out hunting nets till the dholes (wild dogs) have offered sacrifices in the fall (331). Apparently dholes finished raising their young by then and tended to leave some killed prey lying undevoured, as if sacrificing it. Fall is for hunting, burning, and executions. One can begin hawking, netting birds, and chopping wood, but not until fall is well along (331).
The alleged decline of China from an early golden age of peace and prosperity to later war, violence, and famine is due to people acting irresponsibly in search of profit. Among other things, they "ripped open pregnant animals and killed young ones,... overturned nests and broke eggs" (Liu An 2010: 68), set fires, piled up earthworks indiscriminately, dug and channeled and pounded and otherwise created great public works (269), and did violence to nature—reducing fertility and ruining farmland.
A later section repeats much of this rationale and adds that in the good old days:
When hunting they did not wipe out herds;
They did not catch fawns or baby animals,
They did not drain marshes to get fish;
They did not burn forests to capture [animals]. (331)
They did not chop small trees, kill pregnant animals, take fish under a foot long, or kill pigs less than a year old (331). In general, they were careful not to overhunt or deforest.
These practices of the old kings is very similar to the practices advocated in the Li Ji. It is also similar to recent practice of Tibeto-Burman groups in parts of China (Wang Jianhua 2013), and thus this passage may well indicate a realistic tradition, not a mere legend. To which one may add (472) that one early king did not want people to catch small fish, and they did indeed refrain out of respect for him.
A fascinating and environmentally significant bit of the Huainanzi bases government on yet another numerical association, the six regulating instruments. The metaphor was old by then—Confucians and Legalists had long made the point—but the Huainanzi took it to new cosmological heights. These were the simple tools used by ancient Chinese carpenters and crafts persons to measure and align their work:
Heaven is the marking cord. Earth is the level. Spring is the compass. Summer is the balance beam.
Autumn is the square, [the carpenters square, a simple right-angled metal piece] Winter is the weight. (Liu N 2010: 204)
These six simple tools are not only symbols of good government; they are good government, through ganying. The government seasonally applies the basic ideas of which these tools are the simplest, most direct, and most straightforward application. The marking cord, for instance, is the simplest but most effective of imaginable instruments: a cord stretched between two points to mark a straight line. For carpentry, it was, and still is, inked and pressed onto the board to ensure a straight saw cut. I have seen this done countless times in China, as I have seen the other tools used too. They were and are "natural symbols" (Douglas 1970). The resonant, or metaphoric, application is that the government must be straight; in Chinese, as in English, "straight" (or "upright," zheng) has the metaphoric extension of "honest, true, open, consistent." Our "straightforward" and "correct" similarly have Chinese equivalents based on zheng. In fact, the word for "govern" or "government" in Chinese is the same word, zheng, written with a verbalizing marker (and pronounced in a different tone, because of an ancient verbalizing process). The Huainanzi provides similar discussions for the other tools.
This metaphoric use of tools lasted long and spread far. Koreas great poet and statesman Yun Sondo (1587-1671) used them in a song to start off a banquet. The song later became famous:
How is a house built?
It is the work of a master carpenter.
Why are the timbers straight?
They follow the line of ink and carpenters square.
Of this home truth will bring you long life.
(Yun Sondo in O'Rourke 2002: 91, slightly amended)
Little progress was made in conservation in later centuries or in later writings. There is not much evidence of people living by these rules of former kings. Widespread knowledge of these texts must mean that some people cared, but the ones who did were apt to be scholars who were not doing much hunting or woodcutting in any case.
The ordinary people certainly had their own ideas about conservation but were only indirectly influenced by these texts. Still, there must have been some carryover, since the literate tradition was widely known and directly influenced ordinary people via officials, landlords, and religious practitioners. One of the main things one learned from research in remote areas of China in the 1960s was that the literate tradition was quite well known even to illiterate peasants because it was constantly quoted in everything from religious services to plays, Chinese operas, and folksongs. It was not remote and cut off from ordinary society, as the Western "great tradition" was in America in my youth. I never heard anyone quote the Li Ji or the Huainanzi, but many people did know Menciuss Ox Mountain story—a staple of rural schoolrooms—and knew that taking small fish or pregnant animals was a fool's game.
Other calendars of this sort survive in varying degrees of completeness (Rickett 1965,1998, e.g., 108-17). They indicate an exquisite sensitivity to the changes and moods of nature and a strong belief that these actually required that the ruler do different things at different times of year. Except for the matter of punishments and obvious farm-related matters like the ceremonial furrow, they do not always agree on what goes with what month. The Guanzi, for instance, allows one kind of nonfatal punishment in spring (Rickett 1965: 215).
A very similar conservation calendar to Guan's appears in the Lushi Chunchiu (Lu Buwei 2000: 94-98). That work also makes some of the same conservation recommendations: not taking young animals (284), not taking small fish (471), not using fine-meshed nets (642). There is a particularly good story of an individual who advised his lord to triumph by deception; the lord replied that if you catch all the fish or burn all the forest, there will be no fish or trees, and if you deceive people you will similarly wind up in trouble. (He should have talked to the Guanzi writers.) Although the lord did use the tactic of deceiving enemies—once—he did not reward his advisor highly (317).
The first half of the Li Ji consists of elaborate ceremonial directions, including a great deal about timing and food. The latter half consists largely of teachings on ritual, ascribed to Confucius, followed by a long series of explanatory essays that provide sociological reasons and justifications for the rituals. These are fascinating in their anticipation of functionalist explanations of ritual in modern social science. They are apparently Han additions and certainly reflect Han social thought. (The latest and now most easily available edition of James Legge's classic translation of the Li Ji, originally published in 1885, now appears under the authorship of "Kung-fu Tzu" [sic] on the mistaken belief that Confucius wrote it; I cite it here as Legge 2008.)
In the calendar sections and sometimes elsewhere, the Li Ji forbids taking pregnant game animals, setting fishnets in spawning season, burning forests for driving game, and even burning fields before (beneficial) insects have gone into hibernation (Ames 1994:163, 201; see also Lewis 2006:182 on rhapsodies that promoted conservation). The rules sound completely modern and—with some change of rhetorical style—would not seem out of place in a modern resource management textbook.
In the Li Ji, most of the rules are in the Yue Ling section (found in vol. 1, 155-84, of the 2008 edition). This calendar for the ruler explains dates, tells what happens at this season, tells what ceremonies to perform, and then tells the ruler what to do—including the conservation rules. In the first month, inspectors should check out the fields and repair boundaries. "Nests should not be thrown down; unformed insects should not be killed, nor creatures in the womb, nor very young creatures, nor birds just taking to the wing, nor fawns, nor should eggs be destroyed." In the second month, farmers should repair their houses and entries and temples. In the third, hunting with nets and disguises is ruled out. And so it goes, with many instructions to workers to keep everything repaired and up to the point and not to waste or misuse resources.
The Li Ji also has many notes on food customs among the elite: "The meat cooked on the bones is set on the left, and the sliced meat on the right; the [boiled grain] is placed on the left of the parties on the mat, and the soup on their right" and so on through minced and roasted meat, pickles and sauces, onions and steamed onions, drinks and syrups, with rules for serving, consuming, and finishing the repast (Legge 2008,1: 61). "Do not roll the [grain] into a ball; do not bolt down the various dishes; do not swill down [drinks]. Do not make a noise in eating; do not crunch the bones with the teeth; do not put back fish you have been eating; do not throw the bones to the dogs ..." and so on through other proper behaviors (62); "he who pares a melon for the son of Heaven should divide it into four parts and then into eight" and so on for less special preparations for lesser dignitaries (63). Chinas civilizing mission, in Norbert Elias's terms, came long before Europe's, but no one has yet compared the customs in the Li Ji with customs in the Western world at the same time period.
Presenting foods had its own rules: "When heavy rains have fallen, one should not present fish or tortoises.... He who is presenting cooked food, should carry with him the sauce and pickles for it" (64). Presumably the water animals are inappropriate for a wet time for reasons of resonance. Women presented lesser things, such as Hovenia dulcis stems, hazelnuts, jujubes, and chestnuts (82).
In sacrificial contexts, animals were referred to by indirect terms, evidently because the gods—and human dignitaries—wanted more high-class speech: "the ox is called 'the creature with the large foot'; the pig, 'the hard bristles'; a sucking-pig, 'the fatling'; a sheep, 'the soft hair'; a cock, 'the loud voice'" and so on through pheasant, fish, ale, various millets, rice, scallions, salt, etc. (81). Such references are strikingly reminiscent of the language of Zuyua in ancient Mayan texts, in which similar flowery and indirect terms are applied to foodstuffs in ceremonial contexts. Presumably a similar psychological process is involved. Meats of all the usual species and ale of many kinds are key, but water plants, grains, nuts, and other foods provide much variety.
Foods are listed at length and include not only the usual grains and domestic animals but also pickles of all kinds, quail, partridge, and wild game. Most dishes are not described in detail, but we have "snail-juice and a condiment of the broad-leaved water-squash [probably meaning water-spinach] ... with pheasant soup; a condiment of wheat with soups of dried slices [of meat] and of fowl;" a suckling pig "wrapped in sonchus [sow thistle] leaves and stuffed with smart-weed ... a fish, with the same stuffing and egg sauce;... brine of ants.... Pheasants and hares ... with ... duckweed" (262-63). Foods listed include sparrows, finches, curlews, cicadas, bees, chestnuts, water caltrops, jujubes, persimmons, plums, hawthorn fruit, and more. The five grains and the five animals were combined with appropriate seasonal resonances. Such rules included making minced meat in spring with green onions and in fall with Chinese mustard plant (263).
A great officer should not have both minced and dried slices of meat at the same meal or savory meat, evidently because it would be too luxurious. Several items were forbidden, and various rules for preparation, such as scaling fish and plumping up dried jujubes, were enforced. Anomalous-looking or strange-acting animals were considered bad food (264). Thus, an ox that lowed at night, a dog that was nervous and had red inner thighs, and a hoarse-voiced bird were to be avoided. Probably these were taken as marks of sickness, but in later millennia any unusual-looking domestic animal was apt to be shunned as uncanny (see, e.g., Buell et al. 2010).
An enormously long and complex set of passages on food occurs in the chapters on family rituals. The foods were mainly those offered to the elderly and to the spirits of the deceased. Todays failing elderly person was tomorrows ancestor, deserving and receiving more or less similar foods in either state. (I saw this pattern in Chinese traditional households in the mid-twentieth century. A revered elder would be served her favorite foods, and when deceased, she would have them before her tablet on the family altar table.)
Such foods were the richest and finest of all. "For the Rich Fry, they put the pickled meat fried over rice that that been grown on a dry soil, and then enriched it with melted fat" (267). Dry-grown rice is generally more flavorful than wet-grown (paddy). "For the Bake, they took a sucking-pig or a (young) ram, and having cut it open and removed the entrails, filled the belly with dates [jujubes]. They then wrapped it round with straw and reeds, which they plastered with clay, and baked it. When the clay was all dry, they broke it off... they removed the crackling [skin] and macerated it along with rice-flour, so as to form a kind of gruel.... They then fried the whole in such a quantity of melted fat as to cover it," and then kept cooking it with herbs and served it with meat and vinegar (267). In short, the elderly had extremely fine food that was carefully cooked, high in protein, and easy to eat and digest. There are several other recipes given (see also Kwang-chih Chang 1977).
Drinks included both strained and unstrained ale, which were kept separate; the unstrained was presumably rather like the unstrained tapai of Southeast Asia, a rice beer with the rice mash left in so that one either eats it with a spoon or drinks it through a straw equipped with a strainer. Other drinks included millet water, rice water, and other thin grain preparations.
Many ceremonial and ordinary civil rules and prescriptions involved superior-inferior contacts, within the family and within the court (see, e.g., Legge 2008, 2: 4, 45ff.). This included elaborate rules for sitting at dinner and in ceremonies where food was provided.
One important lesson from all this is that fine food was so universal, and so integral to proper etiquette and civility, that there was simply no way for puritanism to get a foothold. Mozi had a hopeless task. He could not make either the elite or the ordinary persons go against all their training and sense of the right.
Final observations on Han synthetic philosophy are provided by the Li Ji, which is astonishingly modern in its use of functionalist explanations for ancient principles. Right from the beginning, it provides long and detailed explanations for the Rules of Propriety (as James Legge translated it in 1885; Legge 2008). These rules "furnish the means of determining... relatives, as near and remote; of settling points which may cause suspicion or doubt; of distinguishing where there should be agreement, wand where difference" and so on (53). The whole book reads like Durkheim or the early ethnonologists in its constant explanation of rituals and rules in terms of their pragmatic social functions. They keep society operating smoothly and predictably. This highly sophisticated and complex social theorizing might have put China two millennia ahead of the West in social thought, had it been extended in subsequent centuries.
The whole picture of Han conservation has been radically sharpened by an amazing find. Archaeologists working in the ruined city of Xuanquanzhi, near Dunhuang in Gansu, found a ruined wall painted with a long government proclamation. They patiently pieced it together, jigsaw-puzzle style, and found it to be an imperial edict on conservation and resource management. It had a date equivalent to 5 CE. Promulgated in the name of the Empress Dowager Yuan (Wang Zhengjun), it was apparently issued by her nephew Wang Mang when he was prime minister. Four years later he took over the empire in a coup. (Outside of remitting some taxes and freeing up exiles, he did not change policy much, having established a good deal of it before the coup. A countercoup displaced him in 23 CE and restored the Han.) Notable is the fact that this edict was found in a remote, isolated part of the Han Empire. We can safely assume that it was conspicuously painted on walls throughout China and had its due effect on behavior.
The edict has now been the subject of a detailed and meticulous study and translation by Charles Sanft (2009). Like many Sinologists, he is more interested in cosmology than in ecology and does not discuss the practical conservation advice. The latter, however, is worth quoting extensively, with ecological notes. (Notes in parentheses are mine; bracketed ones are Sanfts; diareses mark lacunae in the original.)
"The Grand Empress Dowager proclaims: Recently Yin and Yang have not been in harmony. Wind and rain have not come at the proper times, and the lazy farmers have been at ease, not striving at their work."
The order then starts from the fifth month and presumably is to start from the fifth month in subsequent years.
In the fifth month, "It is forbidden to cut down trees. This means that neither large nor small trees may be cut down, and it applies until the end of the eighth month. Only after the leaves have fallen from plants and trees may one cut down those trees that should be" (i.e., someone has marked certain trees for cutting—as in modern best forestry practice.)
"Do not gather birds' nests. This means that neither occupied nor unoccupied nests may be gathered. It applies for empty nests until the end of summer. [Gathering] occupied nests is constantly forbidden in all four seasons." (Someone has realized that unoccupied nests are very often reoccupied.)
"Do not kill young insects. This refers to immature insects that do not harm people. It applies until the end of the ninth month." (In spring, this could be mere cosmology, but the fact that it was ordered through the summer indicates that Han scientists recognized the value of insects in the ecosystem. As noted by Roger Ames for the Huainanzi calendar—see above—the insects would be hibernating by the ninth month in northern China.)
"Do not kill fetuses. This refers to wild and domestic animals that are pregnant and bearing fetuses. [Killing them is] constantly forbidden until the end of the twelfth month." (Thus it is legal from the first to the fifth month.)
"Do not take young birds. This refers to killing young birds so they do not get to grow up. It is constantly forbidden until the end of the twelfth month.
"Do not take fawns (here meaning any newborn mammal). This refers to four-legged ... and domestic animals that are young and not yet steady, and it applies until the end of the ninth month.
"Do not gather eggs. This refers to the eggs of the type ... birds and fowl, and it applies until the end of the ninth month....
"Hide dried bones and bury flesh. 'Dried bones' refers to ... birds and animals; those that still have meat are 'flesh.' This applies until the end of summer....
"Do not encroach on waters or marshes, drain ponds.... Only then will people everywhere be able to catch fish....
"Do not burn mountain forests. This refers to setting forests of fire for hunting, as it harms fowl, beast... snakes, insects, plants, and trees.... month until the end of..." (Alas, we have lost the dates, but probably burning would, like the other activities, start around the ninth month, when animals were grown and the forest was dry but not too dry.)
"Do not shoot birds with pellets, spread nets, or use other techniques to capture them....
"Do not hold large hunts. This applies until the end of the eighth month" (Sanft 2009:178-84).
There is a great deal more, but most of it is fragmentary. It calls on people to plant and sow, including wheat; to store dried vegetables; to repair and maintain roads, walls, and public works in general but not to overwork themselves with major projects (including new walls). It also establishes some bureaucratic reforms.
Overall, this is a stunning document. The measures quoted above are sensible and pragmatic. They are basically the same laws we have today in the most environmentally conscious polities, and they are well ahead of those in most current nations. The prohibitions on taking pregnant animals and on hunting during breeding season are, of course, more or less worldwide, since every cultural group that hunts has to have some such rules to keep in business (see, e.g., Berkes 2008; Pierotti 2011), but the concerns with trees, insects, birds, fish, and the whole environment are unusual—especially to find them posted on a wall in a remote corner of the empire.
Also notable is the indication that "hunting and gathering" were still very important in China at this time—as they were in many areas well into the late twentieth century. The Warring States documents show a world in which hunting still provided much of the food and forest, wetland, and river resources were critical. China still produced an incredible amount of game, fish, timber, and wild resources in general until the Maoist war on nature wiped out most of these "natures services." Even today, China exports vast quantities of wild-gathered medicines and also tons of pine nuts, gathered from the wild (largely from Pinus koraiensis in the mountains of Chinas far northeast). What matters here is the extreme effort of the government to regulate it. In recent decades, exploiting the wild has ranged from weak control to a virtual lack of control in China, in spite of the public-show wildlife refuges (in which the wildlife is often being destroyed by overdevelopment for tourism), and as a result China has a vast number of endangered species, with recently highlighted extinctions (E. Anderson 2012). Obviously, Han had a far less difficult task than todays government, given Han Chinas much lower population and lower level of industrial development, but their efforts remain impressive.
Those efforts certainly provide yet more evidence for the pragmatic roots of Chinese cosmological resource management. The cosmological emphasis on maintaining life in spring and summer and taking it only in fall and winter is a reasonable extension of the wildlife management system. Bans on executing criminals till fall or winter make perfect sense in this framework.
In late Han, The Comprehensive Discussions in the White Tiger Hall (Bai Hu Tong, published as Po Hu Tung, Tjan 1949) covered much of the above ground in a cursory manner, between long discussions of proper ritual and regalia. Seasonal prescriptions and proscriptions are repeated, the fivefold cosmology is briefly summarized (429ff.), and general remarks on nature appear. Little was added; the Han synthesis was well set in place. Millet appears as the staple food (384). The term is ji, which often means "panic millet," but it is evidently here used as a generic term. Sacrificial animals and sites of sacrifice are listed; they include ram, fowl, pig, and dog (378).
Philosophy moved in other environmentalist directions. Daoism taught retreat from the world, and in spite of its nature worship, it is strikingly silent on good management (E. Anderson 2001). It often incorporated earlier animal and nature cults, which declined in favor as time went on (Lewis 2007: 216-20). Confucianism became more focused on human society, although it maintained the conservationist rhetoric.
By Han, Buddhism was established in China, having surely come through Central Asia from such sources (Sen 2003). An early mention in 65 CE implies that there were even earlier communities (J. Hill 2009: 367). A few Buddhist objects and carvings survive, as around Pengcheng in Jiangsu, where stories place Buddhist encounters in the first century CE (Sen 2003: 5). The first dated Buddha sculpture in China comes from 338 (personal observation, San Francisco Asian Art Museum). Buddhism brought strict rules against taking life and provided strong advocacy for helping all beings. This had a major effect on China. Vegetarianism became widespread, and hunting gradually became less popular. Releasing captive animals became a regular practice, but, alas, sharp dealers quickly learned how to recapture the liberated captives—often training them to come right back to their cages! (I have observed this at Buddhist temples.) The degree to which Buddhism put a brake on overusing living resources needs to be assessed. Obviously it helped; obviously it did not stop the decline. Hopefully, some future environmental historian will calculate where, in the vast middle ground, Buddhisms effects lay.