An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Economic History of the Jin Period

Oct 31, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

The Cao-Wei Dynasty system of the military agro-colonies (tuntian 屯田) with their semi-militarian character that were run by a special administration of agrarian colony officials (diannongli 典農吏) gradually deteriorated and was given up when the Jin Dynasty was founded. It was given up because it was not furthermore necessary to enforce a state-guided agriculture, because the client-farmers (tunke 屯客, dianke 佃客) wanted to possess their own land, and because it was more reasonable for them to engage in trade or to work as tenant farmer for a landowner. The former colony administration (diannong jiaowei or jiaoyu 典農校尉 and diannong duwei or duyu 典農都尉) was now installed as normal governors and magistrates, and the colony inhabitants now belonged directly to the state as state households (bianhu 編戶). Many peasants refugees (liumin 流民) roamed around the countryside in search for food and a job. The Jin government, abolishing the agrarian colonies, tried everything to bring the peasants back to their homelands. Leaving one's land to engage in merchandise was prohibited. The household tax system (hudiaoshi 戶調式) was based on the demilitarization of the former agrarian colonies. Peasants had furthermore no duty to serve in the infantry ranks, and this measure generally contributed to a rising agricultural production because farmers could more consistently engage in working the fields. The first kind of tax was the tax in kind (diao 調) that consisted in silk and brocade that every person had to deliver to the state, depending on gender and age. But in fact, also the size of the owned land, the size of the farm, the number of the owned trees and the production rate was considered too when levying the nine degrees of tax in kind. The second kind of tax, a grain tax (zu 租) was oriented at the size of the land. Every person, depending on age and gender, was alloted a certain size of land (zhantian 佔田 or 占田). The levied tax was measured out at the size of the taxable land (ketian 課田) that could theoretically not surpass a certain size. These rules were valid for the peasants working of state-owned land. Officials in duty were given a certain piece of land too, and furthermore were exempt of any tax for a couple of years or even for generations (their families being called yinzu 蔭族), depending on their rank. Except this favour, officials could employ tenant farmers, servants and slaves as "clients" (yinke 蔭客). The difference between these kinds of employment is often not very clear. Officials and land owners from the aristocracy and the imperial clan were thus able to accumulate large amounts of land and to employ large numbers of people that all were not tax-liable. Like during the whole course of Chinese history, the tendency to become tenant farmer of a large estate owner instead of self-employed farmer on state land can also be seen during the history of Jin and Southern Dynasties. In the unpeaceful time of the weak Western Jin Dynasty, Princes and large land owners even robbed people to work on their estates. The Jin government itself contributed to the deterioration of the household tax system by granting land including households to the mighty clans that the Sima family wanted to be loyal. Besides the permanent political instability from the 280'es on, the sinking number of tax-paying peasants left the state treasure in a quite emptied conditon.
Three aspects dominated the economy history of Eastern Jin: The influx of refugees and immigrants of the north that one the one side provided workforce but on the other side wanted to be fed; second, the military campaigns against the northern Non-Chinese states that were only ended by the battle of Feishui 淝水 in 383; and third, uprisings and inner war during the whole time of Eastern Jin. When the Western Jin government tumbled, northern landowners and distinguished families (shizu 士族, haoqiang 豪強) left their territory with their whole household, followers, retainers ("to be clothed and fed" yishike 衣食客), military servants (buqu 部曲), slaves (nubi 奴婢), and farmers (dianke 佃客). One eigth of the total population of the north left their homelands, constituing one sixth of the Eastern Jin population in the south. The northern immigrants and refugees were called qiaoren 僑人 and had to settle within refugee commanderies (qiaojun 僑郡) and districts (qiaoxian 僑縣) that were also administered by the northern aristocracy and officialdom. But many immigrants did not register at all but went into service with the local southern gentry as retainers and tenant farmers or sold themselves as slaves. The immigrant commanderies (often called like the homeland of the inhabitants, like Nan-Xuzhou 南徐州) were thought as a kind of temporary camp for the future return if the north had been conquered back. Therefore, the refugees were enlisted in special temporary household registers (called "white registers" baiji 白籍 because the temporary character of them allowed that the paper not being treated with the yellow preservative used for important documents like the normal registers that were therefore called "yellow registers" huangji 黃籍).
To prevent the officials, gentry and aristocracy from acquiring too much land and duty-free workforce and to ensure their political loyalty, the Eastern Jin government imposed more restrictions for land and clients according to the landowner's rank. The workforce (dianji 典計) was now officially granted to the landowners by the Jin government with the granted-client system (geike zhidu 給客制度); the tenant farmers, servants and slaves should be recorded in the landowner's household (jiaji 家籍). Nonetheless, there are many cases of secretly acquired additional land and personel recorded (kuohu 括戶).
To exploit the potential labour, corvée and military force of the northern immigrants, they were soon given the status of normal population. Immigrant land and household became official (bianhu 編戶), the immigrants now being obliged to pay tax and to deliver labour and military service for the campaigns against the northern kingdoms. This process was called "cutting the land" (from the special immigrant land; tuduan 土斷). The most accurate land redistribution was undertaken in 413, and at the same time the temporary "white" household registers were given up. The difference between the northern immigrants and the older inhabitants of the south gradually disappeared. Although in total, the Eastern Jin period was a quite peaceful time (except some civil wars), the economy was only able to recover very slowly. The financial and labour burden for the population remained too heavy, especially because of a land tax that was measured at the grain production and that was levied to fill the exhausted state granaries (guancang 官倉).

Yang Lien-sheng (1946). "Notes on the Economic History of the Chin Dynasty", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 9 (2): 140, 163–170