Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/846

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

But while our farmer has the fault of trying to get too much out of water's-edge plantations, he is distinguished by many economical qualities. He has infinitely multiplied the tranches of the artificial rivers that the wisdom of our emperors and their ministers has created; rich in numerous children, he has used their hands to subdivide the ditches and drain them through thousands of irrigating rills; and, in consequence of the constant presence of the precious liquid, he has realized prodigies in crops. Water permits him to Use natural manure diluted to the fifteenth, according to the precepts of our sages, and to return to the land what man has taken from it. Water, always abundant, has furnished the means of applying the method of transplanting to the cultivation of wheat, and thereby getting larger returns; and it has made the constitution of small properties possible, and extreme subdivision of the land by which an intensive cultivation is secured for the smallest parcel. It is true that other factors, the patience of our peasantry, the wise organization of our mutual banks, and our inveterate habit of spending our money on the ground, have contributed much to our agricultural prosperity; but all these would have amounted to little in comparison if they had not been supplemented by the vast irrigating works.

I will add that without these gigantic works the Chinese could never have reached the high degree of perfection they have attained in one of the most important of their industries—pisciculture. Through the abundance of water everywhere, my countrymen, instead of being satisfied to cover the sea, rivers, and lakes with their fishing-boats, have been able to devote themselves extensively to the raising of fish. The spawn is carefully collected wherever it is found; instead of abandoning it to the channels of the rivers, the watchful shore-dweller puts it under protection wherever a suitable supply of water is to be found. The irrigation reservoirs are swarming with young fish. The fallow rice-fields, dammed and flooded in winter, are alive with wriggling carps; and even the rain-water cistern is turned into a breeding-pond.

This economical management permits us, without piscicultural societies, to stock the rivers with millions of fry, and to add a considerable variety of fish to our bills of fare, a part of which is consumed fresh, while the rest, salted or dried, is dispatched into all parts of the empire and sold at a moderate but always remunerative price.

As a whole, our system of water regulation may be regarded as one of the greatest achievements of the intelligence and labor of men. To it China owes very largely the comfortable condition of its innumerable inhabitants. It is not perfect, for it still leaves much to be desired; but we know well what is wanting,