Historians write a lot about taxes, in part because we are often interested in states and what they do, and taxes are something that states do a lot of. Taxation also generates a lot of sources, since before you can tax things you need to figure out where they are and who owns them. From the Domesday Book to various cadastral surveys states have tried to generate paper about their subjects, subjects have resisted, and historians have been interested in both the resistance and the paper.
In Nanjing in 1609 there were major tax protests, only in this case protesters were asking the government to impose a new tax.1 Not only did they want to be taxed, they were offering to compile the tax rolls for the state.
we volunteer to compile a book on the exact share for each household, rich or poor, in the year of 1608. Every pu (the neighborhood unit for the huojia system) will meet together to collect and compile this information into a list named Wucheng puce (the neighborhood almanac for the Nanjing Five Districts) and together we will send it to the government to be used as an official reference.
This makes a nice opening for an article, because it is pretty weird behavior. Not surprisingly the citizens of Nanjing wanted to be taxed for a good reason, namely that the new cash tax was to replace an old labor tax that they found more onerous and less flexible. Fei is interested in the case primarily because it shows a lot about public opinion in the Ming and how the state used and reacted to it.
I bring this up partly because it is an interesting article but mostly because issue 28.2 of Late Imperial China is now available to anyone with a web browser. So you should go read it and then subscribe.
- Fei, Siyen. ” We Must be Taxed: A Case of Populist Urban Fiscal Reform in Ming Nanjing, 1368–1644″
Late Imperial ChinaVolume 28, Number 2, December 2007