Sun, Wen. A Dream of Red Mansions: As Portrayed through the Brush of Sun Wen. Zurich: Shanghai, 1020 p. 51.


Upon the suggestion of the name “Sweet Rice Village” for the cottage in the garden, Bao-yu is appalled. He does not believe that the cottage deserves such a natural name because the cottage and the rice paddy fields are so obviously man-made. He goes on to criticize the elders for their use of the word “natural” and how it applies to the creations in the garden.

Within the image, the paddy rice fields are pictured on the far left side. They are arranged into box-like shapes in the distance. This particular rice field was used for scenery, though that was not usually the case for the lower class, who used their rice fields to sustain themselves. It was not an uncommon sight within villages in China.

While rice fields can be used for scenery, there is a clear historical relationship between human effort and the plant’s growth that extends beyond that. The crop played a crucial role in China’s economy since at least the Thang times. It was and still is an important food crop to China for many reasons. It is much harder to grow rice than it was to grow other grains, but still became interwoven within Chinese society because of all of the positives the crop had as well as the ability to grow it in marshlands. Although other grains were grown within China, rice’s qualities and uses became part of the culture around the places where it was grown and continues to be part of it within the modern age. 

Where is it produced

The Chinese divide rice between two subsections. One section is called keng, and keng-type rice are found within parts of China north of the Yangtze river. They are grown from Shantung northwards and on land from 500 to 200 meters above the sea level in Kiangsu, Hunan, Fukien, kwangtung, and Kwangsi. Keng-type rice is sensitive to photoperiod and does not thrive well in tropical climates. The other subsection is called hsien, and hsien-type rice are found growing almost exclusively in the plains of south China where it is much warmer. Chinese rice was domesticated by migrants from the north who brought their culture to the southerners. Their type of rice was unable to grow in the subtropical climate of south China so the growth was confined to the Yangtze area for a long period of time and was not brought elsewhere until it was introduced by Chinese colonists. The growing of rice contributed to the interdependent culture that southern China has. This is due to neighbors having to work together to manage the water supply and maintain dikes. In northern China, there is more of an individualistic view of society due to wheat farmers not needing to rely as heavily on other people. The earliest Chinese farmers were believed to grow millet within the Yellow-river area but rice had a reason and continues to have a reason to be cultivated.


In addition to the scenic view featured in Dreams of Red Chambers, a very important use of the crop is its caloric value, which is higher than other grains. Though the caloric value varies based on the type of rice, the environment, and the methods of preparation, it has the calories needed to keep people alive if rice was their staple food source. The crop is useful in times of famine due to its high amount of calories, the nutrition it provides, and its ability to be preserved easily. Rice was also able to be made into vinegar which could assist in preserving other foods as well as giving it a sour taste. Due to its beneficial properties, rice protected the poor against deficiency diseases. There was a difference in the rice consumed between the rich and the poor. Since the Han period, people shelled (peeled rice after threshing by removing the hull) and polished (taking off bran layer so grain cooks faster and is more easily digested) the rice. Due to polishing, important nutrients, like vitamin B1 which prevents beriberi, are lost. The rich typically consumed rice that was more refined and therefore less healthy.

Rice was valued enough to be featured in a variety of ceremonies. Rice was used in regular food offerings to deceased ancestors’ souls. As an example of this, rice was included in the offerings for the second day of the eighth month. Many of these traditions have carried on to this day. On New Years, the Chinese typically eat rice balls. Some are filled with red bean paste and other sweet things. Rice was also made into rice wine, and a type of rice wine with chrysanthemum in it is used during the celebration on the ninth day of the ninth month. The value within this crop is truly shown with the types of things it is used for. 

Artistic Representation

The paddy rice fields within The Story of the Stone were in use primarily for enhancing the scenery, though other depictions are not usually shown as unused. When depicted in other artworks, the rice paddy fields are usually shown alongside human workers. The emphasis on humans being included alongside the fields may show that they valued the beauty of the strong connection between the plant’s cultivation and the human’s effort. Rice is also used as a tool to make art. Paddy fields are able to be a canvas for some artists. Different colors of rice are planted strategically to make pictures. A large amount of the pictures made from rice in China are historical figures or references to Chinese history and culture. Creating this art from the rice represents a prayer for blessings.

Environmental Issues

It was typically men that did the work in the rice paddy fields. As time passed and technology improved, the men went from doing things by hand to developing tools for sowing and reaping and using animals to do laborious tasks for them. The Imperial state valued the growth of agriculture and made easier methods of development clear to the public. In fact, both the Imperial state and the farmers paid attention to the technological advancements happening around them. Some of these improvements included introducing high-yielding varieties, developing cultivation tools, and improving irrigation systems The Imperial state also compiled and published agricultural textbooks, demonstrating how important improving agricultural methods was to the Chinese elite Rice was a crop that everyone needed and by improving how humans were able to grow the crop, their higher yields could leave them more stable in terms of their food sources and economic prosperity. The elites would typically know more than the farmers in impoverished areas, and that could affect the amount of food they would have in their area. In the 1930’s, many thought that their food problems were due to an unstable amount of rice growing in impoverished areas in addition to the rich having unhealthy eating habits and importing very polished rice from other countries. A very important invention to rice sales was the steamboat. Steamships reduced the cost of transporting rice between nations, which played a huge part in the rice trade becoming global and expanding China’s market.

There are definitely downsides to attempting to farm rice. A lot of space is needed in order to properly build the irrigation systems needed to grow the plant since it needs to be submerged in water. The clearing of these spaces contributed to deforestation within the area. If the water becomes contaminated, it can negatively affect the rice plants. Neighboring farmers must work together in order to maintain their water supply and the dikes keeping control over the water. Water is not always controllable though. Flooding occurred often and the keeping of water had the ability to switch the way that the rivers ran. Farming rice affected the farmers’ health negatively also because it is incredibly labor intensive and can take a toll on the body. With technology and the spread of information on how to improve, some of these issues became more manageable but the inherent problems still lie within. The entire process of clearing the trees created more sunlight in the area. Preparing the land involved exposing the soil. Continuing to plant involved removing the nutrients from the soil. The ecological processes within these lands were disturbed by its growth, however, one could argue that all agriculture alters land in this manner.


Do you agree with Baoyu’s opinion on the rice paddy fields in the garden?

What are some of the uses of the rice plant?

Why do you think that rice was so heavily ingrained in both the Chinese economy as well as their daily life?


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  • “In Pictures: 3D Art in China’s Rice Paddy Fields.” BBC News. June 24, 2015.

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