The Soybean Plant: Botany, Nomenclature, Taxonomy, Domestication, and Dissemination - Page 2

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi


A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and
Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

©Copyright 2004 Soyfoods Center, Lafayette, Californi

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The soybean is a legume; like all other peas and beans, lentils and peanuts, it belongs to the large botanical family Leguminosae (which includes some 500 genera and more than 12,000 species), in the subfamily Papilionideae.

All food legumes (also called "edible grain legumes") can be divided into two types: oilseeds and pulses. Soybeans, like peanuts, are oilseeds. Most other food legumes, including peas and other beans, are pulses, a term derived from the Old French pouls , for porridge. Only about 30 grain legumes are widely used in diets around the world.

One reason for the numerous changes in the popular name of the soybean was the confusion that existed in the scientific names and in the taxonomy of the plant. Since detailed discussions of the history of this taxonomic confusion have been published by Piper (1914; "The Name of the Soybean, A Chapter in its Botanical History"), and Piper and Morse (1923), with a short update by Morse (1949 Ref??) and an excellent summary of the entire taxonomic history by Hymowitz and Newell (1981), we will touch only on the highlights.

Scientific botanical names began with the publication in 1753 of Species Plantarum by the Swedish botanist Linnaeus. There were at least four descriptions of the plant prior to that date. Englebert Kaempfer, a German botanist who spent 1691 and 1692 in Japan, first introduced the soybean plant to Europeans with the publication of his Amoenitatum Exoticarum published in 1712. He called the plant "Daidsu" (his transliteration of the Japanese term daizu ), gave an excellent illustration of the plant (see Chapter 31), and also described how soybeans were used in Japan to make miso and shoyu.

Paul Hermann (1640-1695), a Dutchman, who had collected plants in Ceylon, wrote Musaeum Zeylanicum , published in 1726. (1st ed = 1717; 2nd = 1726. Not in 1st??) It contains a very brief description of a species of bean described under the native name "Bumum" or "Buncae." Hermann's original specimens are still preserved. One of them, numbered 280 and accompanied by a beautiful and accurate drawing, is the soybean. It is probably the plant Hermann described as "buncae," which is the Sinhalese name for soybean.

In 1737, Linnaeus published a book entitled Hortus Cliffortianus , describing plants cultivated in Clifford's garden at Hartecamp, Holland. One of the plants described was the soybean, as proven by original specimens, which still exists.

The fourth earliest published description of the soybean (and actually the earliest one written) was by George Everhard Rumphius (the Latinized name of the Dutch naturalist George Eberhard Rumpf; 1627-1702), who described the plants of Amboina (today's Ambon), in the Moluccas in East Indonesia. Most of his writing of the 6-volume work Herbarium Amboinense , which includes his description of the soybean, was done between 1653 and 1670. Note that this was 20 years before Kaempfer went to Japan. Shortly after 1670, following a series of final plant-study journeys on the island, he went blind. In 1673, aided by his wife, he commenced to translate the Latin text of his work into Dutch. Then a series of tragedies struck. His wife and eldest child were killed in an earthquake of 1674. In 1687 a huge fire destroyed his library, many of his manuscripts, and his illustrations to the book. Although 60 years old, blind, and feeble, Rumphius was undaunted. He started all over describing to scribes and artists the multitude of plants he had written of and illustrated. He, of course, never saw these new illustrations. The manuscript of his voluminous work was shipped from Java to Holland in 1692, but the ship was destroyed by the French in transit and the manuscript lost with the ship. Fortunately a copy had been retained. But when the manuscript and illustrations finally reached Holland, they met with a cool reception, and hence had to wait 50 years before they were published in 1747, after Kaempfer, Hermann, and Linnaeus had published their description of the soybean (Merrill 1917; Fairchild 1938) Rumphius gave a good description of the soybean plant, called it Cadelium , mentioned that the native Amboinese name was kadelee (now spelled kedele ), said that it grew most abundantly in Java, Bali, and other Malayan islands, and included a remarkably good illustration of the plant, which appears on page 389 of volume 5-6 of the present work. Only the position of the pods is incorrect (Hymowitz 1981a).

In his book Species Plantarum , published in 1753, Linnaeus erroneously described and classified the soybean under two names: the first listed was Phaseolus max , based on specimens he had seen; the second was Dolichos soja , based largely on descriptions by Hermann and Kaempfer. Linnaeus got the name "soja" (which was not used in connection with any of the four earliest descriptions of the soybean) from the 1751 edition of Pharmacologiae by Samuel Dale, first published in 1705, at which date European pharmacists?? were already familiar with the Japanese soybean and its medicinal uses. Dale called the soybean Soia officinarum , from which Linnaeus derived the term "soja." He published this term in his Materia Medica of 1749 (Card??) before using it in Species Plantarum . When Linnaeus discovered his error in 1767, he chose Dolichos soja as his name for the soybean. Apparently he had intended Phaseolus max to refer to the mung bean of India (Piper 1914).

The combination of his error, his relatively brief description of the soybean, and the lack of an illustration gave rise to a great deal of confusion concerning the soybean's correct name among generations of botanists, and even led some later botanists to believe that they had discovered and first named the soybean.

In 1794 the German botanist Moench, deciding that the soybean deserved a genus of its own, called it Soja hispida . Yet Linnaeus' term Dolichos soja was generally the preferred one in Europe and America until the early 1870s, when Moench's Soja hispida became the favorite. In 1824 the Italian Savi called a soybean from Japan Soja japonica , and in 1832 he renamed it Soja viridis (Ref??). In 1855 Miquel named a narrow-leafed soybean from Java Soja angustifolia . In 1846 (card says 1845??) two German botanists, Siebold and Zuccarini, named a (soybean?) plant from Japan Glycine soja . Although they had supposed their plant to be the same as the Dolichos soja of Linnaeus, it was later shown by the Russian?? botanists Regel and Maack in 1861 that this plant was not the cultivated soybean but its wild one. Thus Siebold and Zuccarini have the dual distinction of being the first to give a scientific name to the wild soybean and the first to ascribe the plant to Linnaeus' genus Glycine , where it remains today. Glycine (pronounced glai-SEE-nee), a term derived from the Greek root glyks , meaning sweet, probably alluded to the sweetness of the edible tubers produced by Apios , the plant on which Linnaeus originally based this genus, but which was later moved to another genus.

In 1861 the Germans (?? see above) Regel and Maack named the wild soybean Glycine ussuriensis , after the Ussuri River valley in Manchuria, where they had found it growing. Today, however, Glycine soja Sieb. & Zucc. remains the preferred name for the wild soybean.

The first arrangement of the genus Glycine to closely approximate the presently accepted one was proposed by the British?? botanist Bentham (1864, 1865). He divided the genus into three sections or subgenera: Leptocyamus contained six perennial wild Australian species first recognized by Bentham; Johania contained one species, Glycine javanica , the sole species remaining from Linnaeus' genus Glycine ; and Soja , which contained the cultivated soybean (listed as Glycine soja ) and three other species. Thus Bentham was the first to use the genus name Glycine for the cultivated soybean. Bentham's Glycine falcata (an unusual plant in that it has single seeded pods both above and below ground, probably as a desert survival adaption), was the last true Glycine to be described, as since that date all proposed species have been either synonymous or not cogeneric with already named species (Hymowitz and Newell 1981).

In 1873 the Russian botanist Maximowicz proposed that the cultivated soybean be named Glycine hispida . That year he was also the first to propose that the wild soybean was the ancestor of the cultivated one, a view that is generally accepted today, although it was debated for many decades. The period from 1870 to the late 1880s was a time of great taxonomic confusion. At least four different scientific names were used (often simultaneously) for the soybean: Dolichos soja, Soja hispida, Glycine soja, and Glycine hispida . From the late 1870s until about 1914, Glycine hispida (Moench) Maximowicz was generally the preferred term among botanists for the cultivated soybean. In 1914 the American Piper argued at length that, under American botanical rules, the soybean should be called Soja max (L.) Piper. (The L. stands for Linnaeus, who first identified the species.) This name was used in the US until 1948. In 1917 the American Elmer Drew Merrill (1876-1956), later Dean of the University of California College of Agriculture, Berkeley campus, argued convincingly that, according to international botanical rules, the correct botanical name of the soybean should be Glycine max (L.) Merrill. In 1948 Ricker and Morse acknowledge that the American name should be that determined by the international rules. Thus, in America, as recently as 1948, and only after considerable debate the cultivated soybean first acquired its present name, Glycine max . Interestingly, under the international botanical rules, which required the earliest valid species name for the plant, the soybeans species name became max , thus perpetuating the blunder made by Linnaeus almost 200 years earlier in 1753. In any case, the confusion caused by the soybean's multiplicity of botanical names, had finally come to an end . . . at least temporarily.

In the years that followed, advances in genetics allowed plants to be classified by their chromosome numbers and more detailed genetic characteristics. In 1962 Hermann of the USDA undertook a revision of the genus. In a lucid 79-page monograph he brought together all relevant literature on Glycine nomenclature. While leaving Bentham's division of the genus into three subgenera basically unchanged, he reduced the number of Glycine species from 286 to 10 and changed the names of several species.

The next revision came in 1966 when Verdcourt at Kew, England, happened to discover that the type specimen (def??) for the entire genus Glycine was not even a Glycine but a Pueraria (kudzu, kuzu). In order to avoid changes in nomenclature in genera that included several agriculturally important legumes, including the soybean, Verdcourt proposed that the name Glycine be conserved from a later author (Willdenow 1802; Ref??), and that Glycine clandestina should become the type species. In 1970 Verdcourt (Ref??) proposed that Glycine soja was the valid designation for the wild soybean, since it was described in 1846 (card says 1845??) by Siebold and Zuccarini as a new species and not one based on Linnaeus' Dolichos soja as previous thought. Glycine soja therefore predates the G. ussuriensis of 1861 which had prior to 1970 been used for the wild soybean.

Cytological studies by Pritchard and Wutoh in 1964 (Ref??) and research by Lackey in 1977 (Ref??) resulted in the removal of G. wightii and its subgenus Bracteata (proposed by Verdcourt) from the genus Glycine . Recent detailed updates on soybean taxonomy, speciation, and cytogenetics have been published by Hymowitz and Hadley (1973; or is it 1972??) and Hymowitz and Newell (1980). In 1981 Hymowitz and Newell gave an excellent history of the genus Glycine to date showing in tabular form each of the major revisions. As shown in Table 2.1 (Hymowitz 1981a), the genus presently consists of two subgenera: Glycine (pronounced glai-SEE-nee is composed of seven perennial wild species confined to Australia, the South Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Taiwan, and southeastern China (Hermann 1962); Soja (pronounced SO-juh) is composed of the commercially important soybean, Glycine max (pronounced GLAI-seen) and its wild ancestor, Glycine soja , which has no apparent commercial usefulness. Both are annual plants. As early as 1920 it was first shown by Nakatomi and Nibe (Ref??) that the wild and domesticated soybean could be successfully crossed (Fukuda 1933). Their hybrids have high fertility. Technically these two plants could be considered to be of the same species. In the genus Glycine , the cultivated soybean, G. max , is the only erect plant; all the others twine or climb and all but G. soja are perennials. Note the use (where??) of the term cultigen, a taxonomic term for a plant species that is cultivated and that may have worldwide distribution. The related term "cultivar" refers to a variety of cultivated plant.


Having reviewed the history of soybean nomenclature and taxonomy, we can now turn to the history of the plant itself, and of the many efforts by great researchers around the world to penetrate the secrets of its ancient origin and domestication. To start with, an outline of early Chinese dynastic history will be helpful:

2900 - 2300 BC. Mythical rulers, including Shen Nung

2200 - 1766 BC. Hsia Dynasty, Neolithic

1766 - 1122 BC. Shang Dynasty, Great bronzes, first written characters

1027 - 221 BC. Chou Dynasty

221 - 207 BC. Ch'in Dynasty

206 BC - AD 220. Han Dynasty

Today, the most widely held theory concerning the origin of the soybean is that the soybean emerged as a domesticate in the eastern half of north China in about the 11th century BC (early Chou dynasty). Only after the 7th century BC did the soybean leave its primary gene center in China. By the first century AD it had probably reached north, central, and south China, Korea, and Japan. The primary architects of this theory are Hymowitz (1970, 1981a), Ho (1969, 1975), and Nagata (1960). The following perspective draws heavily on their work, and especially on Hymowitz's already classic monograph "On the Domestication of the Soybean" (1970).

The origins of the soybean have long been obscured by legend and by inaccurate or conflicting historical reports. Since the early 1900s many English-language books and articles, in discussing the origin of the soybean have made statements similar to the following found in Morse's "History of Soybean Production" (1950). "The first written record of the plant is contained in the books Pen Ts'ao Kang Mu , describing the plants of China by Emperor Shen Nung in 2838 BC." Related statements (such as "the soybean is one of the oldest of cultivated crops") have been presented as historical fact and repeated from one respectable publication to another, always without citation or explanation. It is the opinion of contemporary sinologists that the materia medica (describing substances used in the composition of medical remedies) or herbal attributed to Shen Nung and the figure of Shen Nung himself are both complete fabrications of Chinese historians living some 2,500 years later, between roughly 300 BC and AD 100 (late Warring States and Han dynasty). In the traditional Chinese way of symbolic traditionalism, which seeks to endow all things worthy of respect with ancient ancestry, these historians transformed the legendary/mythical culture hero Shen Nung into a pseudo historical character. The soybean basked in Shen Nung's reflected glory and antiquity. How did the legend of Sheng Nung and his book arise and make its way to the West?

An excellent historical perspective on the myth of Shen Nung and the Pen-ts'ao literature ascribed to him is given in Unschuld's "The Development of Medical-Pharmaceutical Thought in China" (1977). The first mention of Shen Nung (whose name means "Divine Peasant/Husbandman/Farmer") appeared in about 300 BC in both the writings of Mencius (372-289 BC) and in the "Great Commentary" ( Ta-chuan ) on the "Book of Changes" ( I Ching ). Mencius described Shen Nung as the model of one concerned with the simple agricultural life. The Ta Chuan ascribed to Shen Nung the invention of the plow and the founding of markets. The first reference to a connection between Shen Nung and herbal/pharmaceutical lore, a reference upon which all similar later statements is based, is found in the Huai-nan tzu (c. 130 BC; Ref??) a work by scholars from the circle of Liu An (??-122 BC), the legendary inventor of tofu. It stated that "Shen Nung taught the people for the first time how to sow the five types of grains (including soybeans??) . . . He tried the taste of all herbs . . . At that time he encountered on one day 70 (herbs, liquids, etc.) with medicinal effectiveness." The first publication ascribed to Shen nung is the Shen-nung Huang-ti shih-chin (Ref??), a manual of dietetics from the first century AD. In AD 500 the famous naturalist T'ao Hung-ching (452-536) first ascribed to Shen Nung the authorship of the earliest Chinese work on pharmaceutics, the Shen-nung pen-ts'ao . He wrote:

From the beginning it has been said that Shen Nung composed the Pen-ts'ao ching. I agree with this opinion . . . The four chapters of the `Original Classic' are all that remain today (of the materia medica of Shen-nung). It is assumed that these notes were written by Chung-ching (144-200??) or Yuan-hua (110-207), because the places of origin of the drugs are listed according to a system of terms from the later Han Dynasty."

These earliest authors of the Pen-ts'ao literature probably belonged to a group who, using herbal drugs and Taoist meditation practices, sought to achieve a "long life without aging," or immortality. Mention of soybeans in the Pen-ts'ao literature first appears in T'ao Hung-ching's version of AD 500??, which contains a long discourse on its medicinal properties. The soybean was stated to be a specific remedy for proper functioning of the heart, liver, kidney, stomach, and bowels. It was used to stimulate the lungs, eliminate toxins from the system, improve the complexion by cleaning the skin of various impurities, and stimulate the growth and appearance of the hair. In addition fresh green soybeans were used to cure dropsy, gastric fever, bladder trouble, improper circulation of the blood, catarrh, chills, and poisoning from eating aconite--the dried tuberous root of a monkshood formerly used as a sedative (Morse 1950). The soybean was said to belong to the middle of the three classes of medicine (What are these??).

Starting in the Han dynastic, Shen Nung was given his place in a mythological system explaining that the Chinese royal lineage began in ancient times with Five Monarchs and Three Emperors. The first monarch, Fu-hsi (traditional dates 2785-2738 BC) was said to have taught the people hunting, fishing, the eight trigrams of the I-ching ("Book of Changes"), writing, and incantations; the second, Shen Nung (2737-2698 BC) introduced agriculture and knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants; the third, Sui-jen, introduced fire, etc. The mythological empires of these monarchs were all said to lie along the Yellow River (Huang Ho) in north China. Shen Nung (who is sometimes depicted as having the head of an ox and the body of a man) may represent or symbolize the change in skills required as China made the transition from a nomadic hunting and food-gathering culture to a sedentary, food-producing agricultural society. Sinologists now believe that an accurate dating system did not exist before 841 BC and that Chinese writing originated during the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC) or more than 1,000 years after Shen Nung supposedly "wrote" his herbal mentioning soybeans.

Nevertheless, because soybeans were mentioned in a work attributed to Shen Nung, and because Shen Nung was later said to have lived in 2838 BC, later (who?? when??) popularizers of the soybeans connected the two, allowing soybeans to share the fame and honor of the respected ruler as well as his ancient origin. They also took full advantage of the fact that soybeans were mentioned in a materia medica to ascribe to them healthful, even medicinal or healing properties.

Through many centuries the Shen-nung pen-ts'ao was continually revised and expanded. The first great revision was done by T'ao Hung-ching in AD 500 (as described above) and the last, called the Pen-ts'ao Kang mu by Li Shih-chen (1518-93) in 1597??. This latter, very famous and encyclopedic work, listing thousands of plants and their medicinal value, also mentions the soybean and repeats its medicinal properties described above. For some unknown reason??, it is this later work that came to be connected with Shen Nung as the work in which mention of soybeans first appeared.

The earliest known reference in a Western document connecting the origin of the soybean with Shen Nung and the Pen-ts'ao Kang mu appears in Le Soja (1911-12) by Li Yu-ying and Grandvoinnet. The second mention appears in Beans and Bean Products (1918) by Shih Chi Yien.

This whole legend, masquerading as historical fact, was first called into question in 1941 by L. Carrington Goodrich of the Department of Chinese and Japanese at Columbia University. In a letter to Science , he pointed out that Shen Nung was a mythical character, that the herbal attributed to him was probably compiled in the 1st or 2nd century AD, and that no soybeans had been found in neolithic or early bronze age sites. A similar expose^ was made by Brandemuhl in 1963. Yet even after Hymowitz's (1970) well documented reassertion of the totally fictitious nature of the connection between the soybean and Shen Nung, it continues to be reported in many otherwise accurate publications that "man's earliest use of the soybean dates back to 2838 BC as stated in the Pen-ts'ao Kang-mu by Shen Nung."

If the soybean did not originate in 2838 BC with Shen Nung, when and where did it originate and was it first domesticated? The first person to seek a scientific (or at least a plausible) answer to this question, and to the larger question of the origin of cultivated plants, was the great French botanist Alphonse de Candolle. (He was probably not aware of the Shen Nung myth.) In seeking to determine the origin of a cultivated plant, he gave primary importance to evidence of wild progenitors or of the growth of the plant in wild conditions, and secondary importance to archaeological, historical, and linguistic evidence. In his classical book Origin of Plants (1882; 1883??) he drew on early Chinese names and uses of the plant plus virtually every prior account by Western botanists to arrive at the following conclusion:

Known facts and historical and philological probabilities tend to show that the species was wild from Cochin-China to the south of Japan and to Java when the ancient inhabitants of this region began to cultivate it at a very remote period to use it for food in various ways, and to obtain from it varieties of which the number is remarkable, especially in Japan.

A century of additional research has shown that de Candolle was correct in ascribing the origin and domestication of the soybean to East Asia but incorrect in locating its center of domestication so far south; no wild soybeans have been found in Cochin China (south Vietnam) or as far south as Java. They have not been found south of Taiwan.

Studies on the origin of cultivated plants were continued by the Russian botanist Nicholai Vavilov (1887-1942), a great admirer of de Candolle, who nevertheless pointed out basic problems with the approach of placing primary emphasis on the presence of wild progenitors in determining centers of origin. Instead, Vavilov gave primary importance to finding "regions displaying a maximal diversity of primary varieties" or "centers of botanical diversity." In 1926 Vavilov concluded that there were eight world centers where virtually all cultivated plants had originated; he ascribed soybeans to the South-Eastern Asia center, basically the same area specified by de Candolle. In 1928 (Ref??) Vavilov expanded his theory and named it the Gene Center or Gencentren theory; he spoke of primary and secondary gene centers. In about 1935, based on his additional plant collecting work, Vavilov proposed a new, more northerly, Chinese Center of origin and assigned the soybean to it. It encompassed the mountainous regions of central and western (not eastern) Asia, together with the adjacent lowlands. Like de Candolle, Vavilov was apparently was not interested in either the time dimension of soybean domestication or in subsequent dissemination.

In 1931 the Japanese botanists Makino and Nemoto first proposed that soybeans had originated in Manchuria, a view that soon became widely held. Fukuda (1933), working in Manchuria, supported the Manchurian center theory, basing his cogent arguments on Vavilov's Gene Center theory; (1) Glycine gracilis , a species proposed by Skvortzow in 1927 as being a semiwild intermediate between the wild and cultivated soybean, was widely distributed in Manchuria but not widely outside Manchuria; (2) more than 200 varieties of soybeans had been identified in Manchuria; and (3) many of these varieties were unique in having primitive genetic characteristics.

In 1958 C.N. Li reviewed the cultivation and utilization of soybeans in Chinese literature, which pointed to the occurrence of the crop prior to the Ch'in Dynasty (221-206 BC) in Shensi, Shansi, Honan, Hopei, and Shantung provinces, and its cultivation there in at least the Chou period (1027-221 BC), if not earlier. This was the first chronological information in the West concerning the soybean's origin. Li suggested that there was initially a black-seeded soybean growing in the western part of north China and that later a yellow-seeded form was introduced from ?? northwestern Hopei. This dual origin theory corresponded to the present distribution of primarily black-seeded soybeans in Shensi and Shansi, and yellow-seeded soybeans in northeast China (in Keightley 1982; Ref??).

Major advances in understanding the origin and dissemination of the soybean were made by the Japanese botanist and agronomist Nagata?? Starting in 1944 he began to study the distribution of various soybean physiological and morphological characteristics in East Asia; basic types (summer, intermediate, autumn, tropical), growth habit (determinate-indeterminate, vining-nonvining), short versus long growing period, small versus large seed size, etc. He began to notice certain geographical patterns, which he elucidated using the concepts of clines and ecotypes (def??). The conclusions of his work on paths of dissemination are neatly summarized in two maps found in his "Studies on the Differentiation of Soybeans in Japan and the World (1960). Figure 16 shows four streams or clines, each having a unique set of plant characteristics. M is the Manchuria cline, Jf the Japanese full season crop cline, Js the Japanese short season crop cline, and I the Indo-chinese cline.

Nagata noted that these four streams all originated at a common point which, he reasoned, according to Vavilov's concept of gene centers, should correspond to the crop's center of origin. Nagata's proposed center of origin, located in north and central China, was located in the eastern part of the Chinese center proposed by Vavilov; it was south of the Manchurian center proposed by Fukuda. Using his concept of ecotypes, Nagata further proposed that the soybeans grown in Europe and the northern US were the Manchurian ecotype. The vegetable type soybeans grown in the US were the northern Japan ecotype, whereas some of the soybeans grown in the southern US were the tropical ecotype. Finally, drawing on additional historical and linguistic evidence, Nagata boldly made the first specific proposals concerning the soybean's paths of dissemination, as shown in Figure 18. He argued that soybeans had probably entered Japan via two routes. The full season crop soybeans of northern Japan had come from north China via Korea between 200 BC and roughly AD 220 (Han dynasty), the period during which China had controlled Korea. The Japanese word for soybeans, daizu , had been derived from the characters for the Chinese word ta-tou , rather than from the Manchurian tu-ri . The short season crop soybeans of southern Japan could have come either from central China via Kyushu to south Japan or, as was less likely, up along the southern islands from Taiwan via the Ryukyu Islands to Kyushu. He felt that the soybean was disseminated from China to Southeast Asia and India along three routes: (1) the coastal route from central and south China to Vietnam and Thailand, (2) the Burma route from Yunnan province in south China to Burma and perhaps as far south as Indonesia, and (3) the Silk Route through Kansu and Sinkiang, across northern India to Kashmir. Interestingly, Nagata made no mention of the time dimension of origin and dissemination.

In 1960 S.C. Chang (in Chinese, cited K.C. Chang 1977 p. 28) reported that the earliest archaeological finds of soybeans in China date from only the Spring-Autumn Period (722-481 BC). Lo 1961 in Hymo??

In 1963 an American college student at the University of Wisconsin, William Brandemuhl, wrote a paper for an anthropology course on "Soybean History: Aspects of Buddhist Influence." By asking the right questions to a number of America's top Chinese historians, he brought to light a number of key points concerning the soybean's origin: (1) the often repeated statement that soybeans had originated in roughly 2838 BC at the time of Emperor Shen Nung had no basis in historical fact, (2) soybeans ( shu ) had been mentioned in Book of Odes ( Shih-ching ) and in the Erh-ya (a Chou period lexicon) had been referred to as the Jung-shu , or beans of the Jung or Hu people from Manchuria, suggesting their introduction to China during the Chou period by non-Chinese people from Manchuria. Brandemuhl also cited early mention of soybeans in the Kuan-tzu and the Ch'i-min yao-shu , both early texts, and noted that the dissemination of soybeans and their introduction to Japan had corresponded closely to the spread of Buddhism. (Note: Buddhism entered China from India in the first century AD and by the fourth century had reached a high state of development; it was introduced to Japan in about AD 538). It is a shame that Brandemuhl's paper was not published.

In 1969 Ping-ti Ho, professor of History at the University of Chicago, in his brilliant and provocative monograph "The Loss and the Origin of Chinese Agriculture" added a number of key pieces to the puzzle, based on his own research or other Chinese research not previously published in English. First he gave three reasons for believing that soybeans were not domesticated during the Neolithic or Shang periods: (1) Early Chinese agricultural systems were unusual in lacking protein rich legumes. Ancient Chinese culture is said to have grown up along the middle course of the Yellow River ( Huang Ho ) in northern China. The Neolithic period ranged from the Yang-Shao culture of 5000-3200 BC, the earliest known period of agriculture, through various Lungshanoid cultures, to the Lung-Shan culture of 2500-1580 BC in eastern north China. No trace of soybeans or other legumes has been found in any of these Neolithic or prehistoric agricultural sites. Moreover, an unusually large proportion of the skeletons unearthed from Neolithic sites have been children, indicating possible serious malnutrition accounted for, at least in part, by the lack of a staple food rich in protein. (2) The character for soybeans ( shu ) is not found in the many Shang oracle inscriptions dating from about 1300 BC. (3) Pollen profiles, soybean water needs, and the present distribution of wild soybeans all suggest that soybeans were not native to the loess highland, a semiarid steppe characterized by dryland farming, which Ho considers to have been the cradle of China's first civilization, but were domesticated later in the low plains of north China. Given that millets, the most important food in ancient China, began to be cultivated by at least the fifth millenium BC and that rice (consumed only by the ruling class on ceremonial occasions, and probably grown initially without irrigation) was first grown about 3000 BC, the domestication of the soybean appears to be rather recent.

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