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Chinese Literature
Shihuo zhi 食貨志

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Shihuo zhi 食貨志 "Treatise on Food and Commodities" is a kind of treatise on the state economy of imperial China that is included in most official dynastic histories, and also in many encyclopaedias, like Tongdian 通典 (1-12) from the Tang period 唐 (618-907) or Tongzhi 通志 (61-62) from the Song period 宋 (960-1279).

The term shihuo is derived from an expression in the Confucian Classic Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents" (chapter Hongfan 洪範), where food (shi 食) and "wealth and articles of convenience" (huo 貨), the two first of the "eight (objects of) government" (bazheng 八政) are seen as the "root of the people's lives" (minsheng zhi ben 民生之本). The term "food" is explained as the product of farming, while "merchandise" (huo) is likewise the product of the peasants' households, namely textiles, but produced with the purpose to be exchanged on markets.

The oldest text of this kind is the treatise Pingzhun shu 平準書 "On the equalization of agronomical matters" in the history Shiji 史記. In the history Hanshu 漢書 the chapter Shihuozhi is divided into two parts, the first juan describing food and the general conditions of agriculture, and the second fascicle dealing with commerce, as the second important economical root of the empire. "Food" is described as the products of the field that can be eaten, while "commodities" are defined as cloth (as a means of payment) or monies that serve to distribute objects (or "wealth" and "profits") to places where they are missing (suo yi fen cai bu li, tong you wu zhe ye 所以分財布利,通有無者也).

Economic treatises are to be found in the official histories Hanshu, Jinshu 晉書, Weishu 魏書, Suishu 隋書, Jiutangshu 舊唐書, Xintangshu 新唐書, Jiu Wudaishi 舊五代史, Songshi 宋史, Liaoshi 遼史, Jinshi 金史, Yuanshi 元史, Mingshi 明史, Qingshigao 清史稿 and Xin Yuanshi 新元史.

The most detailed are those of the Songshi and Mingshi, with more than 20 chapters covering a wide range of economical questions, like the field allotment system (tianzhi 田制), household registers (huji), taxation and corvée labour (fuyi 賦役), district granaries (cangku 倉庫), transport of tribute grain (caoyun 漕運), salt administration (yanfa 鹽法), miscellaneous taxes (shuifa 雜稅), monetary policy (qianfa 錢法), mining and metallurgy (kuangye 礦冶), the marketization of grain (shidi 市糴) or statistics about state revenues (kuaiji 會計).

The encyclopaedia Wenxian tongkao 文獻通考 also investigates tributes of native communities of the southwest (tugong 土貢) and government expenditure (guoyong 國用).

The treatises on food and commerce are based on archival documents of the dynasty and therefore provide detailed insight into government decisions at different levels of administration and in the course of time. In comparison with many other statements in historiographical writings, chronological and geographical details are much more exact.

There is a translation and study by Nancy L. Swann, Food and Money in Ancient China: The Earliest Economic History of China to A.D. 25., Han Shu 24 with related texts, Han Shu 91 and Shih-chi 129 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950 [repr. New York: Octagon 1974]).

Sources: Mo Zongtong 莫宗通 (1997), "Shihuo zhi 食貨志", in Men Kui 門巋, Zhang Yanjin 張燕瑾 (ed.), Zhonghua guocui da cidian 中華國粹大辭典 (Xianggang: Guoji wenhua chuban gongsi), p. 107. ● Wang Yi 王益, Bai Qinxian 白欽先 (ed. 2000), Dangdai jinrong cidian 當代金融辭典 (Beijing: Zhongguo jingji chubanshe), p. 807-808. ● Yao Enquan 姚恩權 (1993), "Shihuo zhi 食貨志", in Shi Quanchang 石泉長 (ed.), Zhonghua baike yaolan 中華百科要覽 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), p. 107.

October 22, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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