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Socialistic Policies of Ancient China [1]: The Tsing Tien System (II): Of Confucius
By Chen Huan-Chang (陈焕章)
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2017-10-01 08:52:29

-- Excerpts from The Economic Principles of Confucius and his School, Book VIII, Chap 26 

EDITORS NOTE: Over a century ago, a Chinese scholar, named Chen Huan-Chang (陈焕章), wrote the book in English The Economic Principles of Confucius and his School as his PhD thesis at Columbia University and had it published in the USA. The book has had great impact on several generations of masterly Western scholars in economics and economic policies in the West. For instance, the idea of changpingchang (常平仓, or regulative storage), which had been practiced for thousands of years in ancient China and was mentioned in the book, was adopted by the US parliament in its 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act, sponsored by Henry A. Wallace (USDA secretary, 1933-1940), who had learned of it from the said book.

As the book is focused on only one of the several major ancient Chinese schools of thought, some other essential content in traditional Chinese economics, therefore, could not be covered, such as those of Guan Zhong (管仲), the Legalist chancellor and reformer of Qi state and, according to the author of this book, the first person who had put forward a complete system of thought on economics. However, many important ideas and practices discussed in the book had actually been shared by some other major schools of thought. That of changpingchang mentioned above is one typical example.

While this book is a comprehensive treatment of the topic as indicated by its title, whole six chapters are devoted to socialistic policies in ancient Chinese economy, which practice might not be expected by contemporary readers. We will post excerpts from these chapters in installments. Hope it will shed some light on how todays world economy should be reformed.


Socialistic Policies of Ancient China [1]: The Tsing Tien System (I): History




Chap 26: The Tsing Tien System (continued)

(II) The Tsing Tien System of Confucius1

    Since we have already studied the form of Tsing Tien and its history, we now turn to the details which are described by the Confucians. First, we take up the Tsing Tien itself, and see what it is. According to Mencius, a square mile forms a Tsing, and it contains nine hundred acres. The central square of the Tsing is called the public field; and the surrounding eight squares are called private fields for assignment to the eight families.2 In the center of the public field, twenty acres are taken out for the cottages of the eight families, each having a share of two acres and a half. The remaining eighty acres of the public field are cultivated in common by the eight families, each really cultivating ten acres. Each family receives one hundred acres of the private field from the public, and gives its labor to the public for the cultivation of ten acres in the public field; this is the system of tithe.

Since a tsing is the smallest community based upon common economic interest, it is not only a community of agriculture, but also a community of commerce. As the exchange of wealth is very small, a market-place is established in every tsing, and people can get the necessities of life very easily. Because every Tsing is at the same time a market, the common term shih tsing comes into existence; shih means market, and tsing is the tsing tien. This term is still used for the commercial district of the great cities.

To secure an equal distribution of the land there were the following rules: generally, five persons make up a family -- that is, husband and wife, together with parents and children. A farmers family receives one hundred acres of the private field, five acres for the house in the town, two acres and a half for the cottage in the field, and ten acres of the public field; the total amount is one hundred seventeen and a half acres. If the family has more than five persons, its young man is called a supernumerary male and he receives twenty-five acres without paying taxes.

The family of the student, artisan, and merchant also receives a share of land, but it amount is diminished. When thee come to the age of maturity, they receive individually half the amount of the farmer -- fifty acres; and their supernumerary male receives one fifth the amount of the farmer -- twenty acres.3

The age of maturity is twenty, and the people receive a full hare of land, one hundred acres, at that time. But the land can neither be handed down to descendants, nor sold to others. It must be returned to the government at the age of sixty. From sixteen to twenty, youths are called supernumerary males, and receive a quarter of the full share. Among all the people, those above seventy years of age are supported by the state; those below ten are brought up by it; and those above eleven are compelled to practise by it.4


According to Mencius, from the highest officers down to the lowest, each one must have his holy field, consisting of fifty acres. But according to Ho Hsiu, the local officers, such as the patriarchs and the justice, receive two shares of land, that is, two hundred acres. These statements are both correct. For Mencius refers to the government officers who receive salary; and the holy field is only for the purpose of religious worship. Both Ho Hsiu refers to the local officers, who are elected by the people and receive no salary.

Third, we shall see how the works of the people are regulated. When they plant grain, they are not allowed to plant a single kind. Generally, they plant five kinds -- rice, millet, panicled millet, wheat and pulse -- in order to avoid bad crops. Within the field, no tree is allowed to be planted, lest it should give trouble to the grain. Around their cottages which are in the center of the public field, they plant mulberry trees; in their small gardens, different vegetables; and in the boundaries of their cottages, different fruits. Each family keeps five hen and two sows. The work of cultivating silkworms and weaving is the special profession of women.


Besides the cottages in the field, the people have homes in the town, which is not far away from the field. A town covers several villages, and a village is made up of eighty families which come from ten tsing; while eight families occupy one street together. Around their homes, each occupying five acres, the space beneath the walls is planted with mulberry trees,with which the women nourish silkworms.5 After the harvest, they all live in town. Then the justice hurries them to make the cloth. In the evening, men and women work together in the same street, spinning until midnight; hence, the work of women amounts to forty-five days labor in the length of one month. This work commences in the tenth month, and ends in the first. They must work together to save light and heat, to disseminate the arts; and to make uniform their customs. All these rules tend to make their productive power like, in order to equalize their wealth. In fact, the tsing tien system is a peculiar form of co-operative production.

Fourth, we shall notice that the tsing tien system is as individualistic as socialistic. Each man has his own land, his own cottage, his own home, his own mulberry trees, vegetables, fruits and animals, and all other properties which belong to him. He reaps what he has produced in the field, varying from the amount which can support mine persons to that which can only support five. Moreover, from six to sixty-five years of age, after he has returned the land to the public, he is supported, either by his children or by his accumulations. Therefore, from eleven up to seventy, he depends entirely upon his own. This is also individualism.

In conclusion, the tsing tien system is a group system based on territory. In the field, one tsing is the unit of division, and consists of eighty families. Regardless of any blood-relationship, he only basis for the group system is territory. Therefore, the tsing tien system is not an ethnical society, but an economic, ethical, social, political and military society. From the foregoing description, everyone will see that it is an economic society. To prove that it is an ethical society, we may quote from Mencius, as follows:

When the land of the district is divided into different tsing, the people live together according to the same tsing. Therefore, they render all friendly offices to one another in their going out and coming in, aid one another in keeping watch and ward, and sustain one another in sickness. Thus the people are brought to live in affection and harmony.6

Since every village has a school house which serves also as an ethical church and a meeting house for social and political activities, it is a social and political society. The farmer are at the same time the soldiers, and ten tsing combine together to supply one chariot as the military duty. In time of peace, they are co-workers at home, and in time of war, they are co-fighters in the battle-field.. Therefore, tsing tien is a military society. In short, the tsing tien is the basis of everything. As we describe many features of it in other places, we do not mention them here.

1  A complete description is given in the Annotation of Kung-yang, 15th year of Duke Hsüan.

2  Classics, vol.ii,p. 245.

3  History of Han, ch. xxiv.  Annotation of the Official System of Chou, ch. Xiii.

4  History of Han, ch. xxiv.

5  Classics, vol. Ii, p. 461.

6  Classics, vol. Ii, p. 245.

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