The Equal-field system
(Also, Land-equalization system) land system was a historical system of land ownership and distribution in China used from the Six Dynasties
By the time of the Han dynasty, the well-field system of land distribution had fallen out of use in China, though reformers like Emperor Wang Mang tried to restore it. The Equal-field system was introduced into practice around 485 AD by Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty, a non-Chinese kingdom in North China, during the Northern and Southern Dynasties period. The system was eventually adopted by other kingdoms and its use continued through the Sui and Tang dynasties.
The system worked on the basis that all land was owned by the government, which would then be assigned to individual families. Every individual, including slaves, was entitled to a certain amount of land, the amount depending on their ability to supply labor. For example, able-bodied men received 40 mu
of land (approx. 1.1 hectares or 2.7 acres), while women received less, and more land was granted per ox owned by the family. After death, the land would revert to the state to be reassigned, though provisions were allowed for inheritance of land that required long-term development, such as farms for mulberry
trees (for silkworms
The system was intended to foster the development of land and ensure no agricultural land lie neglected, to prevent the aristocratic and powerful families from developing large power bases by monopolizing the fields, and to allow the common people to get a share of land to ensure their livelihood. From these, the government could develop a tax base and slow down the process of land accumulating into vast, untaxable estates of the powerful elites.
The Fall Into Disuse
The system eventually began falling out of use after the An Lushan rebellion
as the government began to lose centralized control over its territories. Though all land theoretically belonged to the government, the aristocratic families were able to legally acquire land, and were able to build up their holdings. Buddhist
monasteries too, came to control vast estates of agricultural lands. Peasants often entered into the households of landlords and became tenant farmers or servants during times of natural disasters and conflict in order to ensure their own security. The gradual loss of taxable lands is a reason for the decline of the Tang dynasty. The pattern of landlords holding lands worked by tenant farmers would continue throughout the rest of Chinese history until the founding of the People's Republic of China
Adoption in Japan
The equal-field system was adopted by Japan
during the Nara Period
), though it is debatable to what degree it was actually implemented. Provinces close to the capital were more strictly regulated and taxed, prompting farmers to flee to outlying provinces. In Japan, too, the system fell out of use as land reverted to private ownership; decrees in 723 held that newly developed lands could be inherited for three generations while a later decree in 743 allowed for these developed lands to be held in perpetuity. By the year 800 AD the land redistribution scheme was practically abandoned as census and distribution became infrequent and irregular. Nonetheless, the system remained in existence, at least in theory, well after that.