An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

qingmiaofa 青苗法, green-sprouts law

May 18, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

The qingmiaofa 青苗法 "green-sprouts law", also called changping jilian fa 常平給斂法 "ever-normal distribution law", changping liansan fa 常平斂散法 "ever-normal disseminating law" or changping xinfa 常平新法 "new ever-normal law", was a kind of rural credit to buy seeds. It was part of the reform politics of Wang Anshi 王安石 (1021-1086) during the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126). The method was first suggested by Li Can 李參 and was inspired by a general method to level out price differences in years of good and bad harvest, called changpingfa 常平法 "ever-normal method".

The green-sprouts law was introduced in 1069 and scheduled that each year before the autumn harvest, when the last year's grain was already consumed but the new one not ripe yet, the local government had to give out money and grain from the reserves in the ever-normal granaries (changpingcang 常平倉) and the local "granaries benefitting the people" (huimincang 惠民倉) to be used as seeds for the coming season. Money to buy seeds (qingmiaoqian 青苗錢), or the seeds themselves, were seen as a kind of credit the government granted to the peasantry. The distribution of the credit grain was organized by the local communities (see baojia system 保甲), and the individual amounts were geared to the income of each household, with five classes. The highest amount for first-class households was 15 guan 貫 (strings of 1,000 coins) of money (or the respective amount of grain), that of fifth-class households 1.5 guan. The money was disbursed two times, once in the 1st, and once in the 5th lunar month (see calendar), and was recollected in the 6th and the 11th month, including an interest rate of 2 per cent, in summer and in autumn, together with the tax (see twice-taxation system). In case of crop failure the back payment term could be extended to the following year. The credit was calculated according to a ten-year term average.

The system was first introduced in the circuits around the capital Kaifeng 開封 (today in Henan) and in Huainan 淮南 (today northern Jiangsu), and then spread out to all circuits of the Song empire. Local officials used the system to enforce peasants to borrow, and thus profited from the higher interest income, also by using a conversion rate of money against rice disadvantaging the recipients in both transactions. Others just claimed more than 2 per cent of interest. This circumstance, as well as opposition from the side of rich landowners, led to the abolition of the system in 1086. Marxist historians hail this law of Wang Anshi as a forerunner of socialist politics.

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