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Salt, iron and despotism in ancient China


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  • 戦国秦漢時代における塩鉄政策と国家的専制支配
  • センゴク シンカンジダイ ニ オケル エンテツ セイサク ト コッカテキ センセイ シハイ

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In this article, the author focuses on the fact that during Warring-States, Qin and Han periods in China, farmers were mostly dependent on salt and iron outside their communities in order to discuss one moment in the introduction of money economy to village life and also how the state controlled these two commodities. The article begins with a discussion of the two systems of salt and iron industrial management: state-owned operation and private operation that were taxed. Secondly, the author touches upon policy concerning salt and iron in the various principalities at the beginning of Western-Han period, concluding that the same dual system of management existing there as well. However, during the reign of Han Emperor Wu, the two systems were unified in an autocratic monopoly system, in which, "Former private salt and iron makers who are willing to work in state operated enterprises will be recruited, and will transfer all their existing equipment and facilities to the state. Plus, [the makers of iron, salt, or the both will be outfitted with bellows, etc. and] salt makers will be equipped with cauldrons. The state will appropriate all production, then pay the makers salaries [on either a fixed or percentage basis]." In addition, in 110 BC the state also began controlling the distribution of salt and iron. The profits from both state-monopoly systems were calculated by chamberlain for the national treasury on the basis of the prices of hemp and silk. In conclusion, the author considers the historical significance of the state-monopoly systems, and states that the promotion of a gender-based division of labor in which men were to cultivate and women to weave from Warring-States period created a stratum of farmers who were self-sufficient in hemp and silk, but were forced to purchase the iron and salt they used. However, during the reign of Emperor Wu, as mentioned above, under the monopoly system of salt and iron, all farmers have to pay hemp and silk in order to get salt and iron. Consequently, the government was able to purchase surplus production (mainly hemp and silk) from farmers at cheap prices and sell them necessities, like iron and salt, at expensive prices, resulting in the establishment of a rational system of exploitation. In other words, Emperor Wu was abletocreateadespoticsystemofruleunderwhichapermanently settled agrarian population became totally dependent on the state for its livelihood.



    SHIGAKU ZASSHI 119 (1), 1-36, 2010

    The Historical Society of Japan

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