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ding'ezu zhi 定額租制, fixed-rent system

Mar 27, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

In the fixed-rent system (ding'ezu zhi 定額租制, dingzu 定租, baozu 包租), tenant farmers paid annually a fix rent to the landlord, either in kind or in money. It it often seen as an advanced replacement of the quota-rent system (fenchengzu zhi 分成租制), but the two systems were used both over the centuries. The book Mengzi 孟子, quoting a certain master Longzi 龍子, mentions a kind of "tribute" (gong 貢) which was adjusted to the average [harvest] of several years. The fix-rent system perhaps originated in the military agro-colonies (juntun 軍屯) of the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) which had been created to supply garrisons in the border zone with grain and other produce. It was also used for school fields (xuetian 學田) and so-called sacrificial fields of shrines and temples (jitian 祭田, jidi 祭地) during the Song 宋 (960-1279) and Yuan 元 (1279-1368) periods where fix amounts of income were necessary.

With the growing monetization of the Chinese economy under the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644), the fix rent system gained predominance. Yet a survey from 1934 demonstrated that 50 per cent of fix-rent contracts were paid in kind, and just 21 per cent in money. Of all tenancy contracts, 72 per cent were fix-rent contracts.

The fixed rent was usually higher than harvest quota rents and constituted between 60 and 70 per cent of the annual harvest. In case of crop failures or bad harvest, landowner and tenant might negotiate a lower rent (ruanzu 軟租 "soft rent"). The advantage of the system was that landlords did barely interfere into the professional activities of farmers because their contract was only related to the payment of the rent, and the landowner was expecting a promised sum, regardless of what the farmer did. On the other hand, the tenant farmer was expected to pay a due sum, also in years of bad harvests (yingzu 硬租 "hard rent" or tiebanzu 鐵板租 "iron-board rent", sizu 死租 "undisputable rent"), which caused many tenant farmers to sell their property, like oxen or tools, or even their children, in order to pay the rent.

Sources:
Jiang Taixin 江太新 (1992). "Ding'ezu zhi 定額租制", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Jingjixue 經濟學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 124.
Ma Kewei 馬克偉, ed. (1991). Tudi da cidian 土地大辭典 (Changchun: Changchun chubanshe), 166.