AGRICULTURE IN ANCIENT CHINA
Han-era pig sty latrine Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “Many of the political and social changes that can be observed over the course of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods are closely related to changes in agricultural practices and technologies. Just as the industrial revolution changed the structure of European life during the nineteenth century, the more gradual revolution of the Iron Age in China changed the most basic limiting constraints of society and political organization, and the resulting changes were enormous. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]
“What was important to the ancient Chinese peasant must be important to anyone who studies ancient Chinese history. Whether we are discussing the location of farm dwellings inside or outside city walls, the system of taxation that made farm life bitter, or the intellectual categorization of social classes, which gave farmers an illusory high status, when we explore the condition of the peasantry, we are looking at key limiting factors that constrain the enterprises upon which other sectors of society can choose to embark.” /+/
As agriculture evolved in ancient China, “as the many possibilities for vastly increased yields came to be understood, a science of agriculture came into existence, and men whose technological skills in farming were of practical value came to enjoy privileged status as teachers, not unlike the status accorded Confucian masters of ritual techniques and Mohist masters of the arts of defensive warfare. The promise of status and students with gifts of tuition attracted a significant number of people to the study of agriculture as an art. The long term result was that by the end of the first millennium A.D., China possessed a sophistication in the technology of traditional agriculture that has never been surpassed (an excellence which may, in fact, have inhibited the stimulation of further scientific inquiry). The basic contours of this spectacular agricultural system were laid during the Classical period, and as they were, they gradually transformed the political and cultural possibilities available to all members of society. /+/
Articles on FIRST CROPS AND DOMESTICATED ANIMALS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; WORLD'S OLDEST RICE AND EARLY RICE AGRICULTURE IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; ANCIENT FOOD, DRINK AND CANNABIS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; AGRICULTURE IN CHINA factsanddetails.com and RURAL LIFE IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; FIRSTS, ACHIEVEMENTS AND THEMES IN CHINESE HISTORY factsanddetails.com
Crops in Ancient China
According to the “Treatise on Food and Money”: “In sowing crops, there was always a mix of the five major grains in order to guard against calamities (blights affecting one crop). It was not permitted to plant trees in cultivated fields as they would hinder the growth of grains. Ploughing was done with energy and the fields were frequently weeded; the harvest was reaped as though bandits were about to appear. Encircling the cottages, mulberry trees were planted. [Source: “Treatise on Food and Money” by Ban Gu, 1st century A.D.]
“Vegetables were planted in garden plots, and at the borders of living and working areas were planted melons and gourds, fruit trees and cucumber. Chickens, pigs, dogs, and swine were raised for food with close attention to their timely needs. Women tended silkworms and wove the silken cloth. In this way, persons above the age of fifty could be clothed in silk, and those above seventy always had meat to eat.”
Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The most pervasively cultivated crop in ancient China was millet, a short-grained cereal that is not attractive enough for modern supermarket shelves. The key role of millet is reflected in the fact that the Zhou royal clan traced its roots to a lineage founder known as “Prince Millet,” and that the mythology of the rise of civilization that was probably most current in Zhou times, before an earlier culture-hero known as the “Spirit Farmer” became popular in legend, probably pictured this Zhou founder as the inventor of agriculture. Millet was the essence of farming, and we find traces of millet in virtually all archaeological sites, dating back to the Neolithic period. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]
“Apart from millet, of which there were several main varieties, the other two most widely planted grains were wheat and rice (barley was also cultivated). Two types of wheat were planted: from an early date, “spring wheat” was an important crop, planted in spring and harvested in the fall. But during the Classical period, another type, “winter wheat” came to be more widely planted. It was planted in the fall and harvested in late spring, allowing the field to be devoted to another crop after the initial harvest. Rice, which grows in nearly-stagnant water, required land rich in irrigation resources, and could not be planted far north. Nevertheless, it was a highly prized grain, as it is in China today, and much in demand. In addition to these grains, soybeans were a very important crop. Although the techniques for using soybeans to create tofu... had not yet been invented, soybeans themselves actually taste very good, and were the most common vegetable supplement to the Chinese diet (soy sauce probably was devised during the Classical period as well).
“Among the fruits that were gathered from trees were oranges, pomelos, dates, and chestnuts. The most important tree, however, was the mulberry. The leaves of the mulberry are the principal food of the silkworm, and it was a remarkable invention of ancient Chinese culture to domesticate the silkworm and bring to it leaves plucked from the mulberry. Silk, with meat, was the most basic of all luxury goods in China, and the reward of the common man or woman for living to the age of sixty (no easy chore) was that one then qualified to demand of one’s family a bit of meat at meals and silk clothing. For the less fortunate or the younger, clothing was produced through the growing of hemp, which produced a fiber basic to everyday wear. The leaves of the hemp plant were also sometimes eaten in congee, if nothing tastier was available (or, perhaps, if the days were dull).” /+/
Technological Advances on Ancient Chinese Agriculture
Dr. Eno wrote: “All of the possibilities of social organization in ancient China were dramatically altered by the innovation of iron technology and the production of the iron plough, which began to appear late in the Spring and Autumn period. Prior to this time, plowshares had principally been made from wood. Wood ploughs could cut only looser types of soil and severely limited the area of land that qualified as arable. Moreover, wooden ploughs required a great deal of pressure to cut the soil to the degree they could. The farmer would need to grip the plough handle and use his foot to press the plough down as he pushed forward a step at a time, using the motion of his arms to clear a furrow as he went hopping along. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]
“The advent of the iron plough led directly to a second innovation: the ox-drawn plough. With the weight and sharpness of the iron plough, it was no longer necessary to exert more downward pressure to cut a furrow than could be provided by the arms as they gripped the plough 4 handle. This meant that the farmer’s feet could be freed for walking. Of course, the iron of the plough was heavy and difficult to push. Over time, oxen, individually or in yoked teams, were increasingly employed to pull the plough. With the iron plough and ox power, lands that had once been too poor to be worked suddenly became worth opening up. Wastelands began to vanish, and in their stead settlements and walled towns sprang up. Many patrimonial estates of modest influence suddenly found themselves with a vastly increased tax base, anxious to attract the people of neighboring lands to their territories to provide labor for newly reclaimed fields. In some cases, buffer zones between states disappeared and became fertile country worth seizing. All of this contributed directly to the proliferation of armed struggle over the principal “means of production”: land and labor. /+/
“Other innovations in this period contributed to these changes. In the past, farmers who wished to irrigate their crops had not had any method better than carrying jugs to and from water sources. During the Classical period, a device called a well sweep, which suspended a bucket at the end of a long pivoting lever, greatly eased small scale irrigation. In addition, the beginnings of a dense network of irrigation canals boosted yields, and allowed the cultivation of rice in areas where it had not been previously possible. A growing understanding of the importance of manure allowed the reduction in the amount of land that had to lie fallow, recovering nutrients, and also encouraged a burst in the planting of winter wheat, which made the double crop schedule feasible through a large portion of China. /+/
In 2014, Archaeology magazine reported: “Experts have revealed a multiplication table that might have been used to calculate land area, crop yields, and taxes during the Warring States Period, around 305 B.C. The table was among 2,500 bamboo strips that contain many significant historical texts donated to a university in Beijing. Twenty-one of them contain numbers and, when properly arranged, allow for the multiplication of whole and half integers from 0.5 to 99.5. It is among the oldest and most sophisticated tabular calculators known. [Source: Archaeology magazine, May-June 2014]
Feudalism in Ancient China
The term feudal has often been applied to the Zhou period (1100 - 221 B.C.) because the Zhou's early decentralized rule invites comparison with medieval rule in Europe. At most, however, the early Zhou system was proto-feudal, being a more sophisticated version of earlier tribal organization, in which effective control depended more on familial ties than on feudal legal bonds. Whatever feudal elements there may have been decreased as time went on. The Zhou amalgam of city-states became progressively centralized and established increasingly impersonal political and economic institutions. These developments, which probably occurred in the latter Zhou period, were manifested in greater central control over local governments and a more routinized agricultural taxation. [Source: The Library of Congress *]
Dr. Eno wrote: “While the mandate theory seems to have had good public relations value, the Zhou leaders needed more concrete measures to provide them with firm control over the broad geography of the Shang polity. Very shortly after the conquest, the Zhou devised a “feudal” political system that would provide them with greatly extended power. Zhou feudalism is not closely related the feudalism of Europe’s Middle Ages, which is the basic reference point for that term – it would be more accurate not to use the term “feudalism” at all for the era of the early, or “Western” Zhou, but there is no easy alternative and we will keep “Zhou feudalism” as a term of convenience for that era.[Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]
“In the early, post-conquest Zhou, the allocation of estates (“fiefs”) by the Zhou rulers was first conceived as a sort of hereditary garrison command. Members of the ruling clan of the Zhou (the surname of the clan itself was Ji., not Zhou) were awarded large holdings of land far from the Zhou capital city in the west, Zong-Zhou (near present day Xi’an). These clan members were given titles (we now translate these using traditional European terms, such as “duke,” and “marquis”) and large numbers of retainers. They were commissioned to rule their “fiefs” directly, on behalf of the Zhou, and to pass their titled prerogatives on to their eldest sons. In order to assure the allegiance of other major contributors to the conquest, leading members of certain non-Zhou clans were “adopted” as “uncles” and given fiefs in a similar way. In this manner, the Zhou kings were able to extend a clan-based form of indirect rule, based on principle of hereditary feudalism, over virtually all regions of the Shang state.” /+/
Agriculture System of Ancient China
According to the “Treatise on Food and Money”: In granting the people lands, those who received the best lands were allocated 100 “mu”; those who received mid-quality lands were allocated 200 “mu”; those who received the lowest quality land were allocated 300 “mu”. Lands which could be ploughed and sown every year were non-rotating fields; these were the highest quality. Lands which needed to lie fallow every other year were rotating fields; these were of middle quality. Lands which needed to lie fallow two years of every three were double-rotating fields; these were the lowest quality, and their owners moved among them over a three-year cycle. In addition, farming families with many mature unmarried sons who constituted surplus laborers were also allocated fields on a per capita basis. Families of “shi”, artisans, and merchants also received land, with every five family members being calculated as the equivalent of a single farm householder. This system of distribution took level land as its standard. Less arable lands, such as mountains and forests, swamps and marshes, plains and hills, barren and brackish lands, all were graded and allotted accordingly.[Source: Han shu 24a.1118-23,“Treatise on Food and Money” by Ban Gu, 1st century A.D. ]
“There were two kinds of tax: the military levy and the production tax. The production tax concerned the one-tenth of total family grain production which was the product of its share of the public field, and also taxes on the crafted goods sold by artisans, merchant profits, and any fishing or forestry incomes of lands managed by wardens. The military levy was used to supply the armies with carts and carriages, horses, armor, and arms, as well as including quotas for infantry service. These taxes fully provided for the expenses of the state treasury and 7 arsenals, and for the gifts and grants that were bestowed by the state. The production tax was used to provide for the sacrifices to heaven and to earth, for the royal clan sacrifices, and for service to all the many spirits. It supplied the needs of the household of the Son of Heaven, for the salaries and sustenance of the state officials, and for miscellaneous state expenses.
“When farming men reached the age of twenty, they were granted fields; at sixty they returned them. “Seventy and higher, take the ruler as provider; ten years and lower, take the ruler as grower; eleven and older, the ruler makes bolder.” [Eno wrote: This pictures the state as deeply engaged in public welfare. It also makes it clear that the historian believed that in the early Zhou, agricultural lands could not be treated as private property but continued to belong to the ruler even after being “granted” to individual farmers. (It would be hard to know whether the author of the text was thinking of the “ruler” as the Zhou king or as the patrimonial lord of an estate.) Regulation of the constant reassignment of agricultural lands would thus become the primary tool of public policy.]
“For every three years during which the people ploughed the soil, surplus sufficient for one year was put in storage. There was a sufficiency of food and clothing, and hence the people were concerned with issues of high standing and disgrace. Honesty and deference appeared in conduct and contention and litigation ceased. For this reason there was, every three years, an examination of individual achievement. Confucius said, “If there were a ruler who would employ me, within one year the situation would have become acceptable, and in three years it would be perfected.” Thus was the principle of perfecting one’s accomplishments applied herein. [This is simply a reverse extrapolation of administrative evaluation practices gradually developed during the Han. The quote from Confucius is found in the “Analects” .] /+/
“After three triennial examinations, promotions and demotions were determined. When a store of three years surplus had been accumulated, the preceding nine years labor was called a “Rising Period.” Two consecutive Rising Periods were called an “Era of Peace,” which indicated stores adequate for six years. Three consecutive Rising Periods were called an “Era of Grand Peace,” indicating that over the prior twenty-seven years, store for nine years had been saved. Thereafter, the highest grace was spread throughout the land and ritual and music were perfected everywhere. Thus it was said, “If there were one who ruled as a True King, in one generation the land would surely become humane.” Such was the outcome of this Dao. [Eno wrote: Note the linkage between the personal virtue of the ruler, the perfection of a state guided social system, the generation of massive economic surplus, and the perfection and universalization of cultural forms. These are the basic features of the Confucian political vision]. /+/
Seasonal Agricultural Daily Life in Ancient China
soy bean field According to the “Treatise on Food and Money”: In the spring, the people were all ordered to move to the fields to live, and in the winter they returned to live within the city. The “Book of Songs” says:
In the fourth month we stir our feet –
with wife and children all together,
bearing hampers of meals to the southern fields,
where the hands greet us, glad as can be.
“And it also says:
In the tenth month the cricket creeps under my bed.... /+/
I sigh to my wife and my children,
“Now the turn of the year is at hand;
we must go in to dwell in our rooms.” In this way, the people accord with the forces of “yin”and “yang”, guard against thieves and bandits, and practice the patterns of ritual.
“In the spring, when the time comes to send the people back to the fields, the officers of the neighborhoods sit at dawn in the station at the right of the city gates and the officers of the precincts sit in the station at the left of the city gates. Only after all have been sent out do they return home. In the evening the same pattern is followed. Those who enter the city must carry with them straw and wood for burning, each carrying a load appropriate to him, except for those whose hair was gray or white, who did not carry loads. [Eno wrote: “It is unclear whether the text here speaks of a regimen practiced every morning and evening during the growing season, or if simply envisions a single dawn exodus in spring and a single return one autumn evening. Chinese and Japanese historians have tended to think in terms of the latter (and they do tend to take this as an accurate picture of Zhou practice)]. [Source: “Treatise on Food and Money” by Ban Gu, 1st century A.D.]
“In the winter, once the people were resettled in the towns, the women of each lane would gather together each evening to do their spinning. Since women’s work extended into the night, one month’s work was calculated as worth forty-five days. Women were required to work in groups in order to reduce expenditures on fuel, and also in order to bring the skilled and unskilled together, and thus bring customary practices into common accord. Those men and women who had not yet found their proper places would rely on these group settings to sing to one another, each expressing in this way his or her sorrows. [Eno: There have been a number of scholars who have written persuasively arguing that much of the poetry in the “Book of Songs” originated in group courtship customs such as this].
“In the first of the spring months, when the people who were dwelling communally were about to disperse to their field huts, constables would walk the roads ringing wood clappered bells i order to record the songs of the people. These were sent up to the Grand Music Master at court. He would order them on the basis of pitch and modal scale and have them performed for the Son of Heaven. Thus it is said, “The king knows all the empire without looking out of his window.” [This was certainly a Han practice, and some believe that portions of the “Book of Songs” were collected during the early Zhou in a manner similar to this.]
“This is the outline of the system whereby the former kings controlled the land and settled the people upon it, enriching and instructing them. As Confucius said, “In guiding a state of a thousand war chariots, be attentive to affairs and faithful in them; be regular in expenditures and caring of the people; employ the people according to the seasons.”
Eno wrote: Many of the regions of eastern China were substantially deforested at an early date. Acquiring fuel for cooking and warmth was a major preoccupation of villages and cities. The most commonly available fuel was fast-burning dried grasses and other forms of straw, but collecting these and transporting them was time consuming. It appears that fuel was not generally viewed as a proper item for commerce, so communities relied on cooperative labor, as this passage states. Penalties for unauthorized cutting of trees on hillsides or on patrimonial hunting preserves were often heavy, and the “Zuo zhuan”records a sixth century agreement between neighboring states which called for stripping patricians of their noble status and commoners of their freedom of person if they were found collecting straw from the fields or pastures of their neighbor state. Xxx
Well-Field System of Ancient China
Dr. Eno wrote: “This portrait of state regulated in the early Zhou has been the subject of long debate. The term “well-field” is derived from the Chinese character for “well,” which was written like a tic-tac-toe board, composed of nine equal squares. In theory, the central field was the property of the king: every group of eight families, whose fields were arrayed around the royal parcel, devoted a proportionate amount of their time to the central field, in addition to the time they devoted to their own. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]
“The tradition of the well-field system is a very old one. The “Book of Songs” refers to a division between public and private fields in a poem dating earlier than the seventh century, but it does not mention the “well-field” configuration. Many scholars think that the well-field system was an image of a lost utopia, concocted by idealistic political thinkers of the Warring States era; these scholars do not believe that such a system ever existed. Others have suggested that this was, at least, an early Zhou political model, which may have been implemented to some degree. If the system was ever actually implemented, the central field would most likely have been viewed as “the lord’s,” rather than “the king’s.” That is, its produce would have been conveyed not directly to the Zhou ruler, but rather to the patrimonial estate holder who held title to the region on which the lands were located. /+/
“The well-field system, if it ever existed, would have established the limits of royal claims on full ownership of the land, and would have made the principal tax of ancient China a labor tax: the one-eighth of each family’s farm labor devoted to working the king’s field.”
According to the “Treatise on Food and Money”: “Under this arrangement, farming families befriended one another in their activities, cooperated in guarding the crops and watching for dangers, and came to the rescue of one another in times of illness. In this way, the people were in harmony and friendship, and the transforming power of instruction extended among them uniformly. The burdens of corvée service (labor time due to a ruler or state as a tax) and taxes of grain were evenly distributed. [Source: “Treatise on Food and Money” by Ban Gu, 1st century A.D.]
Eno wrote: “This passage could be read as evidence that day labor was available for hire (who else would cultivate these fields of non-farmers) or that land could be rented. It also implies higher status for all these classes, as their land allotment would have been equivalent to that of farming families despite the fact that their primary incomes would have been derived from other sources. (We must bear in mind, however, that this is a late reconstruction and may have very little relevance to practices before the Han.)” /+/
Another passage in the “Treatise on Food and Money” reads: People were all encouraged towards achievement and delighted in their occupations, placing the public interest before the private. As the “Book of Songs” says:
The mists come rolling together,
The clouds rise upwards slowly;
May it rain first on the public fields
And then reach to my private one.”
Eno wrote: This passage is famous because some interpret it as early evidence of the well-field system. The word “public” is, in the Chinese, identical with a word meaning “lord,” or “duke,” and the phrase could just as easily be rendered here as “the lord’s fields.” It is likely that during the Classical period, the term’s meaning gradually came to point less to the patrician lord and more towards the state in general.” /+/
Li Kui’s Plan for Government Intervention in the Grain Market
Li Kui was an official that served lord Marquis Wen of Wei from approximately 455 to 395 B.C. Wei was one of three states formed when the huge central state of Chin was divided through civil wars among its most powerful clans. Marquis Wen’s de facto rule of the region of Wei predated this official division, and his reign is usually given as 446-396. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu ]
According to the “Treatise on Food and Money”: “At this time, Li Kui devised for his lord Marquis Wen of Wei a policy for exploiting to the utmost the strength of the land. /+/ “Li Kui calculated that a region one hundred "li” square enclosed 90,000 “qing”(one “qing”= 100 “mu”). Calculating that one-third of this area would be occupied by mountains, marshes, cities, and areas devoted to field huts, he deducted this portion, leaving a total of six million “mu”of arable land. If the land were diligently maintained, each “mu”could yield an increase of three pecks of grain over the customary norm. If it were cultivated in a lax manner, the decrease would be equivalent. Figuring along these lines, the amount of variable production on 100 square "li” would amount to 1,800,000 piculs of unhusked grain. [Source: Han shu 24a.1124-25, “Treatise on Food and Money” by Ban Gu, 1st century A.D.]
“Li Kui also said that if grain were to be sold at too high a price it would hurt the non-farming people, while if it were sold too cheaply it would hurt the farmers. If the people were hurt their families would separate and become scattered; if the farmers were hurt the state would become poor. Thus prices that were too high or too low would be equally damaging. Good policy required both that the people not be hurt and that farming be encouraged.”
Eno wrote: “Note that the issue here concerns the relation of prices to the economic health of the state and its social consequences. Clearly the rulers of large states in this era had gone beyond the basic goal of maximizing their own revenues through taxation. “
Farming Budget for a Family in Wei in 400 B.C.
According to the “Treatise on Food and Money”:Now at that time a man supporting a family of five cultivated one hundred “mu “of land, and if he harvested one and a half piculs per “mu”, his total yield would be 150 piculs of unhusked grain. Out of this, one-tenth, or fifteen piculs, would be deducted for production taxes and 135 would remain. Each person in his family required one and a half piculs of grain to eat each month, that is, ninety piculs per year for the family, leaving a surplus of forty-five piculs. If the price of a picul of grain was then thirty coins, the surplus would be worth 1,350 coins. Deducting 300 coins in expenses for sacrificial grains offered at the local shrine to earth, and for the spring and autumn sacrifices at the village altars, there would remain 1,050 coins. Clothing generally required 300 coins per person each year, and five persons would thus require 1,500, leaving an annual deficit of 450 coins. Unfortunate occurrences, such as illnesses and the expenses associated with funerals if a death should occur, and also military levies and other miscellaneous government taxes are not included in this figure. This is why farming families were constantly in difficulties and could not devote themselves wholeheartedly to their field work, and instead raised the price of grain towards excessive levels. [Source: Han shu 24a.1125, “Treatise on Food and Money” by Ban Gu, 1st century A.D. ]
“Li Kui therefore concluded that any effective policy for leveling prices must involve a careful measurement of the quality of each year’s harvest. He set three grades of good harvest: best, very good, good. In the best years, the harvest could be four times as good as the average year, and a family’s surplus crop would amount to 400 piculs. [Eno wrote: “This must be a round figure. Such a harvest would yield 600 rather than the norm of 150 piculs; after taxes (60) and food needs (90), the remainder would be 450. The following numbers seem equally approximate, and not particularly accurate.]
“In very good years, the harvest would be three times the average, and a family’s surplus would be 300 piculs. In good years, the crop would be twice the average, and a family’s surplus would come to 100 piculs. If there were, on the other hand, a minor famine, then only 100 piculs of crops would be harvested; for a moderate famine, only 70 piculs would be gathered; for a severe famine, only 30 piculs. [Note the very wide range of the harvests. With early technology there were few means of compensating for unfavorable weather and the yields, normally not very large, were extremely volatile.]
“Given this situation, Li Kui advocated that when a bumper crop was harvested, the government should purchase three-fourths of it, leaving one-fourth to the people; in a very good year, the government should purchase two-thirds, and in a good year it should purchase half. This would just allow sufficient resources for the people. When the prices returned to normal, the government purchases would cease.
“In the event of a minor famine, stores proportionate to those purchased in a good year would be put up for sale; in a moderate famine, stores proportionate to those purchased in a very good year would be sold; in a severe famine, stores proportionate to those purchased in a bumper harvest would be sold. In this way, though there might occur crop failures, floods, and droughts, the price of grain would not become too high and the people would not scatter to other states. This was because the government bought up surpluses to provide for famine years. When this policy was implemented in Wei, the state became prosperous and strong. /+/
Eno wrote: “It is important to bear in mind that in a subsistence economy, the calorie intake of farm workers is a key concern.Without enough “fuel” to burn, the farmer simply cannot apply the effort needed to maximize the yields that weather conditions permit. Li Kui’s calculation 15 appears to allow a bit over three pounds of grain per person each day. Even allowing that women and children may require smaller shares, and that winter needs will be less, this is not a generous allotment, given the caloric demands of farm work....Apparently, Li’s policy is triggered both by yields and by price fluctuations. This assumes that government purchases will begin only after prices have fallen, and that the purchasing program will itself raise prices back to target levels. /+/
Agricultural Decline and the Reforms of Shang Yang in Qin, 350 B.C.
According to the “Treatise on Food and Money”:Once the Zhou royal house had declined, tyrants and corrupt officials neglected the field boundaries and corvée requirements became unreasonable. Government ordinances ceased to be obeyed and those in superior and inferior roles deceived one another. The public fields were no longer maintained. Thus Duke Xuan of Lu came to institute for the first time a production tax on private fields, a measure which the “Spring and Autumn Annals” reviled.Thereupon, rulers became increasingly avaricious and the people were bitter, natural disasters and social chaos appeared. The situation deteriorated into the period of the Warring States, during which crafty deception was esteemed and humanity and righteousness held cheap, riches were given foremost place and rituals and courtesy left behind. [Source: (Han shu 24a.1124)“Treatise on Food and Money” by Ban Gu, 1st century A.D. ]
“When Duke Xiao of Qin (r. 361-338) adopted the policies of Shang Yang, he abolished the well-field system and initiated a system dividing arable lands by means of crossroads running north to south and east to west. Duke Xiao was concerned that successful farming and warfare be rewarded. Though this was not in accord with the ancient Dao, nevertheless because his policies concentrated on the fundamental (that is, agriculture) Qin was able to topple the neighboring patrician states and become leader of the patrician lords. However, the kingly institutions were thus destroyed while usurpations and discrepancies of rank proceeded without restraint. The rich among the common people (that is, merchants) were able to accumulate hundreds of millions in cash, while the poor ate mash and grain husks. Those who ruled strong states seized neighboring territories, while the weaker ruling houses lost the altars of their states. (“Han shu”24a.1126)
Eno wrote: This reform was part of more comprehensive reforms initiated during the period when Shang Yang was Prime Minister of Qin. Shang Yang, who is often regarded as the founder of Legalism (with good reason), was an émigré patrician from the state of Wey. Qin, whose population and ruling house were latecomers to the Chinese cultural sphere, were accustomed to finding their best political talent among émigrés and giving them relatively free rein. In the case of Shang Yang, he was permitted to thoroughly transform the nature of Qin government and society, introducing the ideas and systems that led to the Qin conquest of the patrician states a century later, and the ultimate establishment of the Qin Dynasty.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, University of Washington
Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei\=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.
Last updated August 2021