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shuilifa 水利法, hydraulic labour law

May 18, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

The shuilifa 水利法 "hydraulic works law", also called nongtian shuili fa 農田水利法, was a method to ameliorate local organization of building dykes and dams for irrigating fields. It was part of the reform policy of Wang Anshi 王安石 during the Northern Song period 宋 (960-1279).

Labour corvée (yaoyi 徭役) was part of the tax system since ancient times, yet the fairness of the system was at odds in the 11th century, so that irrigation projects were not any more carried out in a reasonable way. The amount of fallow land was considerably high, resulting in low rates of production and reduced tax revenues. In 1069 therefore, in each circuit specially commissioned officials had to adjust the organization of field irrigation, with the support of the local officialdom and their expert staff. The authorities encouraged the people to clear land and to transform it into used field, and rewarded those who brought forward excellent ideas for advanced methods. At the same time the rising of mulberry trees was recommended, in order to raise the production of silk. For these labour-consuming work it was even allowed to the local treasuries to borrow money to the people so they could hire labour force.

The project, although counting successful work in more than ten thousand places, with 361,000 qing 頃 (see weights and measures) of irrigated land, was aborted with Wang Anshi's downfall in 1078.

Sources:
Chen Hongbo 陳洪博, ed. (1992). Tudi kexue cidian 土地科學詞典 (Nanjing: Jiangsu kexue jishu chubanshe), 60.
Li Bingzhong 李秉忠, Wei Canjin 衛燦金, Lin Conglong 林從龍, ed. (1990). Jianming wenshi zhishi cidian 簡明文史知識詞典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 417.
Lin Wenxun 林文勛 (1998). "Nongtian shuili fa 農田水利法", in Tang Jiahong 唐嘉弘, ed. Zhongguo gudai dianzhang zhidu da cidian 中國古代典章制度大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 565.
Liu Furen 劉福仁 et al., ed. (1991). Xiandai nongcun jingji cidian 現代農村經濟辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 139.
Wang Meian 王美涵, ed. (1991). Shuishou da cidian 稅收大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 853.
Wang Songling 王松齡, ed. (1991). Shiyong Zhongguo lishi zhishi cidian 實用中國歷史知識辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 278.