“Soldiers and horses have not moved, food and grass go first”, on the evolution of marching rations in ancient my country

“Zuo Zhuan Thirteen Years of Chenggong” said: “The major events of the country are sacrifices and sacrifices.” This sentence means that the most important and important events in a country are the two things of war and sacrifice. But today we don’t talk about sacrifices, let’s have a good talk about war.

As the saying goes: “Before soldiers and horses move, food and grass go first.” In fact, we all know that the most important thing in war is about logistical reserves. Specifically, food reserves. In the final analysis, war is about logistics—the amount of talents, food, and weapons and equipment basically determines the direction of this war. But among the three of talent, food, and weapons and equipment, the most important thing should be the reserve of military rations. Only with food can this war be launched. Without food, this war cannot be carried out at all, let alone raised.

Ancient War of Soldiers and Horses

1. Corn is king

1. Superior conditions of corn itself

When it comes to military rations, we have to mention corn. Corn, also known as millet, is a common food variety in northern my country. Millet has a very long history of planting in my country, and it was planted as early as more than 6,000 years ago. The unearthed oracle bone inscriptions also prove that corn was successfully served on the table of the Shang people as early as the Shang Dynasty and became their staple food.

First of all, from the Shang Dynasty, which was clearly recorded in oracle bone inscriptions, until the economic center of gravity moved southward in the late Sui and Tang Dynasties, for a relatively long period of time, corn, because of its large output and good storage characteristics, inevitably became the military food certified by the state.

In addition, the fact that corn can be used as military rations is also affected by the fact that the political and economic centers of the country are located in the north, and military rations mainly cater to the tastes of northerners. Moreover, rice at this time was mainly grown in the south, with low yields and high transportation costs, and was only enjoyed by nobles. Ordinary sergeants were not qualified to eat rice, and rice was not enough to be used as military rations for ordinary soldiers.

Secondly, farming in ancient times required paying taxes. Farmers had to pay agricultural taxes no matter which dynasty they lived in. The only difference was the level of taxation. Because of the massive planting of corn in the northern region, when the country collects grain taxes, it will receive a large amount of corn from farmers as agricultural taxes to fill the national treasury and serve as a reserve of military food.


Just such a statement seems not clear enough, let us look at a historical material to prove why corn can be used as military rations. According to historical records, Wei Guo, one of the seven heroes of the Warring States Period, underwent a reform—the Li Kui Reform. In agriculture, it advocates the teaching of the right place, and has formulated reasonable taxes. Under the condition of tithing (paying one-tenth of the yield per mu as tax), a family of five can cultivate 100 mu of farmland, and can produce 95 shi of millet every year, and the remaining 45 shi, converted into modern measurement units, yields about 79.41 catties, which has reached 60% of that at the time of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, which can be regarded as a very high yield more than 2,000 years ago.

Such a high yield means that farmers can get more crops on the only land they have, pay enough taxes, and be able to feed more people, open up more wasteland, and get more land. Therefore, in order to obtain greater benefits, farmers must plant more corn and get more harvests. This also indirectly led to corn becoming the first choice for military rations.

2. The need for war horses

In ancient wars, there were mainly two types of infantry and cavalry. Infantry was mainly composed of ordinary soldiers, while cavalry not only consisted of people but also horses. Corn as military food can not only fill the stomachs of soldiers, but also serve as food for horses. In this way, the nutrition of the war horse can be supplemented and the combat effectiveness of the war horse can be improved. Ordinary soldiers can also make do with some rougher grains, but war horses must be fed with concentrated feed to have sufficient combat effectiveness. Corn was the concentrated feed at that time.


This directly led to the fact that from the Shang Dynasty to the Han Dynasty, part of the corn had always existed as military food for war horses, and because the food intake of war horses was much larger than that of ordinary soldiers, a lot of corn was needed to ensure enough food for war horses. Supplies for war consumption. This is another important reason why corn is king and has become the first choice for military rations. This situation continued until Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty ordered Zhang Qian to go to the Western Regions. Zhang Qian brought back to the Han Dynasty a very important and new pasture that could be used as rations for war horses-alfalfa. The use of alfalfa as pasture for war horses has greatly reduced the dependence of war horses on corn, and greatly eased the pressure on military rations. Soldiers can eat more food than before. The combat effectiveness of the army has been greatly improved.

2. Rice and wheat overtake

1. Increase in rice and wheat planting area

From the Shang Dynasty to the early Tang Dynasty, the main military rations of the army have always been corn. However, with the southward shift of the economic center of gravity in the middle and late Tang Dynasty, the planting area of ​​wheat and rice continued to increase, and the planting area of ​​wheat increased rapidly from east to west and south. Rice cultivation has also achieved new results.

In the middle and late Tang Dynasty, the method of rice-wheat rotation cropping twice a year was adopted, which greatly increased the total grain output. The rice variety of southern double-cropping rice was also adopted in the Jiangnan area, and the total grain output of farmers in a year was greatly improved. At the same time, the more important Yes—the invention of Quyuanli changed the mode of agricultural production, and the productivity of farmers was greatly enhanced, enabling them to feed more people. The acceptance of rice and wheat among the people is higher, and people develop more cooking methods. Wheat and rice have also gradually entered the range of military rations.

Qu Yuanli

2. North-South economic and cultural exchanges

Chinese people have the habit of “grain food”. In the past, the yield of wheat in the north was also very large. It was the second largest food crop after corn, and it had the opportunity to become military food. But because of the wrong cooking method, the wheat was buried. In the past, people were always accustomed to cooking by steaming, and the same is true for wheat. The shells are not removed during production, and the wheat rice is boiled and eaten after steaming, which is called “wheat rice”. We can fully imagine how rough it is, it is really hard to swallow, and not many people are willing to eat “wheat rice” when they have the choice of corn. Therefore, wheat lost to corn and failed to become military rations.

In the middle and late Tang Dynasty, people’s cooking skills improved, and they learned to grind wheat into flour to make soup cakes, which greatly improved the taste. Coupled with the increasing planting area and production, wheat successfully squeezed out corn and became the first choice for military rations. . The same is true for the overtaking of rice. Rice is the favorite of the southerners. After the Tang Dynasty’s economic center of gravity moved southward, the economic and cultural exchanges between the north and the south were fully exchanged. Habits have led to rice successfully ascending to the top together with wheat, becoming the first choice for military rations.

Large-scale planting of rice fields

3. Food supplements are rare

1. Bolognese

The supplementary food here refers to the part of the military ration that is different from the staple food, mainly various sauces and meat, even vegetables are very rare, but they are included in it. In the ancient army, there were very few sauces provided to ordinary soldiers. Basically, ordinary soldiers only have staple food and are in a state of being able to eat. But the specific and better complementary food has nothing to do with them, and it is only eaten by the generals and nobles. Only ordinary soldiers had the opportunity to eat meat and vegetables before and after the war.

This is mainly because the ancient sauce is generally meat sauce, which is made by processing fresh meat and fermenting it. Most of these sauces are marinated with a lot of salt to keep them fresh, so as not to spoil them. Because a lot of salt is used, these meat sauces are very expensive, and ordinary soldiers can’t afford them, and only a few high-level people have the right to eat them. And this kind of meat sauce has another disadvantage, that is, it is easy to spoil and give off a strong odor at high temperature. It was this kind of meat sauce that was eaten by the army during the Qin Dynasty. After the death of Qin Shihuang, Zhao Gao and Li Si kept their mourning in secret, using the smell of this rotten meat sauce to cover up the fact that Qin Shihuang was dead.

Prime Minister Li Si (still photo)

2. Bean paste

Soybean paste is made from soybeans brought back by Zhang Qian of the Han Dynasty after his mission to the Western Regions. Compared with the meat sauce made in the Qin Dynasty, the bean paste made in the Han Dynasty was cheaper, and the raw material was changed from fresh meat to soybeans. Fermentation is more thorough, less prone to spoilage, and has been welcomed and loved by more people.

Shi You in the era of Emperor Yuan of the Western Han Dynasty recorded in “Ji Jiu Pian”: “Catkin, salt, fermented soy sauce and soy sauce”. Tang Yan’s note: “The sauce is made of beans and noodles, the meat is called 醢, the bone is the meat, the sauce is called the general, and the food has the sauce.” It can be seen from the records and annotations of the ancients that soybean paste is brewed from soybeans and flour. It was extremely delicious and loved by people at that time. To this day, bean paste made from soybeans is still popular and loved by us, and occupies an important position on the Chinese table. Bolognese also has a new development. It is already an inseparable part of Chinese food, and it is no longer limited to military rations.

soybean paste

Four. Summary

The changes in the types of marching rations in ancient China can be divided into two periods. The first is from the Shang Dynasty to the early Tang Dynasty, this is the world of corn. Because the yield of corn is large, it is good for storage, and the political center of the country’s economy is also located in the north, and farmers have a wide range of planting. As a result, the military ration was mainly corn, supplemented by other miscellaneous grains. The second is from the middle and late Tang Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. With the improvement of cooking technology, the types of military rations have also undergone major changes.

After the Tang Dynasty’s economic center moved southward, economic and cultural exchanges were extensive. Changes in agricultural production methods have increased productivity. The crop rotation system of two crops a year and the creation of Quyuan plow also made the agricultural yield per mu of Tang Dynasty increase significantly. The planting area of ​​wheat and rice has greatly increased, and the total output has increased. Wheat and rice thus replaced millet as the main part of military rations. The military ration not only includes the staple food, corn, rice and wheat, but also supplements with sauce. It’s just that these sauces are usually only eaten by upper-level senior generals, and ordinary soldiers cannot enjoy them. Being able to eat is their greatest pursuit.


1. “Talking about Ancient Chinese Military Food” by Zhao Xu

2. “Zuo Zhuan Thirteen Years of Cheng Gong”

3. History tour of “Jijiu Pian”