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hudiao zhi 戶調制, the household tax system

Nov 24, 2015 © Ulrich Theobald

From the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE) on to the mid-Tang 唐 (618-907), household tax was paid in kind. It was first used by Emperor Ming 漢明帝 (r. 57-75 CE) as a substitute for the tax on the field and the household (zu diao 租調), but only regularized during the Cao-Wei period 曹魏 (220-265). In 204, the potentate Cao Cao 曹操 fixed in the edict on land and household tax (tianzu hudiao ling 田租戶調令) the amount of grain (4 sheng 升), crude silk fabric (juan 絹, 2 bolts), silk wad (mian 綿, 2 jin 斤 "pounds", see weights and measures), and silk yarn (1 jin) to be paid by each household. In the turmoils of these decades it was easier to tax households in this general way than to fall back on exact registers recording the numbers of household members and the size of fields owned. Cao Cao's successors of the Wei dynasty followed this precedent for the field-and-household tax system.

The Jin dynasty 晉 (265-420) added further specifications, and regulated in an edict that each adult male (dingnan 丁男) had to deliver annually 3 bolts of silk fabric and 3 pounds of silk wad, each woman (dingnü 丁女) and younger man (cinan 次男) half of these amounts. The household tax was thus dependent from the number, gender and age of persons. Some sources speak of up to 20 shi 石 of grain (sometimes up to 30 or even 50 shi) and an additional levy of 1 bolt and 2 zhang 丈 of silk earmarked for the local government, and an amount of 3 bolts of silk and 2.9 shi of grain for paying the salaries of local officials. Sometimes a third surcharge of 2 bolts was requested. Such a general taxation was very unfair to the smaller peasant households.

In reality therefore the system was much more complex, and operated with nine types of households, in a system called jiupin xiangtong 九品相通 "universal application of nine grades". These grades were attributed according to the average amount of grain yield, respectively the income of the households, and thus resembled the nine-rank system (jiupin zhongzheng zhi 九品中正制) by which the accession to state offices was regulated. The field tax depended on the size of land allotted to farming families in a so-called "field-occupation system" (zhantian zhi 占田制), and the tax was called "tax on occupied land" (zhantian ke 占田課). For each 50 mu of land, an adult male person paid 8 sheng of grain as field tax, and 3 bolts of silk and 3 pounds of silk wad as household tax. The tax amount was half of this if an under-age male person or a female one was head of the household. Lower amounts had to be delivered by households in border regions (only one or two thirds of the standard amounts), and by such of native tribes in the distant provinces of the empire (one bolt or just one zhang [a length measure] of linen cloth, congbu 賨布). The land tax was thus geared to the size of the land, and the household tax to that of the household. The Liang 梁 (502-557) 梁 and Chen 陳 (557-589) dynasties therefore called the household tax not hudiao, but dingdiao 丁調. This system allowed the central government a tighter control over farming land and the source of tax revenue.

In 484 the Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (386-534) changed the system to the "mixed universal application of nine grades" (jiupin huntong 九品混通). The assessment of the wealth of each household was laid into the hand of three local dignitaries, the sanlao 三老. Yet the finer the gradation of household incomes became, the more complex the whole system became. The Northern Dynasties 北朝 (386-581) therefore introduced the equal-field system (juntian zhi 均田制), in which the household tax played an integral part of the whole levy. It was refined by the Tang dynasty that created the tripartite tax system (zuyongdiao zhi 租庸調), in which tax was levied on the field and on the household, and labour corvée (yaoyi 徭役) required. The field-and-household tax system was replaced by the twice-taxation system (liangshuifa 兩稅法) in the second half of the Tang period which allowed to deliver taxes in money instead of in kind.

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