An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

fuyi 賦役, taxation methods

Apr 13, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

Fuyi 賦役 is an old term denoting various types of taxes, levies and labour corvée (yaoyi 徭役). In oldest times, taxes consisted of three parts, namely tributes (gong 貢), "assistances" (zhu 助) and "allotments" (che 徹). The ritual classics Zhouli 周禮 and Liji 禮記 just discern between two types of taxes, namely in kind (fu 賦) and services to the public (yi 役).

The Zhouli lists furthermore nine types of taxes (jiu fu 九賦), the first six of which were applied according to the distance to the capital. The seventh was applied to passes and markets (guan shi 關市), the eighth in areas of mountains and swamps or lakes (shan ze 山澤), and the last one on the remainders of the royal weaveries (biyu 弊餘, i.e. products not delivered to the court but sold on the market?).

While these forms of fu seem to have been types of taxes, the term fu during the Eastern Zhou period 東周 (770-221 BCE) specifically denoted a kind of military service in the regional states or grain and other objects sent to supply the army, and not a field (tianfu 田賦) or poll tax (dingfu 丁賦), be it in kind or in money. The latter was expressed by the term shui 稅 (which is also the modern term for "tax"). It is first mentioned in the chronicle Zuozhuan (Xuangong 宣公 15 [594 BCE]), when the regional state of Lu 魯 first introduced the field tax (chu shui mu 初稅畝, shui as a verb).

From the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) on the distinction between both terms was blurred. From then on the term fushui 賦稅 denoted levies in kind or money whose height depended on the size of the field or of the household (mostly male members, ding 丁), or the size of the harvest, while the terms yaoyi 徭役 or fuyi 伕役 were used to denote physical labour carried out by able-bodied males (and often females, too) either for the military (junyi 軍役), or for public projects (liyi 力役, laoyi 勞役). The Former Han dynasty 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) knew three types of taxes, namely various kinds of poll tax paid in kind (koufu 口賦 and suanfu 算賦), and the so-called "altered tax" (geng fu 更賦, as substitute for services) paid in money.

During the Southern and Northern Dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600) there was a combination between field and household tax (zudiao 租調), the former paid in grain and the latter in fabric. The Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) introduced a tripartite tax system (zuyongdiao 租庸調), consisting of field tax, poll tax (labour service), and household tax. It was possible to pay part of each type of tax in money instead of in kind or in service.

With the introduction of the twice-taxation method (liangshuifa 兩稅法) in the later Tang period the difference between field/poll tax (paid in money) and the labour service (also paid in money) was further narrowed, and the tax was geared to the size of the arable field and the annual harvest yields. The Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279) called this more or less unified tax tianfu 田賦 "field tax", even if it nominally included labour corvée. All other taxes not levied in connection with the field were called shui.

During that time the commercialization of the economy led to the introduction of commercial taxes and house taxes (jianjia shui 間架稅). The final unification of both types of liabilities of subjects to the government was carried out during the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644), with the introduction of the single-whip method (yitiaobian fa 一條鞭法), and the term fuyi took the meaning of "taxes" in general. The official fusion of the poll tax with the field tax was only carried out during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) (see tanding rumu 攤丁入畝).

Apart from the field and poll tax and the requisition of labour force, the traditional Chinese state imposed various kinds of miscellaneous taxes (zashui 雜稅, zhengque 征榷) on salt, iron, alcoholic beverages, yeast, tea, and well as for brokerage business (yahang 牙行), pawning (diandang 典當) and real estate business (qiyue 契約). Tribute grain (caoliang 漕糧 and bailiang 白糧) was delivered by prefectures in the lower Yangtze region along the Grand Canal to Beijing. All public items transported on behalf of the public (grain, copper) were supported by a transport-loss addition (haoxian 耗羨) levied from the local population. In 1858 a thoroughly new commercial tax was introduced, the "likin tax" (lijin 釐金).

Huang Yunyu 黃運武, ed. (1992). Xinbian caizheng da cidian 新編財政大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 1014.
Wu Hanmin 吳漢民 (1993). "Fushui 賦稅", in Shi Quanchang 石泉長, ed. Zhonghua baike yaolan 中華百科要覽 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 81.