Congrès International Des Américanistes,

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No share is due either to Portuguese or to Spaniards in connection with the introduction of maize into China, and probably, also into further India and other parts of eastern Asia. With regard to India, the question has not yet been. investigated, but the introduction there through the Portuguese has some probability.

Maize did not reach China from the seacoast, but came overland from Tibet, first into Ssech’uan and other parts of western China, whence it rapidly spread to the north, south, and east. The year 1540 might well be conjectured as that of the first introduction, and from 1560 to 1570 maize had reached the eastern parts of China in the province of Fukien.

In concluding these notes, I may be allowed to come back to the proposition advanced in the introductory remarks, that the history of maize is an instructive historical example which might be fruitfully applied to the prehistoric dissemination of ancient cereals, giving an idea, at least, of how cereals might have traveled in prehistoric days. Of all the manifold gifts of the New World, maize spread the most rapidly; and the most interesting result of the previous investigation seems to be the fact that maize traveled with much greater speed than the ships of the European nations which then shared in the universal trade, for, long before the arrival of Europeans in China, maize was known there as an overland arrival, so that the idea of a European origin of it never struck the Chinese; and [more rapidly] than the other cultural plants of America, like the potato, tobacco, groundnut, pineapple, custard apple, etc.; and, last but not least, it is worth while adding, that maize traveled even faster than syphilis, which, after the discovery of America, so quickly spread in Europe. This latter circumstance is also remarkable as showing that maize and syphilis, which seem to have started from America at about the same time, were not each other’s equal in rapidity of movement, in which maize was doubtless superior, although, a priori, the reverse, perhaps, might be expected. If it is allowable to draw a general conclusion or law from the preceding, I should venture to say something like the following:

It seems that the rapidity with which cereals are disseminated vies with that of all other objects connected with human culture; that a land route is preferred over a sea route as their way of propagation, and that overland propagation is effected in a shorter space of time than marine propagation; and that cereals spread more rapidly than all other cultural plants, or even, perhaps, than infectious diseases. Counting a generation as, on an average, thirty years, we might well say that, during the first generation after the discovery of America, maize became known and planted in Europe; at the end of this period it must have reached India; and during the second generation it spread over all China, so that, after about seventy or eighty years, its wanderings to the farthest East were completed.1

This review of the directions and extent of the diffusion of culture elements makes it appear that no opportunity was lost to appropriate foreign traits when insuperable barriers did not intervene. This seems at first quite contrary to the emphasis placed on the weight of habit systems and the stubborn resistance to change in any single item of the behavior code emphasized in Chap. III. It was there pointed out, however, and exemplified, that, following a period of habituation or inductance, attitudes may be completely reversed by new exposures to influence. The immediate resistance to change in habits is not a singular trait of savage societies but a characteristic of all organisms possessing nervous systems.

Up to recent years in white society no important or trivial noticeable cultural trait or divergent view was introduced without strong and often violent resistance. This was true in the case of medicine (anesthetics, vaccination), railroads, new varieties of foods, illuminating gas, stoves in churches, chimneys, sawmills, iron plows, silk hats, umbrellas, etc., not to mention the "warfare of science with theology" over the relation of the earth to the sun and man’s place in nature.

1Laufer, B., n/an/an/an/an/a"The Introduction of Maize into Eastern Asia," Quinzième Session, 1: 250–252.

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Chicago: Congrès International Des Américanistes, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024,

MLA: . Congrès International Des Américanistes,, Vol. 1, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: , Congrès International Des Américanistes,. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from