History on Wednesday: Taxing the Miao: Fiscal Reform and “Fairness” on an Eighteenth-Century Frontier
Taxing the Miao: Fiscal Reform and “Fairness” on an Eighteenth-Century Frontier
Joel Wing-Lun, University of New South Wales | 12:10pm, 17 May, 2023
In 1736, concerned residents petitioned for a cadastral survey in the “acculturating” districts of Tianzhu County, located in Southwest China on the border of present-day Guizhou and Hunan provinces, a region sometimes known as the “Miao Frontier.” The acculturating districts were home to diverse ethnic groups known derogatorily as “Miao.” Somewhat surprisingly, families in the region preserved significant quantities of personal records, making this among the best-documented cadastral surveys of the Qing (1644-1911) period. These documents provide new insights into the complex local interests that shaped imperial policy and the role of fiscal policy in Qing imperial expansion.
The cadastral survey was instigated in the aftermath of a sustained military campaign on the frontier. Yet while military funding remained a priority, the cadastral survey did not attempt to raise the tax quotas for these districts. Instead, it aimed for “fairness,” expanding the tax base by registering new households and land which resulted in lower taxes for existing, registered landholders. It also converted local levies to a single land tax and made locally specific measurements commensurate with standard measures. However, while most imperial taxes were paid in silver, taxes in the acculturating districts were to be paid entirely in grain to be provided as rations for soldiers stationed on the frontier. Fiscal reform furthered the Qing’s imperial project by registering Miao as tax-paying imperial subjects who, in turn, contributed funding to the continued military presence on the Miao Frontier.
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