Food & Drink





Assam-Yunnan Origin

The theory that cultivated rice originated in Assam and Yunnan is mostly agriculturally based. Assam, a northeast state of India resembling Yunnan, is on the Himalayan subtropical plateau. Both Xia (O. sativa) and Keng (O. japonica) are grown, with Xia concentrated below 1750 m, Keng above 2000 m and both Xia and Keng midway. In addition to Xia and Keng, an undifferentiated Xia-Keng variety and wild rice are widely distributed, but lack archaeological proof. Rice from Yunnanís Binchuan Baiyangcun, Yuanmou Dadunzi and Jianchuan Haimenkou sites are ca. 3000 year-old or quite recent. Historic growth here is also late, diminishing any major role in the origin of cultivated rice. Added Neolithic rice remains from the lower Yangtze Basin and coexisting Xia and Keng from Hemudu and Loujiajiao sites in Zhejiang also weaken an Assam or Yunnan origin. In harmony with archaeological finds on the origin of cultivated rice, agricultural scientists finally negated Assam and Yunnan as a rice mutation center in favor of the lower Yangtze Basin.

East Asian Crescent Origin

The search for the origin of agriculture and its growth based on Zhaoye forest (named for its bright sunlit leaves) and its culture is ethnographically based. Zhaoye forest is broadleaf evergreen, including liang (chestnut-leaf oak), chu (evergreen oak), kao (mangrove), ke (a hardwood), zhang (camphor), etc., growing at 1500-2500 m on Assamís south Himalayan hills to Yungui Plateau, and along the south Yangtze shore to Korea and south Japan. Zhaoye culture centres on Yunnanís "East Asian Crescent", reaching Assam in the west and Hunan in the east. Its unique cultural traits include the three stages of gathering/cultivation, field burning and rice paddy. Some Japanese scholars suggest the "Zhaoye forest road" traces Japanese cultural origin, but Zhaoye forest is a doubtful agricultural birthplace, the so-called "East Asian Crescent" lacks archaeological support and middle and lower Yangtze marshes are better suited to early rice cultivation. The large Zhaoye forest yields tubers and other root crops based on slash-and-burn agriculture and needs clearance only possible with metal tools. Furthermore, Yungui Plateau minorities lived quite primitively until the 1940ís due to environmental and historical restrictions, their area far less developed than the Yangtze Basin for the origin of cultivated rice and advanced agriculture.

Middle and Lower Yangtze Origin

This area has many river systems and marshes with widespread wild rice varieties. It also has the richest and oldest archaeological sites: Hunanís Lixian Pengtoushan, Jiangsuís Wuxian Caoxieshan and GaoyouXian Longqiuzhuang and Zhejiangís 6000-7000 year-old Yuyao Hemudu and Tongxiang Xian Luojiajiao. Despite C14 errors, >10000 year-old carbonized rice remains and phytoliths are in Hunanís Daoxian Yuzhanyan and Jiangxiís Wannian Xianrendong and Diaotonghuan sites. Accumulating finds show the oldest distribution south of Huai River and focused in the middle and lower Yangtze Basin. Partial statistics show 137 ancient rice sites, with 44 (32.1%) on the lower Yangtze; 57 (41.6%) on the middle Yangtze; 10 (7.2%) on the upper Yangtze; 9 (6.6%) in Huai Basin; 6 (4.4%) in Yellow Basin; 2 (1.5%) in Bohai Bay; and 9 (6.6%) on the southeast shore. As the Yangtzeís 101 sites (73.7%) prove it is an ancient rice distribution center with wide historic spread, archaeological evidence favours a Yangtze origin over one in Assam-Yunnan or East Asian Crescent.

In addition to the above, several hypotheses on Chinese rice origin are basically analyses from different sciences, but discussions should be archaeologically based. Cultivated rice origin should cover the whole situation and not age alone. While my excavated rice statistics focusses on older middle and lower Yangtze cultivated rice, we must remember cultivation is tied to social activities, with discussion meaningless when ignoring these links.


"ORIGIN OF CHINESE RICE CULTIVATION AND ITS SPREAD EAST". AN Zhimin. Research Fellow, Department of Archaeology, Chinese Institute of Social Science, Beijing Cultural Relics, No. 2, p. 63-70, 1999.
(This article was first given in an international symposium celebrating the opening of the "Biguti Exhibition Hall of Water Conservation, Folklore and Cultural Relics", July 10, 1998, in Jingti City, Korea. For publication, the author made needed amendments, adding a "Distribution map of prehistoric crop varieties excavated in China" and "Statistics of ancient Chinese excavated cultivated crops". Translated & interpreted by W. Tsao, Ph.D., April 19, 2000, and edited by B. Gordon).


Food & Drink :: Rice

History | Migration | Cultivation




Copyright DateRichard R. Wertz Creative Commons License