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A Plea for Change

In: Business and Management

Submitted By linthalus
Words 1773
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A Plea for Change Being a man of honor is an interesting thing. For nearly 30 years I have been a loyal servant to the throne. I am the second son to my father, Zhang Xiajie, Zhang Fu. My father was a teacher that was diligent and through generosity and good fortune able to amass a respectable sized property. I now own that property and make my living as a farmer and manager of land. As a young man, my father always taught me to follow a righteous path. In order to stay on this path, I was urged to maintain a standard of activity that is moral, legal, and ethical in all ways. To this end your highness; I have lived my life in every way that would bring honor to my family and glory to the empire. Now that I am a father, I intend to train my children up in the same way.
The land that I currently hold is prosperous. The grain is easily harvested; the vegetables grow large and full. Our livestock never grows hungry and as a result we are content. Each morning I arise with my five sons and we work the land with the hired laborers. We do manage the property, however, we are not afraid to plow and sow as any man can. I have what can be considered quality tenants that are hard workers and are willing to help support and protect the estate.
There is however a man in the region who is growing in both power and influence (surely you are well aware that his prowess could never grow to the level of yours). While neither he nor his men have directly attacked my land or my family, his devious actions are beginning to hinder our ability to maintain our lifestyle. His name is Zhao Xing Lin.
Zhao lives in a mansion to the north of my home with his servants and concubines. Like many men his age and stature he owns land that is inherited. He inherited his land from an official that was related to his father. The estate was issued many years ago as tax free land after the Mongols were expelled from our lands. While the circumstances surrounding the death of the official are suspect, I am not here to point the finger of blame for Zhao’s involvement. He is however guilty of other infractions.
My cousin is a loyal census taker and he was an important part of surveying the land in my region. During his last visit, we discussed some of the data that was collected, and to my surprise Zhao has been able to deceive the empire into believing that his holdings are not as great as they really are. I did not mention this to my cousin, but I know this for a fact. According to my cousin Zhao’s registered land is only about half of what I know him to have. This means that he is abusing the system to deceive the throne. His reasoning for this could be anything, but I am certain it is motivated by greed; as he wishes to afford a lower tribute. This may seem like little more than paranoia or propaganda, but I think it may more than that. I do not consider myself a scholar, but shouldn’t it be of some concern that many officials, even those of merit, will use their power to obtain land? By the same token, won’t they be able to gain power or control over the population by doing so? To this end I have a concern that he may mean to take political control of my region, something that I could surely live without.
I am not aware of any militia or standing military possessed by Zhao, but I do know that his influence is rising amongst the population. Before I mentioned that he did not attack me directly, yet he was able to hinder our ability to flourish as we have worked so hard to do. He has been luring my hired workers away from me with promises of greater pay and land. I can only assume that this land he speaks of is land that he hides in order to appear to have less than he really does. Personally, I am not opposed to a worker fetching a greater wage for an honest days work if he is able, but Zhao gives them more than a higher wage. On three occasions that I know of, he has tricked workers that were hired labor into serfs. While he may be the distant relative of an official and own land as though he was one, does that morally give him the right to own a serf?
Zhao is exploiting these workers and essentially deceiving them into becoming indentured servants. He offers them land in exchange for work and a percentage of the harvest, but the simple workers do not understand the math, or they are unable to meet the demands of the debt. As a result they become indebted to Zhao, and he is ready and willing to take advantage.
A friend of mine is one of these men. He was once a proud man who worked hard to keep his family fed. Now he only can play catch up, waiting for destiny to bring another drought and put him further in debt. I pray that you can possible help make change to this.
While I do speak of my friend specifically, I do have a concern for my fellow Chinese that are not as fortunate to be as stable as I am. This practice of serfdom is boiling down to be nothing more than economic slavery. I mostly say these things to warn you that if there are not changes made, I am certain that there will be uprisings. Men who feel chained and cheated will lay waste to the land, burning crops and refusing to work. Or the outcome could be even worse, and the men could avoid payment of debt to the land owner in order to have the money to pay the seed peddler. In this case land owners are forced to make adjustments which could include forcibly removing tenants or even defaulting on taxes. That is not a good way to strengthen our economy.
I do not come to you with only complaints, I also have possible solutions. I want to express to you that your wisdom far exceeds mine; however, I am humbly requesting that you listen to my plea with an open mind, and possibly find merit in my suggestions.
My first suggestion is to tax people who own serfs based on the number of serfs they have. However, it would be important to emphasize that these taxes could not be passed down to the workers by raising the amount of the harvest owed to the land owner .In other words the more serfs you posses, the more you are taxed. This would have two results. The first would be a discouragement to the wealthy to abuse the conditions of serfdom. The second would be to generate revenue for the country.
My next suggestion is to outlaw the practice of serfdom in entirety. This practice would take a fair amount of work from the officials of the land, but I think it would reap the greatest benefit. Not only is the tenant system more fair, but doing away with this demoralizing form of slavery would provide a greater opportunity for all men. Men could take pride in their efforts to till the land and produce crops. The sweat of their brow gives them the opportunity to profit and possibly improve their lives and the lives of their heirs.
In order to outlaw serfdom and to have property owners compensated by their tenants, the state could be responsible for collecting the money. By this same token they would be able to penalize the farmer or make arrangement with him if he did not or was not able to pay. I know that it seems like a simple plan, and I am sure that it if far more complex than I make it sound, but surely the emperor could resolve any potential issue.
I do regret to inform you my Lord that while we are content with our lives, not all is well in your empire. Men like Zhao are taking advantage of your people. I not only bring this to your attention for the friends of mine that I have lost if servitude, or the workers that I once employed, but for my sons. Once I perish and my land is divided amongst my heirs, I do not want them to fall into a trap that they can not recover from. I also worry that like bamboo the will of man will bend, but will not break. These farmers and workers are being pushed and eventually they will lash back. Hopefully you can provide relief from the strain before too long.

Notes
1. Spence, Jonathan, The search for Modern China
W.W. Norton & Co.; 1st Paperback edition, 1991 (p.53-64)
2. Ebrey, Patricia, Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook Free Press; 2 Rev Exp edition, 1993 (p.205-207, 287-291, 304-308)
3. Elvin, Mark, The Pattern of the Chinese Past. (p.235-267) Stanford University Press, 1973
4. Brook, Timothy. The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1998
5. Lee, James, and Cameron Campbell. 1998. "HEADSHIP SUCCESSION
AND HOUSEHOLD DIVISION IN THREE CHINESE BANNER SERF POPULATIONS, 1789-1909." Continuity & Change 13, no. 1: 117-141.

--------------------------------------------
[ 2 ]. Character mentality pulled from Ethics in the Confucian Tradition: The Thought of Mengzi and Wang Yangming by Phillip J. Ivanhoe.
[ 3 ]. For a historical account, see Mark Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Past. p.237
[ 4 ]. After the expulsion of the Mongols the founder of the Ming dynasty issued sizable lots of manor lands to deserving officials exempt from tax.
[ 5 ]. The Ming Veritable Records for 1387 had observed: ‘The rich people …deceitfully entrust their lands to relative, neighbors, tenants and serfs’ (Elvin 236)
[ 6 ]. After some time the founder of the Ming dynasty tried to decrease the size of the issued land because of the political threat they posed. Instead these lands grew larger through gifts purchases and forcible encroachment.
[ 7 ]. It was technically illegal for anyone not a member of the official classes to own a serf.
[ 8 ]. Unhappy serfs became increasingly disobedient and rebellious. For further expansion, see Mark Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Past (p.244-245)

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