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Thinking through Agriculture in Early China. Prof. Roel Sterckx

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This project examines how agriculture formed a leading component in an ideological narrative that described China’s transition from a world of chaos and division to one of political unification, order and social control. Warring States, Qin and Han texts often describe farming life as a model for a stable society, and the image of the peasant embodied an amalgam of values and human psychology. We are interested in exploring how agricultural thought served as a catalyst in early Chinese philosophy and how it inspired debates that shaped the political economy of the time.

From early China’s legalist philosophers through to Mao Zedong, one of the most enduring descriptions of China over the past three millennia has been its image as the ultimate agrarian society. Professor Roel Sterckx is studying how farming life influenced the political and social ideologies that shaped the Chinese empire.

Farming is about much more than agronomy, advances in technology, or indeed output and productivity. Agriculture and the image of the toiling peasant were a key element in an ideological narrative that described ancient China’s transition from a world of chaos and division to one of political unification, order and social control. This image of farming life as a model for a stable society has lasted up to the present. Where did it come from, what values, human psychology, and behavioural codes did Chinese rulers associate with farm labour? These are some of the questions this project addresses.

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