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Agricultural Society of Ancient China as Reflected on Agriculture-related Chinese Characters

Lee In Kyung 1

1단국대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This study briefly looked at the origin and developing process of China’s agriculture in the first place to understand the circumstances of the primitive agriculture. Then, categorizing them into farming methods, farming tools, crops, the study interpreted the related Chinese characters ‘采’, ‘焚’, ‘力’, ‘耒, 耜’, ‘禾’, 粟’, ‘稻’ in linkage with the developing process of agricultural society and sought to look into the agricultural society then using shapes of ancient letters, archeological specimens and literature records. In an attempt to understand agricultural society during the period when primitive society had developed through ancient times, the study also examined ‘農’ ‘男’ ‘稷’ - Chinese characters reflecting the societal circumstances then - using the same materials. ‘采’ reflected the perception of the people then related with picking and collecting, the base of primitive agriculture, while ‘焚’ meaning ‘burn’ might have reflected agricultural primitive society related with cultivation of burned farmland. Shape of ancient letter ‘力’ originally meaning a primitive farming tool 耒 might have reflected the agriculture in the primitive society. 耒 in the shape of the end standing out to the front developed to 耒 in the shape of the end split into both sides in connection with the efficiency of ploughing, making the typical shape of 耒. This tells us that the perception of the people then was reflected on ‘耒’ in the shape of an end-split forked ploughshare. ‘禾’ and ‘粟’ might have reflected agricultural society of ancient China when people considered millet as the most important crop. ‘稻’ reflected perception of ancient Chinese who used the harvested rice as the major food resource as well as the agricultural society and so we can learn that rice was the typical crop along with millet from primitive society through ancient times. Meanwhile, ‘農’ reflected the transitional cultivation activity at the time when primitive agriculture such as 火田 (burned farmland) developed focused on farming tools and farmland cultivation as well as the related agricultural society. Patriarchal society developed based on agriculture. Men in ancient times were the main principals of production activity and so “people engaged in cultivation using farming tools at farmlands” turned to ‘男’ symbolically referring to men as revealed from the shape of old letters. Another name of ‘millet’ ‘稷’ was the typical crop representing northern China and could be called the ‘No 1 of five grains’ and thus its meaning was extended to the names of agricultural officials and god of crops. Earliest developed civilization in China was in the field of agriculture and ancient China was able to develop the country based thereon. For this reason, ‘社稷’ - a pronoun of the country or state - is considered to have reflected agricultural society in feudal ancient China.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.