An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

fengchengzu zhi 分成租制, quota-rent system

Mar 27, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

In the harvest quota rent system (fengcheng zu 分成租, fenchengzu zhi 分成租制, fenzhong 分種, huozhong 伙種, fenzu 分租, fenshou 分收, jianfen 監分) tenant farmers paid a certain amount of their harvest, either in kind or in money, as a rent for the right to use the soil. For the first millennium of imperial China, it was the most common form of land tenure. It is first mentioned by Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (179-104 BCE), who reported of a rent of 50 per cent (jian shui shi wu 見稅什五, see Hanshu 漢書, 24 Shihuo zhi 食貨志). The quota-rent system was during the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and Qing 清 (1644-1911) periods gradually replaced by the fixed-rent system (ding'ezu zhi 定額租制).

Apart from a quota of 50 per cent, other common forms were round quotas of 80, 70, 60, 40 or 30, or other relations of "sharing" the harvest between landlord and tenant. The quota also depended on the means of production, for instance, whether the landlord also provided draft animals, farming tools, fertilizer or seeds, and on the fertility of the soil, the concentration of the land rights, and the density of population. Studies from the early 20th century revealed that in north and northeast China, as well as in some remote regions with few settlements and poor soil, the rent was 30-40 per cent of the harvest, while it run up to 70-80 percent in the densely populated regions of south and east China with its fertile grounds.

In order to obtain more yields in absolute terms (if rent payment was in kind), landlords often interfered into the business activities of farmers and, for instance, requested to cultivate cash crops instead of staple crops. Landowners might also meddle into private matters like marriages and funerals, just as masters had done in a time when farmers were still serfs of landowners and had not just to deliver the rent, but also various services to the landlords' families.

Jiang Taixin 江太新 (1992). "Fenchengzu zhi 分成租制", 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, 163.
Ma Kewei 馬克偉, ed. (1991). Tudi da cidian 土地大辭典 (Changchun: Changchun chubanshe), 210.