An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

lijia 里甲, the rural self-administration system

Jan 16, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

The lijia 里甲 "village organization", also called liyi 里役 "village labour service", jiayi 甲役, zhengbian 正辦 or zhengyi 正役, was an organization of local defence as part of the system of labour corvée (yaoyi 徭役) and taxation during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644).

It was introduced in 1370, at first in some parts of southeast China. According to the rule, 110 households constituted one "village" (li 里). From the adult males (chengding 成丁) of the ten largest and richest households a village head (lizhang 里長) was selected, while from the others, each ten households had to provide one "headman" (jiashou 甲首, also translated as "tax captain") in turn. This team was exchanged annually (dangnian 當年 "running year"), yet the order of service was fixed for one decade and then reorganized (painian 排年 "arrangement year"), with a new schedule taking into consideration any changes in the size and wealth of the households of the village. If a village head was impoverished, another one was to be elected, and if any "man-in-weapons" had left the village, a substitute had to be provided. It was allowed that neigbouring villages exchanged personnel in case of need. In 1380 the number of households per "village" was reduced to 100, and a year later, the system was extended to the whole country.

All households were registered in "yellow registers" (huangce 黃冊), according to which corvée was requested according to the criteria ding 丁 and mu 畝 "[number of] male persons and field [size]", resulting in three different classes (san deng 三等). Widows, widowers, couples without children, orphans and persons living alone, or such without landed property, were exempted from service, yet they were still registered as so-called "impair and leftovers" (jiling 畸零). One copy of the registers was sent to the Ministry of Revenue (hubu 戶部), and three others remained in the district, the prefecture, and the provincial administration commission (buzhengsi 布政司).

From the beginning, the lijia service was a local substitute for public duties (gou she gong shi 勾攝公事), and in the course of time, more and more administrative responsibilities fell into the hands of the village heads, like the collection of taxes (cuizheng qianliang 催征錢糧) or fees for offerings, banquets, construction work, the supply for local troops and such marching through, grain for local schools, the transport of tributary grain, or the farewell ceremony for candidates for the state examinations.

The system thus did not only help to increase the tax revenue throughout the country, but it was also an important tool to control the population more tightly. At the same time, it unburdened the local government because the members of the lijia team were - in addition to the tasks mentioned above - responsible for varies duties in the district administration, like serving as "yamen runners" (chaiyi 差役), or managing the courier stations, catching criminals, or publishing proclamations.

The system was gradually abolished in the course of the eighteenth century, when labour service was finally merged with the field tax (see tanding rumu 攤入地畝).

Hong Zhuo 洪琢 (1998). "Lijia 里甲", in Tang Jiahong 唐嘉弘, ed. Zhongguo gudai dianzhang zhidu da cidian 中國古代典章制度大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 457.
Li Bingzhong 李秉忠, Wei Canjin 衛燦金, Lin Conglong 林從龍, ed. (1990). Jianming wenshi zhishi cidian 簡明文史知識詞典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 423.
Ma Kewei 馬克偉, ed. (1991). Tudi da cidian 土地大辭典 (Changchun: Changchun chubanshe), 491.
Pi Chunxie 皮純協, Xu Liming 徐理明, Cao Wenguang 曹文光, ed. (1986). Jianming zhengzhi xue cidian 簡明政治學辭典 (Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe), 318.
Wang Meihan 王美涵, ed. (1991). Shuishou da cidian 稅收大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 820.
Wang Yuquan 王毓铨, Li Wenzhi 李文治 (1992). "Lijia 里甲", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 569.
Yang Shouchuan 楊壽川 (1998). "Lijia zhengyi 里甲正役", in idem, 457.
Zhongguo baike da cidian bianweihui 《中國百科大辭典》編委會, ed. (1990). Zhongguo baike da cidian 中國百科大辭典 (Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe), 335.

Further reading:
Littrup, Leif (1981). Subbureaucratic Government in China in Ming Times: A Study of Shandong Province in the Sixteenth Century (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget).
Szonyi, Michael (2000). "Local Cult, lijia, and Lineage: Religious and Social Organization in the Fuzhou region in the Ming and Qing", Journal of Chinese Religions, 28: 93-125.