An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

hudeng zhi 戶等制, household classification system

Sep 12, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

The household classification system (hudeng zhi 戶等制) served to classify households according to their size and income, in order to determine tax and amount of corvée (yaoyi 徭役) to be delivered. Such a system was already in force during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). With the introduction of the nine ranks (jiupin 九品) for state offices, the Cao-Wei dynasty 曹魏 (220-265) also created a classification of households into nine classes. The Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) used the terms shangshang 上上, shangzhong 上中, shangxia 上下, zhongshang 中上, zhongzhong 中中, zhongxia 中下, xiashang 下上, xiazhong 下中 and xiaxia 下下, with three supraclasses, namely shangshu 上戶 (the three highest), cidu 次戶 (the three middle ones), and xiahu 下戶 (the three lowest).

During the tenth century, a five-classes system (wudeng huzhi 五等戶制) replaced the nine-classes system. The system included one category upper-class household (shanghu), two categories of middle-class households (zhonghuxiahu). In urban settlements (fangguohu 坊郭戶), a ten-class system was used.

The Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279) implemented this system for the tax system. As a basic regulation, the village heads (see sanzhang zhi 三長制 "three-heads system") were ordered to compile and revise every three years as basic "production booklet" (dingshanbu 丁產簿) which recorded the number of male persons in each household and the size of fields own by this household. This booklet discerned between five classes of "production output". The resources (manpower, size and quality of the land, taxes in arrears, seeds) were converted into monetary value (jiayeqian 家業錢), which was the base for the determination of tax and corvée. The calculation took into consideration the distance to granaries and the occurrence of crop failures or bad harvests, which resulted in tax cuts or remittances (juanmian 蠲免).

The Song period regulations also determined which type of corvée households of different classes had to deliver. Upper-class households took over duties of higher responsibilities, like village head, while male persons of poor households were dispatched to do rough work.

The Jin dynasty 金 (1115-1234) adopted this system. During the reign of Emperor Shizong 金世宗 (r. 1161-1189), household registers were compiled which recorded the size of land, ownership of draft animals and agricultural tools, and of bondervants or serfs (nubi 奴婢). The Jin system made use of three categories, but in some places, also nine (sandeng jiujia hu 三等九甲戶, jiudeng hu 九等戶).

The Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368) took over the Jin system for the whole of China. The household system was also used for the recruitment of troops (junhu 軍戶) and personnel of courier stations (zhanhu 站戶), but it seems that the system was not regularly implemented everywhere.

During the Ming period 明 (1368-1644), the corvée (as a monetary payment) was integrated into the land tax in the single-whip taxation (yitiaobian fa 一條鞭法), and the household classification system accordingly abolished. Instead, the Ming used a new type of household registers, the "yellow registers" (huangce 黃冊), also known as fish-scale registers (yulin tuce 魚鱗圖冊).

Zhu Jiayuan 朱家源, Wu Yao 伍躍 (1992). "Hudeng zhi 戶等制", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 385.