An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

xuetian 學田, school fields

Mar 26, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

School fields or school land (xuetian 學田) was a special ownership type of field. Its income served to support and finance the pay for teachers, sacrifices and other cost of schools (xuegong 學宮) or academies (shuyuan 書院). The institution appeared in the empire of Southern Tang 南唐 (937-975), one of the Ten States 十國 (902~979) in south China, and was expanded and regularized under the Song dynasty.

School fields originated in the custom of the Song emperors to present schools and academies with land to live on. Alternatively, the costs were covered by the income of public land (guantian 官田, zhitian 職田) under the prefectural administration. Public land might also directly be endowed to a school, or private persons might give it to the educational institution. The total amount of school fields under the Song and Yuan 元 (1279-1368) dynasties is not known, but for the Ming period 明 (1368-1644), the total size might have amounted to more than 100,000 mu 畝 (see weights and measures). For the year 1724, a total size of 388,679 mu is recorded, which rose to 1,158,600 mu in 1753. The type of field was mainly found in the provinces of Hunan and Zhili (approx. today's Hebei).

School fields were rented out to tenant farmers which delivered a fix rent in kind (shiwu ding'e zu 實物定額租) or paid a rent in money, particularly if the land did not produce grain, but had the form of orchards, forests or mulberry plantations. During the early 18the century, the rent of somewhat more than half of school fields was paid in money, while a third of all tenants delivered the rent in kind, and the rest in mixed form. During the Ming period, the rent of school fields in the district of Huangxian 黃縣, Shandong, was between 0.34 and 2 dou 斗 of grain per mu, while the Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) rent was between 0.6 and 2.5 dou. In the province of Fujian, the monetary rent was 0.11 and 0.63 tael/liang per mu (0.28 liang on average), as during the Ming period. Under the Qing, the per-mu rent in Hanzhou 漢州, Sichuan, was between 0.612 and 2.7336 liang (1.673 liang on average). These figures show that the rent of school fields was around 30 per cent lower as common leasehold contracts.

The fields and their revenue were managed by the schools, for instance, professors (jiaoshou 教授), lecturers (jiaoyu 教諭) and instructors (jiaodao 教導) in the case of elementary schools, and directors xxx (jianyuan 監院), administrators (sishi 司事) and managers (dongshi 董事) in the case of academies. It was forbidden to sell the land to third parties. While the land of schools was tax-exempted to a certain amount (yuan'e 原額 "original size"), academies had to deliver land tax.

Jiang Taixin 江太新 (1988). "Xuetian 學田", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Jingjixue 經濟學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1127.
Yang Shouchuan 楊壽川 (1998). "Xuetian 學田", 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), 945.