Sedentary People. Imperial China had a population consisting of three cultural groups: sedentary people, nomadic people, and mountain people. The sedentary people engaged primarily in agriculture. As in other parts of the world, it was agriculture that contributed to population expansion and formation of organized states. Sedentary people spread over all the plains, valleys, and fertile high plateaus of China. They grew two different kinds of crops:“dry” and “wet.” “Dry” crops included cereals, barley, wheat, and different types of millet. Irrigation was irregularly practiced in “dry” areas. Despite the prevalence of agriculture in these regions, the raising of livestock, such as cattle, sheep, and horses, was comparatively significant from the seventh century onward. The major “wet” crop was rice, and its mass production originated during the Tang dynasty (618-907). This agricultural product began
in the lower basin of the Yangzi (Yangtze) River and proved successful, spreading to all the warm, damp areas where irrigation was possible. The development of rice growing from the seventh to tenth centuries onward signified a new stage in the history of the Chinese people, and it became the major food of the country.
Nomadic People. Nomadic cattle raisers lived in the grasslands and desert regions, extending from the Siberian taiga (subarctic forest) to the agricultural lands of North China. These people played a fundamental role in the his-tory of the Chinese world and exerted a strong influence on its civilization. They had large herds of oxen, sheep, horses, camels, and yaks. Consummate horsemen, these nomads possessed a mobility that turned them into a formidable military power. From the seventh to seventeenth centuries their contacts and trade relations with sedentary peoples helped to strengthen the political organization of the steppe societies and to enrich them. Nevertheless, internal tensions and rifts developed, and eventually some of the nobles adopted the lifestyles of the sedentary people.
Mountain People. The mountain people of the Himalayas and adjoining areas practiced both livestock raising and agriculture. These mountaineers lived in an area approximately four million square kilometers in size. They grew poor but hardy cereals such as barley, millet, rye, buckwheat, and sometimes wheat in sheltered valleys. They also raised cows, yaks, horses, sheep, and goats. Cattle raising on a grand scale, like that of the nomadic people of the steppe areas, was conducted on the high plateau of Tibet and Qinghai, but mountain rearing, with the animals driven to stables in winter, prevailed in the more hilly areas. The aggressive mountain peoples of the Himalayan complex used to attack caravans and invade the domains of the sedentary people. From the Tang dynasty to the Ming dynasty(1368-1644) they moved eastward into Gansu, Sichuan, and Shanxi as well as northward into the farmlands.
George B. Cressey, Asia s Lands and People: A Geography of One-third of the Earth and Two-thirds of Its People (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963).
Milton W. Meyer, China: An Introductory History (Totowa, N.J.: Little-field, Adams, 1978).
Thomas R. Tregear, Geography of China (London: University of London Press, 1965).
David C. Wright, The History of China (Westport, Conn. & London:Greenwood Press, 2001).