Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

3.7: Taxation

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Fourth, along with the implementation of meritocratic personnel recruitment and bureaucratic state structure came new fiscal policies. Shang Yang completed a new way for the state to collect resources from society. His reforms claimed all land in the Qin state for the Qin

    King. Taking away the aristocratic estates, he measured every foot of farmland, and cut farmland up into uniform parcels, just large enough to support one nuclear family (about 5 acres). A grid of footpaths marked the boundaries between them. He took a census, counting and registering the entire population, and gave out the small parcels of land to farming families as their private property. This destroyed the economic base of noble power and set up the foundation for a new fiscal arrangement between state and society: taxation.

    Former serfs became taxpaying “commoners,” and were granted surnames. The term “hundred surnames” (百姓), which had earlier referred to the aristocracy as a whole, now meant taxpaying commoners. Each family received the amount of land that one adult male could work, with an adult female partner to manage other household production. Qin farmers were not permitted to sell their land. The state remained active in many areas of production, including keeping some agricultural land that was worked by convicts for the state directly, and managing markets for buying and selling goods. Each married couple owed duties in return for their land: labor service and military service, tax in grain (about 10% of the harvest – the husband’s responsibility) and tax in cloth (the wife’s responsibility.) If there were two adult sons, Shang Yang first required that one set up on his own; later, he required that even just one adult son leave his parents’ house. (Daughters normally married out.) Families that insisted on staying together owed double the tax on each adult. (Excavated texts show that some adult fathers and sons did continue to live together, however.) Property was divided among all sons.

    In this system, farmers with small holdings gained a kind of autonomy. They were citizens themselves, not serfs on feudal estates. But empowering them and dignifying them was not the aim. Rather, smallholders like this were easier to control than the feudal nobility with their many relatives and great estates, and the amount of grain, cloth, and labor available to the Qin government increased.

    Excavated Qin population registers list names, marital status, and the labor service owed by the household head. They list the names of the wife, children, and slaves. Initially, the heights of men were listed to determine whether they owed military service, but as the documentary record built up, ages were listed. Registers also recorded household clothing, tools, and animals, how big the house was, and whether the roof was tiled. In ideal Legalism, recorded in The Book of Lord Shang, women were also subject to military conscription, but Qin apparently conscripted women only for labor. Ordinary people now contributed directly to the state.

    As Qin conquered more territory, it gradually took in and then displaced local elites, turning them and their subjects into taxpayers. The process had to be gradual, because to meet resistance with overwhelming force would be to undermine the tax base. Negotiation meant variation. For instance, as Qin expanded in Sichuan, it put one local clan in charge of all the people there, and Qin women were sent to intermarry with this lordly Ba clan and begin a process of cultural mingling. The Ba clan had to pay Qin 2,016 copper cash every year and an additional 8,200 cash every three years (the latter was called a “loyalty tax”). But this was not a feudal system, for each household of commoners also paid taxes directly to Qin: 82 feet of a local kind of cloth, and chicken feathers. (How many chicken feathers? The weight of 30 arrowheads.11) Gradually, but never completely, local powers and cultures melded with imperial culture.

    This page titled 3.7: Taxation is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sarah Schneewind (eScholarship) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

    • Was this article helpful?