An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Fuyi quanshu 賦役全書

Dec 12, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Fuyi quanshu 賦役全書 "The Complete Book on Taxes and Corvée Labour", originally called Tiaobian fuyi ce 條鞭賦役冊 "Tax and corvée labour under the Single-Whip Law", is a designation for tax registers for the land-and-poll tax during the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and Qing 清 (1644-1911) periods.

These registers were concise lists of the official tax quota of all parts of the empire. The term is somewhat misleading, as the corvée labour was abolished during the Ming period with the so-called "single whip tax reform" (yitiao bianfa 一條鞭法) in 1581 and was replaced by a payment in money.

The tax quotas were first fixed in 1583 for all provinces, prefectures and districts, when the central administration attempted to have as much land registered as possible, in order to get a better grip on tax evasion. The taxes to be collected (shi zheng e 實征額) were fixed according to the size and income (the size of the owned land) of each household, and were therefore called the land-and-poll taxes (diding 地丁). The tax quota also regulated how much of the tax revenue was allowed to be retained (cunliu e 存留額) in the prefectures and provinces, and had no to be sent to the central treasury.

The registers also include the number of landless people and the amount of wasteland (huangtian 荒田), as well as the possible amount of land that could be opened for cultivation (kaiken di 開墾地). The figures of these catasters were sent to the central government, and both the local yamens and the district schools (xuegong 學宮) retained copies of the registers.

When the Manchus took over the empire they first used the Ming figures from the Wanli reign-period 萬曆 (1573-1619). In 1654 they were revised; three years later the Fuyi quanshu was again revised and then published. The aim of this version was to impede local officials from levying more than the official quota allowed and made use of the ancient quota before the introduction of the three military levies (sanxiang 三餉: i.e. Liaoxiang 遼餉, jiaoxiang 剿餉 and lianxiang 練餉) applied between 1618 and 1638.

The individual amount for each household war geared to the quality of the soil and the size of the household. The tax was to be delivered partially in silver (fu 賦) and in kind (liang 糧). The Fuyi quanshu therefore listed all figures of the total levy, the amount of funds to be transferred to the Ministry of Revenue (hubu 戶部), the expenditure quota, auditing regulations (kaocheng 考成), and quotas for tax exemptions (juanmian 蠲免), all based on new tax registers that informed about a population increase since the late Ming period, and the increase in cultivated acreage according to the so-called fish-scale registers (yulin tuce 魚鱗圖冊).

In 1685, a new revision was undertaken, in which the lesser digits of the field tax (tianfu weishu 田賦尾數) were eliminated, so that this "simplified version" Jianming Fuyi quanshu 簡明賦役全書 determined a lighter tax burden than any of the foregoing registers. Nominally seen this was a great relaxation for the peasant population, but the negative effect was that the local governments looked for other means to meet their expenditure, and invented the so-called "objectionable practices" (lougui 陋規), which became such an integral part of the regular levies that it is often translated as "customary fee". Yet the simplified version was in the end not promulgated.

A revised version from 1732 even expanded the codified tax burden by integrating the "miscellaneous taxes" (zashui 雜稅) into the register. After that time, a revision of the Fuyi quanshu was undertaken each decade, but it did not have a practical impact anymore because in 1712 it was decided to fix the land-and-poll tax in eternity.

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