china and landlordism

if western europeans in the middle ages had a belief system that put a damper on clannishness and a socio-economic system that discouraged marriage at a young age, the chinese, it seems, had eons of just the opposite. (this is all new territory for me, btw, so feel free to correct me where i’m wrong.) where western europeans had christianity, the chinese had neo-confucianism. and where western europeans had manorialism, the chinese had landlords [pg. 12]:

“Fu Zhufu has pointed to another difference between manorialism and landlordism. In the serf-based manorial system, the lord had to look to the subsistence and reproduction of his workers, lest the very basis of the manorial economy be undermined. But the Chinese landlord was under no such constraints. He could seek the highest possible returns that the land-rental market would support. Though Fu skirts the issue here, it is obvious that such principles became harshest when the pressures of social stratification were joined by the pressures of population; under those conditions, a tenant who failed to survive could always be replaced by another. Landlordism could become an institutional system in which the poor tenants were pressed below the margins of subsistence.”

sounds like that, in the time-periods and areas of china where landlordism existed, and maybe where the landlord wasn’t your relative, there were some pretty harsh selection pressures on farmers during china’s history. farm successfully, or … die probably.

and under “the pressures of population”? china has been under severe levels of population pressure since practically forever. “core” europeans, with their late marriage and comparably low fertility, have had it easy compared to the malthusian world that the chinese have lived under for literally millennia. if you weren’t a productive tenant, it would’ve been real easy for your landlord to replace you [pgs. 328-29]:

“Combined with ‘normal’ peacetime rates of mortality, fertility was high enough to sustain a population growth of as much a 1 percent or even more a year. China did not require, as early modern England did, the protoindustrialization that would break down late marriage and low nuptiality to usher in population growth of such an order.

“We must remember that a 1 percent per year increase is sufficient to double a population in 72 years, and quadruple it in 144, and that given the sustained periods of peace during China’s long imperial era, population expansions of several-fold were not at all uncommon. In this perspective, the nearly threefold increase in population between 1700 and 1850 in China, so often referred to as ‘the population explosion,’ was actually but the most recent of a series of peacetime population expansions in Chinese history. Each expansion was interrupted, and sometimes reversed, by the wars and famines of dynastic transition. Thus, the Qin-Han saw Chinese population reach possibly 60,000,000. It then dropped severely during the long centuries of division that followed, then expanded again during the Tang-Song, to reach perhaps 110,000,000, only to be drastically reduced once more and then expand again during the Ming. What was different about the final wave of expansion of the imperial era, in the 150 years between 1700 and 1850, was not the rate of growth but the starting base of 150,000,000. The nearly threefold expansion to 430,000,000 in fact required only a growth rate of 0.7 percent, modest even by premodern standards, and puny in comparision to the more than 2 percent rate of postrevolutionary China and most of the contemporary Third World, societies in which modern medicine has sharply reduced the mortality rate before socioal-economic change has had a chance to usher in the lower fertility rates associated with the modern ‘demographic transition.’

“If the above speculations are valid, they suggest that China’s demographic change was driven by alterations in the mortality rate, not in the fertility rate as in early modern Europe. Early and universal marriage saw to the doubling of populations in a century or less during peacetime, until drastic rises in mortality curtailed the rate of increase or reduced the total population. In early modern Europe, by contrast, late and less-than-universal marriage saw to low fertility rates and little population growth, until protoindustrialization raised fertility rates by lowering the age of marriage and increasing the proportion of ever-marrying…. Early modern and modern Europe’s demographic change, in short, was principally fertility-driven, whereas China’s was mortality driven.”

chinese emperors had a long history of encouraging the small, independent farmer, as well as promoting (via laws) inheritance systems in which all the sons inherited some property. this meant that all sons could marry and marry young. from very early on, farms were independently owned and so could be bought and sold. if you inherited a very small farm from your father, you might try to buy a bigger one. or you could go into tenancy and work for a landlord. either way, most or all sons in china would marry, whereas in many european societies, only the first son was guaranteed that opportunity (“an heir and a spare”) [pgs. 327-28]:

“Under a system of primogeniture (or unigeniture), the heir cannot become economically independent until he inherits the farm on the death of the father. That may cause later marriage, as it did in Europe before protoindustrialization provided alternative sources for economic independence. All the siblings, moreover, have to seek alternative sources for economic independence. That may lower the rate of the proportion ever marrying, as it did in Europe before the coming of protoindustrial employment. Partible inheritance, on the other hand, ensures the economic survival of all siblings, even if at lowered standards of living, and hence enable higher nuptiality. Where it is accompanied by household partitions during the lifetime of the father, it also encourages earlier marriage. Early and universal marriage, of course, produces higher fertility rates in the population.

“The ability of the peasant economy of the Warring States period [475-221 b.c.] to support an entire household with as small a farm as Shang Yang envisioned was due at least in part to technological advance that came with the ‘iron age.’ Contemporary sources document an already well-advanced and highly intensive agricultural regime, with planting in furrows; iron plows pulled by animals; hoes and spades for weeding, turning, and pulverizing the loess soil to preserve moisture; irrigation; crop rotation; and so on. The perfecting of the curved-iron moldboard for the plow during the Han was not to be matched in European agriculture until the eighteenth century. It was this combination of technological advance and the active promotion of early and universal marriage that produced the high-density small-peasant economy.

The triumph of the Qin entrenched the formula of combining centralized state power with high-density peasant farming in China. Subsequent dynasties were to follow largely the same policy. Each new dynasty typically set out to check the growth of large estates and reinvigorate the small-peasant economy. The Tang instituted the ‘equal field’ system of small cultivators. The Ming decreed that those who resettled the vast areas devastated by the wars of dynastic transition were not to claim more land than they could farm themselves. The Qing, along the same lines, undertook vigorous measure to check the touxian practice of the late Ming, by which smallholders sought shelter from taxation by placing themselves under the big gentry estates. Likewise, Shang Yang’s policy of partible inheritance became the standard social practice among most of the population by Tang times. The Tang code, which served as the model for the later dynasties, contained detailed provisions on how to divide up family property among brothers under all sorts of circumstances.”

so, for millennia, the chinese have been small, independent farmers who married young and had lots of kids who each (all the males) inherited some of the property to start the whole cycle all over again. if you weren’t an independent farmer, you might be a tenant of a landlord (if you were capable enough), but you were still a small farmer. sounds like a very competitive world to me!

and since the prevailing ideology for centuries in china did not discourage close marriages, and even encouraged strong family bonds, the chinese, unlike the europeans, remained clannish. by the early twentieth century, anyway, the clannishness was slightly different in northern china than in the south, but there was — and still is — clannishness almost everywhere in china [pgs. 145, 147-48]:

“Shajing (Shunyi county, Hebei province [north]) and Huayangqiao (Songjiang county, Shaghai municipality [south]), on which we have detailed empirical data from both wartime Japanese field research and my own oral-history research, are good illustrations of more general regional differences between North China and the Yangzi delta….

“The size of descent groups and villages, of course, varied with the age of the community. The Huayangqiao villagers can only trace their originas back to the post-Taiping period, when the present settlements took shape. Ancestral gravesites were limited to four generations, and no household could reconstruct its genealogy beyond four generations. The Zhangs of Shajing, by contrast, counted 60-70 graves for the Mantetsu investigators, and the Suns 40-50. The village had been formed in the early Ming by settlers from Hongdong county in Shanxi, though the families in the survey only dated back to the early Qing, when Hao Family village, as it was then known, was resettled (and renamed) after the devastations of the wars of dynastic transition.

“A second major contrast between the two communities’ residential patterns is the degree to which they reflected kinship ties. In Huayangqiao, the settlements were fundamentally agnatic (i.e. related by male descent). He Family Village [one of the villages within Huayangqiao settlement] was made up exclusively of Hes of the same patrilineal line — seven households in 1940. Xue Family Village had originally been made up entirely of Xues, five households in 1940….

“The central importance of these agnatic ties can be seen in the tendency for a village comprising more than one descent group to form separate hamlets (also called da locally) around each. Thus, Xilihangbang village was divided into Gao Family Hamlet (Gaojiada) in the north, Lu Family Hamlet (Lujiada) in the middle, and the South Hamlet (Nanda, also made up of Lus). The residents of these clusters evince a multi-layered sense of community identity, with the descent group at its core, identifying themselves only to outsiders by their village. In their own minds and those of their fellow villagers, they are from Hamlet X or Hamlet Y. [this reminded me of the somali bantus – hbd chick.] …

“All this stood in sharp contrast to Shajing village. Common descent groups also tended to congregate there, to be sure. Most parents wanted their children to have houses contiguous to theirs, usually built as extensions of the original home. The Yangs, Dus, Lis, and Zhangs lived in such clusters. But those agnatic groups did not represent separated communities. The villagers identified themselves unequivocally as members of Shajing village, never of a sub-entity such as the Li Family Hamlet or Yang Family Hamlet, as they did in Huayangqiao.”

i’m guessing that there must be different mating patterns in northern and southern china that led to the smaller, hamlet-based family units in the south versus the broader, village-based units in the north.

in any case, these are all very different selection pressures than what “core” europeans experienced, so it wouldn’t be strange if the types of innate altruistic (and other social) behaviors amongst the chinese (that’s a LOT of people) were different than in “core” europeans.

previously: what else happened during the middle ages?

(note: comments do not require an email. snow day!)

19 Comments

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about China lately so I’m glad you are turning to this subject. It’s such an opaque society, and the language so strange. I wonder what is really going on? Is a liberal market economy really possible there? We know they know how to assemble ipads like crazy — supply them the market and the product and they’ll supply the labor. But can they design and produce and distribute consumer products appropriate for their own people? And in the right quantitiies? So far it’s been nothing but freeways and infrastructure and half-empty apartment buildings. The factory workers put half their money into the bank (owned by the state, which pays ridiculously low interest) in part for sickness and old age, but also in part because there is nowhere to spend it. Then the banks lend it out, under party orders, for state projects that can never earn a return on investment. Where does that lead?

    Reply

  2. I’m struck by how the words for similar roles — “landlord” and “noble” — have different valuations attached to them. Western Europe had a lot of propaganda about the moral superiority of their nobles over the villeins, but “landlord” sounds neutral to hostile. “Mandarin,” however, somes positive.

    I’d be interested in any thinking you have about the role of fighting in differences between Western Europe and China. Without central rule and thus with noble v. noble fighting, did nobles need their underlings more to feed their giant warhorses and some times fight (“We happy few, we band of brothers”), while landlords, enjoying peace, just exploited their tenants with economic rationality?

    Reply

  3. Traditionally the ruling classes have always treated the masses like domestic animals — working animals to be exact — and have thought of them in those terms. The question is, will China end up more like North Korea or South Korea? Or somewhere in between? I’m not sure how genetics plays into this but I’m pretty sure that it does.

    Reply

  4. “It must be so frustrating to consider yourself a natural aristocrat when your countrymen decline to consider themselves natural serfs.” dearieme

    Reply

  5. Very interesting! And yes indeed, very different from Western Europe. I can think of at least five important selection pressures this kind of system produced.

    There would been very high mortality among the peasants at the bottom of the pyramid, probably much more so than in Europe. This would select for:

    1. IQ, especially considering Malcolm Gladwell’s description of rice farming in Outliers.
    2. Fanatical work ethic, for the same reasons. Gladwell:
    “Rice farming is the most labor-intensive form of agriculture known to man. It is also the most cognitively demanding form of agriculture … There is a direct correlation between effort and reward. You get exactly out of your rice paddy what you put into it.”
    3. Docility, since (unless you were the landlord) you were always under someone else’s yoke in pretty crowded conditions. Tenant farmers especially probably would have been bred like farm animals by landlords for this trait. High individuality and a disdain for authority probably didn’t get you too far in this society.
    4. Acceptance/expectation of a top-down enforced distribution system (aka, communism), since those on the margins of survival would only do so by pinning their hopes on their land allotment.
    5. Not giving a rat’s *ss about those outside your clan or village, due to the clan-based breeding system, which may explain things like this.

    Reply

  6. @luke – “It’s such an opaque society … I wonder what is really going on?”

    yeah, i dunno. china really is one, extra-large riddle-enigma wrap!

    @luke – “Is a liberal market economy really possible there?”

    i’ve never been to china, but i’ve been to southeast asia and EVERYbody seems to be in business selling things to each other — kinda like in (“forget it, jake, it’s…”) chinatown — so it’s curious that the chinese didn’t go down a western-style capitalism road, ’cause they certainly like to trade. real estate seems to have been something you could buy and sell going way back, unlike in medieval europe, for instance. if you were asked to guess back in 1000 a.d. which population — the europeans or the east asians — would be really succesful at capitalism one thousand years later, the europeans wouldn’t have been the obvious choice, imho.

    the chinese are missing an element or two, i think, that enables a liberal market economy. one of the big ones is trust. like jayman says above, not giving a rat’s *ss about those outside your clan or village. that’s one of their big problems, i think.

    Reply

  7. @steve – “‘landlord’ sounds neutral to hostile. ‘Mandarin, however, somes positive.”

    landlord sounds particularly hostile if you put “absentee” in front of it. apparently, there were a lot of those in china when mao came to power. he routed them.

    @steve – “I’d be interested in any thinking you have about the role of fighting in differences between Western Europe and China. Without central rule and thus with noble v. noble fighting, did nobles need their underlings more to feed their giant warhorses and some times fight (‘We happy few, we band of brothers’), while landlords, enjoying peace, just exploited their tenants with economic rationality?”

    you guys and your battles. (^_^)

    i think that’s probably broadly right, tho. it seems like some of the earliest emperors were the ones who established/encouraged the small, independent farmer system, i would guess in order to keep as much power for themselves and not delegate it out to any nobles. once the system is in place, then the emperor doesn’t have much direct competition and he gets to tax all these farmers directly AND draw on them when needed for defense purposes [pg. 329]:

    “A second distinguishing feature of ‘landlorism,’ according to Hu, is the separation of proprietary right over land from military, administrative, and judicial powers over the cultivators of the land, this again in contrast to the European manorial system, in which the lords also wielded noneconomic powers over their domain. Under Chinese ‘landlordism,’ the state monopolized the other powers, thereby overcoming the ‘parcelized sovereignty’ that characterized European manorialism. This feature of Chinese landlordism is also traceable, I believe, to the Qin’s active promotion of a freeholding small-peasant economy.”

    i don’t know how perfectly economically rational landlords in china could’ve been. some of the “landlords” were actually clan groups — sort of “clan corporations” renting out land to junior clan members so, i dunno, you’d think they wouldn’t be so hard on fellow family members when the rent was due.

    there’s a north-south divide here with regard to landlordism in china (as with many things in china?): greater amounts of landlordism and “gentry” (i.e. your mandarin friends drawn from the landlord class) versus a more direct imperial state-common people connection in the north. at least that’s the impression i’ve got so far. [pgs. 330-31.]

    but, yeah — landlords in china freed up from all those military and other duties that medieval european nobles had to deal with in their feudal system. that makes sense.

    greying wanderer had some interesting thoughts about the relationship between the average size of arab/muslim tribes and their sort of hit-and-run tribal warfare — and that being, literally, a band of brothers might’ve made them very effective.

    Reply

  8. @steve – “‘We happy few, we band of brothers'”

    i was at a pep talk once given by the ceo of the rather large corporation i was working for at the time. there was a downturn in the economy and so there were going to be cutbacks, blah, blah, blah … but the ceo said something about how we would all get through this together as a family.

    and it really irked me ’cause i thought — you’re not my family! i got plenty of family, and you’re not one of them.

    i wonder if the “band of brothers” thing is a harder sell to us (*ahem*) slightly inbred folks from endogamous ethnic groups. (~_^) (it probably didn’t help that i didn’t like my job very much.)

    Reply

  9. @jayman – “Gladwell: ‘Rice farming is the most labor-intensive form of agriculture known to man. It is also the most cognitively demanding form of agriculture … There is a direct correlation between effort and reward. You get exactly out of your rice paddy what you put into it.'”

    is that really right? i can believe it, i just wonder what he based that statement on. keep in mind that in china, it’s rice farming in the south and wheat and other crops like that in the north. but, wow — i didn’t realize they had such advanced farming techniques so early! i mean, i know they invented lots of stuff early on … but that’s some pretty amazing stuff they came up with pretty early.

    @jayman – “Docility, since (unless you were the landlord) you were always under someone else’s yoke in pretty crowded conditions.”

    well, that’s the “nail that sticks up will get hammered down” thing, isn’t it? or partly anyway. although, i also think that manorialism could breed for docility — you’ve also got to work for “The Man” in a feudal society. very much so, in fact!

    @jayman – “Not giving a rat’s *ss about those outside your clan or village, due to the clan-based breeding system, which may explain things like this.”

    a common feature amongst inbred/endogamous peoples. it’s definitely a problem — if you want a liberal, democratic sort-of society.

    Reply

  10. this is all new territory for me, btw, so feel free to correct me where i’m wrong.

    Unfortunately Xu at the slitty eye is taking some time off blogging, else I’d invite him over to do some fact checking …. lol

    The perfecting of the curved-iron moldboard for the plow during the Han was not to be matched in European agriculture until the eighteenth century.

    I am really surprised it took that long for the plow to get to Europe considering trade had been occurring for centuries by then. The plow would have been a very heavy object and probably never been actually taken back, but odd no enterpriser took the idea back — I am going to attribute that to the lack of patent protection for ideas until about that time, as any blacksmith could have freely make them prior to then.

    f you were asked to guess back in 1000 a.d. which population — the europeans or the east asians — would be really succesful at capitalism one thousand years later, the europeans wouldn’t have been the obvious choice, imho.

    I would have thought exactly the opposite. It was the Europeans who were going to China for the goods, which were wildly profitable for them.

    there were going to be cutbacks, blah, blah, blah … but the ceo said something about how we would all get through this together as a family.

    Cutbacks, generally mean layoffs, so did he expect the laid off to remain part of the family, or did you divorce them when they got laid off?

    Reply

  11. @rjp – “…or did you divorce them when they got laid off?”

    oh, yes. we all got divorced — and it wasn’t amicable. (~_^) (wasn’t over the cutbacks, tho.)

    Reply

  12. I think one thing you overlook in the future of Chinese political evolution is the complete 180 Han Chinese society has taken in regards marriage and childbirth patterns in the last 30 years.

    Extreme labor mobility, delayed marriage, delayed childbirth, very few children, atomized families.

    Communist family planning and economic policy will undo in 2 generations what took 2 millennia to create.

    Reply

  13. @duke of qin – “Communist family planning and economic policy will undo in 2 generations what took 2 millennia to create.”

    dunno about just two generations. ’cause i dunno how quickly the evolution by natural selection of “genes for altruism” happens. (~_^) maybe. prolly not, tho.

    edit: but things are definitely changing in china, no doubt. in this (and other) post(s), i’m just trying to reconstruct how the chinese got to where they are today — and what innate behaviors they have to work with.

    Reply

  14. Here is an interesting link on the economic situation inside China today. I especially liked this comment by a reader at the end:

    libertastotus 07:34 07 Aug 11

    China is lack of a commercial infrastucture to sustain vital across-the-board domestic consumption. In Bejing, the captital of the country, with a very dense population just like New York or London, in most of the areas you can’t even find convenient stores to buy a bottle of water or soda. You can buy a bottle of water from small cigarette stands as there are plenty of them. However, you have very limited choices for a bottle of soft drink at a cigarette stand. That’s the capital, the most developed city of the nation. I visited that city a number of times, and I walked around a lot. That’s a personal experience. You want to buy electronic gagets in Beijing, go to this area called Zhongguancun. There are a number of huge buidlings that are termed as the mega malls of electronic goods. When you go inside, you realize on every floor there are dozens or even more a hundred small booths that sell similar items one next to the other. You don’t know if a booth carries what you are looking for and there are no pricing labels on the any of the items on display. You start with one booth, ask for what you are looking for, find out about the pricing, bargain with the shop keeper, and you repeat those activities onto the next booth. It was not easy to shop in those mega malls. One time I was there to look for a power adator for the 220 volt wall outlets in China. It took me a good hour to finally find one. Domestic consumption? There is a long way to go.

    Reply

  15. @luke – “‘You want to buy electronic gagets in Beijing, go to this area called Zhongguancun. There are a number of huge buidlings that are termed as the mega malls of electronic goods. When you go inside, you realize on every floor there are dozens or even more a hundred small booths that sell similar items one next to the other. You don’t know if a booth carries what you are looking for and there are no pricing labels on the any of the items on display. You start with one booth, ask for what you are looking for, find out about the pricing, bargain with the shop keeper, and you repeat those activities onto the next booth. It was not easy to shop in those mega malls.'”

    this sounds exactly like an electronics mega-mall that i was in in bangkok. i think it was something like six or eight storys just packed with all these small “shops” and booths. and, of course, all of the software was pirated. (~_^) lots o’ great bargains, tho!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s