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Taxation in premodern China

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Title: Taxation in premodern China  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Salt in Chinese history, Taxation in China, Likin (taxation), Qing conquest theory, Economy of the Song dynasty
Collection: Economic History of China, History of Imperial China, History of Taxation, Taxation in China
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Taxation in premodern China

In the premodern era of Chinese history, taxation by the various dynasties that ruled China varied greatly. Overall, the most important source of state revenue was the tax on agriculture, or land tax. During some dynasties, the government also imposed state monopolies which became important sources of revenue for the government. The monopoly on salt was especially lucrative and stable. Commercial taxes were generally quite low, except in times of war. Other means of state revenues consisted of inflation, forced labor (the corvee), and expropriation of rich merchants and landowners. Below is a chart of the sources of state revenue in Imperial China.

Premodern Chinese taxes by dynasty
Dynasty Land tax (as % of income) Commercial tax (as % of income) State monopolies labor corvee Other
Qin (221-206 BCE) [1] 10% heavy salt, iron, coinage, forests and lakes 1 month a year Laws aimed at discrimination of merchants, expropriation and exile of rich landowners and merchants. Heavy poll taxes. Period of interventionist policies due to Legalist influences.
Early Western Han (202-119 BCE)[2] 0-3.3% None (could not collect) None 1 month every 3 years Poll taxes; Period of laissez faire policies due to Taoist influences.
Late Western Han (119 BCE- 2 CE)[3] 3.3% Heavy taxes on capital and income of merchants; excise tax on alcohol Salt, iron, coinage, grain trade 1 month every 3 years Some expropriaton of merchants occurred under Emperor Wu, who intervened systematically in the economy due to Modernist influences.
Eastern Han (25- 220 CE)[4] 3.3% None Coinage Light; could be commuted with payments of cash Poll taxes; Period of laissez faire policies due to Confucian influences and because the dynasty was founded with the support of rich landowners and merchants disgusted at government intervention in the late Western Han.
Six Dynasties (220-581 CE)[5][6] Variable; heavy Miscellaneous customs taxes, taxes on capital Coinage, iron Heavy Period of upheaval and division; economy regressed heavily due to the Barbarian invasions. Taxes varied in the North and South because Chinese rule was maintained in the south while barbarian tribes ruled the north.
Sui and Tang Dynasties (581-907 CE)[7] 25% 3.3% Iron, salt (starting after the Anshi Rebellion) 20 days a year; could be commuted with silk payments During this period the state practiced the "equal-field system" in which most land was state owned and granted to individual farmers to prevent the formation of large estates. This allowed greater government control over the individual farmers.
Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE)[8] 10% + "numerous surcharges" 3-4% Salt, some foreign luxuries, tea and alcohol under Wang Anshi, paper money, sulfur. Light; could be commuted with cash payments. The Song was a period of high economic growth. During Wang Anshi's chancellorship, the government lent money at exorbitant rates and instituted price controls on many commodities. They were repealed after his death. The late Song suffered from high inflation due to government printing money to cover deficits.
Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty (1279-1368 CE)[9] Very high Very high Salt, tea, paper money, iron, alcohol, porcelain, bronze, gold and silver, textiles and "virtually any major industry" Heavy Expropriation of many Chinese landowners and merchants. Yuan China suffered from high inflation due to government printing money to cover deficits.
Ming Dynasty(1368-1644 CE)[10] 3-4% 2% (widespread evasion) Salt (widespread evasion; mostly abandoned by end of dynasty) Abolished The Ming was a period of high economic growth and laissez faire policies due to Confucian influences.
Qing (Manchu) Dynasty (1644-1911 CE)[11] 3-4% 2% (early part of dynasty). 2 to 10% (later part of dynasty) Salt, foreign trade Abolished Prohibition on new mines except to provide employment, restriction on number of merchants, widespread expropriation of Chinese landowners and re-enserfdom of millions of tenant farmers. Likin (goods transportation tax, locally collected).


  1. ^ Zhan 2005
  2. ^ Li & Zheng 2001, p. 244
  3. ^ Ji & et al 2005a, pp. 73–74
  4. ^ Li & Zheng 2001, p. 244
  5. ^ Ji & et al 2005a, p. 105
  6. ^ Xie 2005
  7. ^ Xie 2005
  8. ^ Xie 2005
  9. ^ Li & Zheng 2005, p. 925
  10. ^ Huang 1998, pp. 138–141
  11. ^ Myers and Wang 2002, pp. 563–647


  • Huang, Ray (1998), "The Ming fiscal administration", in Twitchett, Denis and Fairbank, John K. (eds.), The Ming Dynasty, 1 398–1644, Part 2, The Cambridge History of China 8, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 106–172,  
  • Ji, Jianghong; et al (2005a), Encyclopedia of China History (in Chinese) 1, Beijing publishing house,  
  • Ji, Jianghong; et al (2005b), Encyclopedia of China History (in Chinese) 2, Beijing publishing house,  
  • Ji, Jianghong; et al (2005), Encyclopedia of China History (in Chinese) 3, Beijing publishing house,  
  • Li, Bo; Zheng, Yin (2001), 5000 years of Chinese history (in Chinese), Inner Mongolian People's publishing corp,  
  • Xie, Yuanlu (2005), "Analysis of the Tang-Song socioeconomic transformation", Research on Chinese economic history 2 
  • Zhan, Zhifei (2006), "Changes in the monetary system in the early Han and its effects", Economic history 5 
  • Myers, H. Ramon; Wang, Yeh-Chien (2002), "Economic developments, 1644–1800", in Peterson, Willard, The Ch'ing Empire to 1800,  
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