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Socialistic Policies of Ancient China [1]: The Tsing Tien System (I): History
By Chen Huan-Chang (陈焕章)
2017-09-01 07:15:56

    -- Excerpts from The Economic Principles of Confucius and his School, Book VIII, Chap 26 

EDITORS NOTE: Over a century ago, a Chinese scholar, named Chen Huan-Chang (陈焕章), wrote the book in English The Economic Principles of Confucius and his School as his PhD thesis at Columbia University and had it published in the USA. The book has had great impact on several generations of masterly Western scholars in economics and economic policies in the West. For instance, the idea of changpingchang (常平仓, or regulative storage), which had been practiced for thousands of years in ancient China and was mentioned in the book, was adopted by the US parliament in its 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act, sponsored by Henry A. Wallace (USDA secretary, 1933-1940), who had learned of it from the said book.

As the book is focused on only one of the several major ancient Chinese schools of thought, some other essential content in traditional Chinese economics, therefore, could not be covered, such as those of Guan Zhong (管仲), the Legalist chancellor and reformer of Qi state and, according to the author of this book, the first person who had put forward a complete system of thought on economics. However, many important ideas and practices discussed in the book had actually been shared by some other major schools of thought. That of changpingchang mentioned above is one typical example.

While this book is a comprehensive treatment of the topic as indicated by its title, whole six chapters are devoted to socialistic policies in ancient Chinese economy, which practice might not be expected by contemporary readers. We will post excerpts from these chapters in installments. Hope it will shed some light on how todays world economy should be reformed.



Chap 26: The Tsing Tien System1

(I) History of Tsing Tien

The tsing tien system is the most important element in Chinese economic thought and history. According to a few modern scholars, this system was never in actual operation, but only a theory of Confucians. It is true that in ancient times, the tsing tien system could not have been as perfect as the Confucians taught; but it is also true that this system had been partly realized before the time of Confucius. Probably the original form of this system was not unlike the manorial system of England; it was then improved by man of the ancient great kings; and finally it was modified by the Confucians into an ideal system. But, so far as we can judge from Chinese literature, however imperfect the tsing tien system was originally, it was never as bad as the English manorial system, nor was the condition of the people so wretched as the villeins. Let us study the history of tsing tien system.

1. The Reign of Huang Ti

According to historians, the tsing tien system began in the legendary age. Huang Ti (2147-2048 B.K. or 2698-2599 B.C.), the founder of the Chinese Empire, was its originator. He was the first one who established the rules of measure, and regulated the division of land into paces and acres, in order to prevent disputes and poverty. He made the tsing consist of eight families. With in the limits of one tsing, four roads were opened, the eight houses were separated, and a tsing (well) was dug in the center. The principles of this system were these: first, it did not waste land, because there was only one well for all eight families; second, it saved expense for each single family,because they had a well in common; third, it unified their customs; fourth, it improved their productive arts, because they could imitate one another; fifth, they exchanged easily their commodities; sixth, during the absence of some, others guarded for them; seventh, when they went out and came in, they took care for one another; eighth, they introduced intermarriage; ninth, in case of need, they lent wealth to one another; and tenth, in time of sickness, they cared for one another. Therefore, their feelings were harmonized without quarrels or litigation; and their wealth was equalized without deceit o oppression.

According to the political divisions, one tsing was also called a neighbor;

Three neighbors made up one friendship; three friendship, one ward; five wards, one town ; ten towns, a center; ten centers, one multitude; ten multitudes, one province. By these divisions, the tsing was the starting point, because the settlement of the people was the basis; and when it came to the province, the statistics were complete. Through the Xia and the Yin dynasties, this system of division was not changed2. Therefore, in the reign of Huang Ti, there was already the form of tsing tien,that is, the division of land, but the number of laws had not been completed.

1  Also called Nine Square Land System in English translation (-- The New Legalist editor).
  For the meaning and the form of tsing tien see supra, pp 352-5.
2   General Research, ch, xii

2. The Three dynasties

During the three dynasties, Xia, Yin and Chou, the tsing tien system was developing step by step. According to Mencius, the Hsia dynasty allotted fifty acres to one man, and he paid the produce of five acres to the government as a tax; the Yin dynasty allotted seventy acres, and he paid that of seven acres; the Chou dynasty allotted one hundred acres, and he paid that of ten acres. Therefore the tax system of the three dynasties was really a tithe.1

We must understand, however, that the Three Dynasties did not change the size of the field as from the allotment of fifty acres to that of seventy, or from that of seventy to that of one hundred acres. The difference in the number of acres was due to the different units of measurement of the Three Dynasties. The form of field, as we know, was very complicated, and it would have been difficult as well as unnecessary to change it. There is, therefore, every reason to suppose that in each of the Three Dynasties the same amount of land was allotted to each family and each was required to pay the same tax.

During the Chou dynasty, the tsing tien system was completed. According to the Official System of Chou, the distribution of land was according to a definite principle; its quantity should be in accordance with its quality. In the neighborhood of cities, each family received one hundred acres of the unchanged land, which was cultivated every year; or two hundred acres of the second class of land, cultivated every other year; or three hundred acres of the third class of land, cultivated every third year. But in the country, there was a more favorable law. Of the superior land, one man, together with hius wife, received a home of five acres in the town, one hundred acres of land, and fifty acres of fallow land which was purposely left idle for the preparation of another crop. Of the ordinary land, one man received a home, one hundred acres of land, and one hundred acres of fallow land; and of the inferior land, one man received his home and one hundred acres of land with two hundred acres of fallow land. If any family had a large number, the supernumerary male received an amount of land as follows: of the superior land, twelve and a half acres of fallow land; of ordinary land, twenty-five acres; of inferior land, fifty acres; while in all three grades, he received twenty-five acres of land to be cultivated.2 The difference between the law which was applied to the neighborhood of cities and that which was for the country were these: around the cities, no fallow land was given as an addition to superior land, and nothing was distributed to the supernumerary males. Th reason the countrymen were shown more favor was because the government gave special grace to those people who were far away from the cities. Moreover, near the cities, with a large population and a limited amount of land, it was impossible to use the same law as in the country. And the favorable law of the country might have been a policy of the government to draw the population from the cities. There is still another point: as the economic life of the cities was different from that of the country, the people of the cities did not need so much land as those in the country.

For the distribution of the land, there was also another principle: the quality of the land was in accordance with the size of the family. To a large family, from eight persons up to ten, superior land was distributed; to an ordinary family, from five to even, ordinary land was distributed; and to a small family, from two to four, inferior land was distributed. For each grade of land, there was a sub-division; and altogether there were nine different classes of land. 

1  Classics, vol. Ii, pp. 240-41.
2  Canonical Interpretation of the Tsing Dynasty, vol. liii, ch, i.
3  These rules of distribution of land mentioned in these two paragraphs differ somewhat from those of the next section. As that section is based on the Spring and Autumn, the Royal Regulations, and Mencius, it gives the theory of Confucius; the description in these two paragraphs is based on the Official System of Chou and may be assumed to correspond with the actual practice under the Chou dynasty.

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