An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Zhou Period Commerce

Mar 30, 2019 © Ulrich Theobald


Quotation x. Tallies for the Lord of E exempting his boats from tariffs

In the year when the Grand Minister of War (da sima 大司馬) Shao Yang 邵陽 had defeated the armies of Jin 晉 at Xiangling 襄陵, in the xiayi 夏夷 month, day yihai 乙亥, when the king dwelled in the Pleasure Palace (Yougong 遊宮) in the suburbs of Ying 郢, the Grand Intendant of Works (dagongyin 大工尹) Sui 睢, took a royal order and commanded the Intendant of assembly(?) (jiyin 集尹) Dao Hai(?) ■■, the *Intendant of Weavers (zhiyin 織尹) official Ni 逆, and the *Director of Weavers (zhiling 織令) official Qi 𨸔 to cast metal tallies for the treasury of Qi 啟, Lord of E 鄂君, [valid] for fifty kua 舿 (convoys?), one kua made up of three boats combined, and they are to be returned once a year.
Depart from the market at E, go downstream on the Yu River 油(=淯), go upstream on the Han River 漢, stop at Yun 鄖, stop at Xunyang 芸(=郇)陽; go downstream on the Han River, stop at Xiang 襄(?), go downstream on the Xia River 夏, enter the Yun River 邔(=溳); go downstream on the Yangtze River 江, stop at Pengze 彭射(=澤), stop at Songyang 松陽, enter the Lujiang River 瀘江, stop at Yuanling 爰陵; to upstream on the Yangtze, enter the Xiang River 湘, stop at Shi(?) {見桒}, stop at Taoyang {兆阝}(=洮)陽, enter the Lei River 㵽(=耒), stop at Chen {㐭阝}(=郴), enter the Zi 𪶻, Yuan 沅, Li 澧, and You 繇 Rivers; go upstream on the Yangtze, stop at Muguan 木關, stop at Ying.
When they show their metal tallies, they will not be assessed tariff, [though] they will not be lodged, equipped(?), or fed. When they do not show their metal tallies, they will be assessed tariff. If they transport horses, oxen, and sheep in and out the tariff-collecting stations, they will be assessed tariff at the Great Treasury (dafu 大府), but not at the tariff-collecting stations.
The two metal tallies for boats and carts were part of a set of original five texts written on bronze plates formed as imitations of a bamboo stalk. The text is realized as metal-inlays in golden colour (cuojin 錯金). Ling (2015) identified the names of rivers and places as located north of the Yangtze, and not, as commonly believed, in today's Hunan. Length 26.6-31cm, discovered in 1957 in Shouxian 壽縣, Anhui. Images from Li 1986, no. 136. Translation according to Falkenhausen 2005: 104-105.

Carts and boats were used as transport utensils. In daily life, hand-pulled carts (nian 輦) were widespread. The Zhouli (part Kaogongji, ch. Cheren 車人) includes a description not only of the production of a chariot, but also explanations of various types of carts and coaches (part Chunguan, Jinche 巾車 "Master of the royal chariots"). The royal coaches were called lu 輅, and had different designations depending on the ornaments they carried, namely jade, (gilded?) bronze, ivory, leather, or wood. The coaches of the queen were decorated with feathers. While coaches have not survived, a huge number of chariots have been unearthed from tombs. They served as tomb offerings and were fully equipped with their metal adornment and horses. In many cases, the chariots were dismembered before being deposed in the grave. In some instances, tombs contained a dozen of wheels, more than a single cart could use.

The shape of coaches and chariots was ameliorated in comparison to the Shang period. Wheels were relatively high with 125-144cm (Zhou 2000: 892), and the curved drawbar (yuan 轅) was therefore in the height of the horse's necks, which took some pressure of them and led to a higher transformation of draft power. The seat cabin (yu 輿) was made larger, surrounded by a wicker wall (ling 軨), and equipped with handles to hold fast (shi 軾 , jiao 較, yi 輢). Coaches were decorated with many objects, reaching from bronze disks or bosses (pao 泡) to bells (ling 鈴, luan 鑾, jinyong 金甬, jin'e 金厄), canvas (wei 帷), palanquins (gai 蓋), or crimson leather decorations. It seems that wooden parts were lacquered in red, too. Many components of chariots are mentioned in bronze inscriptions like the Mu gui pot 牧簋 (Jicheng xxx) or Mao gong ding tripod 毛公鼎 (Jicheng xxx).

Sikong responsible for workshops, official work, inclusively roads, streets, dams, and dykes.

The production of objects in the royal workshops of the Feng-Hao region certainly surpassed the needs of the royal household, and it can be assumed that part of the objects, particularly pottery, bone objects, and fabric, were sold on the market. For this reason, the Liji (ch. Wangzhi) includes a list of objects the sales of which on the market was not allowed:

• Ceremonial jade “scepters”or disks (guibi 圭璧) • audience jades (jinzhang 金璋) • robes or chariots presented by the king (mingfu mingche 命服命車) • vessels for the ancestral temple (zongmiao zhi qi 宗廟之器) • sacrificial animals (xisheng 犧牲) • weapons (rongqi 戎器) • vessels not being according to the prescribed measures (yongqi bu zhong du 用器不中度) • chariots not according to the standard prescriptions (bingche bu zhong du 兵車不中度) • fine and course cloth or silk not according to the prescribed quality or size (bubo jingcu bu zhong shu, fu guangxia bu zhong liang 布帛精粗不中數、幅廣狹不中量) • [cloth] of “illegitimate” colours (jianse luan zhengse 姦色亂正色) • embroidered or figured cloth (jinwen 錦文) • vessels made with pearls or jade (zhu-yu cheng qi 珠玉成器) • [extravagant] clothes, food, or drink (yifu yinshi 衣服饮食) • unripe grain or fruits (wugu bu shi, guoshi wei shu 五榖不時,果實未熟) • wood not fit for the axe (mu bu zhong fa 木不中伐) • animals not fit to be slaughtered (qinshou yubie bu zhong sha 禽獸魚鱉不中殺)

Horses were divided into three price categories, as the Zhouli chapter on the horse appraiser (Mazhi 馬質, see part Xiaguan 夏官) says. The sorcerer for horses (wuma 巫馬) was not just a shaman or 'veterinarian', but also had the duty to sell the corpses (mainly "bones and cover") of dead horses to recover at least part of the loss. Such rules of government-owned horses are also part of later law canons.

The Zhouli (part Diguan) speaks of the mercantile controller (zhiren 質人) who supervised the exchange of commodities on the markets, namely people (! renmin 人民), oxen and horses, weapons, and jewelry or luxurious objects (zhenyi 珍異), or gold. It is thus unclear whether weapons were for purchase or not.

A statement in the Guoyu (ch. Zhengyu) explains that even peasants used to sell (yu 鬻, sometimes abbreviated to 粥) some objects on the market, for instance, bows of mulberry wood or quivers of braided twigs. The air Mang 氓 (Shijing, ch. Weifeng) speaks of peasants selling (hemp) textiles on the market to purchase silk (bao bu mao si 抱布貿絲). Widespread market activities even of peasants were the main argument for the philosopher Mengzi against his opponents of the school of agriculturalists (nongjia 農家), who held that farming was the only justified way of living. The Shijing verse is a prove for widespread barter trade, in spite of the growing number of cowry shells or imitations found in Western Zhou tombs which are testimonies of an abstract concept of value.

Inscriptions of bronze vessels like Wei he 衛盉 or Ge Bo gui 格伯簋 show that the sales of land was common in the mid- and late Western Zhou period.

A class of merchants is first mentioned in the Shangshu (ch. Jiugao 酒誥), where there is word of long-distance traders of the people of Meitu 妹土, which was the last capital of the Shang dynasty. It seems that part of the Shang people, having become subjects of the Zhou, specialized in the profession of trade, for which reason the word shang means "trader, merchant" (or rather vice versa - the Shang people did not call themselves "Shang"). They had ox carts to transport their commodities, perhaps luxury goods from distant places in the south (qian che niu yuan fu gu yong 牽車牛遠服賈用). Common words for merchants were shang 商, gu 賈, shanggu 商賈, shanglü 商旅, or shangren 商人. Yet these merchants were not private entrepreneurs, but acted as state merchants, as Wei Zhao 韋昭 comments on the Guoyu (ch. Jinyu 4), where it is said that "craftsmen and merchants nourished the officialdom" (gong shang shi guan 工商食官). The Zhouli lists the office of gu 賈 as a subordinate to the grand treasurer (Dafu 大府, part Tianguan).

While the word shang meant long-distance trader, the word gu meant "market" or "to sell" (shi 市) (Erya 爾雅, ch. Shiyan 釋言). The chapter Pinli 聘禮 of the ritual Classic Yili explains that during court audiences for interstate missions, "appraisers" (guren 賈人) were seated facing west, opened the case containing his jade sceptre and pendants of authority (qi du qu jia chui zao 啟櫝,取圭垂繅[=璪]; vgl. Steele 1917, I: 192), and assessed the value of a present or tribute. In the course of time, the words shang "[public] long-distance merchant acting on the government's account" and gu "appraiser of the princely treasury" merged, and were used to designate public as well as private merchants.

Merchant activities of the royal court are mentioned in the inscription of the Song ding 頌鼎, and such at a local court on the Xi Jia pan 兮甲盤. The Tuo gui 它簋 vessel shows that even close descendants of persons like the Duke of Zhou engaged in trade activities (Zhou 2000: 942). The most important commodity of the state of Wei 衛 was grain, that of Qi salt and sea products. A nobleman of the state of Qi engaging in commerce is mentioned in the inscription of the cover of the Lu fangyi 魯方彝. That commerce was a usual activity of quite a few members of the nobility can be seen in the critical ode Zhan'ang 瞻卬 of the Shijing (part Daya), where noblemen are indirectly admonished not to engage in profitable trade.

The location and size of markets is defined in the chapters on the builders (jiangren 匠人) of the Kaogongji (last part of Zhouli). The market had the same size as the royal palace (a square of 600 chi "feet" of length) and was located north of it. Markets were surrounded by a wall and allowed access through gates. Markets were supervised by two directors of markets (sishi 司市), who were subordinates of the Minister of the Masses (situ; Zhouli part Diguan 地官). They were assisted by a staff of mercantile controllers (zhiren 質人), market shop supervisors (chanren 廛人), chiefs of assistants (xushi 胥師), overseers of merchants (gushi 賈師), market shop policemen (sibao 司虣), market shop examiners (siji 司稽), market shop inspectors (sizhang 肆長), and treasurers for market taxes (quanfu 泉府).

The directors were responsible for instruction, regularization, and punishment, the control of weights and measures, and of the observation of rules and prohibitions. He allotted places to the booths, and drew a plan for the market, taking into consideration various types of commodities. There were different rules for specific markets, like the "grand market" (dashi 大市) for the common populace, held in the afternoon, the "morning market" (chaoshi 朝市) for the ambulant traders, and the night market (xishi 夕市) for the re-sellers. Fraud and adulteration was prevented, and disputed about prices or conditions were prevented by the creation of contracts (zhiji 質劑). Commodities entering the market through the gate were checked and sealed. Ancient texts discern between two basic types of commodities, namely metal and jade objects (huo 貨) on the one hand, and textiles (hui 賄) on the other (Zhou 2000: 940).

司門 simen service des préposés aux portes gatekeeper 司關 siguan service des préposes aux barrières supervisor of customs duties Changes in the field ownership structure and the advancement of crafts techniques in bronze casting, iron processing, pottery, lacquering, weaving and salt production were factors for the intensification of commerce. During the Spring and Autumn period, all state capitals, but also other cities, had one or even more markets. The central market of Zheng was called kuishi 逵市, that of Jin jiangshi 絳市, that of Chu puxu 蒲胥之市, and that of the royal capital in Chengzhou wangcheng zhi shi 王城之市. The size of a typical market was a square with the area of one fu 夫 (100 x 100 paces, c. 19,000m2). They were large enough that an army could use it as a camp (Zhou 2000: 1279). Some markets were located within the city, others outside the city wall, like the market of Zheng. The market of Yong 雍, capital city of the state of Qin during the Warring States period, was found in the northern parts of the city. It had a size of 180*160m and was surrounded by a wall and accessible through a large gate. Archaeologists detected coins and fragments of pottery. The state of Lu had a market outside the capital. It was located in Hou 郈 (today’s Dongping 東平, Shandong). The book Guanzi (ch. Chengma) says that an area of six square li was called a village (bao 暴), five villages a section (bu 部), and five sections a subdistrict (ju 聚), with a market for each subdistrict. The canonized commentary Gongyangzhuan (Xuangong 15) hold that each jingtian unit disposed of a market. The philosopher Mengzi (ch. Gongsun Chou) explained that markets where places “exchange the articles which the dealars had for others which they had not” (yi qi you you yi qi suo wu zhe 以其所有易其所無者). Markets were supervised by officials (sizhe 司者) who took care that no “mean fellows” (jian zhangfu 賤丈夫) would make profits, and therefore taxed those attempting to create monopolies. The terms for market supervisors differed from state to state; in Lu they were called guzheng 賈正, in Zheng, Song, and Wey chushi 褚師, in Qi shiyuan/chuan 市椽, in Chu shiling 市令, and in the kingdom of Zhou sishi 司市. Markets were places for the sales and purchase of grains, domestic animals, precious objects, clothes and footware, eatables and wine, tools and instruments, and also people (Zhouli, ch. Zhiren 質人). chaoshi, dashi, xishi verbotene handelsgüter Market places were usually locations for executions (liao zhi yu shi 戮之於市, che lie Su Qin yu shi 車裂蘇秦於市). Heads or bodies of executed persons were displayed on the markets (shi bao yu shi 尸暴於市). Of course, market places also served as a stage for artistic performances, as told in the air Dongmen zhi fan 東門之枌 (Shijing, part Chenfeng 陳風). (Shiji, ch. 129 Huozhi liezhuan 貨殖列傳) The old system of craftsmen and merchants working for the government and nourishing the officialdom (gong shang shi guan 工商食官) disintegrated, and both groups began working on their own behalf. Historiographical sources mainly point at the fortune a merchant could make and the political influence merchants could gain. The ode Zhan’ang 瞻卬 (Shijing, part Daya, 蕩之什) speaks of “three hundred percent of profit from sales” (gu san bei 賈三倍). The political influence of merchants and their economic liberality with low taxes began in the transition from the Western to the Eastern Zhou period, when some of the regional rulers relied on the economic support of the “Shang people” (traders) to re-build their state. Duke Huan of Zheng, for instance, moved eastwards to Guo 虢 and Hui 鄶, where the merchants cleared the land to establish a new residence. The Duke concluded an alliance with the merchants. They would not rebel, when the duke would not force them to sell anything nor seize anything from them. The merchants would have their profitable market and precious goods, while the state of Zheng would “know nothing about them” (not tax them) (Zuozhuan, Zhaogong 16). In 658, Duke Wen of Wey strengthened his state with the help of merchants by developing resources, encouraging farmers, opening up channels for trade, showing kindness to artisans, respecing teachings, promoting learning, distributing proper rules for administration, and employing the able (Zuozhuan, Mingong 2). Duke Wen of Jin lowered the custom levies, embettered the roads, promoted trade and encouraged farming (Guoyu, Jinyu 4). The result of these measures was that during the reign of Duke Ping of Jin, merchants were so rich that they could decorate their carriages with jewels. Merchants and men of the trades had become full ‘citizens’ (guoren 國人), and were not any more servents of sovereigns. The fear of “rebellion by merchants” was not a phantasm, as can be seen in several cases when merchants and craftsmen stood against the government or fled to other states (Zhou 2000: 1284). During the battle of Tie 鐵, Zhao Jianzi promised his troops that commoners, artisans and merchants would advancement, i.e. the potential to obtain a state office (Zuozhuan, Aigong 2). Among the group of merchants, some were veritable personalities having great influence on policy making, like Xian Gao 弦高 from Zheng who forged a ducal order to save Zheng from being plundered by the troops of Qin, or Zigong 子貢, a merchant from Wey and disciple of Confucius, who facilitated the Masters’s access to the courts of Chu and held offices in Lu and Wey. Wherever he came, every lord received him. Zigong sold according to the modern market principle that rare commodities have higher prices. Fan Li范蠡 (also known as Tao Zhugong 陶朱公) from Chu was the third famous merchant of the Spring and Autumn period. He was a diligent observer of agriculture and the long-term impact of wheater on grain prices. He was the first counsellor to a regional ruler who recommended to adjust grain prices (pingtiao 平糶, see price regulation of grain) by storing grain in granaries. He also proposed methods for building up or exchanging stocks by planning in an anti-cyclical way: invest in boats in times of draught, and in carts in times of flood (han ze zi zhou, shui ze zi che 旱則資舟,水則資車). Fan Li was also an advocate of monetization: A market economy would be in need of cash, "to flow like water" (xing ru liu shui 行如流水). The chapter on "Profiteers" (129 Huozhi liezhuan 貨殖列傳) in the univeral history Shiji 史記 provides general rules of commerce which had allegedly been established by Ji Ran 計然 (sometimes equaled with the philosopher Wenzi 文子). The author of the chapter (presumably Sima Qian or his father) explained Laozi’s ideal of an autarkic village was impossible to realize, and renounces the proposition of the agriculturalists who advocated that everyone should be a farmer. A society needs, he says, farmers 農 to produce food, workers 虞 to exploit natural resources, craftsmen 工 to produce manufactured goods, and merchants 商 to distribute them. Ji Ran said that like preparing a battle, merchants must known what goods were needed in which season (shi yong ze zhi wu 時用則知物). They must store in times of abundance commodities which can be preserved for a long time without damage or depreciation (wu wan wu, wu xi bi 務完物,無息幣), in order to have enough in times of famine. In this way, the prices would be balanced and goods fairly distributed (ping di qi wu 平糶齊物). Expensive goods must be sold “as if they were filth and dirt”, and cheap products be purchased “as if they were pearls and jade”. Craftsmen are merchants, The state of Qi had access overland and profited from the products of the sea, like salt and seafruits. It was one of the first states developing a strong group of merchants. Jin in the northeast had lake salt, fertile soils, and traded with the tribes in the north. The small states of Zheng and Wey were located in the centre of the Yellow River plain and was thus a hub of long-distance transport by road and water. Qin in the far west lived from cattle and sheep, but also from the fertile soils of the Guanzhong region. Trade routes were also existing to the south, into the Sichuan Basin. The latter was accessed by the southeast from the state of Chu with its immense resources. In the southeast, Wu was endowed with products of the sea and the copper ores of Zhangshan 章山. The dimension of trade between the individual states can be assessed by the distribution of coins (see currency). Trade relations were also part of alliances (meng) the aim of which was not only to keep peace and the political order, but also not to infringe in the business of commerce. Guan Zhong, chief minister in the state of Qi, divided the people into four corporations, namely state officials (shi) in “pure places” (xianyan 閑燕), craftsmen (gong) in state-owned workshops (guanfu 官府), merchants (shang) on the markets (shijing 市井), and farmers (nong) in the countryside (tianye 田野). People were not only working in different, hereditary (?) professions, but also living in different quarters and places (Guoyu, Qiyu). Quite interesting is the order of the four corporations, in which farmers hold the last (lowest?) place, and merchants the third (and not the lowest) position. In later ages, the order of corporations was a moral one, estimating farmers for their contribution to the treasury, and despising merchants for their unjust profits.
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