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Land Regulation in the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom 太平天国的物权法

The Land regulations of the Taiping Rebellion were a significant departure from the Chinese tradition. Jen Yu-wen, The Taiping Revolutionary Movement 143 (Yale University Press 1973). They proposed a utopian scheme which distributed land equally between men and women, abolished traditional taxes, and removed the traditional landlord-tenant relationship. However, the administration and reality of the land regulation was far from the ideology of the Heavenly Kingdom.

The Ideology

The roots of the Land Regulation policy in the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom lie in the biblical teaching that all people on the earth are brothers and sisters. Id. at 144. Therefore, the citizens of the kingdom were members of one large family. Id. As members of a family with a common purpose (to establish a heaven on earth), the citizens were required to share both the land and its production. Id.

The Taipings believed that men and women were equal and land was to be equally divided between the male and the female members of the kingdom. Id. To do this, the land was first classified in one of nine categories according to the amount of grain it produced. Id. at 143. After which, each adult was to receive one Mu (aprx. 0.1647 acre) of first-quality land and every child under the age of sixteen would receive 1/2 a Mu. Id. at 143-44. This policy stood in stark contrast to the policies of earlier Chinese dynasties which gave women little to no rights to own land. Id. at 143.

The Taiping Land regulations also created a new system of taxes, which eliminated all traditional taxes. Id. at 144. Instead, the farmer would withhold a portion of the harvest for personal use and transfer the remainder of the farm produce to the state treasury. Id. Unfortunately, this simple system proved difficult to enforce and easy to abuse, because it was difficult to measure a farm’s total production and to define how much should be set aside for family use. Id.

The ideological purpose of land administration was summed up in this statement from the land regulations: ‘Cultivating land in common, eating rice in common, clothing ourselves in common, and using money in common, the people of every place will share equally and there will be no person who is not fully fed and warmly dressed.’ Id.

The Practice

“To implement the radical land policy would have required time and security, which the Taipings never had.” 10 The Cambridge History of China 293 (Denis Twitchett & John K. Fairbank eds., 1978) [hereinafter Cambridge].

The actual land policy during the Taiping rebellion’s eleven year run suggests that there was very little change to the status quo. Jen at 145. A review of the documentation from title deeds, taxation notices, and other proclamation from the Taiping government, suggest that very little changed from the previous system. Id. The central government instructed generals and provincial leaders to notify the people “to pay land taxes as before following the old system.” Id. “Private ownership of all kinds of land (which was protected by the Taiping government as well), classification of land, various other forms of ownership, the amount of land for private ownership (no matter how vast), taxation records (old or new), personnel in the administration (reinstatement of old officials and clerks whenever possible), methods and procedures in collecting taxes, and even the style of penmanship in the documents – all remained unchanged.” Id.

However, there was one large exception to this rule. The rate of taxation saw a significant change from the Manchu rates. Id. While the central government did not fix a set tax rate, the provinces and prefectures, acting autonomously, set rates which were generally lower than the Manchu rates. Id.

While never truly implementing the Taiping ideology, the rebellion did have some positive effects on the people in areas not devastated by war. Cambridge at 294. The lower tax rates plus the presence of a new rebel administration (and accompanying troops), “hardened tenants’ determination to resist extortionate rents, and in some cases landlords have to content themselves with partial payments.” Additionally, with the lower taxes and new administration, the economy and trade within the Taiping areas was better regulated and more honestly administered. Id.

The Similarities with PRC

The Taiping Rebellion played a part in the mythology of the Chinese Communist Revolution. Howard L. Boorman, Mao Tse-tung as Historian, 28 The China Quarterly 82, 93 (1966). Mao saw the past 110 years as a history of imperialist oppression populated by great revolutionary moments. Id. He categorized that time as a “national revolutionary struggle,” which was aimed at national reform and independence. Id. Within that struggle were certain rebellions against the imperialist powers, which included the Taiping Rebellion, Boxer uprising, and the 1911 revolution. Id.

The Chinese communists labeled the Taiping rebellion as a “peasant revolutionary war.” Id. From the Taiping rebellion, the communists drew many parallels to their revolution including, unrest among the peasants, the decline of a dynasty, the impact of foreign greed, and a leader with a magnetic personality. Max Mark, Chinese Communism, 13 The Journal of Politics 232, 233 (1951). With these similarities, the Chinese Communists were able to pull from the existing folklore of the revolution and weave it into their own propaganda. Id. at 235.

Yet, the details of the Taiping ideology stand at great odds with the communist interpretation. The life of a peasant and his wretched condition was not something to idealized in Taiping society. Ren at 144. One punishment for wicked or delinquent officials was “degradation to the status of peasants.” The Taiping leaders believed that the poor state of the peasant was the will of the Almighty God. Id. In the Taiping rebellion the fight was not between the proletariat farmer and the bourgeois imperialist landowner, but instead between the new Chinese “heaven on earth” and the Manchu rulers. Id.