An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

dingfu 丁賦, service tax

Nov 24, 2015 © Ulrich Theobald

The service tax (dingfu 丁賦) was a tax levied on the "head" of each adult male (nanding 男丁 or dingnan 丁男). It was introduced during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) and was known with the names dingfu 丁賦, dingshui 丁稅, dingyin 丁銀, dingqian 丁錢 or shendingqian 身丁錢. The original intention was to offer the peasant population an alternative to labour corvée (yaoyi 徭役).

During the Han period the service tax was levied on all males between the age of 23 and 56 sui (adults, chengding 成丁) who were liable to deliver labour as service-in-turn to government agencies (gengzu 更卒), as long-term service as local soldier (zhengzu 正卒) or long-term service as soldier in the capital guard or in the border zone (shuzu 戍卒). Whoever was not possible to deliver physical service, was allowed to pay an appropriate sum as compensation, called gengfu 更賦 "altered tax", or a corresponding amount in kind, like grain or silk fabric.

Over time the designations changed, as well as the age of service, and the sum by which physical service could be substituted. The Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618), for instance, lowered the tax-liable age to 18 sui, but later rose it to 21.

Both the Sui and the Tang 唐 (618-907) applied a new tax system, the tripartite system (zuyongdiao 租庸調), in which labour service could be replaced by delivering silk fabric (yongshui 庸稅). People living in remote regions, or non-Han tribes payed a similar type of service tax, namely between 5 and 10 copper cash per household, depending on the income. The states of Wu-Yue 吳越 (907-978), Pingnan 南平 (924-963) and Southern Han 南漢 (917-971) during the Five Dynasties period 五代 (907-960) extended this alternative payment to rice, and used the terms shendingqian juan 身丁錢絹 "service-tax silk" and shendingqian mi 身丁錢米 "service-tax rice".

During the Song period 宋 (960-1279) male persons of the age of 20 to 59 sui had to pay the so-called dingkou fu 丁口賦, to be paid in money, but this tax was applied irregularly. In 1011 the shengdingqian service tax was abolished officially, but remained a substantial part of the tax revenue, at least in the southern parts of the empire.

The Yuan 元 (1279-1368) levied an amount of 3 shi 石 "bushels" (see measures and weights) of millet per head, but only in north China.

Its successor, the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644), called the head tax junyi 均徭 "equal corvée" which shows its origin in the labour duty. Basically, labour service (lichai 力差) for large projects was still required from the peasantry between 16 and 60 sui. It was therefore not wholly substitutable by monetary payment (yinchai 銀差). With the introduction of the "single-whip taxation method" (yitiaobian fa 一條鞭法) the service tax was nominally fused with the field tax (tianfu 田賦), but was still levied separately in many places.

Only during the eighteenth century, the Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911) abolished the separate service tax by attaching it as a quota to the field tax (see tanding rumu 攤丁入畝).

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