Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/343

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323
FARM-LIFE IN CHINA.
FARM-LIFE IN CHINA.

By ADELE M. FIELDE.

THE number of persons that may subsist upon the products of an acre of land appears to have been practically determined by the Chinese. On ground that has been tilled for thousands of years they, by a skillful use of fertilizers and by attention to the welfare of each plant, raise crops that would honor a virgin soil.

In this Swatow region probably nine tenths of the men are engaged in agriculture. The farmers live in villages, isolated dwellings being uncommon. The villages are walled, contain no wasted space, and are densely peopled. The wide-spreading, flat fields, lying along the river-banks at the foot of the hills, may be made to yield here on the Tropic of Cancer a constant series of crops without interval on account of winter. Their chief productions are rice, sugar-cane, sweet potatoes, pulse, garden vegetables, peanuts, indigo, sesamum, ginger, the grass-cloth plant, tobacco, and wheat. Rice is the staple food of the people, and in the best years the local product just supplies the local demand. Sugar is the principal export. The cane requires less labor than any other crop, and will grow upon unwatered land, which is unsuitable for rice-culture. One crop of cane or two crops of other produce may be grown in the same year upon unwatered land. On the best rice-fields three crops are sometimes raised. The early rice is sowed in April and harvested in July; the late rice is sowed in August and harvested in November, and the field is then sometimes planted with garden vegetables, which are pulled in March. The expense of fertilizing the third crop is so nearly equal to its value that it is never reckoned as a source of profit to the cultivator.

The. whole country belongs theoretically to its sovereign, and upon all land that can be tilled with profit a tax is paid into the imperial treasury. The sum due annually to the Government for the use of land is fixed for each field, amounts to from sixty cents to two dollars, and averages a dollar and a half upon each English acre.

When a father dies his land is divided equally among his sons, the eldest receiving an additional tenth on account of the extra expense to which he is put in worshiping the manes of the ancestor. The land is distributed very generally, though unequally, among the people, and is usually tilled by its peasant proprietor. Few own so much as two hundred acres; one who owns ten acres is reckoned wealthy, and he who owns one acre possesses a competence. Those who own from one tenth to one half an acre are