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The only aspect of this bizarre famine that historians really know for sure is that the Hachinohe chroniclers of the day remembered it as the “wild boar famine” (inoshishi kegachi) of 1749. From what can be pieced together from the few available sources, thousands of peasants from Hachinohe died when an intensification of slash-and-burn farming, fueled by economic growth during the Tokugawa period (1600–1868), combined with terrestrial and climatological environmental changes and converged on this small northeastern domain. This convergence disrupted local agricultural cycles, caused food shortages, and, ultimately, pitted the human population against wild boar in a life-or-death struggle for survival. Like other domains, Hachinohe had faced worsening economic conditions throughout the eighteenth century, and so it took advantage of the commercialization of the economy by sponsoring cash-crop farming in the form of soybean cultivation to meet the growing financial demands of doling out retainer stipends and paying the other high costs of life in the Tokugawa polity. As peasants cleared new swaths of land for soybean cultivation, however, they in turn sparked changes in the land that led to an explosion of the wild boar population. Wild boar thrived in the newly deforested terrain—a terrain that, with its ample brush and many tuberous plants, supplied them with shelter and food.
In both China and India agriculture is the key sector and yet detailed comparisons of agricultural development in the two economies are difficult to obtain. A major problem is, of course, the availability and reliability of data. This paper puts together some of the information that is now available and assesses its reliability to draw some rough generalizations.
On the whole it seems that agricultural production in the two countries has grown at fairly similar rates. In terms of absolute level Chinese yield per hectare in most crops, of course, exceeds that of India by a significant margin, but this has been true for quite a long time in the past.
In provision of inputs like organic and inorganic fertilizers and irrigation water the Chinese performance has been much better than that of India. Both countries have devoted not a very low proportion of their total gross investment to the agricultural sector. But the effectiveness of this investment has been quite unsatisfactory on account of, among other things, technical deficiencies and faulty planning in both countries, and the excesses of over enthusiastic but unskilled party cadres in China and a very much restricted framework of village institutions and administrative setup in India. In land policy much of the period under consideration was taken up in China in bold experimentations—with the inevitable advances and retreats—in search of the optimum size of land management in a backward peasant economy, while in India in spite of copious land legislation some of the crucial land relations have remained basically unaltered. The Chinese policy of moving away from age-old small-scale family farming and of emphasizing joint management of land and labour has, on the one hand, significantly strained peasant incentives, but on the other hand rid Chinese agriculture of the burden of uneconomically small and fragmented holdings, tenurial insecurity and crop sharing which still afflict a substantial part of Indian agriculture. The problem of ensuring enough marketed surplus
of foodgrains to feed the nonagricultural sector has, however, remained unsolved in both countries, in spite of all changes in institutions and production.
Rice was first introduced from China 1122 B.C., but millet had already been grown there for many centuries.” When Hulbert (1906:15) wrote these words in the early years of this century, he presumably followed some written or oral tradition regarding Kija's (Chi-tzu), the legendary agnate of the last Shang king, bringing rice to Korea. It is interesting that there was a tradition that millet cultivation preceded rice, which came from northern China at approximately 1100 B.C. Seventy-five years after Hulbert recorded the tradition in English, archaeological research has demonstrated that millet did precede rice in Korea, and that the timing of the introduction of rice at the end of the Shang dynasty is probably too late rather than too early.
Studies of Asian agriculture have argued that land-tenure systems have often retarded agricultural development, in that unequal land distribution and widespread tenancy have given peasants little power to resist landlord efforts to squeeze and rack-rent them. Because landlords have been disinclined to devote their wealth and energies to improving the land, agriculture has stagnated and peasants have became poorer. A conspicuous weakness in this argument is that it begs the question whether a land-tenure system of more or less equal holdings best promotes agricultural development. The land-tenure system influences income distribution in agriculture, but it is impossible to say how a given income distribution influences landlord consumption, saving, and investment decisions unless more is known about the social and political institutions of a given rural society.
The tenacity of family-farming households in agrarian economies experiencing capitalist penetration has long figured in a debate about the ultimate consequences of such penetration for agrarian social structure. On the one hand are those who argue that, while various forces may work to speed or delay the process, the most likely long-term outcome of the capitalization of agriculture is that envisioned by Lenin: polarization of the countryside into two opposing classes, capitalist farmers and landless laborers, linked by wage relations (Bartra 1974; de Janvry 1981). On the other hand are those who claim that, at least under some conditions, capitalist farming can stimulate small-scale entrepreneurship and socioeconomic differentiation, with the attendant persistence of small family farms (Goodman and Redclift 1982:109–12; Maclachlan 1987:16–23).
Pigs have played a central role in the subsistence and culture of China for millennia. The close relationship between pigs and people began when humans gradually domesticated wild pigs over 8,000 years ago. While pigs initially foraged around settlements, population growth led people to pen their pigs, which made them household trash processors and fertilizer producers. Household pigs were in daily contact with people, who bred them to fatten quickly and produce larger litters. Early modern Europeans found Chinese pigs far superior to their own and bred the two to create the breeds now employed in industrial pork production around the world, including China. In recent decades, industrial farms that scientifically control every aspect of pigs’ lives have spread rapidly. Until recently, most Chinese people ate pork only on special occasions; their ability in recent decades to eat it regularly exemplifies China's increasing prosperity. Meanwhile, vast areas of North and South American farmland are now devoted to growing soybeans to feed hundreds of millions of pigs in China, and the methane, manure, and antibiotic resistance they produce creates environmental and health problems on a global scale.