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The Fascist Ammassi and the Chinese Granary System in Pound’s Cantos

by Richard Sawyer

 

Of the economic programs in Fascist Italy that attracted Pound—at least with respect to the Cantos—the ammassi seem to have garnered the most attention. The word ammasso (singular) is variously translated into English as pool, stockpile, storage, collection, assemblage, heap (Pound used most of these words himself, even heap[1]). The word ammasso referred not only to the pool or stockpile of an agricultural product, such as grain, but to the practice of pooling and marketing a product collectively. The practice tended to benefit individual farmers, who, because of financial constraints, were often forced to sell their crop soon after it was harvested when supplies were abundant and the price was low. However, by pooling their crops and marketing the pool strategically through a controlled release, farmers collectively gained greater leverage over the sale price. The ammasso provided them with “la possibilità di vendere il loro prodotti alle condizioni più favorevoli di mercato” ‘the opportunity to sell their product under the most favourable market conditions’ (Federconsorzi 92). 

In Fascist Italy, the grain ammassi came to be managed by the Federconsorzi (Federazione Italiana dei Consorzi Agrari—the Italian Federation of Agricultural Consortia), a farming cartel with offices, warehouses and silos around the country.[2] The Federconsorzi, which also sold fertilizer, seed, pesticides, and farm machinery, was established in 1892 and remained in business until 1991 when it collapsed in a bankruptcy scandal involving company directors, government overseers, and the banks. Though some of the Federconsorzi’s granaries were built during the first few decades of the 20th century, most date from the Fascist era when Mussolini launched his Battle for Grain (specifically, wheat) in 1925 and his land reclamation campaign (the Bonifica Integrale) in 1928 in order to make Italy self-sufficient in wheat production.[3] It is estimated that some 800 granaries were built by the end of the 1930s, of which only about 80 remain (Landi 49, 52). The granaries were constructed of reinforced concrete and have obviously deteriorated over time. Most are no longer in use because they are structurally unsound. When the granaries were built, however, they were the latest marvels of industrial engineering and design and sought, according to Manuel Piñeiro, to embody the “ambienti di lavoro sani, luminosi e accoglienti” ‘healthy, bright and welcoming work environments’ envisioned by workplace theorists (65). 

A number of the granaries constructed in the 1930s are quite striking architecturally, such as the Consorzi Agrario granary in Cagliari, Sardinia (see Figure 1). The Cagliari granary was designed by the architectural engineer Alberto Sanjust and built in 1938-1939 (Loddo 223-25). The turret at the front of the building housed the elevator. The storage cells were laid out horizontally on the floors behind and vertically in the tower at the end of the building (Loddo 227). As the architects Franco Masala and Gianraffaele Loddo note, the granary was partially designed in a Rational architectural style popular during the interwar years. The style is evident in the cantilevered entrance canopy, the wide windows, the alternating horizontal bands of light-coloured grit plaster and dark exposed brick, and the protruding bin-shaped central storage section with its rounded edges (Loddo 227-28). Finally, notice the words bolted to the wall of the tower on the far right. They are fighting words from the Leader: 

LA BATTAGLIA DEL GRANO 

SIGNIFICA LIBERARE IL 

POPOLO ITALIANO DALLA 

SCHIAVITU DEL PANE 

STRANIERO 

                                 MUSSOLINI[4] 

“The Battle for Grain means freeing the Italian people from the slavery of foreign bread.” 

Sawyer1

Source: Franco Masala, “Silos, addio?” Sardegna Soprattutto, 25 August 2014.

Figure 1. Vintage photo of the Consorzio Agrario granary in Cagliari, Sardinia. Built in 1938-1939, the granary was designed by Alberto Sanjust in a Rationalist architectural style.

A more modestly designed but still impressive-looking granary is located in Albinia in the Tuscan Maremma (see Figure 2). Albinia was built on reclaimed marshland during the Bonifica campaign. The granary appears to have been erected in 1934 (Bertocchini 92) and still towers above the other buildings in the village. Like the Cagliari, the Albinian granary features a stately turret at the front of the building. The vertical storage cells lined the windowless space behind the turret and the landings. The panel mouldings along the sides and rear of the building hint at the silos inside and give the windowless exterior a finished look (103). Moreover, the concrete on the outside was dressed in bright plaster, now discoloured and weather-beaten (100). The top floor of the granary, with its bank of windows, was used as a “galleria di essiccamento” ‘drying gallery’ for damp grain (101). (Note the wide terrace and railing outside stretching the length of the gallery to the turret.) 

Source: Francesca Bertocchini, La valorizzazione del territorio attraverso il recupero del patrimonio storico architettonico. Il caso del silo agrario di Albinia (GR), 2014-2015, p. 102.

Figure 2. Side view of the Albinian granary, built in 1934. The two-storey house in the foreground contained offices and living quarters for the custodians. The building behind was a warehouse (Bertocchini 94).

The first voluntary national wheat ammasso organized by the Federconsorzi took place in 1930. The result was disappointing. According to a 1953-history of the Federconsorzi, produced in-house, only a tiny fraction of the wheat that the country produced—less than one percent—went into Federconsorzi granaries (Federconsorzi 94). The size of the second ammasso in 1931 was slightly larger, but still insignificant in terms of national output. However, the Federconsorzi was encouraged by the attitude of the farmers who participated the second time around. Most of the farmers were small independent producers relieved to escape the “mediatori ed accaparratori” ‘middlemen and hoarders’ that the farmers usually dealt with (95). As a large agricultural cartel managing the sale of the ammasso, the Federconsorzi would presumably have protected the interests of the smaller farmers in the pool. By 1934, the Federconsorzi’s share in the annual wheat ammasso, to judge from its incomplete figures, was still under ten percent (96). Then the government began to intervene in the marketplace, particularly after the invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935 and the imposition of limited economic sanctions on Italy by the League of Nations. In June 1936, the Fascist government made the ammassi obligatory for all grain producers (Federconsorzi 96-97), and the measure was eventually extended to include other agricultural products, such as wool and olive oil. Though the Federconsorzi became responsible for managing the national grain ammassi, the ultimate control of the new ammassi obbligatori passed into the hands of the state, specifically, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and, later, the Ministry of Corporations (Landi 49). According to Philip Morgan, the purpose of the ammassi obbligatori was “to remove essential foodstuffs from the market economy and guarantee regular supplies at stable and fair prices for producers and consumers” (61). The government-controlled ammassi set the price paid to farmers as well as the price charged to mills, refineries, canneries, and other enterprises that processed the raw materials after they left the ammassi. And price controls did not end there. For the government also regularly posted maximum retail price lists for some 20-odd controlled products, mostly foods, sold to everyday consumers (Miller 586). With the institution of the ammassi obbligatori and the imposition of price controls on essential goods, the Fascist government began to convert its post-Sanctions economy into a government-controlled, autarkically-driven wartime economy. 

I am not sure who or what originally drew Pound’s attention to the ammassi. But it was likely Odon Por, a Hungarian economist that settled in Fascist Italy, who informed Pound of the real and potential benefits of the program. The following is a revealing excerpt from a letter Por sent Pound on 14 March 1937:

[A] new financing principle and method is being thought of and comes from [Edmondo] Rossoni. You know that there are ammassi obbligatori for Wheat and wool and other minor commodities. That this ammasso pools all wheat paying at once a fixed remunerative price for it to the farmers and sells the wheat to the consumers, mills. When there is some margin left between the price paid to the farmers and gotten from the consumers it’s redistributed amongst the farmers. All middlemen speculators small and big alike are excluded. No g[o]mbeen man who buys the wheat still unharvested and buys the wheat at harvest time when the prices are lowest and keeps it stored, renders it artificially scarce to drive up the price. And so on. 

       From this logically follows that having “amassed” all staple products the State has no necessity to gather taxes in the form of money but may pre[l]evare(?) [take, withdraw] from the product in its hands so much as it needs for its purposes. [. . .] The whole fiscal system changes. F[ro]m this it is only one step to put the whole financial system on the basis of goods, on the basis of productivity. (Beinecke. 43. B42: F1764) 

As Por explains in the first paragraph, the ammassi obbligatori ensured farmers a fair return on their grain and other agricultural products because the government-controlled ammassi eliminated the “middlemen speculators.” In fact, the government bypassed the market completely, as Morgan noted, fixing prices down the line. Consequently, I do not see how there could be any error in price margins if the government set the price paid to farmers, the price charged to processors, and the maximum retail sale prices for consumers. Still, there might have been times when some unforeseen circumstance inflated the retail price and thus triggered a price rebate for farmers. In the second paragraph, Por muses over the potential use of the ammassi as a means of collecting taxes in kind. As Por indicates at the beginning of the excerpt, he derived the idea from Edmondo Rossoni, the Minister of Agriculture and Forests from 1935 to 1939. However, Por does not elaborate further on Rossoni’s “new financing principle and method,” except to say that he (Por) has written “a long article on the subject” and that “Rossoni got wind of it” and told Por “to go ahead” and publish it (I did not include these remarks in my citation). Although nothing seems to have come of Rossoni’s proposal to reorganize the ammassi obbligatori into a system for collecting taxes in kind, Pound embraced Rossoni’s idea wholeheartedly, as we shall see. 

About the time that Italy entered the Second World War, Por published a book on Italy’s Policy of Social Economics, 1939-1940, which included praise for the ammassi. Pound translated Por’s book into English and pays tribute to it in the Pisan Cantos as “Odon’s neat little volume” (78/501) (Terrell 2: 420). The ammassi, according to Por, were a boon to struggling farmers. “The farmer in the old days never knew what he would get for his wheat, price being set from day to day in a distant corn exchange. The farmer often sold his crop standing to local extortioners without reference to any stable price whatsoever,” Por claims, reiterating much of what he said in his letter to Pound. “Now the farmer is safe as to the financial outcome of at least one of his products” (71), namely, grain. 

The ammassi appealed to Pound for the same reasons highlighted by Por. First, the ammassi improved farm incomes by guaranteeing producers a fair price for their crops, livestock, dairy, and other agricultural products. Second, the ammassi eliminated the speculators and private traders who, in pursuit of personal gain, often took advantage of producers and consumers. Finally, Pound praised Rossoni for seeing in the ammassi “possibilities of a totally different tax system in kind” (SP 300). Since over half of the Italian labour force was engaged in agriculture (Malanima and Zamagni 20), Pound probably believed that an in-kind tax would be welcomed, at least by farmers, as convenient and fair. “Date line: 16th March, 1937,” Pound’s news flash in the Guide to Kulchur reads: 

Civilization having attained Rossoni’s am[m]assi. [. . .] That is, the grain-pools, grain and wool assembled, middleman’s extortion and wiles of monopolists knocked out, and profit over pre-calculation to be returned to the farmers. Possibility of eliminating the superstition of taxes, a total change in the how, envisaged. The state able to USE these [stockpiled] materials as it needs them without other taxation for that end. (GK 167-68) 

Pound’s dateline, which falls just two days after Por’s letter, is the date that Rossoni apparently gave a speech to the Italian Senate outlining his proposal (never implemented) to transform the ammassi into a fiscal agency for collecting taxes in kind (see GK 277, also Wilhelm 132).[5] 

Edmondo Rossoni, a revolutionary Syndicalist like Por, was one of the original projectors of the Corporate State and a prominent labour organizer in the 1920s. He drafted the Fascist Labour Charter, originally a bold document that was subsequently watered down by intervening hands before it was enacted with great fanfare in 1927 (Schnapp 308-13). As I stated, Rossoni was made the Minister of Agriculture and Forests in 1935, a year before the ammassi obbligatori program was officially instituted. Pound’s “respect for Rossoni,” as James Wilhelm observes in his biography of Pound, is particularly evident in Guide to Kulchur where Pound refers to the Minister approvingly on several occasions (131-32). For instance, after writing in praise of Confucius’ ministerial record, Pound declares that “Of living men, Edmondo Rossoni, with his agricultural experts and care for crops, is nearest to the Confucian model” of the informed and responsible government minister (GK 274). 

The only references to the ammassi in the Cantos appear in the Chinese History Cantos—in Cantos 53, 56 and 61. In all three instances, Italy’s ammassi obbligatori are identified with the Chinese granary system (or systems) of great antiquity. The Chinese ammassi performed the same basic function as their modern-day Fascist counterpart and some that the latter did not. The Chinese grain pools were used by government officials to stabilize prices and supplies, provide emergency famine relief, and store taxes collected in kind, a notion that perhaps made Pound more receptive to Rossoni’s proposal. 

Pound believed (erroneously) that one of China’s legendary emperors, known as Yu the Great, established the first ammassi for assembling provincial taxes collected in kind. (There is no mention of grain, granaries or the stockpiling of essential agricultural goods in Pound’s source to connect Yu’s collection of predominantly non-agricultural provincial tributes with the ammassi.) Like other rulers from the same legendary period in Chinese history, Yu was a culture hero who is credited with the introduction of some largescale government policies and practices that eventually became familiar features of Chinese civilization. Besides implementing (in Pound’s misleading view) a prototypical ammasso for collecting taxes in kind, Yu tamed the deluge that once flooded China. Hence Pound’s characterization of Yu in Canto 53 as the “leader of waters” and the king who supposedly brought “Ammassi, to the provinces,” and “let his men pay tithes in kind” (53/262-63). 

Although this may seem of little consequence, notice that Pound uses the word ‘tithes’ rather than ‘taxes’ in reference to Yu’s ammassi (the word ‘tithes’ does not appear in Pound’s source[6]). A tithe is a proportional tax. It takes a percentage of what the taxpayer earns or produces rather than a fixed amount. I believe this brief passage is an oblique allusion (the first of many in the Cantos) to Mencius’ well-known discussion of various tithing and taxation schemes in Book 3, Part 1, Chapter 3 of the Mencius—“the great chapter,” Pound proclaims in Canto 87. One of the schemes Mencius discusses is the so-called ‘well field’ 井 田 jingtian system of land tenure, reputedly instituted by the early kings of the Zhou dynasty. In the ‘well field’ system, which had nothing to do with wells, a plot of arable land was evenly divided into nine fields, resembling the Chinese character for ‘well’ 井 or a tic-tac-toe board. The eight outer fields were given to eight households, all of whom cultivated the ninth—the inner or public field—in common. The produce from the public field, which was supposed to be cultivated and harvested first, went into public granaries and constituted a sort of tithe from the families. Mencius thought this taxation scheme fair or equitable because it took only a portion of what the households actually produced each year rather than a fixed amount: 

“Nowt better than share (Mencius) 

        nor worse than a fixed charge.” 

That is the great chapter, Mencius III, I, III, 6 (87/594; also 78/500) 

When the harvest was good and there was a bumper crop, the size of the tithe would increase; when the harvest was poor, following a drought, flood, infestation or other natural calamity, the tithe would shrink accordingly. As Pound indicates in his 1938-essay on “Mang Tsze,” he assumed that the in-kind taxes that Rossoni was proposing to store in the ammassi would also be tithes rather than fixed amounts (see SP 89, 91). Similarly, in a letter to Jorian Jenks in August 1939, Pound states that he believed Rossoni’s in-kind taxation scheme would have incorporated a tithing system à la Mencius: “Rossoni rightly said that ammassi showed a way to a completely new method of taxes. Meaning in part I take it TITHES considered gopd [?good as per] my Mencius who found fixed charge evil” (EPEC 224). 

Probably the most famous time-honoured granary system in China was the Ever-Normal Granary 常 平 倉 changpingcang , established in the first century BCE during the Han dynasty.[7] As the name suggests, the Ever-Normal Granary was instituted to keep the price (and supply) of grain consistent—‘level’ or ‘even’ (平 ping)—throughout the year, from year to year, and from one part of the country to another. The earliest account of the Ever-Normal Granary occurs in Chapter 24 of the Han Shu (Book of Han), a history of the first half of the Han dynasty written in the 1st century CE. Chapter 24 focuses on economic matters. When he was incarcerated at St Elizabeths Hospital after the Second World War, Pound read a recently published translation of the chapter called Food and Money in Ancient China, Han Shu 24, translated and annotated by Nancy Lee Swann (see L/ORA 60). The following is a description of the Ever-Normal Granary, instituted by Geng Shouchang (Keng Shou-ch’ang), an Assistant Minister of Agriculture and a noted astronomer and mathematician:

[Keng] Shou-ch’ang then suggested (54 B.C.) that frontier provinces be ordered to erect granaries so that at times when grain ku was cheap it might be bought at an increased price [for storage by government] in order to benefit the farmers; and that at times when grain was expensive [that which had been stored up] might be sold at a decreased price [in order to benefit the people]. [To granaries erected under this government policy of equalization of prices by storage] was given the name of Ch’ang-p’ing “ever-level [price]” granaries. (Food and Money in Ancient China 195; brackets in the original)

As Geng Shouchang suggests, government officials were responsible for normalizing or equalizing the price of grain from good years to bad or from one season to another—for instance, from the autumn, when grain tended to be cheap and abundant, to the spring, when supplies dwindled and the price rose. In a sense, the officials who managed the Ever-Normal Granary were supposed to use their money and reserves to stabilize the price of grain irrespective of the prevailing supply or demand. Moreover, because the system operated nationwide, supplies could be transferred from one part of the country to another in order to equalize the market price overall (Bodde 221). Such a system protected the populace from unscrupulous merchants who tried to manipulate prices, usually by taking advantage of shortages or even deliberately creating shortages by cornering the market and withholding supplies. Under normal circumstances, then, the Chinese grain market was not completely government-controlled like the market under the Fascist ammassi obbligatori. Rather, in China, the government used its money and grain reserves to periodically moderate the price of grain and thus deter monopolizers and profiteers. 

The most elaborate description of the Chinese granary system in the Cantos occurs in Canto 61 where Pound paraphrases a local Shanxi official’s memorial to a Manchu Qing emperor. 

At moderate price we can sell in the spring 

to keep the market price decent 

And still bring in a little revenue 

which should be used for getting more next crop 

AMMASSI or sane collection, 

to have bigger provision next year, 

that is, augment our famine reserve 

and thus to keep the rice fresh in store house. 

IN time of common scarcity; to sell at the just price 

in extraordinary let it be lent to the people 

and in great calamities, give it free 

                                        Lieou-yu-y 

                                        Approved by the EMPEROR (61/335) 

Lieou proposes that the government sell its reserves for a slightly higher price in the spring than the government paid in the autumn to obtain the grain. Granary officials could then use the extra money to buy more grain in the fall and thus “augment [the] famine reserve / and [. . .] keep the rice fresh in store house” (see Nolde 403). (The Chinese pooled different types of grain, according to regional preferences. For instance, in the south, rice was generally pooled; in the north, where noodles were popular, wheat.) As the last line in the passage above indicates, Lieou’s proposals were endorsed by the emperor Yongzheng (Pound’s Yong Tching). As Will and Wong reveal in their intensive study of the Qing granary system, Yongzheng was probably the keenest imperial advocate of the granary system during the Qing dynasty (76, 94-96, 123-25, 500-02). 

However, perhaps an even more astonishing explanation of how the granary system equalized market prices and supplies was given to medieval Western readers by Marco Polo. Let me quote from that source, as well: 

You must know that when the Emperor sees that corn is cheap and abundant, he buys up large quantities, and has it stored in all his provinces in great granaries, where it is so well looked after that it will keep for three or four years. 

       And this applies, let me tell you, to all kinds of corn, whether wheat, barley, millet, rice, panic, or what not, and when there is any scarcity of a particular kind of corn, he causes that to be issued. And if the price of the corn is at one bezant the measure, he lets them have it at a bezant for four measures, or at whatever price will produce general cheapness; and everyone can have food in this way. And by this providence of the Emperor’s, his people can never suffer from dearth. He does the same over his whole Empire; causing these supplies to be stored everywhere, according to calculation of the wants and necessities of the people. (1: 443-44; Ch. 31) 

Polo implicitly attributes the invention of the granary system to Kublai Khan, whereas the Mongols actually inherited the practice from their Chinese subjects. 

The reference to the ammassi in Canto 56 pertains to the Mongol Yuan era when peasants were recruited to farm lands like those around Kaifeng (Caï Fong) in northern China that had been depopulated during the Mongol overthrow of the Jurchen Jin dynasty. The settlers were generously provided with grain seed (“a grain dividend”), ploughs to cultivate the land, and money. Following the harvest, the newly settled farmers brought their in-kind taxes to the public granaries, or ammassi

And at Caï Fong they made a grain dividend 

          and gave instruction in farming 

                    ploughs, money, ammassi (59/303)[8]

As this episode illustrates, the nomadic Mongol conquerors eventually realized that rather than slaughtering the Chinese and turning their farmlands into pasturage, it was better for the invaders to govern China in a more productive (and benevolent) Confucian manner, for instance, by promoting agriculture and living off the taxes that the farmers could reasonably bear: “tax: don’t exterminate,” Yelü Chucai (Pound’s Yéliu Tchutsaï), a wise counsellor, advises Genghis Khan; “you will make more if you tax ’em” (55/300, also 56/301). 

The Ever-Normal Granary resembled another Chinese program, reputedly of even greater antiquity. Pound focuses on this ancient economic strategy, known as the ‘light and heavy’ 輕 重 qingzhong, in the first half of Canto 106. The ‘light and heavy’ was supposedly expounded by Guan Zhong (Kuan Chung), who lived in the 7th century BCE, over a century before Confucius. Guan was a trusted advisor to Duke Huan of Qi and helped Huan consolidate his hegemony over the other dukes in the realm as the Zhou dynasty’s imperial authority waned. In fact, Huan became the de facto leader of China as a result of Guan Zhong’s guidance. The Guanzi (Kuan Tzu), a fascinating but eclectic assortment of essays attributed to ‘Master Guan,’ started to surface about four centuries later. Though some of the essays in the Guanzi appear to date from the end of the Warring States period, most of the economic essays in the compilation were probably written during the first half of the Han dynasty, Allyn Ricketts argues in his impressive two-volume translation of the Guanzi (Guanzi 2: 346-57). About a fifth of the essays in the Guanzi deal with economic matters. Many pertain, directly or indirectly, to the concept of the ‘light and heavy.’ 

In the Guanzi, Guan Zhong tells Duke Huan how to regulate the price of grain in the state. By purchasing and storing grain when it is plentiful and cheap (‘light’) and then underselling those reserves when grain becomes scarce and dear (‘heavy’), the Duke can equalize the price and supply of grain throughout the year and from good years to bad. 

When the people have a surplus, grain becomes light; the sovereign should purchase and store grain when the market price is low. When they suffer from a shortage, grain becomes heavy; the sovereign should distribute grain to them when the market price is high. By this process of collecting grain when it is cheap (light) and distributing it when it is dear (heavy), the sovereign can secure ten times his outlay as profits, and the economy can be stabilized. 

       The effective procedure, in the method of the light and the heavy, is to hit (purchase) the light by means of the heavy, and so balance the high with the low. The abundance and scarcity of commodities will then not fluctuate through a wide range, but will remain near normal, as there will always be checks. Failure to maintain this balance (to apply this method) would (periodically) give rise to high prices. The (wise) sovereign knows this; therefore, he keeps affairs in balance. (Economic Dialogues in Ancient China 118) 

As the Shanxi official Lieou explained in Canto 61, under normal circumstances the increased revenue collected from the sale of grain when it is dear should be used to replenish supplies when grain is cheap, a good self-sustaining fiscal arrangement. The ruler can thus “balance the high with the low” and ensure that the year-round market price (and supply) “[does] not fluctuate through a wide range.” The ruler, after all, is not a profiteer. He does not hoard grain in order to make a killing when the price rises. Rather, the sovereign uses his money and reserves to even out the price and supply throughout the year and from one year to the next. In a responsible economy, public good must come before private profit, especially at the highest level of government. The policy of the ‘light and heavy’ was therefore instituted to thwart private monopolizers from taking advantage of scarcities to extort huge profits: 

Duke Huan said [to Guan Zhong]: “I should like to equalize the high and the low, to distribute the hoarded wealth and the accumulations. For otherwise (as you have pointed out), the world will go on monopolizing and hoarding surpluses endlessly, and the poor, the humble, the widowers and widows, the aged and the childless will be unable to obtain any. Is there any principle of policy to remedy this situation?” 

       [Guan Zhong ] replied: “Only one who understands the light and the heavy can manage the distribution.” (Economic Dialogues in Ancient China 174) 

Pound first learned of Guan Zhong and his economic writings from a Chinese correspondent, Chao Tze-chiang. In December 1956, Chao told Pound that Guan Zhong was “the greatest economist China has ever produced” (qtd. in Ezra Pound’s Chinese Friends 167). Six months later, to illustrate his claim, Chao provided Pound with pages of quotations from Guan’s collected essays, as well as a brief biography and a list of Confucius’ remarks on Guan Zhong in the Analects (168-69). Although there was no complete bilingual or even unilingual English translation of the Guanzi in the 1950s, Pound eventually obtained an abridged English translation that was edited and published by Lewis Maverick in 1954. As luck would have it, Maverick, an economics professor, focused on the economic essays in the Guanzi, as the full title of his book—Economic Dialogues in Ancient China: Selections from ‘The Kuan-Tzu’—underlines. (I have obviously used this translation in my citations above.) Pound believed, largely on the strength of Chao’s notes, Maverick’s text and Confucius’ comments, that Guan Zhong had achieved something solid. Consequently, Guan has a special place among the governors and political ministers in Thrones: “How to govern is from the time of Kuan Chung” (106/772). 

In Canto 106, Pound alludes to Master Guan’s economic advice, including his strategy for keeping “all goods light [cheap and plentiful] against coin-skill” (106/773), especially staple goods like grain. “The strength of men is in the grain,” Pound declares in Canto 106, echoing the Guanzi, as Sean Pryor notes in his discussion of the first eight lines of Canto 106 (303). References to the Guanzi (there are about a dozen) appear in the first half of Canto 106 amid a flurry of references to the Eleusinian “grain rite.” It could be said that what Master Guan tried to ensure economically—a stable and an affordable grain supply—the goddesses Demeter and Persephone gave naturally. On the other hand, Eleusis nourished the spirit or soul as well as the body. Hence Pound’s assertion that “The [Kuan] Tzu could guide you in some things, / but not hither” (106/772). In other words, the Guanzi may have much to teach us about the government of a state, but it cannot bestow the kind of spiritual wisdom that the Eleusinian Mysteries imparted to initiates.[9] The last half of Canto 106 depicts the manifestation of the goddess (she goes by various names in the Cantos) and the miraculous appearance of her temple in a glade by the sea. That Guan Zhong’s teachings should contribute, even in a small way, to the summoning of such visionary phenomena testifies to this ancient Chinese minister’s enduring worth. 

Confucius acknowledged Guan Zhong’s merit as a counsellor to Duke Huan. In nurturing Qi’s dominance over the other states in the kingdom, Guan strengthened China and protected the country from foreign invasion. “But for Kuan Chung,” Confucius says in Analects 14.18, “we’d be wearing our hair loose and buttoning our coats to the left” (CON 257)—just like the barbarians that threatened China. Confucius’s tribute is summarized in Canto 106 (“But for Kuan Chung we should still dress as barbarians”) and in an earlier Pisan canto (see 80/519). 

Still, Guan Zhong and Duke Huan were controversial figures during the last three centuries of the Zhou dynasty. Even Confucius was critical of Guan Zhong’s behaviour. For example, as Analects 3.22 discloses, Confucius “had a low opinion of Guan Zhong’s knowledge of the rules of propriety [禮 li],” Rickett observes (Guanzi 1: 11). Nonetheless, Confucius defended Guan Zhong vigorously against the charge that Guan lacked 仁 ren, a fundamental Confucian virtue that Pound glossed as “Humanitas, humanity, in the full sense of the word, ‘manhood.’ The man and his full contents” (CON 22). In response to the charge (in Analects 14.17) that Guan Zhong lacked ren, Confucius states: “Duke Huan gathered the princes, not with weapons and war cars: Kwan Chung’s energy (strength) that was; is that manly? It is manly” (CON 257). Duke Huan’s ability to draw others to him without resorting to force is the sign of a great leader. But behind him, Confucius sees the strength of Guan Zhong’s ren—his essential manliness or humanity—at work. As Pound notes in Canto 106, under Guan Zhong’s direction, Duke Huan is said to have assembled all of the feudal lords of the Zhou kingdom on nine occasions, which resulted in the promulgation of “NINE decrees” (106/772) in support of the Zhou king, his states, and the people. The lords agreed, among other things, not to make war without the rightful king’s orders; to look after the sick, the old, and the indigent in their states; to moderate taxes and ensure that farmers and weavers were always supplied with the tools of their trades; to keep roads and pathways in good order; to standardize measurements and calculations, and to banish officials deemed untrustworthy or corrupt (Economic Dialogues in Ancient China 57-59). Thus under Guan Zhong’s watchful guidance, Duke Huan is said to have restored unity to the Zhou federation for at least a brief time during the Spring and Autumn period. 

Unlike Confucius, Mencius had nothing good to say about Guan Zhong and never aspired to be like him, as he insinuates in a dialogue at the beginning of Book 2 of the Mencius when the disciples are arguing about Guan Zhong’s merit. However, Mencius lived during a time when the Zhou dynasty descended into the bloody turmoil of the Warring States period. Mencius watched as powerful overlords—men not unlike Duke Huan—selfishly tore China apart rather than hold the country together. Mencius seems to have blamed Guan Zhong for showing such men how to consolidate their power without impressing upon them the need to be virtuous and to preserve the unity of the Zhou kingdom. Consequently, as Rickett observes, Mencius harked back to a much earlier legendary era in history when sage kings ruled China and united the country through the force of their just and compassionate example (Guanzi 1: 12-13). 

I want to thank Roxana Preda for reading a draft of this essay and providing thoughtful suggestions for its improvement. 

 

Notes

[1] In his 1941-translation of Odon Por’s Italy’s Policy of Social Economics, 1939-1940 (referred to later in the essay), Pound often uses the word ‘pools’ to translate ammassi. However, at one point, he wonders if he should use other words: “perhaps I should translate this word [ammassi] collections, heaps, assemblings,” he interjects (72).

[2] In 1940, Fausto Pitigliani wrote an essay on “The Development of Italian Cartels under Fascism” for the Journal of Political Economy. He noted that the word ‘cartel’ was a suitable translation for consorzio (375n1). A consorzio was a group of related businesses that combined, according to Pitigliani, “for the purpose of production control and price fixing” and were seldom regulated by law (375). Cartels were tolerated in Italy (and other European countries) long before the rise of Fascism and even during the first decade of the Fascist era. However, in June 1932, the Fascist government issued “regulations concerning the establishment and the working of cartels among persons engaged in the same branch of production” (Pitigliani 283). The regulations actually sanctioned the formation of cartels, both voluntary and compulsory (that is, state-mandated), a move which led to the ‘cartelization’ of the Italian economy, according to Pitigliani, especially after the Ethiopian campaign as the state tightened its control over business enterprises (389).

[3] As Carol Helstotsky observes in “Fascist Food Politics: Mussolini’s Policy of Alimentary Sovereignty,” Mussolini’s granarizzazione (‘granarization’) of Italy and pursuit of autarky had negative repercussions on the economy and the dietary habits of Italians (5-8). First, because domestic wheat was more expensive than imported wheat, wheat prices rose and were protected by high tariffs on foreign imports. As a result, bread prices soared relative to corn (polenta), rice and oats after 1925, as Mario Carillo has shown (8). Wheat, which was supposed to become Italy’s most ubiquitous domestically-produced food, ironically became a relatively expensive food. Second, the regime’s single-minded emphasis on increasing domestic wheat production led to the “neglect of potentially profitable export crops—such as fresh produce, citrus fruits and olives—and the livestock and dairy industries” (Helstotsky 5). According to one scholar that Helstotsky cites, the neglect of other crops and agricultural industries led to a decline in “the production and availability of fresh vegetables, fresh and dried fruit, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and livestock” from 1925 to 1935 (7). Third, the prioritization of wheat over other agricultural products, Helstotsky adds, ultimately led to “less diversity in the average Italian’s diet” (8). In fact, under Fascism, Italians returned to a 19th-century diet “based on carbohydrates, not animal proteins, supplemented by fresh produce, legumes, olive oil, citrus fruit and wine” (Helstotsky 5). The Fascist regime tried to make a virtue out of this austere diet of bread, pasta and vegetables, versus meat and dairy, according to Helstotsky, by “elevating these habits as potent symbols of political allegiance and national identity. Sober consumption habits reflected the fascist way of life and softened the impact of fascism’s form of economic shock therapy” (5). Marina Sorrentino’s detailed study of “Nutrition” in Italy over a 150-year period from 1861 (Unification or the Risorgimento) to 2011 is also very illuminating in charting the nutritional health of Italians during the Fascist era. She presents a graph revealing that the highest percentage of Italians suffering from undernutrition (not the same as starvation) during the period from 1861 to 2011 occurred shortly after Unification and at the end of the Second World War when 50-65 percent of the population was undernourished. In the 60 years following Unification, the percentage of undernourished people in Italy dropped gradually to a low of 10-25 percent by the mid-1920s. Then the rate of undernutrition shot up again in the next 20 years until it was back at 50-65 percent by the end of the war (31-35). Hence the undernutrition rate started to rise in Italy three or four years before the Depression had even begun. “According to our estimates,” Sorrentino observes, “the two-year period 1926-1927 is a turning point that saw undernutrition incidence rates soar” (34). What was happening in Italy around that time? (1) The Battle for Grain (1925): Mussolini’s single-minded campaign to make Italy self-sufficient in wheat production while neglecting the protein-rich meat and dairy industries in the country, as Helstotsky has shown. (2) The Battle for the Lira (1927): Mussolini’s adoption of the gold standard and upward revaluation of the lira—a foolhardy attempt to make the lira look strong against the British pound—forced the Fascist government to introduce austerity measures, deflated the economy and increased the unemployment rate to at least 10 percent (Cohen 649). Hence misguided Fascist economic and monetary policies from 1925 to 1927 contributed to the economic hardship and decline in the nutritional health of Italians even before the Depression exacerbated such problems.

[4] Loddo 228. Mussolini’s words, along with his name, were torn from the wall of the granary after the Fascist regime collapsed (Loddo 231). Similarly, a stylized Fasces and the Roman numerals XVI (signifying the Fascist year the building was constructed—1938) were also removed from the turret at the front of the building (see a more recent close-up photo in Raspino). (The Fasces is slightly visible, above the entrance canopy, in the vintage photo in Figure 1.)

[5] The only significant development in the evolution of the Fascist ammassi that I am aware of occurred after Italy entered the Second World War in June 1940 and started rationing (mostly) agricultural goods. The state then used the ammassi to stockpile goods that it requisitioned from farmers for rationing. (Farmers were eventually forced to sell the bulk of their produce to the ammassi, leaving many of them with an inadequate amount even for their own families to survive on.) The rationing system devised by the Fascists was a failure. As Philip Morgan (61-71) and Marco Tiozzo Fasiolo (278-88) argue, the rations were inadequate—less than 1000 calories per day, according to Helstotsky (16)—and the ammassi were poorly and even dishonestly managed during such hard times, discrediting the institution in the eyes of the people.

[6] As John Nolde’s valuable annotations to the Chinese History Cantos reveal, Pound’s 18th-century French source uses redevances and tributs to refer to the ‘taxes’ paid to Yu, though the two words specifically signify ‘royalties’ and ‘tributes’ respectively (35). The word-choice is easy to explain: Pound’s author, Joseph-Anne-Marie de Moyriac de Mailla (1669-1748), is actually alluding to a famous document in the ancient Shujing書經—the Book of History or Historical Documents—known as the “Tribute to Yu” (see Legge’s translation of The Shoo King 1: 92-151). The document describes how Yu tamed the waters of the great flood, defined the boundaries of the nine legendary provinces, and then determined the articles of tribute that each province would send to the provincial capital. De Mailla’s use of the document probably accounts for his preference for words denoting tributes and royalties rather than taxes per se. (De Mailla, who was proficient in Chinese and Manchu, was one of the first European authors to make extensive use of the Shujing in his history of China, derived mostly from traditional Chinese sources.) Pound’s references in the following passage to the various tributes each province was expected to pay points directly, in most cases, to passages in the ancient “Tribute to Yu.” YU, leader of waters, black earth is fertile, wild silk still is from Shantung Ammassi, to the provinces, let his men pay tithes in kind ‘Siu-tcheou province to pay in earth of fivecolours Pheasant plumes from Yu-chan of mountains Yu-chan to pay sycamores of this wood are lutes made Ringing stones from Se-choui river And grass that is called Tsing-mo’ or μῶυ (53/262-63) The reference to the modern-day province of Shantung (Shandong) in the second line corresponds roughly to the legendary province of Yen-Chow in James Legge’s translation of the “Tribute of Yu.” Yen-Chow/Shantung, with its black earth, was expected to give silk in tribute, as well as a number of other articles (see The Shoo King 1: 99).The province of Siu-tcheou (Ts’eu-Chow in Legge), on the other hand, was required to give the five colours of the earth (probably for sacrificial altars to the earth), as well as pheasant feathers, sycamore wood (dryandra in Legge)—from which lutes were made—and musical stones found near the banks of “Se-choui river”(see The Shoo King 1: 104-07). Finally, one of the tributes from the province of King-tcheou (King-Chow in Legge) was an herb (identified as a rush in Legge) that was used in sacrifices (see The Shoo King 1: 115-16). Pound equates this sacred herb with moly, the magical herb Odysseus was given to counteract the shape-changing herb in Circe’s magical “tisane” (39/193).

[7] See Bodde, “Henry Wallace and the Ever-Normal Granary” 218-33. Bodde reveals that Henry Wallace, who was Secretary of Agriculture (1933-1940) and then Vice-President (1941-1944) during the Roosevelt Administration, first learned of the Ever-Normal Granary from a contemporary Chinese scholar, Chen Huan-chang. In 1918, 1926 and 1927, Wallace first wrote about the Ever-Normal Granary in the popular family journal that he edited, called Wallace’s Farmer, and may have coined the name by which the Chinese granary system came to be known in English. Bodde suggests that American agricultural policy, as conceived by Wallace from 1933 onward, was influenced by the Chinese example, about which Wallace was so enthusiastic. Ironically, Pound knew nothing of Wallace’s cultural indebtedness to the Chinese when he wrote the Chinese History Cantos and identified the Chinese granary system with the Fascist ammassi. The ammassi, it should be noted, were not unique to Italy. They were similar to the wheat pools and farm marketing boards that sprang up, for example, in Western Canada and the American Midwest and South in the 1920s and 1930s. Such agricultural institutions—which were usually managed by famers, sometimes with government assistance—were ultimately responsible, like their Fascist counterpart, for raising farm incomes, which fell significantly in the 1920s, as a result of depressed international prices, and, of course, in the Depression-Era 1930s. While Italy had to deal with a lack of agricultural self-sufficiency in the 1920s and 1930s, America faced the opposite problem: overproduction and unsold surpluses. As a result, even though American farmers produced more wheat, corn and cotton than the domestic market could absorb from 1920 to 1932, they slid deeper and deeper into debt. When Roosevelt assumed power in 1933, he sought to raise farm incomes and alleviate farmers’ indebtedness through the passage of the Agricultural Adjustment Act (the Triple-A), the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act and the Farm Credit Act, all of which were enacted during the First Hundred Days of the new administration. Rescuing farmers and rectifying the gross mismanagement of agricultural supply and demand in America was clearly a priority for Roosevelt. The Triple-A attempted to limit production to meet the demands of a largely domestic market, now that most foreign markets had erected retaliatory trade barriers in response to America’s own barrage of protectionist tariffs. American farmers were subsidized to reduce crop acreage, especially farmers with large annual carryovers of cotton, wheat and corn. Farmers who raised cattle and pigs were also paid to reduce their herds. During the first year of this radical attempt at economic planning, cotton farmers were asked—participation was voluntary—to plough up crops that had already been planted, and pork farmers were encouraged to sell millions of underage hogs to the government for slaughtering (Schlesinger 59-64). Obviously, these were controversial measures, particularly during the so-called ‘Hungry Thirties’ when a large number of people were dependent on relief for food and clothing. One of the most controversial reductions involved the slaughter of six million underage pigs in September 1933. Wallace assured the public that the “pork was distributed for relief. It went to feed the hungry” while the carcasses of pigs too small to be butchered “were turned into grease and tankage for fertilizer” (Wallace 103). Moreover, the millions of bushels of corn that those prematurely slaughtered pigs would have consumed were saved and, as it turned out, fed to pigs the following year when corn crops were decimated by an historic drought. Hence neither the supply nor the price of pork was significantly impacted by the drought (Wallace 103). In the end, the Agricultural Adjustment Act achieved its goal: farm incomes rose about 50 percent between 1932 and 1935 (Schlesinger 71). Of course, while Wallace was trying to restore farm incomes and halt foreclosures, his counterparts in other government departments were attempting to get workers in cities and towns cared for and back to work through the enactment of the Federal Emergency Relief Act (12 May 1933) and the National Industrial Recovery Act (16 June 1933), the latter allocating $3.3 billion for public works. Pound was critical of Wallace and the Agricultural Adjustment Act not only because of rumours that good food was being destroyed, but also because of what Pound perceived to be the Act’s apparent endorsement of scarcity economics, which maintained that the best way to raise prices was to curtail supply. “Look at Hank Wallace, good guy, nice presence, led down one garden path after another,” Pound declared in one of his wartime radio broadcasts. “First you are asked to reduce production, plow under, then after a few years you are threatened with rationing. / RATIONING? / In the United States of America, the land of abundance” (EPS 17). I am not sure what Pound is referring to. As I suggested, the United States was hit by three severe droughts in the 1930s (in 1934, 1936 and 1939-40). According to Arthur Schlesinger, the drought in 1934, a year after the Triple-A came into effect, was “the worst drought in the history of the republic” (70). The drought, combined with high temperatures and fierce winds that blew away desiccated topsoil, wiped out many small subsistence farmers and reduced agricultural output. The wheat crop from 1933 to 1935, for example, fell about 35 percent to an average of 567 million bushels per year. However, only a small portion of the reduction—about 20 million bushels—was attributable to crop reductions associated with the Triple-A (Schlesinger 70). And even with the fall in agricultural output, a U.S. government report on the Droughts of 1930-34 concluded that the drought in 1934 did not have “a serious effect on the country’s total food supply” (Hoyt 58). As far as I know, there was no rationing in America until the war. In any case, Pound’s contempt for Roosevelt and (in Pound’s bigoted eyes) the Jews around him made Pound a very poor judge of the administration’s policies and personnel. Pound believed that everyone in the Roosevelt administration, even a well-meaning individual like Wallace, was corrupted by influential Jews in the administration, Jews whose links, in Pound’s conspiratorial imagination, stretched back to the Rothschilds. “Roosevelt is surrounded by Jews,” Pound wrote Graham Seton Hutchinson, a British Nazi-sympathizer and fellow anti-Semite, in May 1936: “Morgenthau/ Strauss lead to Rothschild. But you have a god damned shit like Wallace/ with a good record but now maniac destroying crops with sadistic and pewking idiocy” (EPEC 190).

[8] Once again, my understanding of these lines is influenced by John Nolde’s annotations in Blossoms from the East: The China Cantos of Ezra Pound (262).

[9] Pound read an abridged translation of the Guanzi and probably assumed that the rest of the work dealt mainly with political and economic issues. He may not have realized, as I have stated, that the Guanzi is an eclectic compilation and actually contains a large number of essays devoted to moral, philosophical and religious topics. Some essays are influenced by Five Elements and Yin-Yang thinking, as well as Daoist (Taoist) quietism. There are also a couple of ritualistic calendars similar to the Yue Ling in the later half of Canto 52. Hence the Guanzi is not completely lacking in what corresponds, in a manner of speaking, to the Chinese Eleusis.

 

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