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Charles Rogers Mills, Father of Modern Peanuts in China

Charles Rogers Mills, Father of Modern Peanuts in China

Charles Rogers Mills, an American missionary Charles Rogers Mills, an American missionary
ByLi Shiguang March 11, 2022
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Importing peanuts to China 130 years ago, Charles Rogers Mills was regarded as the “Father of Modern Peanuts in China”.

Sent to China by the Presbyterian Church in the United States, Mills had worked in the area of Dengzhou (now Penglai in Yantai City, Shandong Province) for more than 30 years, making great contributions to the spread of the gospel and the local development of Shandong.

Peanut is a kind of plant that originated in the Americas. How did the peanuts come to China from the Americas?

The import of peanuts began at the end of the 19th century in 1889. On September 27, 1924, an article titled Peanut and Soccer was published in the Berkeley Daily Gazette. The article said that “35 years ago, bishop Francis Thompson brought four packs of peanuts to China. Meanwhile, he generously gave half of the peanuts to Rev. Charles Rogers Mills who was on his way back to Shandong. Mills shared his peanuts with two farmers, asking them to plant them for three years and later share the peanuts with others. One farmer just ate all of the peanuts by the end of the year; another farmer did what Mills asked. That’s why Shandong today produces 18,000,000 bushels of American peanuts a year.”

In 1922, an American and peanut professional magazine The Peanut Promoter described that “In the previous decade, China’s export of peanuts to the United States had exceeded India, Senegal, and Gambia as dominance. China’s peanuts are mainly from Shandong, followed by Henan and Zhili. Shandong's soil and climate are very suitable for peanut cultivation. Apart from the big size of a peanut, it also contains a high amount of oil. It is amazing that farmers in Shandong are using primitive methods to grow peanuts on a small piece of land, which can cover the living expenses of the whole family. Some families even can support their sons to go to the university. In 1921, The American Food Journal mentioned that “Shandong peanuts are the largest number of export products of Shandong and the largest business of the Qingdao Port.” 

The peanuts we can see nowadays are separated into two categories. One is the small peanut from Spain, the other is the big peanut from Virginia of the United States. Small peanuts have higher oil content, but with lower output. The oil content of large peanuts is lower than that of small peanuts, but its high output had completely made up for the disadvantage of low oil content. Among them, small peanuts were brought back to China and were spread by the Fujianese who traveled and lived in Southeast Asia during the Ming Dynasty. By the Qing Dynasty, small peanuts had become very popular in different places in China.

Nearly 400 years after the introduction of the small peanuts to China, its output still only met the domestic demand. But in just 35 years after the introduction of big peanuts, China became the dominant country of peanuts output and peanuts export while peanut is an important oil crop. Meanwhile, many modern machines were exchanged for peanuts, which provided an important material basis for China's national industrialization that began in the early period of the previous century.

- Translated by Jessie Cheong

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