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Almost everything we know about agriculture during the Six Dynasties comes from one landmark work, the Qimin yaoshu (Essential Techniques [or Arts] for the Common People), completed sometime between 533 and 544. The author, Jia Sixie, was an estate owner and practicing farmer who had served the Northern Wei government as a middle-level official.
It may seem an exaggeration to claim that an agricultural treatise should be classed among the written masterpieces of the Six Dynasties. The author of the Qimin yaoshu does not dazzle his readers with poetic ingenuity, nor does he expound subtle aesthetic or philosophical theories, nor offer esoteric instruction in the arts of transcendence.
Rice today is food to half the world's population. Its history is inextricably entangled with the emergence of colonialism, the global networks of industrial capitalism, and the modern world economy. The history of rice is currently a vital and innovative field of research attracting serious attention, but no attempt has yet been made to write a history of rice and its place in the rise of capitalism from a global and comparative perspective. Rice is a first step toward such a history. The fifteen chapters, written by specialists on Africa, the Americas, and Asia, are premised on the utility of a truly international approach to history. Each brings a new approach that unsettles prevailing narratives and suggests new connections. Together they cast new light on the significant roles of rice as crop, food, and commodity, and shape historical trajectories and interregional linkages in Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Asia.