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China Qin and Han Dynasty A Socio Economic Analysis Professor Pacas.

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1 China Qin and Han Dynasty A Socio Economic Analysis Professor Pacas

2 The (Ch’in) Qin Empire, founded in 221 BC, ruled over more people than the Romans ever did. It had 6,800 kilometers of roads (compared with the 5,984 kilometers of the Roman Empire) It was able to put an estimated 300,000 people to work on the 3,000 kilometers of the first Great Wall, and up to 700,000 on constructing the first emperor’s tomb

3 The big merchant entrepreneurs were the social group whose activities made the biggest contribution to the enrichment of the state… The capitals of kingdoms… tended to become big commercial and manufacturing centers But rulers could only successfully embrace the new methods if they broke the power of the old aristocracy. ‘Parallel with technological change in agriculture… were socio-economic changes’ and ‘political reforms in several states’

4 These gave the key role in cultivation to the individual peasant nuclear family, allowing it to own the land, pay taxes, and contribute labor directly to the state rather than to the local lord. ‘It was the new productive force of the small farmers that supported the new regime’ This was a social revolution, the replacement of one exploiting class by another, from above. It was a revolution carried through by armies, which exacted an enormous toll. 1,489,000 deaths during 150 years of war from 364 to 234 BC One victory allegedly involved the beheading of 100,000 men The establishment of the empire was accompanied by the deportation of no fewer than 120,000 of the old ‘rich and powerful’ families

5 As the surplus produced by the peasants grew, so did the demand of the rulers, old and new, for luxury goods, metal weapons, horses, chariots, bows and armor for their armies. The peasants needed a constant supply of tools. All these goods could only be supplied by ever greater numbers of craft workers, operating with new techniques of their own, and of merchant traders operating between, as well as within, the individual states

6 The influence of the merchants was demonstrated when the richest of them became chancellor to the future emperor in 250 BC, was granted land comprising 100,000 households and surrounded himself with an entourage of 3,000 scholars

7 China could have been transformed by the merchant ‘bourgeoisie’ into a new society based overwhelmingly on production by wage laborers for the market. Instead it fell under the dominance of the bureaucracy of the state, which succeeded in channeling the surplus away from both the merchants and the old aristocracy and concentrating it in its own hands. The merchants supported the state in its struggle against the aristocracy, only to see themselves robbed of the fruits of victory by the state bureaucracy. Certainly, the state repeatedly attacked the merchants

8 The first Han emperor, for instance, ‘forbade merchants to wear silk and ride in carriages… Neither merchants nor their children and grandchildren were allowed to serve in the government’ The state took control of two of the key industries, salt and iron, to ensure as a Han document tells, ‘ the various profits of salt and iron are monopolized [by the empire] in order to suppress rich traders and rich merchants. Higher taxes were levied on trading profits than on agriculture, and the wealth of merchants who tried to evade the taxes was confiscated Emperor Wu (141-87 BC) ‘the merchants’ properties were forcibly seized by the imperial power. In order to survive the merchants often had to establish ties with the bureaucrats or even the court

9 At first, the increased power of the state did not prevent continued advance in trade and artisan production- indeed, they benefited from government measures such as the building of roads and canals, and the extension of the empire into south China, central Asia, Indochina, and the Korean peninsula. Steel was being produced by the 2 nd century AD (a millennium and a half before it appeared in Europe); the world’s first water-wheels were in operation; and the wheelbarrow, which enabled people to move more than twice their own weight, was in use by the 3 rd century AD (1,000 years before its arrival in western Europe)

10 But the independence of the merchants- entrepreneurs as a class were curtailed. They were unable to establish themselves as a force with their own centers of power, as they were in the cities of late Medieval Europe Instead, they were increasingly dependent on the state bureaucracy

11 The peasants’ lot scarcely improved after the measures taken against the merchant class. Taxes to the state ensured they lived scarcely above the breadline when harvests were good and fell below it, into famine, when they were not The soil of the north China plain demanded continual attention between planting and harvesting if it was not to dry out or become infested with weeds or insects It should never be forgotten that all the ‘wonders’ of the empire- the Great Wall, the canals, the emperors’ tombs, the palaces- involved millions of hours of labor and were of decreasing benefit to society as a whole

12 Such waste had to be paid for by maintaining pressure on the peasantry. There were repeated peasant rebellions. While uprisings of the lower class against their rulers are rarely mentioned in the records of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India or Rome, they occur again and again in the case of China

13 The masses had played a key role in the uprising. But they did not benefit from its outcome. The new empire was scarcely different to the old. It was not long before it, in turn, faced risings. In AD 17 peasants hit by floods in the lower valley of the Yellow River rose up behind leaders such as a woman skilled in witchcraft called ‘Mother Lu.’ They were known as the ‘red eyebrows,’ because they painted their faces, and they set up independent kingdoms under their leaders in two regions

14 Such rebellions set a pattern which was to recur repeatedly. The extortions of the imperial tax system and the landowners would drive the peasants to rebel. Revolts would conquer whole provinces, complete with provincial capitals, and even threaten the imperial capital, until they were joined by generals from the imperial army, government officials who had fallen out with the court, and certain landowners. Yet successful revolts led to new emperors or new dynasties which treated the mass of peasants just as badly as those they had replaced

15 The peasants could not establish a permanent, centralised organisation capable of imposing their own goals on society. Their livelihood came from farming their individual plots and they could not afford to leave them for more than a short period of time They could conceive of a world in which the administrators behaved better and the landowners did not squeeze them. But they could not conceive of a completely different society run by themselves However, the rebellions did have the cumulative effect of weakening the Han Empire

16 The imperial administration had no way of raising the resources to sustain itself and its empire other than by squeezing the peasants. It could not prevent periodic revolts. In AD 184 a messianic movement, the Yellow Turbans, headed by the leader of a Taoist sect, organised some 360,00 armed supporters. Generals sent to put down the rebellions were soon fighting each other, adding to the chaos and devastation Amid the burning down of the capital, the pillaging of whole areas of the country and the disruption of trade routes there was sharp decline in urban centres, which further disrupted life in the countryside


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