Where does Liyue's food supply come from?
Liyue is a fictional nation in MiHoYo’s 2020 ARPG Genshin Impact. In-game, the nation consists of a large amount of uncultivated wilderness and ruins, in which the player spends most of their time. However, three more locations of importance also includes a large city, a border crossing, and an inn built into a tree.
The primary city of Liyue, Liyue Harbor, is quite large and contains a significant amount of NPCs. However, from the large number of guards both in and out of the city, as well as from their interactions with the player character at various locations, even within the wilderness, we can also safely assume that these guards form part of a larger standing army. Due to the logistical issues involved in fielding such an army, we can thus conclude that the population of this nation must be larger than the number of NPCs within the country. This begs the question: where does their food supply come from?
To reason about Liyue’s food supply first requires us to find a suitable analogue for this nation within our own history. First, we can reasonably assume that Liyue is an analogue for China, given that the names of the playable characters from this region are Pinyin for Chinese names (e.g. 甘雨 or Ganyu, 胡桃 or Hu Tao). Furthermore, we can accurately align the time period the player experiences in Liyue to a time period within Chinese history with a variety of techniques.
A significant clue to date Liyue can be found within the ships in the harbor. We can see that the larger ships contain cannon ports. This is also confirmed in the lore text for Beidou, another playable character, which states: “With cannons and harpoons, arrows and ropes the fleet would assail Haishan.” The existence of cannons of these ships rules out any possibility of Liyue existing at a time before the Ming dynasty.
We can now use the architecture of Liyue Harbor to further narrow down its time period. In particular, we notice significant usage of stone bricks within the foundations of the buildings, as well as the walls surrounding the city. Furthermore, we also see that the buildings above these foundations are built with timber and feature extensive use of the hip-gable roof. This is highly consistent with the Ming and Qing dynasty design styles studied in Chapter 14 of Nancy Steinhardt’s “Chinese Architecture: A History.” Thus, we must date Liyue to the late Ming or early Qing dynasty.
With this baseline, we can examine the socioeconomic situation of Liyue Harbor. Zhihong Shi’s paper “Agricultural development in qing china: A quantitative study” shows that around the time of the early Qing dynasty (1661 CE), 549 million mu, or 366,000 square kilometers of land was allocated as farmland. Cross-referencing this with a population estimate of about 120 million, we get roughly 4.6 mu, or 3,050 square meters of farmland used to sustain each person.
As Liyue is a major port city and trade hub, we can compare it to Shanghai, which was also a major trade hub and shipping port during the Qing dynasty. At this time, the province containing Shanghai had a population of 3,453,524 persons. Thus, using our figure for farmland sustaining each person from above, we find that Liyue requires about 10,533 square kilometers of farmland to support this population.
We also find that the existence of staple goods such as almond tofu, which implies some amount of soy farming, or the “Lantern Rite Special Come and Get It,” which includes noodles and thus implies some form of rice farming, confirms that Liyue cannot rely on hunting and gathering for its food source. Furthermore, Game text notes that Liyue has existed for thousands of years, and sustaining such a large population without overhunting would be impossible.
While some amount of the food might come from trade, this cannot account for the use of livestock as a source of food, since players can also cook a “Jueyun Guoba” or a “Jueyun Chili Chicken” dish. In particular, the flavor text for the chili chicken notes that it “[retains] the freshness of the delightful juice contained within the chicken.” This implies that the chicken is fresh, and thus must come from a nearby farm.
As we have seen, there must be some sort of large-scale agriculture happening within Liyue to sustain the city. However, we see a curious lack of it in the game world. This clearly resulted from gross mismanagement of the country’s economy, and if not rectified soon may present a significant problem to the stability of the country.