Why were grains so important in early nations?

  James C. Scott, a professor at Yale University and an anthropologist in the United States, continued his consistent value orientation and vision of “anarchy” in his new book “Cocooning Oneself”, trying to prove that for human beings, the emergence and continuation of national life Not for granted, it is closely related to the triumph of farming civilization.
  Start with a question: Humans have become accustomed to eating grains such as wheat, barley, rice, and millet as staple foods. Looking back at human history, early countries were all grain countries. Why was grain so important in early countries? Why can’t I find “Lentil Country”, “Chickpea Country”, “Taro Country”, “Yam Country”, “Peanut Country” and “Simi Country”? Know that many of them exceed wheat and barley in terms of calories per unit area, and require less labor than grains.
  The original English name of this book is again the grain, which literally translates to anti-gu. In Scott’s view, the victory of farming civilization over other civilizations such as nomadism is not a kind of progress. Although the cultivation of grains has made it possible for food surpluses, human beings can build countries and civilizations on the basis of accumulation, but the development from gathering and hunting to Agriculture and sedentary life are historical processes in which the human experience of life has become increasingly narrow and less culturally and ritually meaningful.
  In the process, humans appear to have domesticated crops and animals, but in fact they themselves have been domesticated in turn. Humans are not only inseparable from their crops, but also become slaves of crops. Weeding, fertilizing, cleaning, watering, and protecting crops, people must meet what crops expect. Whether human beings can survive as a species also depends on varieties. A handful of cultivated crops.
  Moreover, since human beings began to settle down after engaging in farming, they had to carry out long-term agricultural labor day after day, which greatly damaged human health, and the spread of plagues and diseases across species was easier and more frequent. This is also the meaning of the title of the simplified Chinese version of this book, “Being a Cocoon”.
  Why did grain, with so many shortcomings, outperform other crops and play such an important role in early nations? An important difference, Scott argues, is that only grains can serve as the basis for taxation because they are visible, divisible, valueable, storable, transportable, and rationable. There are huge administrative advantages for calculation, segmentation and evaluation. Other legumes, tubers and starchy plants can only satisfy some, but not all the advantages of grains.
  Grain grows on the ground and matures at about the same time, which is the most manageable for tax collectors, who can harvest and pack the entire harvest at one time. If the enemy attacked, it was easy to implement a scorched earth policy. A fire could immediately burn up the crops, forcing the peasants to flee or starve to death; it was difficult if the potatoes were hidden in the fields. Frederick the Great of Prussia ordered his people to grow potatoes. If the enemy army came, it would not be so easy to disperse the peasants.
  So, the relationship between grain and the state is that the state can only be formed when the ancestors depended on the cultivation of grain as a source of food, and there was no other choice. As long as subsistence resources can cross multiple food chains, such as hunter-gatherer, slash-and-burn, and sea to eat, states are unlikely to emerge because the basis for taxation does not exist.
  In early China, state power existed only in arable sites within the Yellow and Yangtze river basins. These fields, planted with irrigated rice, formed the ecological and political core of early China, surrounded by scattered nomadic, hunter-gatherer, and nomadic communities. They don’t live anywhere, and of course it’s hard to tax them. They are defined as “shengfan” barbarians, people who “have not yet entered the national territory”. Another example, in the eyes of the Romans, the so-called barbarians, the key feature that distinguishes them from “civilized people” is that they eat dairy products and meat, instead of eating grains like the Romans. To the Mesopotamians, the “barbaric” Amorites “did not divide the grain, and drank blood.” In the early days of human beings, such non-grain agricultural areas were mostly, but these places were not isolated from agricultural areas, and there were frequent exchanges and trade between them.
  Due to the settled nature of farming countries, it is often necessary to build walls to surround themselves. The existence of a wall means that something important is protected or controlled. Conversely, the presence of walls is a reliable indicator of the existence of sedentary farming and food storage. For farmers, they must protect their crops from predation by other humans or animals. For the ruling class, the food and population in the farmland are also the foundation of their power and wealth and must be protected.
  Lattimore, who has studied China’s frontier deeply, once had an opinion: the purpose of the construction of the Great Wall of China was not only to keep nomadic tribes out of the wall, but also to keep farmers who pay taxes inside the wall.
  Therefore, in the early stage of national governance, there are two important issues: one is the acquisition of the population; the other is the control and management of the population.
  On the first issue, slavery played a central role. In other words, the expansion of the country’s grain core was accomplished on the basis of looting slaves for manpower. The requirement of maximizing the population has also made the reproductive function of women of childbearing age an important resource, which has also led to the capture and domestication of female slaves of childbearing age by the state, thus establishing the patriarchy – its core logic is very cruel.
  On the second question, to borrow Proudhon’s words – by being governed, we mean that every business, every transaction, must be recorded, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, Numbered, evaluated, empowered, warned, prevented, modified, corrected, punished – it seems that the advanced agricultural countries also have precocious bureaucracies.
  For farmers, the existence of the state is not abstract, it is officials who come to the door to survey the population, measure the land and collect taxes. They understand that it is through the keeping of records that the state can see its land and population. The ancient Sumerians said: You have kings and lords, but what you really need to be afraid of is the tax collector.
  In recounting such an early history of mankind, Scott’s concern is clear – to re-examine the unquestionable status of the nation that humanity regards as the heart of civilization.
  In the history of mankind, the emergence and existence of the state occupies only a small proportion of time, and the centralized kingdom is even rarer. When archaeologists look away from the great monarchs and grand buildings at the top of the pyramids, rediscover the bases and basic units that make up human life, focus on human settlement patterns, trade and communication patterns, and observe rainfall, soil structure and survival strategies. , you will find that they can tell people more things.
  In Scott’s view, the “collapse” of those often worrisome orders is, in essence, the disintegration of larger and more fragile polities into smaller but often more stable building blocks. It does not mean the disintegration of a culture, but rather the reconstruction of that culture; more precisely, decentralization. It is those smaller cores of power that are likely to last for a long time; by contrast, the kingdoms or empires they cobble together are actually short-lived, and the miracles of statecraft are often short-lived.
  However, Scott’s experience is more based on the early history of human beings and the history of Western society, and when we pull back the time, we can see that the change of dynasties in China is often accompanied by a large-scale population reduction, and the scale of reduction often reaches half of the population. or even 2/3. It was only in the modern transformation from the late Qing Dynasty to the Republic of China that although the process of reorganization of the political order was also accompanied by fierce power struggles and constant wars, it did not experience the large-scale population reduction as in the ancient dynasties. However, the power contest between centralization and local autonomy was indeed the core issue at that time. Of course, in the end, the historical inertia of grand unification won again.
  Compared with the era of great reunification, Scott is obviously more interested in, and prefers to, the “breaks” and “collapses” of history. These periods are left blank by the absence of records, but blank does not mean dark and backward. What Scott wanted to prove is that it was times like these that witnessed the leap of liberty of many subjects who were previously under the rule of the state, and the improvement of human well-being also occurred.
  His idea is: whenever we enter the “dark” era, there will be a dispersion of the population, and most of it is a kind of escape, avoiding war, taxes, epidemics, crop failure, and conscription. If so, the worst losses that could have been caused by the intensive settlement life under the rule of the state may also be restored. And decentralization, not only can reduce the burden imposed by the state, but also may make society more equal.
  In the final analysis, Scott’s concern is that breaking the state of centralization of power will bring about the paranoia of cultural achievement and civilization development. He believes that decentralization and the dispersion of population will also bring about the reorganization and diversity of cultural production.
  Scott’s previous works, “The Moral Economics of the Peasant,” “Weapons of the Weak,” “The State’s Perspective,” “The Art of Escape from Rule,” and “Six Essays on Spontaneity,” already familiarize us with his critiques of state social planning programs, his criticism of the An analysis of the operational strategies of the civilian movement, an emphasis on human autonomy and spontaneity. This book continues to remind readers that the world is dialectical, and a history of human civilization is not a history of human domestication!