The Manchus conquered the Ming Dynasty on June 6th, 1644 and commenced the Qing Dynasty. This new dynasty implemented many reforms. For instance, taxation underwent extensive changes during this dynastic transition. As Ye Mengzhu, a former bureaucrat, stated in Taxes and Labor Service “Beginning with this dynasty(the Qing) things changed. In the fifth month of 1645, an imperial decree was issued to reduce the taxes of the southeast delta area by fifty percent. “(Ebrey, 283). A cursory analysis of this decree would indicate this benefited the southeast delta cities because their taxes rates were lowered.
However, one crucial aspect set the Qing tax system apart from the its Ming predecessor. The Qing tax system required a 100% collection rate. Conversely, the Ming only required a 60-80% collection rate(Ebrey, 283). This meant the south-east delta cities were actually paying more in taxes under the Qing dynasty. This increase produced a profusion of problems for Chinese peasants, degree holders, and members of the gentry. On the other hand, the new tax code provided the new Manchu rulers with an opportunity to restructure the prior Ming bureaucracy and expand the dynasty’s corvee labor source.
The Qing tax system invalidated the civil service exam degrees of men who could not pay their taxes. Degree holders were the only eligible cadre that could hold Chinese government positions (Spence, 45-46). Therefore, the Qing tax system reduced the number of Chinese able to serve in the bureaucracy. For example, Ye Mengzhu deplored that “All the government officials on the list of delinquents were to be dismissed from their offices… 11,346 lower degree holders were listed as offenders and were scheduled to be dismissed or demoted(Ebery, 284).
Hundreds of degree holders could not pay the tax on time and were dismissed. Consequently, these bureaucratic openings could be filled with scholars loyal to the Qing cause. Similarly, the severity of the tax system was employed to demote scholars as well. For example, officials who owed as little “one-thousandth of a tael of silver” were dismissed from their offices(Ebrey, 284). The Qing could have given extensions on these miniscule amounts. Nonetheless, they were not and more office holders were dismissed. Furthermore, Mengzhu only gave an account of his locality.
Throughout China many more degree holders lost their status. A case in point was Jiangsu, where thousands of Chinese had their degrees revoked(Spence, 43). Moreover, Mengzhu’s work demonstrated that the new exchequer not only revoked degrees but demoted the local gentry as well. For example, Mengzhu wrote that “officials began to collect unpaid taxes for the previous ten years, and the citizens, frightened of the devastating consequences rushed in to pay, selling their estates at any price. “(Ebrey, 284) Mengzhu illustrated that the gentry would sell their land to pay their taxes.
By the same token that bureaucrats could not hold office without degrees, members of the gentry could retain their position without sufficient land. Indeed, as Chinese historian Spence demonstrates “The type of wealth most valued continued to be agricultural land”(Spence 45). Land ownership provided wealth. Wealth allowed a family to hire a civil service exam tutor. Finally, these tutors would allow members of the landholding elite to achieve government positions. The Qing had now eliminated another avenue for potential dissidents to join its bureaucracy.
Alternatively, the officials responsible for recording tax records made mistakes that benefitted the government. Notably, Mengzhu proclaimed “Sometimes a completed payment was erroneously recorded as still outstanding; other times, a small unpaid amount was mistakenly recorded as a large one. Sometimes, the name of the person who had paid his taxes failed to show up on the record; other times, such a person’s name failed to be deleted from the list of delinquents. “(Ebrey, 284) All of these “mistakes” foster further taxation, none of them benefitted Qing subjects.
While it cannot be presumed Qing officials actively sanctioned these mistakes, the reality is an increased amount of tax revenue. More importantly, these mistakes increased the probability a degree holder or gentry member could not pay their taxes. Indubitably, Qing officials desired this or they would have solved these “mistakes. ” Accordingly, the Qing took advantage of degree disenfranchisement and gentry demotion in two major ways. First, in 1646 “the national examinations on the classical literary” writes Jonathan D. Spence “were reinstituted. (Spence, 40)
These new exams were meant to ensure the loyalty of new officials in the Qing bureaucracy. Firstly, the new senior examiners increased the prospect that the nominees selected from the exams were loyal to the Manchu cause. The senior examiners were comprised of 4 men: two Chinese bannerman loyal to the Qing Dynasty, a scholarly Manchu, and lastly a classical Chinese scholar. These men would and could not choose scholars they thought to be antithetical to the Qing Cause. Secondly, a majority of the degrees were given to nominees from the Peking area.
This may seem like a trivial fact. However, each of the eight banners utilized to conquer China were placed in territory around Peking (Spence, 39). Considering this, the likelihood of selecting an individual faithful to the Manchu cause increased even more. Albeit, the possibility existed that examinees could conceal their loyalties to the Ming Dynasty. Then receive a bureaucratic position and undermine the Qing. This simply is not a feasible argument. A scholar who became an official for the Qing would have violated the sacrosanct Confucian values held dear by all Chinese scholars(Spence, 57).
Confucian ideology places a high value on loyalty. Confucius espoused that “worthy men should not serve unworthy rulers and must be ready to sacrifice their lives, if necessary in the defense of principle. ” Therefore the notion that Ming loyalist examinees would conceal their desires is a baseless and highly refutable argument. The second advantage was that the Qing Dynasty expanded its corvee labor when it rescinded degrees.
Chinese dynasties have a long history of utilizing corvee labor to supplement regular taxes(Needham, Science and Civilisation, 181. However, Chinese men who had passed the examinations were exempt from corvee labor dues(Spence, 46). Thus, the aforementioned scholars who lost their degrees were now subject to corvee labor. This meant a larger pool of laborer available for government work. Incidentally, Ye Mengzhu also described the labor service that many members of his community underwent.
In particular Mengzhu bemoaned the increasing number of individuals required for “the transportation of cloth’ and the ‘northern transportation of rice. (Ebrey, 285) These individuals were subjected to harsh treatment from officials. This abuse could drive the transporters to bankruptcy. In this sense the Qing government was adding insult to injury. Not only were former degree holders forced into corvee labor, but they were forced into bankruptcy. At any rate the Qing tax code was appropriated as a mechanism to reorganize the bureaucracy, and expand corvee labor sources. Although, Mengzhu explained that a few members of the gentry took advantage of this new tax system, many more were harmed significantly by it. Ebrey, 286)
Furthermore, degree holders stripped of their status simultaneously became a new source of corvee labor and lost the ability to serve in government. While the Qing tax code provided the new Manchu dynasty with myriad benefits it also possessed undeniable flaws. Perhaps the most detrimental was the failure of an up-to-date survey made of wealthy Chinese landholdings. This task was virtually impossible because it relied on local Chinese to implement it. (Spence 47) This allowed many members of the gentry to avoid taxation outright and amass large estates. (Spence, 80) This would later play a role in the downfall of the Qing.