Homepage >  Ideas >  Papers >  Text

Experience of Basin Landscapes in China Agriculture has led to Ecologically Prudent Engineering

INTRODUCTION Under certain conditions, natural selection will favor animals that use resources prudently,

(Reprinted from: L. O. Hansson and B. Jungen, (eds.) Human Responsibility and Global Change. University of Gothenburg, Sweden. pp289-299.1992) INTRODUCTION Under certain conditions, natural selection will favor animals that use resources prudently, so that ecological prudence can be developed as an instinctive trait of some animal species, (see Gadgil 1985). These conditions embrace the following aspects: 1) Resources are scarce or their stock is perceivably limited. In such a situation, the maintenance phenotype of population will be favored instead of the dispersal phenotype by means of natural section (Geist 1978). 2) Resources are defensible. This means the prudent group will not be deprived of the product by invaders. 3) The animal group as a whole can benefit from the prudent behavior of each individual in the long run. This is self-evident if we keep in mind that individuals act as representatives of genes (Geist 1978); it is the gene that is selfish. Individuals will save as much of the resources as possible for the coming generations. 4) The group must be well organized and pure enough. That means the group can effectively kick out and control individuals who behave profligately towards the environment, and fight against invaders to protect their prudent products. It is reasonable to deduce that only when these four conditions are met simultaneously will animal species evolve adaptive prudent behavior as an instinctive trait. According to the dispersal theory (Geist 1978), traits of animals, especially mammals, evolve mainly during dispersal when resources are abundant, so profligacy will be more common among animals. Man as an animal was evolved with his first bold step into the Savanna rather than into the periglacial region characterized by rich resources, so the human lacks a system of physiological or neural controls over gratification (Bennet 1980) and ecological prudence can not be a trait of human beings. However, culture is just ways of adaptation, and much of the cultural behavior of human beings has adaptive value (Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 1981; Plog and Bates 1980) . Thus when a certain culture develops under the conditions mentioned, ecological prudence may become a trait of the culture. In the following pages, we will see that the Chinese culture (of agriculture) , as adaptations to the basin environment, has developed a pattern of ecologically prudent behavior toward the natural environment. THE BASIN EXPERIENCE OF CHINESE CULTURE We are convinced, for the following verifiable reasons, that Chinese ways of coping with the environment are mainly adaptions to the basin environment that Chinese agriculture has long experienced. 1) From Homo erectus yuanmouensis dating back to around 1.7 million years ago to the dawn of agricultural civilization, Chinese Hominid ancestors were distributed among mountain basins and valleys along the edges bordering the three major physical geopraphic zones: the East Monsoon zone, The Northwest Arid Zone and The Tibetan Alpine Zone. 2) The multi-centred Neolithic cultures in China developed along with the distribution pattern of pre-Neolithic cultures, with their centres in basins surrounding the great north China plain, which was not yet stable for settlement during this period because of the floodprone Yellow River (The History of Chinese Civilization 1989) . 3) The Zhou people, which made the most important contribution to Chinese culture, evolved during the period in the Guanzhong Basin in mid Shanxi Province which was of optimum size. Actually, it was this magic basin that gave birth to the first written Chinese book I Ching (Yu 1990a), which is considered as the most important source of Chinese culture. When one notices the fact that the Chinese culture has hardly ever moved too far away from the Classics, one may better understand the significance of the ecological experience in the Guanzhong Basin to Chinese culture, especially to the adaptive ways coping with the environment (Yu 1990a) . In Chinese history, "fighting for power" usually occurred on the great north China Plain, but it was surrounding areas away from the great plain that nurtured powers like the Zhou people, which then came to be displayed on the great plain (Liu 1987). Recognizing the main flow of the Chinese culture as an agricultural one, the author emphasizes that the surrounding basins which were more suitable for agriculture must be taken in special consideration. 4) "Fighting for power on the Central Plain" has led repeatedly to the formation of "no-man's land" (Jin et al 1990). To escape death the civil residents fled into the hilly area of south-east China, where a series of small basins act as natural refuges. This was especially obvious during the dynasties of Eastern Jin (317-420 AD) and Southern Song (1127-1279). It made the Chinese model their ideal society on a basin, which is vividly illustrated by Tao Yuanming's "the land of peach blossoms" from the Eastern Jin Dynasty. 5) From the geographical distribution pattern of the Chinese population, one can see that the population is most densely distributed in the Sichuan Basin, Guanzhong Basin, south-east China's hilly land, etc (Wu and Zhang 1984; Jin et al 1990). This has further strengthened the basin characteristics of Chinese Culture. 6) The Theory and practice of Feng-shui, which sum up typical ways that Chinese cope with their environment, were mainly developed against the background of the hilly landscape in south-east China, and the ideal Feng-shui mode is actually an idealized basin (Yu 1990c, 1991a, 1991b). The rules of Feng-shui have made the rural landscapes so beautiful and ecologically healthful that even modern scientists can not help expressing their admiration (e.g. Feng and Wang 1989; Lip 1987; Needham 1962; Skinner 1982) . 7) Because of the backwardness of land transportation, basins that have always had a glorious agricultural civilization during the long history of water-way transportation have still kept the splendid traditional agricultural landscapes intact. However, according to modern standards of value, they are the "third world" in this country and need to be developed, and the only way for the development of these areas is eco-development. Thus, Chinese agriculture has experienced and will continue to experience a basin environment, which has always had a great influence on the evolution of ecologically prudent behavior in Chinese culture. The effects of the basin on the evolution on the prudence will be investigated as follows. BASIN EXPERIENCE FAVORS THE DEVELPMENT OF CULTURAL ECOLOGICAL PRUDENT BEHAVIOR The basin landscape with its well defined, isolated spatial characteristics well meets the conditions, i.e. resources are scare and defensible, the group as a whole benefits from prudent behavior, and the group is to be well organized and pure, which induce ecologically prudent behavior. This can be analyzed in the following aspects: 1) A basin forms a well defined and stable "eco-cultural region" (Dasmann 1985) . A moderate-sized basin will be occupied completely by a culturally uniform society (a family or patriarchal clan), and the cultural space and the natural bio-region will come to coincide completely, making the society as a whole establish an intimate relationship with the natural environment. This makes it possible for the inhabitants to have an overall understanding of the structure and function of the basin ecosystem. It leads to the early development of an ecological sense as in Chinese culture (Yu 1990a) and development of culturally and ecologically prudent behavior. 2) Basin experience favors the sense of territory and a posterity-oriented ethic. In an isolated enclosed basin, the survival and development of the whole family of clan rely completely upon perceivably scarce resources in the limited basin; every member of the occupant group is brought up hearing the heroic tales told by his parents and grandparents about their ancestors' arduous struggle and merits in pioneering and maintaining and protecting their sacred territory. All these lead to strengthening the sense of territory and give rise to ancestral worship. Ancestral worship particularly means to each member of the clan that: (a) He acts not for himself but as a representative of his worshipped ancestors for the preservation of the "gene" of this family; his most important function is to take the lantern (as a symbol of ancestral worship from his father and pass it on his son); (b) Everything left from the ancestors is sacred and should be kept intact and inherited by the descendants. Thus, a well dug by ancestors, a field opened by ancestors, etc, should be protected and carefully maintained for posterity. 3) Basin experience favors pure and well organized groups. According to Brower (1980), there are four space occupancy types: personal occupancy, community occupancy, occupancy by society and free occupancy. In the situation in a moderate-sized basin, community (family or clan) occupancy is dominant; the whole basin can be claimed by a single family or clan as territory and there is very limited room for outsiders and individuals. Any intruding outsiders will be viewed with suspicion and kept off by making use of and constructing defensive landscapes (Fig. 1). Profligate individuals who dare to misuse the clan-claimed common territory will be severely punished and even removed according to domestic disciplines. That makes sure that the group as a whole can get predictable long-range benefits from its prudent behavior. Fig.1. A well defended village in a small basin (a preliminary survey by the author, in Mt. Xiqiaoshan in Guangdong Province) 1. the entrance gate; 2. a man-made screen hill; 3. the ancestral temple; 4. vegetable plots; 5. cottages; 6. ponds; 4) Basin experience induces an endogenous and self-reliant economy. Thanks to the isolation and enclosure of basin, the economic behavior of the habitants is need-oriented but not imitative. The purpose of production and resource exploitation is merely daily consumption instead of selling in the markets. The flow of energy, material and information in and out of the basin is very limited, so that the economic behavior of human beings is the feedback mechanism of the ecosystem, instead of the social and cultural information control mechanism. This makes the habitant group behave in correspondingly adaptive ways including acting prudently towards the natural environment. 5) Basin experience of partial and frequent calamity. Compared to the situation in a great plain like that Mesopotamia, the basin landscape is heterogeneous and complex. Natural calamities caused by excessive use of resources and destruction of the ecosystem within a basin are mostly local and limited to the basin. They occur as a warning rather than unexpectedly, which gives the society as a whole an opportunity to adjust its behavior towards the environment. The characteristics of basins, such as a great contrast in relief, seasonal changes in the water flow, etc, determine the frequent occurrence of natural calamities as external stimuli acting upon the society and guaranteeing constant adjustment of cultural behavior. 6) Basin experience influences other social and cultural factors that are favorable to the development of prudence. For the stable social environment in the basins, population may be close to saturation for long periods and isolation can delay the development of technology so that people have to rely upon traditional resources and technology to earn a living. This means that prudence will generally be necessary. The above discussion makes one convinced that the basin experience of Chinese agriculture obviously contributes to the development of ecologically prudent behavior in Chinese culture. However, ecological prudence is not unique to Chinese culture. Gadgil (1985) has shown that certain species are especially protected in India in the form of nature-worship and religious belief, which are considered to be ecological prudence originating in the hunting and gathering age, and even the so-called "aggressive culture" of Christianity (Gadgil 1985) has its tradition of "love for nature" (Vroom 1985). What should be emphasized here is that prudent behavior in Chinese culture is not merely for the purpose of sustainable use of certain resources but mainly the health of the general agricultural and living environment, and it has not originated mainly from hunting and gathering experience but from agricultural experience. This will be illustrated with some typical ecologically prudent landscapes in the following paragraphs. TYPICAL ECOLOGICAL PRUDENT LANDSCAPE ENGINEERING Settlements located at the edge of basins In moderately-sized basins, slopes at the basin edges will be given priority when selecting sites for settlements (Fig.2, 3). South-facing slopes especially are comparatively poor in soil and water conditions for crops, and during the establishment of the settlements, when the theory and practice of Feng-shui usually play a very important role, the natural landform will be changed as little as possible so that the "dragon vein" and "earth's breath" can be preserved intact. The law of "design with nature"(McHarg 1996) has been exercised by the Chinese for thousands of years in the landscape in rural China. Fig. 2. Settlements on the edge of basin in northern Guangdong Province Fig. 3. The typical landscape of an occupied basin Feng-shui Forest and Its Function Certain species of tree are protected for their special function as food, medicine resources, etc. in many cultures (FAO 1985; Fortman 1984; Gadgil 1985). While the main function of Feng-shui forests commonly seen in rural China is accumulating "Qi", which can be recognized as the multiple ecological function flow of energy, material, species and information (Yu 1991a) it also maintains the health of the general environment of agriculture and living, but not merely preserving species as special resources. For this reason, Feng-shui forests are usually distributed on upper-slopes and tops of hills, at the "water mouths" where water flows in and out of basins, etc. where the forests are most effective in preventing soil erosion, reserving water resource, alleviating flood, wind and drought and improving a favorable microclimate. Fig.4 shows a mountain village in northern Gunagdong Province, located in a small basin surrounded with limestone hills. It has a population of more than 300 people, who live by a small spring; it is the surrounding Feng-shui forest that keeps the spring alive. Though trees on the other side of the hills have been cut indiscriminately, the Feng-shui forest remains intact and is as old as the village itself. The species in Feng-shui forests are themselves not worthy of protection, they are usually the most common and native ones, such as species in the genus Cinnamomum. For this reason, the general ecological function of Feng-shui forests can be realized most effectively. Water Conservancy Landscape Engineering Fig.4. The Feng-shui forest keeps a spring alive, on which the village lives (a preliminary survey by the author, in northern Guangdong Province) In the hilly land of south-east China, floods usually come along with rainy season and drought with the dry season. Water conservancy projects are therefore typical ecological landscape features in basins. For example: 1) Protection of "water mouth" and rationing system of water resource: Forest and temples are commonly seen near the "water mouth" and spring as signs of protection. If several clans or villages share the same water source, water will be distributed according to a peace treaty, which is usually the result of long and fierce fights among villages. Through wisely designed water courses, water will be rationed among members of the same village. The water rationing system in the village Hongcun in hilly southern Anhui Province is a good example (Fig.5). water is drawn from a stream all through the upper half of the village with a tortuous channel that flows by the step of each house; this channel is called "ox intestines" by the local people. Such a water distribution system among members of a village, as well as among different villages, can promote in every resident the sense of responsibility for water resource prudence; thus Hardin's tragedy of the commons"(Hardin 1968) can be avoided. Fig. 5. The water conservancy system in the village Hongcun in southern Anhui Province (a preliminary survey by the author) 2) Ponds for water reservation and reuse: Ponds in front and in the center of a village are a common landscape feature in the Chinese countryside. To continue with the case in the village Hongcun, the "ox intestines" channeled water into a semi-circular pond, called the "ox stomach" in the center of the village, which was used as a spring and was preserved and expanded during the construction of the village, so that more people could use the water simultaneously. Beyond this "stomach", water is then again channeled tortuously through the lower part of village and drained into a much bigger pond, the "ox belly", where water is rich in organic matter, and fish can be hatched and lotus cultivated. These ponds are functional in regulating the microclimate and making the "dragon vein" flourish as alleviating flood, drought and fire. Besides this, they improve the scenery of the rural landscape, which has a significant psychological effect upon the residents. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION The ecologically prudent behavior of Chinese agriculture was successful in that it had maintained a steady and sustainable space for Chinese to have a peaceful and harmonious life for thousand of years, and it contributed greatly to the long-lasting agricultural civilization in China. However, it was also a failure if one notices the fact that it had made Chinese farmers live in an autarky and not go beyond that. However, in realization of ecodevelopment in rural China, the ecologically prudent mechanism of traditional Chinese agriculture, whirrs has evolved during a long period of ecological experience and has adaptive value, should be taken into serious consideration. At the time when we are designing an "ecological city" (Wang 1988) with the ideal of "high efficiency and harmonious relationship", the traditional "ecological rural China" is undergoing relentless destruction, and we should never forget that in such a great agricultural country, the restoration of a healthy rural agricultural environment, if destroyed, will be much more difficult than that of an urban environment.

All comments only on behalf of Internet users