Tribute grain transport (caoyun 漕運) served in imperial times to supply the officialdom and the military garrisons in the capital with staple food, but the grain was also shipped to other destinations, mainly border garrisons. The grain was part of a local tax levied in the provinces of the lower Yangtze region and was transported along a huge canal system, the Grand Canal or Imperial Canal (yunhe 運河, da yunhe 大運河).
The earliest evidence for such a system dates from 486, when the regional state of Wu 吳 built a canal system between the city of Han 邗 (close to modern Yangzhou 揚州, Jiangsu) and the River Huai 淮 region. During the Qin period 秦 (221-206 BCE) the Aocang Granary 敖倉 was built in Chenggao 成皋 (today's Xingyang 滎陽, Henan). It served as an intermediate collection point for the transport of grain to the capital Xianyang 咸陽 (today in Shaanxi), as well as to the military garrisons in Beihe 北河 (River Ugab 烏加河, Inner Mongolia), from where the campaigns against the steppe federation of the Xiongnu 匈奴 started. The still-existing Lingqu Canal 靈渠溝 in the modern province of Guilin served to supply the Qin troops making war against the southern Yue 越 tribes.
During the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) grain was shipped from the Shandong Peninsula to the capital Chang'an 長安 (today's Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi) at the banks of River Wei 渭. In the early Former Han each year 1 million shi 石 "bushels" (see weights and measures) of grain were transported in the early phase of the dynasty. Yet transport was difficult because of the rapids at the Dizhu Cliff 砥柱 in the Sanmen Gorges 三門峽 and lots of grain were lost on that way. Following the suggestion of Zheng Danshi 鄭當時, Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) had the canal widened to make transport easier, so that an annual amount of 4 to 6 million shi could reach the capital. During the reign of Emperor Xuan 漢宣帝 (r. 74-49 BCE), Geng Shouchang 耿壽昌 proposed a change of the transport routes, and suggested to bring in grain from the commanderies of Sanfu 三輔, Hongnong 弘農, Hedong 河東, Shangdang 上黨 and Taiyuan 太原 (all in present-day Shanxi), instead of from the east.
The Aocang Granary was under the Later Han dynasty 後漢 (25-220 CE) administered by the metropolitan magistrate of the capital Luoyang 洛陽 (Henan yin 河南尹). Transport was taken over by up to 60,000 soldiers (zu 卒), and was managed by local commandants-protector of transport (hucao duwei 護漕都尉). The tribute grain was brought to imperial granaries (taicang 太倉) which understood the Chamberlain for the National Treasury (dasinong 大司農). The location of Luoyang was much more suitable for the transport, as the distance to the places were the grain was produced was much shorter that to the western capital Chang'an. In 48 CE the Yangqu Canal 陽渠 south of Luoyang was built, and in 69 CE Wang Jing 王景 organized the refurbishing of the Grand Canal between Yingyang and Qiancheng 千乘 (close to modern Gaoqing 高青, Shandong). This hydrological project was the first step to connect the Huai River region to the metropolitan region.
On several occasions grain for campaigning troops was shipped along the river systems of northern China, like during Wang Ba's 王霸 (d. 59 CE) campaign against the Xiongnu. During the reign of Emperor An 漢安帝 (r. 106-125 CE), Yu Xu 虞詡 (d. 137) created a canal system to supply the commandery of Wudu 武都 in the far west. The network of canals was extended in the Huai River region during the Wei period 曹魏 (220-265), when the Jiahou Canal 賈侯渠, the Taolu Canal 討虜渠, the Huaiyang Canal 淮陽渠 and the Baizhang Canal 百丈渠 were built. These supported the economy of the military agro-colonies (tuntian 屯田) founded in the eastern regions. The capital of the state of Wu 吳 (222-280), Jianye 建業 (modern Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu), was also connected with the hinterland, in order to ensure the supply with grain.
During the late Western Jin period 西晉 (265-316) the first system of sluices was created along the Jiangan Canal system 江南運河, the Dingmao Sluice 丁卯埭. Somewhat later the government overhauled the stretches of the Hangou Canal 邗溝 and the Honggou Canal 鴻溝 which connected the Huai River with the capital in Luoyang. The transport system around the city of Pengcheng 彭城 was reconstructed, in order to manage better the waters of the rivers flowing through that region, mainly the Wen 汶, Ji 濟 and Si 泗.
The Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) had a canal built that linked the Yellow River with the Huai River region, and finally the Yangtze Basin. The Shanyang Canal 山陽瀆 reached from Shanyang 山陽 (today’s Huai'an 淮安, Jiangsu) to the Yangtze, the Tongji Canal 通濟渠 from Xiyuan 西苑 (close to Luoyang) to the Yellow River, and then again from Banchu 板渚 (today's Sixian 汜縣, Henan) to the River Huai, yet there was also a direct connection along the Zhihang Canal 直航道 (later called Guangji Canal 廣濟渠), the Yongji Canal 永濟渠 from the Yellow River to Zhoujun 涿郡 (close to Beijing), and the Jiangnan Canal from the Yangtze to Yuhang 余杭 (Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang). This arteria from the Qiantang River 錢塘江 (close to Hangzhou, Zhejiang) to the Yellow River and Chang'an was the basis of the great canal system used until the nineteenth century.
Important granaries were built in Liyang 黎陽, Heyin 河陰, Changping 常平 and Guangtong 廣通. Others were called the Luokou Granary 洛口倉 and Huiluo Granary 回洛倉. The grain was transported in a relay system (jieyun 接運), in which grain was reloaded on other boats for the stretch along the Yellow River, the River Luo, and the River Wei.
This canal and system and transport method (called chuanbanfa 轉般法 "relay method") continued during the Tang period 唐 (618-907) and was institutionalized by Pei Yaoqing 裴耀卿 (681-744) and Liu Yan 劉晏 (716-780), who adhered to the formula that "Yangtze ships do not enter River Bian, those of River Bian not the Yellow River, and those of the Yellow River do not enter River Wei". The amount of grain transported in the early phase of the Tang was therefore not more than 200,000 shi per year. Later on Emperor Gaozong 唐高宗 (r. 649-683) changed the transport system in the southeastern stretch and ordered the use of "direct transport" (zhiyun 直運, changyunfa 長運法), which saved much time, and allowed the transport of 1 million shi of grain annually.
In 742 a new stretch was under the supervision of Li Qiwu 李齊物 (d. 761) dug out close to the Sanmen Gorge of the Yellow River, the so-called New Canal from the Kaihe Reign 開元新河. This allowed the transport of an annual volume of 4 million shi. A special office had been created for its management, the office of boats and boatmen (zhoujishu 舟楫署) in the early Tang, yet it was soon abolished, and the transport was instead from the mid-8th century on managed by transport commissioners (zhuanyunshi 轉運使). They involved the local governments of the districts along the canal into maintenance and transport. The system was critically disrupted during the rebellion of An Lushan 安祿山 (703-757), and grain was transported from the lower to the middle Yangtze region, from where it was shipped up the Han River 漢 and then overland to Chang'an. Only in the early ninth century the canal system was revived by Li Xun 李巽 (747-809) and Wang Bo 王播 (759-830).
The Northern Song dynasty 北宋 (960-1126), with the capital in Kaifeng 開封 (today in Henan), linked the River Bian 汴 with the east, and transported each year an amount of up to 7 million shi, not only to Kaifeng, but also to other regions in the border area. There were four points of access from which grain reached the capital: The Huai River region (along River Bian), Shaanxi (through the Sanmen Gorges and along the Yellow River), Shaan-Cai 陜蔡 (along the Rivers Huimin 惠民河 and Caihe 蔡河), and the Shandong Peninsula (along Wuzhang River 五丈河). The canal system dated from the Tang period, but was furbished with double sluices (fushi chuanya 復式船閘), a modern development of technique. The transport was nominally overseen by the transport commissions (zhuanyunsi 轉運司 or caosi 漕司) of each circuit who understood the State Finance Commissioner (sansishi 三司使). Transport was mainly organized as a matter of the state (guanyun 官運 "state transport"), but was supplemented by transport by commissioned merchants (shangyun 商運 "transport by entrepreneurs").
The huge raise of the amounts of tribute grain was partially caused by an increase in population over the previous thousand years, but also by the creation a blown-up officialdom and a huge raise in the number of troops. Kaifeng was also much closer to the place of origin of the tribute grain, and hydraulic technologies and ship-building techniques had made progress, so that each year 5 to 6 million shi of rice reached Kaifeng, and in some years even up to 8 million. In autumn grain from the circuits of Jianghu 江湖, Liangzhe 兩浙 and Subo 宿亳 was brought to four large relay granaries (chuanbancang 轉般倉) in Zhenzhou 真州 (today's Yizheng 儀徵, Jiangsu), Yangzhou 揚州, Chuzhou 楚州 (modern Huai'an) and Sizhou 泗州, from where it was in the next spring forwarded to Bianjing 汴京 (Kaifeng). This method was necessary because the water level of the canal was too low for transport during winter. It was called "equal-distribution system" (pingdi 平糴). In Zhenzhou, a supply commissioner (fayunshi 發運使) was residing who observed the grain transport from the circuits of the Jiangzhe 江浙 region, and in Sizhou another one, who was responsible for the transport between Zhenzhou and the capital.
Part of the grain in the relay granaries served to supply nearby regions in case of famine. For these reserve volumes, the places of origin delivered a compensation in money (called tiaodi zhi ben 糶糴之本), while the rest of the tribute quota was delivered in kind and brought to the capital. The collection of rice was managed by transport commissions (zhuanyunsi), but its shipment and storage by the supply commission (fayunsi 發運司). When the waters were high enough for transshipment, the supply commission bought cheap grain from nearby granaries and brought it on the way. While the reserve money originally amounted to 1 million guan (strings, each worth 1,000 cash), it was by and by increased to 3.5 million. This was sufficient money not only for supplying the capital with an annual volume of 6 million shi of rice, but also, to fill the granaries in Zhenzhou and Sizhou for several years.
The supply commissioners had around 6,000 boats at disposal, but after 1069 private boats were hired to increase the transshipment volume. While the quota of tribute grain was not fix in the early Song, the year 981 saw a volume of 3 million shi of grain from the Southeast defined as the annual quota. It was raised to 5.6 million in 995, 6 million in 1006, and 7 million in 1008, but was then lowered again to 5.5 million in 1027. In fact, it continued to increase in practice after that date because of the excellent transport conditions during that time, and reached a peak of about 8 million shi in the mid-eleventh century. The fleet did not only transport tribute grain, but also other "miscellaneous [commodities] of the southeast" (dongnan zayun 東南雜運): salt, brocade and other textiles (as part of the household tax), iron from Xuzhou 徐州, as well as tea, all items in the distribution of which the state was involved (see tea tax). Under the Counsellor-in-chief Cai Jing 蔡京 (1047-1126) the relay transport sytem was abolished, and direct transport introduced.
The Song-period economy was characterized by a transition from one of commodities to a monetized one. State officials and troops were originally paid out their salaries in kind, but in the Song period they were to a certain proportion paid out money with which to buy their food. The distribution of grain to places with concentrations of government offices and military garrisons was therefore of even higher importance than before. In addition to that, it was allowed from the late Tang period on that the field tax (tianfu 田賦) was paid in money instead of in kind. While in earlier ages, grain had been the common shape of field tax and was therefore readily available, the staple food of the officialdom and the soldiery was from the later Song period on be acquired as a kind of special tax. This was the tribute grain. Apart from grain, the court also received monetary silver ingots (jinyin 金銀), stringed-up cash (minqian 緡錢, i.e. commercial tax revenue), textile fabric from the household tax, incense, medicine, and other commodities.
The situation of the canal system changed under the Southern Song 南宋 (1127-1279), when the capital was in Lin'an 臨安 (Hangzhou, Zhejiang), just in the middle of China's breadbasket. Nevertheless, grain from central China and Sichuan was also shipped down the Yangtze River, to meet the demand of the many troops scattered along the border to northern China that was occupied by the Jin dynasty 金 (1115-1234). The amount of tribute grain transported during that time was as much as 6 million jin.
After the downfall of the Northern Song, the northern parts of the Grand Canal fell into oblivion. The Yuan dynasty used Yanjing 燕京 (also called Dadu 大都, today's Beijing) as capital, and therefore greatly altered the transport policy of tribute grain. Instead of by river, they had transported the larger part of tribute grain by sea (haiyun 海運) around the Shandong Peninsula. The first batch of 60 ships transporting tribute grain from Zhejiang and Jiangsu to the north was dispatched in 1282.
The transport was organized by Luo Bi 羅璧 (fl. 1279), Zhu Qing 朱清 (1237-1303) and Zhang Xuan 張瑄 (d. 1302). The ships in turn brought back beans, wheat, pears and dates. The ships moved along the shore and it took them two months to cover the whole distance because the ships were often impeded by shallow waters. After that Li Fu 李福 found out a better and quicker route through the open sea which took between 10 and 30 days. The route began in Liujiagang 劉家港 (today's Liuhezhen 瀏河鎮, Jiangsu), touched the Three Chongming Banks 崇明三沙 (close to Shanghai), crossed the so-called Heishui Sea 黑水洋 (east of Jiangsu province) to the Cape of Chengshan 成山 (today part of the county of Rongcheng 榮成, Shandong) and directly led to Zhigu 直沽 (today's Dagu 大沽, Tianjin). The grain was shipped twice a year, once in spring, and once in summer. The organization of the transport was so effective under the Yuan that the amount of rice shipped rose from a measly 46,000 shi in the beginning to 3.52 million shi in 1329.
The sea transport was overseen by Sea Transport Section (haiyun ke 海運科) of the Palace Secretariat (zhongshusheng 中書省), and managed by two institutions, namely the sea transport brigade (haidao du caoyun wanhu fu 海道都漕運萬戶府) in Pingjiang 平江 (today's Suzhou 蘇州, Jiangsu), responsible for the southern part (called chengyun 承運 "continued transport"), and the chief transport office (du caoyunshi si 都漕運使司) in Zhigu and the Capital chief transport office (Jingji du caoyunshi si 京畿都漕運使司) in Dadu, for the northern part (jieyun, "relay transport"). Although sea transport was much more effective than that through the many sluices of the Shandong canal, there were also many losses on this route, running up to 100,000 shi per year. A smaller part was therefore transported along a new inland canal system. In 1281 the Jizhou Canal 濟州河 was opened that linked the Rivers Wen and Huai with the Daqing River 大清河, a sidearm of the Yellow River. The boats then went down to Lijin 利津 at the sea coast, from where the rice was transported to Zhigu, where it was again reloaded to lighters, to be brought to Dadu. A decade later the Huitong Canal 會通河 and the Tonghui Canal 通惠河 were dug through the eastern parts of the modern province of Shandong and all the way to Dadu. A canal system called Jiaolai Canal 膠萊運河 crossed the whole Shandong peninsula, connecting Jiaozhou 膠州 (close to Qingdao 青島) with Laizhou 萊州.
The management of the inland transport on the canal was quite sophisticated. The whole length was divided into two parts, the southern one administered by the chief transport offices of Jiang-Huai (Jiang-Huai ducao si 江淮都漕司), and the northern one by that of the Capital (Jingji ducao si 京畿都漕司). The annual volume transported on that route was 300,000 shi. The modes of transport were two: On the southern track, short-distance transport (duanyun 短運, duanban 短般) was used, and the boats were moved by troops (therefore also called junban 軍般 "military batch"). On the northern parts of the canal, long-distance transport (changyun 長運) was in use, and it was mainly carried out by private boat owners, but there were also a small state-owned fleet (guanchuan 官船). In the last decades of the Yuan period the political situation in the empire was detrimental to the organization of the sea transport. Canal transport therefore played the main role during that time. The main organizers of grain transport during these years were Zhang Shicheng 張士誠 (1321-1367), Fang Guozhen 方國珍 (1319-1374) and Chen Youding 陳友定 (1330-1368).
Sea transport still played a certain role when the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644) shifted the main capital to Beijing. Each year about 1 million shi of rice were transported on the sea route, while four times that amount was later shipped along the Grand Canal. The refurbishing of the Canal began in 1411, with a focus on the stretch between Jining 濟寧 and Linqing 臨清 (the so-called Huitong Canal 會通河). In 1415 the Qingjiang Canal 清江浦河道 was created, a project which finally put an end to the sea transport. 3,000 ships were built under the supervision of Chen Xuan 陳瑄 (1365-1433), who had flat-bottom boats constructed able to transport 100 or several hundred shi of grain each, the largest of them even 1,000 shi or more.
The exact quota of tribute grain was first defined by Emperor Taizu 明太祖 (r. 1368-1398), who ordered that the capital Nanjing - actually quite close to the "breadbasket" - might receive annually 3 million shi of grain. In 1472 it was decreed that the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Henan and Shandong should produce yearly 4 million shi of rice, to be transported to Tongzhou 通州 (today's Tongxian 通縣), the terminal of the Grand Canal close to the new capital Beijing. This was the average volume of grain brought to Beijing until the late Ming period, yet the peak was at 6.74 million shi during the Xuande reign-period 宣德 (1426-1435). Exceptions of the tax grain quota were allowed in case of crop failure caused by drought or floods. The amount of grain transported by the authorities decreased during the later Ming because it became common to replace part of this type of tax (up to 2 million shi) by a monetary payment.
In addition to the tribute grain that served mainly to hand out (in kind) the pay of troops (junxiang 軍餉) in the capital and the border garrisons, the Ming began to levy an additional type of tribute grain to supply the palace and the Court of the Imperial Clan (zongrenfu 宗人府) and as salary for the officials in the capital. This grain came from five prefectures in Jiangsu, namely Suzhou 蘇州, Songjiang 松江, Changzhou 常州, Jiaxing 嘉興 and Huzhou 湖州, and consisted of "white" husked rice and glutinous rice (bai shu jing-nuo mi 白熟粳糯米, see bailiang 白糧). This practice was continued under the Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911).
Head of the grain transport system was in the beginning of the Ming period the Capital Chief Transport Office (Jingji du caoyun si 京畿都漕運司), whose president was the grain transport commissioner (caoyunshi 漕運使). His office was soon abolished and replaced by an agency called *grain transport office (caoyunfu 漕運府) and headed by a grain transport commander (caoyun zongbingguan 漕運總兵官). From 1451 on the transport was overseen by Director-general of Grain Transport (caoyun zongdu 漕運總督). The shipment was carried out by twelve garrisons of transport command (weijun 衛軍) with a total strength of 127,600 troops and having 11,700 boats at their disposal.
The sea transport was carried out by 7,000 naval troops (haijun 海軍) who moved 350 ships. These troops were known with the name "transport troops" (yunjun 運軍). In the grain-producing districts the rice was collected by so-called tax captains (liangzhang 糧長) who commandeered "dispatch households" (jiefu 解戶) and transport men (yunfu 運夫), serving in corvée labour to bring the grain from the sites of production to the granaries where it was made ready for shipment.
In the early phase of the Ming, the capital was located in Nanjing, very close to China's breadbasket, but with the transferral of the main seat of the dynasty to Beijing sea transport in the mode the Yuan had done once more became fashionable. Yet with the increasing demand in Beijing, sea transport was not any more feasible, and was finally fully replaced by canal transport. For this purpose, the canal system was refurbished, the Huitong Canal 會通河 constructed, and 3,000 boats built. In addition to that, large granaries (called caoliang cangku 漕糧倉庫 or shuicicang 水次倉) were built in Huai'an 淮安, Xuzhou 徐州, Linqing 臨清, Dezhou 德州 and Tianjin 天津 that served as nodes for the relay transport. Relay Transport (zhiyunfa 支運法, zhuanyunfa 轉運法) along this new route was first carried out in 1415 under the supervision of Chen Xuan, in four instalments per year. Peasants serving in the transport system were rewarded with a tax-free year (see juanmian), while those paying taxes (delivering grain) were exempted from the corvée labour.
Transport cost was subsumed at that time in the amount of grain to be delivered. Chen Xuan's method saved the government a tremendeous amount of money. Transport by private entrepreneurs would have cost four or five times as much. In 1430 Chen Xuan tested another method, the "exchange transport method" (duiyunfa 兌運法). In this mode, peasants brought the grain to transport terminals in Hui'an, Guazhou 瓜州 or Jining 濟寧, from where the transshipment was taken over by transport troops. The cost for the military transport was equally added to the grain tribute. The amount was fixed in 1431 in the precedents for transport cost (jiahao zeli 加耗則例, see also transport-loss surcharge) and was geared to the distance to transshipment terminals. The transport fee included the cost of shipment, rice for the transport troops, and also a wearout fee for repairing boats. In the course of time this system became the prevalent one and gradually replace the corvée transport mode. In 1471 Teng Zhao 滕昭 (1421—1480) created a variant of this transport method, the "altered exchange method" (gaiduifa 改兌法), in which the government took over the full responsibility for the transport along the whole length of the Grand Canal. It was therefore also called "long-distance" or "direct method" (changyunfa 長運法, zhidafa 直達法), and included an additional fee for bringing the grain over the Yangtze River. It consisted of no less than 1 dou 斗 per shi (ten per cent). The Ming did not allow a replacement of grain by a substitutional payment of money. Only in cases of havoc by natural disasters, when boats were missing or the transport channels blocked, it was allowed to deliver substitutional payment for a certain amount of the grain tax due.
With the opening of the Zhongyun Canal 中運河 the Qing dynasty solved the obstacle to cross the Yellow River. At the same time the construction of nodal shipment points at the Yellow River and the Huai River alleviated the problem of water levels of different height as well as that of siltation. The transport modes by and large followed that of the Ming. In the grain tribute policy (caozheng 漕政) the following quota were fixed: An annual amount of 3.3 million shi of grain were to be brought to the capital granary (called zhengduimi 正兌米 "main part of the exchange rice"), and a smaller volume of 700,000 shi was shipped to the granary in Tongzhou (called gaiduimi 改兌米 "altered exchange rice"). When the tax grain was collected it was allowed to have part of the rice converted into other commodities (gaizheng 改征), and part of it substituted by monetary payment (zhezheng 折征). The district and prefectural administration was ordered to retain part of the yield in local granaries (jiecao 截漕 "subtracted from the tribute") to serve as reserves for rainy days. In extreme cases the reserves could also be used to supply districts in the neighbourhood. There was also, in some districts of Shandong and Henan, a portion of tribute grain (called boyun 撥運 "launched shipment") earmarked for the special purpose of supplying the local Banner garrisons as well as the households maintaining the imperial tombs (lingqin 陵寢).
The organization of the tribute grain fleet differed from the Ming period. The fleets were organized by the prefectures. Ten boats, each manned by ten persons, constituted a "squadron" (bang 幫). The whole size of the state-owned fleet was raised from 10,450 to 14,500 boats, yet just 7,000 of them served in daily operations. A boat was able to carry up to 500 shi, and was also allowed to transport various commodities that could be sold on a private basis. This private trade was later forbidden. In general the Qing preferred state-managed organization of the transport, the shipment being overseen by specialist troops (yunding 運丁) of the Green Standard units. Each boat was headed by two soldiers, who were responsible for hiring up to ten boatmen (shuishou 水手). The number of boatmen run up to around 10,000 men in total. Head of the transport system was the Director-General of Grain Transport (caoyun zongdu) residing in Hui'an, and next to him were tax circuit intendants (liangdao 糧道), each in one province. They were responsible for the collection of tribute grain and the organization of the transport, and had therefore the right to dispatch troops and to commandeer local officials for purposes of management. They oversaw and controlled the delivery of grain from the local granaries to the boats, inspected the transport patrols and took care that everything arrived in Huai'an as requested.
In later times these duties of strict observation and escorting the transport (yayun 押運) were taken over by assistant prefects (tongpan 通判). The rank of officials taking over these important duties decreased in time. It was therefore later decided that the tax circuit intendants might take over again. In Huai'an, Jining 濟寧, Tianjin 天津 and Tongzhou transport-control censors (xuncao yushi 巡漕御史) again checked if everything was done correctly. There were three further critical points, namely Huai'an itself, where a *commander (zhendao jiangling 鎮道將領) inspected the effective movement of the boats, and Zhenjiang 鎮江 and Guazhou 瓜州, where a regional commander (zongbingguan 總兵官) or vice commander (fujiang 副將) controlled the crossing over the Yangtze River.
In 1825 a bureau was founded in Shanghai to oversee the sea transport. This was the *Central Bureau of Sea Transport (haiyun zongju 海運總局). In Tianjin, the grain was received by the *Reception Bureau (shouduiju 收兌局). The first shipment over the sea was organized by Kišan (Ch. Qishan 琦善, 1786-1854). In 1826 an amount of 1.63 million shi of grain from the imperial granaries (taicang 太倉) in Suzhou, Songjiang 松江, Changzhou 常州 and Zhenjiang 鎮江 was brought to Tianjin. The ships left the Huangpu River 黃浦 , crossed Wusongkou 吳淞口 and steered into the open sea. Four thousand li 里 north they arrived in Tianjin, where the grain was reloaded to lighters, to be brought to Tongzhou and Beijing. While the transport from Tianjin to Beijing was again in the hands of the government, the whole sea transport was organized by private merchants. About half of all tribute grain was shipped by sea during the Grand Canal crisis of the 1820s, in later years even more, with a relation of 1.2 million shi by sea, and 0.12 million by canal. Transport cost rose enormously, not only because of the sea transport, but also along the Grand Canal. The management of it by the government - whose cost was born by the population - added to the general exploitation of the peasantry.
The turmoils of the Taiping Rebellion 太平 made an end to the grain tribute system. As they occupied large parts of the southeast and controlled the lower Yangtze River, the provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui and Henan were allowed to substitute their grain deliveries by monetary payment, while the grain from Jiangsu and Zhejiang was wholly transported by sea. Only rice from Shandong and the northern parts of Jiangsu arrived in Beijing in the traditional way along the Grand Canal. In 1855 the Yellow River changed its course towards the south, so that the Grand Canal was unusable north of the Yangtze River. The silts of the Yellow River blocked the old transport artery. In 1901 therefore, the government-organized transport of tribute grain to the north was ended officially.
The annual quota was also not changed by the Qing dynasty, but it was regulated instead that part of the tribute grain was brought to the capital, while the rest had to be stored in each province as a reserve (liucun 留存). While the Ming dynasty had relied on private transport (minyun 民運, shangyun) and transport by troops (junyun 軍運), the Qing went over the government-organized collection and transport (guanyun 官運) of tribute rice and the substitute payment. Yet in practice, the system was private transport overseen by the officialdom (guandu shangyun 官督商運). The Ming had managed the canal system by two offices, namely the grain transport commissioner (caoyufu zongbingguan 漕運府總兵官) and the Director-general of grain transport (caoyun zongdu 漕運總督). For the collection of the tribute grain and its transport, special officials were dispatched by the Ministry of Revenue (hubu 戶部) and the grain transport bureau (caofu 漕府).
After 1872 the transport was fully laid into the hands of private "logistics enterprises", which more and more made use of modern transport methods as motorized ships and railway.
Yet in general the tribute grain transport system came to a halt and was abolished in 1909. The term caoliang was still used in the Republican era, but denoted a special type of tax collected in money, still with a conversion rate of between 2 and 7 Yuan per shi of grain.