- An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art
About [Location: HOME > History > Southern Dynasties > Economy]

Chinese History - Southern Dynasties Period Economy

Periods of Chinese History
In most aspects, the Southern Dynasties economy copied the economical system of their forerunner, the Eastern Jin. The arable land was divided into three parts: the largest part belonged to the state itself (official land, gongtian 公田) and was alloted to small peasants as arable land. These peasants were enlisted in official household registers (huji 戶籍) and had to pay a grain tax depending on the size of the land (zu 租), tax in kind (diao 調: silk juan 絹, later linen bu 布, depending on the need of the state), and to perform corvee labour (yi 役). The number of self-employed peasants was quite limited, and the burden laid upon the shoulders of the small peasants was correspondingly heavy, especially after a kind of poll-tax (tianshui 田稅) was introduced and many other miscellaneous taxes like for mulberry trees, dykes, walls and even for roof tiles. For that reason, many peasans tried to become tenant farmers (dianke 佃客) or clients on the estate of a landowner. This was the second kind of land, the privately owned estates (sitian 私田). Most large estate owners served as officials in the government administration ("officer households" lihu 吏戶) or belonged to the aristocracy. For their service, they were given a certain amount of land (caitian 菜田) and allowed to employ a certain number of clients, slaves and farmers (tianzou 田騶). Inspite of the legally prescribed limitation of land and service people, many large landowners acquired more and more land and illegaly employed clients ("hidden households" yinhu 隱戶). They constructed villas (shu 墅 or ye 業), parks, gardens (yuan 園), pavillions and often employed several thousand slaves (nubi 奴婢 or tongyi 僮役), tenant farmers (dianji 典計) and clients (yishike 衣食客), field-tilling private soldiers (buqu 部曲) and younger sons of other aristocrats (mensheng 門生, yigu 義故). Their estates are described in the poems of Wang Xizhi 王羲之 and Xie Lingyun 謝靈運, and they contributed to develop the typical sophisticated gentry culture of the south. The many employees of these landowners were registered with the household of the estate (jiaji 家籍) and could not be taxed. The difference between the alloted land (zhantian 佔田 or 占田) and the taxable land (ketian 課田) was quite severe.
Besides the official and the private land, there existed also a third kind of land given to military households (binghu 兵戶, shihu 士戶 or yinghu 營戶) that were seperately registered. These units were similar to the military agro-colonies (tuntian 屯田) of the Cao-Wei period. The inhabitants of these households had to till fields, to deliver tax in kind, to fulfil corvee labour, and military service. Due to rebellions of these heavy-burdened soldier-peasants, the military households were abolished soon.
Although the economy of the south did only recover gradually and slowly, agriculture could make some important improvements. Iron tools and the oxen plough became more widespread, irrigation systems, canalisation and water engineering were enforced, useful plants and grains from the north (wheat mai 麥 and millet shu 粟, beans shu 菽 and hemp ma 麻) were introduced and added to the traditional southern plants (paddy rice dou 稻 and glutinous rice nian 黏), likewise the northern method of deep ploughing and fertilizing (quzhongfa 區種法).
The most important agronomical areas were the region of Huainan 淮南 (north of modern Jiangsu Prov.), the capital Jiankang 建康 (modern Nanjing) and the region of the "Three Wu" 三吳 (south of modern Jiangsu), the region of Jingzhou 荊州 (middle Yangtze area) and of Yizhou 益州 (modern Sichuan Prov.). More remote areas like Minzhong 閩中 (modern Fujian Prov.), Guangzhou 廣州 and Jiaozhou 交州 (modern Guangxi Prov.) stayed economically backwards to the regions of the large land estates in the Yangtze valley.
Trade and commerce were a second important tax source for the state and became more and more important because too many small peasants became tax-exempt tenant farmers. Salt, iron and silk were monopolized by the state in matters of production, trade, and sales. Various taxes (zashui 雜稅) were imposed upon bridges, passes, canals and locks. There existed different kinds of markets: the permanent markets within the capial and main cities (the capital Jiankang had four markets, chengshi 城市), temporary peasant markets (caoshi 草市), and the internal and international trade. Traders had to pay a booth tax (changshui 場稅) and a sales tax (gushui 估稅). Markets were controlled by local officials and beadles. Although grain, silk and other fabrics were a widespread kind of currency, small coins (qian 錢) were casted in the state-owned mints. Because iron was much cheaper at that time, most coins were casted (in China coins are casted, not minted) from iron. The coins were the known round type with a square whole to be filed up on a string, units were five zhu ("pence") 銖, but also two, four, and six zhu. The situation of domestic trade ameliorated with the political situation becoming more stable between north and south. See-going ships allowed an intensive international trade with east Asia (Koguryŏ "Gaogouli" 高句麗 and Paekche "Baiji" 百濟 in modern Korea and the states of Yamatai 邪馬台 or Yamato "Dahe" 大和 in Japan), southeast Asia (Linyi 林邑 and Funan 扶南 in modern Cambodia and Vietnam, and "Heluotuo" 訶羅陁 in modern Indonesia), south Asia ("Shiziguo" 獅子國 in modern Sri Lanka and "Tianzhu" 天竺/India), and the near east.
Navigation was of important means for trade and economy of the water-rich south of China. Shipbuilding developed as a sophisticated type of craft, huge five-deck civil and military ships moved on the great rivers and along the seashore, carrying a crew of several hundred men. The first real porcelain was produced in the southern facilities during the time of Eastern Jin. Green glazed porcelain (qingci 青瓷) and imprinted ware (yinwen yingtao 印紋硬陶) with brown dots (jiangseyou caiban 醬色釉彩斑) were produced in the kilns of modern Jiangsu and Zhejiang Prov. Paper (zhi 紙) totally replaced the use of silk and bamboo slips as writing material. Other trade and commercial products of the Southern Dynasties were lacquerware (qiqi 漆器) and tea (cha 茶).
Fabric, especially silk, was not only an important item for direct cloth production, but also for tax in kind. For daily use, it was still too expensive to be affordable for the average population. The production of silk was in the hands of the state, like salt production (sea salt in Jiangsu and well salt in Sichuan) and mining and metallurgical engineering. The state operated two great steelworks near the capital, the ores came from iron mines in the region of modern Jiangsu and Zhejiang Prov. The mining and smelting of nonferrous metals was too expensive to be widespread. The steelworks made mostly use of the cheap and effective hydraulic moved bellows system (shuipai gufeng 水排鼓風). The separation of the iron from drosses was simply effected by forging, not yet by chemical reactions.


April 26, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

Map and Geography

Event History

Emperors and Rulers

Government and Administration

Literature and Philosophy


Technology and Inventions