Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/843

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
823
IRRIGATION IN CHINA.

Prince Houan-Kung, having obtained the supremacy in the kingdom of Tchi, returned to the system of Tcheou-Kung in a modified form. He appointed a minister and other officers of waters, who visited all parts of the country and attended to the execution of the works needed to prevent the visitation of the two great scourges of drought and floods. By these energetic measures the kingdom of Tchi was made the richest state of the time. When the Emperor Tsing-Tse-Houang, b. c. 250, reunited the Chinese Empire, he made the lands free to all, and imposed a tax instead of the cultivation of the ninth for the state. Previous to this he had constructed the Tcheng-Ko Canal, to conduct water from the King River to the Pe Mountain, by the aid of which some nine hundred thousand or one million acres of formerly sterile land were made fertile, so as by its increased wealth greatly to aid him in transforming his kingdom into an empire. Unhappily, he was dazzled by his great success. He allowed the canals to be neglected, and the country in consequence fell from its high estate of prosperity; and, as it is related in one of our historical books, "the dynasty of Tcheou, who founded the method of well-lands, survived for eight hundred years, with a happy people and prosperous landholders. Tsing followed an opposite policy, neglecting the canals; and his family only reigned for two generations, because so many of his people were ruined and their hearts were turned away from it." Thus the utilization of the waters had become a great political factor. This is not strange, because the Chinese are eminently an agricultural people. The system of Tsing was continued, except that the rate of taxation was reduced, under the Han dynasty, which arose 202 B. c. But after about three hundred and fifty years a series of inundations—the first that had occurred in two thousand years, or since Yu's time—began in the Yellow River and resisted all attempts to check them until a thorough method was adopted, under the direction of a special minister of hydraulic works. At the same time the productiveness of the land reached by the new canals was greatly increased. In the regions distant from the rivers irrigating wells were dug, and a period set in of activity in hydraulic works and general use of water which has not been surpassed.

The success of the proprietors who enjoyed the advantages of the irrigation works encouraged others to construct similar ones, each according to his means and for the advantage of his tenants. This method differed from that of Tcheou. The distribution of the lands was more unequal, but the regulation of the waters had been so perfected that the agriculture of the kingdom received a decided impulse; and China still has reason to thank the authors of the transformation for the permanent benefits it