China Location: Home Page> Asia > China

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform

Since Ming Dynasty, there have been internal and external problems, and Ming Dynasty was almost on verge of extinction. During Wanli period (1573-1620), Zhang Jiuzhen, first assistant, carried out reforms and reforms, turned tide, and pulled Ming Dynasty from abyss, which was almost on verge of extinction. Zhang Jiuzhen's reform, along with Shang Yang's reform, Emperor Xiaowen's reform, and Wang Anshi's reform, became one of most famous reforms in ancient China. Zhang Jiuzhen's reforms failed to restore national power of Ming Dynasty, continued rule of Ming Dynasty, and had a great impact on China's tax system.

1. Political Reform and Correction of Officials: The Basis of Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform

After "rule of benevolence and Xuande", Ming dynasty fell into decline. After Xuande and before Wanli, for more than 130 years, Ming politics continued to be corrupt, economy continued to deteriorate, and border defenses became increasingly difficult. The continuous decline of Ming Dynasty was primarily due to political system of Ming Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty abolished prime ministerial system, making government affairs of monarch unprecedentedly diverse. Therefore, emperor had to rely on eunuchs to conduct state affairs, which made eunuch's monopoly in Ming Dynasty unprecedentedly serious. Since time of Emperor Yingzong of Ming Dynasty, Ming Dynasty experienced famous eunuch monopoly events such as Wang Zhen, Wang Zhi and Liu Jin. The result of eunuch's dictatorship was rampant political corruption, and ruling and opposition parties were in disarray.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform

Zhang Jiuzhen, courtesy name Shuda and nickname Taiyue, was born in Jiangling, Huguang. In 1547, he was accepted as a jinshi and entered political arena. During Jiajing and Longqing periods, Zhang Ju gradually improved his status through contradictions and struggles between cabinet ministers and eunuchs. When Xu Jie was chief assistant, he attached great importance to Zhang Jiuzhen. In early days of Longqing, Zhang Jiuzhen became Minister of Rites and received a bachelor's degree from Wingdian University. Later, Li Chunfang replaced Xu Jie as Chief Cabinet Assistant, and Zhang Jiuzhen and Gao Gong took over as First Assistant to Li Chunfang, with Gao Gong as First Assistant. In 1572, Emperor Muzong of Ming Dynasty died, and Emperor Wanli, who was only ten years old, succeeded to throne. Zhang Jiuzhen took opportunity to join forces with Feng Bao, Admiral of East Factory, to drive out Gao Gong, and became chief assistant himself. Zhang Jiuzhen and Empress Mu Zong Chen and Shenzong's biological mother Li Guifei tried their best to curry favor and finally gained confidence and were able to monopolize government. Even Wanli Emperor was very afraid of Zhang Jiuzhen, and ministers "did not dare to have similarities and differences."

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform

Zhang Zuzheng

Historically, major reforms have been successfully carried out either by emperor himself, or with full support of emperor, otherwise reform would inevitably fail due to huge main force. For example, Shang Yang's reform was fully supported by Qin Xiaogon, and failure of Wang Anshi's reform was mainly due to emperor's hesitation. However, Zhang Jiuzhen monopolized power and infused it into government and public by "stealing power of imperial court and invading positions of six cao", which also provided strong support for reform.

At same time, in order to facilitate implementation of his own decrees, Zhang Jiuzhen turned cabinet into country's highest administrative body. In 1573, Zhang Jiuzhen promulgated Examination Law, whereby six ministries controlled government, six departments controlled six ministries, and cabinet controlled six departments. The Ming Dynasty History of Zhang Jiuzhen's biography states: "Jianzheng is in charge of politics, respects authority of king, classifies officials, trusts rewards and punishments, and gives priority to one order. Although it is thousands of miles away, it is carried out from below until evening. At same time, Zhang Jiuzhen also introduced a situation-based examination system so that affairs of imperial court could be carried out on spot. In addition to general routine, public affairs throughout country must have two separate books, one for promotion and one for cabinet inspection. Moreover, frequency of inspections is relatively high, and "checks every month and checks every year" can be achieved. Thus, orders of imperial court can be carried out and administrative efficiency is increased.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform

Former residence of Zhang Jiuzhen

It is not difficult for affairs of world to make laws, but it is difficult to apply law; it is not difficult to hear words, but it is difficult to make words effective. —— Zhang Jiuzhen

At same time, Zhang Jiuzhen abolished a group of redundant employees, promoted and rewarded a group of virtuous officials, which greatly mitigated years of corruption in Ming Dynasty. Zhang Jiuzhen himself has a high position and power, and his power is in hands of government and society, so reform can be carried out vigorously and vigorously. At that time, Mu Chaobi, Duke of Guizhou, who was far away in Yunnan, broke law many times, and court officials could not do anything about it, but Zhang Jiuzhen sent people to arrest him. Zhang Jiuzhen's bureaucratic reform laid foundation for other reforms.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform
2. Economic reform: a good cure for social crisis of Ming Dynasty.

There were two major economic problems during middle and late Ming Dynasty, one was land merger problem and other was financial problem. Land annexation is a stalemate that no dynasty in antiquity could solve. Since founding of Ming Dynasty, royal family, eunuchs, and relatives have plundered land wantonly by virtue of their political privileges.” kings, relatives and Zhongguan Zhuantian". In 1393, Ming dynasty owned 8.5 million hectares of taxable land, and by 1502 there were only 4.22 million hectares left, i.e. half that, these lands were mainly annexed by royal family and officials. The tax field was halved, but land tax of Ming Dynasty was reduced by only one tenth. In 1393, total land tax in country was 29.44 million shi, and in Hongzhi period it was 26.79 million shi, which was about same overall. This shows that exploitation of farmers under Ming Dynasty nearly doubled. Of course, in addition to land tax, Ming Dynasty also adopted method of collecting colored silver to increase taxes on farmers through Ming Dynasty government. Peasant uprisings are a barometer of living conditions of peasants in Dynasty At end of Ming Dynasty, peasant uprisings came and went one after another, constantly shaking foundation of dynasty.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform

The financial issue is closely related to land issue. From early Ming Dynasty to late Ming Dynasty, country's tax revenue from agriculture as a whole did not change much. However, financial expenses of Ming Dynasty increased unprecedentedly. At beginning of Ming Dynasty, a garrison system was introduced in country, which made Ming Dynasty's army self-sufficient, so country's tax revenue was basically sufficient. But after middle of Ming Dynasty, farming system was seriously damaged, and country had to introduce a recruitment system, which made military spending increasingly huge. In addition, over time, number of officials and clans in Ming Dynasty exceeded 100,000 people, which also required a lot of money to maintain them. Combined with corruption and other causes, finances of late Ming dynasty were depleted. In 1567, according to statistics of Ministry of Courts, national Taicang had only 1.3 million taels of silver, while expenses of officers and soldiers reached 1.35 million, 2.36 million were required for border defense, and annual silver reimbursement was 1.82 million. , and the total expenditure under three items amounted to 5.53 million taels, excluding other expenses.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform


Zhang Jiuzhen believes that "powerful mergers and unequal taxes and services." That is, annexation of land led to uneven taxation, making rich richer and poor even poorer, exacerbating social conflicts. Therefore, Zhang Jiuzhen's economic reform began with land issue. In 1578, Zhang Jiuzhen issued an order to measure land throughout country. During measurement process, strong local government continued to obstruct, but Zhang Jiuzhen attacked strongly. In ninth year of Wanli reign, measurement of national lands was completed, and it was concluded that area of ​​the national lands was 7.13 million hectares, which is 3 million hectares more than during Hongzhi period. The completion of land measurement set stage for Zhang Jiuzhen to formulate a new system of taxation.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform

Zhang Zuzheng inspects water transport

At same time, Zhang Jiuzhen controlled payment of land tax. In past, tax evasion by local nobles and Ming magnates was very serious. Local officials did not dare to check their regular land taxes, but instead imposed compulsory taxes on peasants. Zhang Jiuzhen stipulated that "money and grain should be used as a test", and political achievements should be judged with land and grain. All officials who did not pay enough tax arrears were severely punished. It also hit powerful landowners, reduced burden on farmers, and at same time increased tax revenue.

In 1581, Zhang Jiuzhen applied "one-whip method". There are several main provisions of One Whip Law: first, to combine former land tax, capita tax, corvée, and miscellaneous taxes into one; The reform of law on whips simplifies procedures and subjects of taxation, to a certain extent restrains fraud and corruption of powerful landowners and officials, and helps to reduce burden on people. At same time, single whip law reduced dependence of farmers, merchants and artisans on country, and collection of silver also adapted to development of trade. An important development in China's tax reform is that two tax laws start with one stick, and tax law becomes open.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform

Thanks to measurement of land and introduction of whiplash method, country's budget revenues have increased rapidly. At that time, Ming treasury accumulated as many as six to seven million taels of silver, and grain reserves amounted to more than 13 million shi, which was enough for ten years. By increasing financial resources, Zhang Jiuzhen is also trying to save money. On one hand, he reduced unnecessary officials and expenses, and on other hand, he reduced expenses of royal family. He asked Wanli Emperor to "save those who can save on useless expenses and those who can refuse rewards without merit. Make sure that annual income always exceeds volume of production. This is undoubtedly very beneficial for country's financial savings.

Third, strengthen construction of border defense: ensure stability of border

Since Ming Dynasty, environment has been very serious. On Mongolian side, Oala was strong and prosperous at first, and there was a change of civilian fort. The Tatars became powerful again, occupying territory of Hetao, year after year attacking Great Wall area of ​​the "Nine Sides" of Ming Dynasty, and even "Gengxu Change". In northeast, Jurchen tribe has long since fallen out of Ming control and is constantly persecuting Liaodong. In northwest, all seven of Kansai Guards fell, and Ming forces retreated to Jiayuguan. Japanese pirates were rampant on southeast coast. After a counterattack by Qi Jiguang, Yu Dai and others, situation on coast finally stabilized.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform

After Zhang Jiuzhen entered office, he began military construction. Prior to this, local Ming generals were often held back by local civil servants and seriously lacked autonomy. When frontier generals performed feats of war, local civil officials often shared rewards; Thus, enthusiasm of border guards was greatly undermined. Zhang Jiuzhen severely rewarded meritorious service so that civil servants could not earn meritorious service, which changed morale of frontier soldiers. In 1575, Li Chengliang won a major victory at Liaodong and War Office recorded Zhang Jiuzhen's strategic achievements, but he refused to accept it.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform


Referring to problems of Ming Dynasty army, which was defeated, poorly organized and ineffective in combat, Zhang Jiuzhen suggested that "soldiers should not be bothered by few, but by loyal and weak." He ordered reorganization and training of army throughout country. According to his strict requirements, War Department included quality of military training among standards for assessing qualities of a general. Zhang Jiuzhen focused on correcting military discipline among Beijing soldiers, taking this as a model for correcting military discipline throughout country. In 1581, a "Great Parade" was held in Beijing to demonstrate results of reform of army. After that, Tan Lun and Qi Jiguang were re-used to train army and strengthen defense of Gyeonggi area, which finally forced border defense troops in Gyeonggi area "to stand still, and border army is well-dressed, and it is only when you know military order." Zhang Jiuzhen also ordered construction of fortifications on border, and at same time ordered army to focus on defense and not attack at will.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform


For Mongolia, insisting on Mongolian "tribute" kept north generally stable, but it greatly reduced defensive pressure on border and economic burden of Ming dynasty, and created conditions for economic stability of border regions. . In fifth year of Wanli reign (1577), Fang Fengshi, ruler of Shanxi, Xuan and Great Ruler, said: “Over past eight years, population of Nine Frontiers has increased, defenses have been strengthened, fields have been opened up, and merchants have become more and more popular. Border people began to experience joy of life.” economic department in village, and price of a horse for servants is tens of thousands and 100,000 yuan and 3 ears. In this way, Ming Dynasty can save military spending annually. The expenses amount to 600,000 taels. At that time, Little Prince's tribe and Mongol Jurchen tribe continued to invade Liaodong, so Zhang Jiuzhen used Li Chenliang to guard Liaodong, and border was closed.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform

Stone Arch of Li Chengliang in Guangning City

Zhang Jiuzhen strengthened army and border defenses, which laid a solid foundation for Korean War at end of Wanli period, suppression of Ningxia rebellion, suppression of Bozhou rebellion, and resistance to invasion of Burma. However, during reign of Zhang Jiuzhen, Ming dynasty never waged large-scale wars with neighboring countries and ethnic groups, and border was generally peaceful. What ensured peace was strengthening of military power of Ming Dynasty and the effective ethnic policy.

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform

The Wanli Emperor

In 1582, Zhang Jiuzhen died. Zhang Jiuzhen's reforms also came to an end, and Ming dynasty fell into decline again. Zhang Jiuzhen's reform was last glimpse of Ming Dynasty. After that, Wanli emperor did not address court for 24 years, and situation in country was precarious. After "Three Great Wanli Expeditions", Battle of Sarhu, and Sino-Burmese War, Ming Dynasty had basically exhausted its national power. However, this cannot erase last glory of Zhang Jiuzhen, because it was he who extended Ming Dynasty for decades.

Related Blogs

Zhang Jiuzhen's Reform: The Last Resurgence of Ming Dynasty, An Important Event in China's Tax Reform The Official History of British Civil Service: The Importance of Reform The Last 24 Hours of Chongzhen Emperor: What Did He Do on Eve of Destruction of Ming Dynasty? How Did Sima Guang Destroy Northern Song Dynasty? He not only canceled reform, but also ceded the land Selected Poems of Chen Zilong: A National Hero against Qing Dynasty in Late Ming Dynasty and First Poet of Ming Dynasty The last days of Nian army: rebels lured Zhang Zongyu to Shaanxi, and in end he was trapped. Why didn't China open mouth of Indian Ocean in ancient times? The Ming Dynasty threw Myanmar clean An objective overview of territory of China of past dynasties: new map of Ming dynasty is worthy of admiration Cristheni reform: a symbol of formation of Athenian state and formal establishment of democracy Fragments of birth of capitalism in Ming Dynasty have been deleted from latest school history textbooks.