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Taxing Heaven's Storehouse: Horses, Bureaucrats, and the Destruction of the Sichuan Tea Industry, 1074-1224.

Taxing Heaven's Storehouse is an outstanding contribution to Song studies and Chinese economic history at the same time. This study of the duda tiju chamasi (Tea and Horse Administration) presents probably the most profound study of any Song institution yet available in any Western language. Even the most recent publication on the history of the Sichuanese tea industry by Jia Daquan and Chen Yishi, Sichuan chaye shi (Chengdu: Ba Shu shushe, 1988) cannot be compared as far as the use of source material and economic analysis are concerned. Smith's book introduces the reader not only to the political and economic history of Sichuan prior to Song times but provides the social background and the historical evidence to understand how the tea and horse trade could have been established and how it has worked in this area. This study by Paul J. Smith is meticulously researched, the reasoning well pondered, the evidence amply annotated; the text is fluently composed, the story behind the tea and horse trade very well told, and it is exciting to read. It is an admirable work of scholarship that has grown over many years to full maturity, but has at the same time lost nothing of its original drive. "All historians of China, whether of Song or of other eras, must be in the author's debt" (William T. Rowe, Journal of Sung-Yuan Studies 22 |1990-92~: 22); I could not agree more.

Apart from the "Introduction", four "Appendices" which provide materials on the Intendants, Revenues and Subventions, and a massive body of "Notes", "Bibliography", "Glossary" and "Index," the volume consists of seven chapters arranged in two parts. Part one deals with the historical and geopolitical background for the horse supply during the Northern Song, the economic basis and structure of the tea industry on the eve of the tea and horse trade, and the social development in Sichuan, in particular relating to social mobility, as well as Sichuan's political integration. Part two opens with Wang Anshi's theory of bureaucratic entrepreneurship, and continues with chapters on the entrepreneurial leap and entrepreneurial expansion, leading to a discussion and analysis of "The Impact of Bureaucratic Power on the Sichuan Tea Economy", and its limits.

To understand the tea and horse trade connection in Sichuan and to appreciate its importance for the political and economic history of China the story has to be sketched in a few sentences. Smith investigates why there was an urgent need for horses in China, and why and when Sichuan appeared on the economic map of the horse trade. "From the rise of the mounted archers around the fourth century B.C. until the incursion of European imperialism in the eighteenth century A.D., the chief external threat to sedentary China issued from the nomad warriors of Inner Asia". In north China cavalry outweighed the infantry. Hence horses with the physical qualities of chargers were of the utmost importance for the defense of China's northern border. In Song times the quality of cavalry was to become a problem of vital importance for the dynasty because the Song were confronted with the strong cavalry-based military forces of the "barbarian" neighbors in the north and northwest (the Xi Xia, Liao, and Jin dynasties). They presented a constant danger to the Song. More than once before and after 1126/27, when the Northern Song collapsed, the destiny of the dynasty was hanging by a thread. At the same time the number of horses on the Song pastures had dramatically diminished in Northern Song times. The alarming deficiency in the supply of horses, on the one hand, was due to geographical reasons; on the other hand, horse breeding and horse pastures could not be made attractive to a traditionally agricultural society. Thus a reliable frontier marketing system had to be established in order to procure horses for the Chinese cavalry. The strategies developed before the reshaping of the horse procurement by Xue Xiang in 1060 were devised amateurishly. They were neither profitable nor efficient or reliable. Wang Anshi invited Xue Xiang to experiment with regional sources of financing the horse procurement, which meant capitalizing the horse trade from regional industries in Shaanxi and Sichuan, thus taking a heavy financial burden off the central government. Apart from salt, Shaanxi had not very much to offer to attract Tibetan horse traders. When Xue Xiang introduced Sichuanese commodities, especially Sichuanese silk, into the horse trade, there was an immediate response by the Tibetan horse sellers. It was Wang Shao who after 1070 succeeded in establishing a reliable link between Qinghai horses and Sichuanese tea for the remaining 50 years or so of the Northern Song dynasty. At first, certainly silk constituted the major trade item but, because tea was in great demand, the tea trade soon became dominant. "The bridge between Sichuanese tea and Tibetan horses had now been built".

The tea market and the tea monopoly from the beginning of the Song dynasty until the seventies of the 11th century was rather complicated and cannot be easily described or analysed. Smith mentions the dominant southeastern tea production in garden households (yuanhu) and the distribution network, the Thirteen Mountain Markets (shanchang shisan), and he rightly describes this system as "the most obscure aspect of the tea trade". Perhaps I may mention in passing that in summer 1992 Reinhold Kreifelts completed an M.A. thesis (University of Wurzburg) on the system of tea transport and tea management in Northern Song times, which is based on the research of Zhu Zhongsheng Bei Song cha zhi shengchan yu jingying (Taibei: Taiwan xuesheng shuju, 1985). Quite apart from a number of philological problems, the economic chaos in the tea monopoly and the various ways it was implemented becomes obvious in this study (e.g., the method of the state monopoly |jinque fa~, the foreign trade monopoly |quewai fa~, the domestic trade monopoly |quenei fa~, the provisioning method |ruzhong fa~, the "make-up-the-deficiency" method |tieshe fa~ which is the method of direct purchase of tea, the method of three options |sanshuo fa~, the method of three parts |san-fen fa~, the new provisioning method |xinruzhong fa~, a combination of the direct purchase and cash method |tieshe yu xianqian fa~, etc.).

Smith wisely focuses in his second chapter on the tea production and tea trade in Sichuan, which was confined from 980 until 1059 to a few tribes and Tibetans. Sichuanese tea was not part of the most profitable tea trade at the northern or northwestern borders. This means that from Tang times until the middle of the 11th century "the Sichuan-Tibetan tea trade was a relatively closed system". The trade connection explains the manufacture of "low-volume high-density compressed tea," the tea in the shape of cakes or bricks which was no longer fashionable in the main centers of tea cultivation where producers and consumers preferred loose teas, both powder and leaf. As far as the commercial circulation of tea licenses is concerned, there was from the establishment of the tea monopoly in Sichuan in 1074 to the end of the records available in 1204 only one sort of tea license in use, with a single denomination ("long license," changyin), based on a unit of 100 catties. Smith concludes: "... and within a decade of the monopoly's establishment, Sichuan's localized high-quality tea industry had been transformed into a bulk producer of low-quality tea for long-distance state-run markets".

In chapter three Smith clearly describes the situation of Sichuanese society prior to the Song dynasty--"the local magnates and the great lineages" (tuhao dazu), the "families of substance" (xingshihu), and the "local barons" in the 10th century, and how the situation changed during the 11th century, when the rich Sichuanese all of a sudden were embracing imperial political ideals, taking part in the jinshi examination and holding office. What had happened? Without doubt the region of Sichuan had a flourishing economy and economic vitality, based on intensive rice and tea cultivation, sericulture, textile manufacture, and salt. Population growth eroded magnate domination in Sichuan. Control over "guest households" and labor declined between 980 and 1078 (pp. 90-91, notes 56 and 57; see also Dieter Kuhn, Die Song-Dynastie (960 bis 1279): Eine neue Gesellschaft im Spiegel ihrer Kultur |Weinheim: Acta Humaniora VCH, 1987~, 196-200). In the opinion of Smith, the Song officials saw the most dangerous aspect of magnate power in the ability of influential families to direct their large retinues of dependents against imperial rule. "It was this bond between master and dependent that Song officials felt compelled to break, in order to open Sichuan up to centralized control". But to be fair, before there was a central administration that structured and benefitted Sichuan as a whole, there was an effective centralized exploitation of Sichuan by the Song central government which started as early as 965. Sichuan was rich and the newly founded Song dynasty needed all financial resources within reach. The Song government exploited Sichuan, destroying the currency system, which was based on copper coins. The coins were shipped up to Kaifeng, and iron coins were put in circulation instead. The currency was manipulated, prices soared. The merchants created a sort of paper money (jiaozi) to help the situation, because there was no reliable currency. In 973 additional taxes on all sorts of items, especially on textile and silk products were levied. In 993 the simmering unrest exploded in uncontrollable violence. "Official Song policy drove the people of Sichuan into rebellion that was to open the region to centralized control". This means, the implementation of a new policy of social control in 996 took place only after Sichuan had already been plundered by the imperial armies and by the imperial officials. Smith has described what happened and he names all the major economic problems which finally led to the rebellion of Wang Xiaobo and Li Shun in 993, and he has analyzed in detail the major political and social consequences for Sichuan.

But one important point in the economic destruction of Sichuan during the second half of the 10th century, namely the dismantling of the silk weaving workshops that had always been a major source of income in Sichuan, is not mentioned. Smith refers to an article in vol. 1 of Song shi yanjiu ji (Taibei, 1958) by Zhang Yinlin "Song chu Sichuan Wang Xiaobo Li Shun zhi luan", which was originally published in Qinghua xuebao 12.2 (1937): 315-35. This article (subtitled: "The Revolt of ...: An Unsuccessful Communist Movement"), with Communist interpretative inclinations (see Herbert Franke, Sinologie |Bern: A. Francke, 1953~, 131) that had already been observed in Rekishigaku kenkyu 152 |1951~: 1-15, served Werner Eichhorn as a basis for his excellent study on the prehistory of the rebellion "Zur Vorgeschichte des Aufstandes von Wang Hsiao-po und Li Shun in Szuchuan (993-995)," Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 105 (1955): 192-209. Here is not the place to describe the history and economic importance of the Sichuanese silk industry, but it has to be pointed out that it was not only the precious silk textiles in the treasury of the Shu court that were taken to Kaifeng. A great number of Sichuanese weavers of the famous Sichuan brocades (jingong) were forced to work in the newly established (967) Lingjinyuan in Kaifeng (Zhang Yinlin, 253). The living and working conditions of the female weavers (nugong), the weavers (gongjiang), and the foremen (hutou) were extremely tough. In the year 971 the conditions were changed to the advantage of the workers, but still they were only given food and housing (see Song huiyao jigao, ce 165, j. 64, pp. 16a/b). Their exploitation continued. Emperors Taizu in 976 and Taizong in 978 themselves visited the workshops (see Song shi |Beijing: Zhonghua shuju~, 3.48, 4.58). Taizong admonished his entourage to look at the weaving workshops (zhishi) and looms (jizhu). In 982 private trade in textiles that could be used for military purposes was forbidden (Song huiyao jigao, 64.17a/b); furthermore the production of all luxury silk textiles was banned from the state-run weaving workshops in Sichuan (Song chi, 4.68-69). This meant that the Song government not only drained Sichuan of its most important and best known commodity but also destroyed the Sichuanese monopoly in heavy silk brocades and other silk textiles of high value by dismantling the state-run workshops and transferring the weavers, the looms, and the brocade weaving technology to the capital. Apart from the currency and the additional tax problems, the breakdown of the high-quality silk weaving industry aggravated the economic situation, and caused hitherto unknown economic disruptions in Sichuan. The difficult economic situation had repercussions on the farmers, the seasonal breeders of silkworms, and for the silk-reelers, who had to find new customers for their seasonal products on a silk market that no longer existed. Thus the rural population was hit. They suffered because they had to earn a considerable part of their livelihood with agricultural products (such as silk, bast fibers) used in the textile industry. Hence the explanations given many decades later by Chinese officials reflected only a fraction of the truth: "it was precisely the government control of commercial goods that led to Wang Xiaobo's rebellion". And Wang Anshi countered that Wang Xiaobo gathered people together in banditry because the government made no attempt to relieve the starving masses. And the reason for all this was that the clerks and officials loaded the goods of Sichuan onto boats and shipped them out as tribute. After the rebellion of Wang Xiaobo and Li Shun the old political and economic structure of Sichuan was damaged. Sichuan was ready for administrative, political, and social reforms previously unheard of before in that region of China. The shaping of a cultural and political center according to the Song ideals could now take place.

It was Wang Anshi and his New Policies that created the vast enterprise based on Sichuanese tea. Smith in his excellent and compelling "Introduction" to part two explains Wang Anshi's theory of bureaucratic entrepreneurship. It is the best synopsis known to me of Wang Anshi's New Policy, explaining that it was the character of economic activism "to utilize the energy of all under heaven to produce wealth for all under heaven, and to use the wealth of all under heaven to meet the needs of all under heaven". Wang promoted the techniques of economic management (licai), and the Tea and Horse Agency was to become a crucible for his policy of bureaucratic entrepreneurship. Smith presents to the reader abundant documents to follow the success story of the Tea and Horse Agency, which started in 1074. It was tightly connected to the careers of officials like Li Qi, Pu Zongming, Li Ji, and others, who were fiscal experts loyal to the reform cause and who acted as entrepreneurs. Control over the main centers of tea production in Sichuan guaranteed the economic and financial success of the Agency. This success can be explained by the power of appointment and the autonomy of the intendants of the Agency who between 1074 and 1085 created approximately 35 new supervisory positions. The sub-chapter "Autonomy and the Neutralization of Rivals" offers an insight into the system and how it worked. Autonomy had to be defended against the ordinary professional career bureaucrats in the capital and against the horse-purchasing intendants in Shaanxi. In 1077 approximately 2,600 tons of convoy tea (gangcha) was sent to the 52 northwestern markets for the horse trade. "The key to its success, as usual, was the Agency's extraordinary profitability, which was acknowledged in 1077 by Emperor Shenzong, who gave special recognition to the relationship between productivity and personnel control by vesting in the Intendant the unlimited authority to recommend and impeach (juhe) officials". The influence and the political power of the Agency was to be felt in all branches of the Sichuanese economy. Furthermore the success of the Agency made it possible to motivate the personnel, when "the formula, 'no incentives, no work,' was fully accepted in the financial bureaucracies of the Song". A lot of money was to be earned in the Agency legally. "The Intendancy's net profit in 1084 was 1,600,000 strings of cash". There is no question that Wang Anshi's "New Policies" in the system of the Tea and Horse Agency worked favorably for the government, the officials and for Sichuan as a whole. "The two most striking examples of the Agency's entrepreneurial expansion into subsidiary industries were its involvement in the Jiezhou salt trade and the establishment of the Chengdu Metropolitan Tea Bureau". Among the aspects Smith mentions is the relation of the Southern Song Tea and Horse Agency to the manufacture of silk. "As the value of tea declined in relation to horses, silk became increasingly central to the horse exchange". He incorporates in his text a few passages from the Shu jin pu by the Yuan scholar Fei Zhu and from other works to illustrate the situation. I would like to add here a few notes on the silk manufacture in Chengdu between 1083 and 1168, not covered in Smith's study, in order to deepen our understanding and to show that there were mutual effects that can be traced. Hereafter I quote from the Shu jin pu edition contained in the Meishu congshu.

In 1129 the Horse and Tea Agency began to weave and manufacture brocades, damasks, and bedding to trade for horses with barbarians in Lizhou and other places at the southwestern border of Sichuan. Prohibitions against private trade arose (Smith, p. 176). And the Shu jin pu continues: "Three places were established to weave and manufacture silk textiles, Yingtian, Beichan, and Luyuansi." Most probably all three workshops were housed on temple compounds. In 1168 the three places were closed and the workshops were moved to the Brocade Manufactury (jinyuan) in Chengdu, in order to prevent the silk-loom households from trading privately. The Shu jin pu informs us that there was even a request to the court to unite the Brocade Manufactury with the prefectural administration of Chengdufu at one place, so as to gain better control over the weavers who had to produce a quota of silk textiles. Such a control was quite important for the Agency so as to ensure that the increase in weaving output matched the increase in expenses. At this point, I think, we have to ask where does the Brocade Manufactury mentioned here belong? Referring to the Shu jin pu, the Brocade Manufactury was established by Lu Dafang (1027-97) in 1083 in the east of Chengdu. This fact is confirmed in the Jinguanlou ji by Lu Dafang (reprinted from the Quan Shu yiwenzhi, in Shu jin shihua |Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe, 1979~, 34.94-95) where we read that in the second month of the sixth year yuan-feng (1083) the Prefecture of Chengdu has asked the court to allow a yearly silk tribute, which was granted. Hence all measures were taken to establish the Brocade Manufactury. Workshops and storage capacity were provided. After another hearing in the fifth month of 1084, officials were appointed to manage the manufactury designed for the production of 1,500 lengths of silk cloth of the tijin type, employing 300 craftsmen. The Shu jin pu gives the number as 500 craftsmen. The announcement says that 154 looms were set up. For the dressing of the looms 164 workers were needed; as weavers 154 people were employed (the text in the Shu jin pu gives the improbably low number of 54 weavers); for the finishing and dyeing eleven people were needed, and for all sorts of thread preparing tasks 110 people were employed. The Brocade Manufactury was accommodated in 117 rooms altogether. The output of the workshop, as far as the quantity and the quality of silk brocades are concerned, was considerable. (The technical, terminological, and art historical implications cannot be discussed here.) From the Shu jin pu we learn that the Brocade Manufactury in Northern Song times was under the administration of the Fiscal Commission (zhuanyunsi). In Southern Song times the Brocade Manufactury belonged to the prefectural administration of Chengdufu and was operated by the Tea and Horse Agency. For the Chinese historians it is evident that the opening of the Brocade Manufactury in 1083 in Chengdu was closely connected with the horse trade and thus with the activities of the Tea and Horse Agency (Shu jin shihua, 31-32).

For various reasons the success of the Tea and Horse Agency lasted only a short time. After the death of Emperor Shenzong in 1085 the opposition to the "New Policies" gained in influence. On the one hand the Tea and Horse Agency lost influence in the government, as a result of which the southeastern tea monopoly went into competition with Sichuanese tea. By 1104 the Tea and Horse Agency had lost twenty-two prefectures and commanderies to the southeastern monopoly, which meant "a loss of about 34 percent of Sichuan's total domestic consumers and 81 percent of its Shaanxi buyers". On the other hand, the collapse of the Northern Song Dynasty in 1127 resulted in a further dramatic loss of markets. "Of the original fifty-two foreign-trade tea markets of 1076, only two remained as long-distance outlets for Sichuanese tea". In his sub-chapter, "Reversing the Entrepreneurial Leap", Smith demonstrates how the Agency changed its character. "The diminishing productivity of the Tea and Horse Agency had a baleful effect on the bureaucratic power of the Agency itself; for as Tea and Horse Agency revenues declined, the court withdrew the mantle of immunity and autonomy that had made the New Policies Agency very nearly unique". It is depressing to read the story of the destruction of the tea industry and of the tea and horse trade which followed in the Southern Song period. Smith describes and analyzes what happened after the delicate equilibrium between supply and demand of horses was snapped by the loss of North China. Chapter seven deals with the loss of control of the trade and with the "Flying Dragons in Rocks and Mud".

Before the Song dynasty and until the 11th century Sichuan had been an autonomous and self-sufficient region "of great productive capacity and commercial prosperity". By the time of the Mongol invasion in 1236 its productive powers had been exhausted and the people were impoverished. Smith finds many reasons to explain these changes. I would agree with the following: "The transition from prosperity to decline coincides precisely with the era of bureaucratic mobilization and the integration of Sichuan into the imperial polity. There seems little question that bureaucratic penetration of the Sichuanese economy helped reverse a centuries-long cycle of economic development". "The entrepreneurial state of the 11th century ... gave way to the rentier state of the 12th and 13th centuries.... It seems fair to generalize that by the 12th century the Song state was draining far more out of the economy than it was contributing to society as a whole--by the Southern Song the state had become parasitic.... In Sichuan, economic activism degenerated into confiscatory taxation". "For Sichuanese in the late-Northern and Southern Song, political integration exacted an exorbitant price".

I highly recommend this study by Paul J. Smith and value it as one of the best books on the economic history of China I have read in years.
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Author:Kuhn, Dieter
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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