Western Zhou period

2011-01-09 15:36:56 Author:sue Source: Hits:0 Comment 0

Western Zhou period

Western Zhou period

According to the Marxist worldview, the first two ages of mankind are the slaveholder society (nuli shehui 奴隸社會) and the feudalist society (fengjian shehui 封建社會). These two ages are naturally overlapping, and the Western Zhou society and economy is a period when phenomena of both idealist societies were existing: The Zhou kings enfeoffed their followers with aristocratical fiefdoms, and a large part of the population was enslaved for different reasons, either as war prisoners (li 隸, nu 奴) or as enslaved debtors sold on the market (chenqie 臣妾). While cities were not much more than walled hamlets, far the most agerage people (shuren 庶人) worked as peasants of their fields. Alhough their social status was that of free men, peasants had often to serve the nobility (guizu 貴族) for different tasks (yi 役).

The ideal field system of the Zhou period as described in the Rites of Zhou Zhouli 周禮 is the well field system (jingtianfa 井田法): Every arable area was divided into nine compartments of which one served as provision for the king's or the noble's household. This part was worked by the eight families together to whom belonged the eight other parts. Peasants prepared their fields with a plough driven by two men (ougeng 耦耕), creating compartments (quan 畎) one chi 尺 wide, six chi counted a pace bu 步. The standard measure of fields was one mu 畝, one pace wide and hundred paces long, one male person idealiter obtained a field (tian 田) measuring one hundred mu. Eight families bound to this field structure thus built also an administration unit from which taxes (fu 賦) and services could be drawn by the government.

 Although most agrarian tools were made of wood and oder perishable materials, bronze ploughshares and hoes are also known from literary and archeological sources. Literary sources mention the nine kinds of "grain" (jiugu 九榖): millet (shu 黍), panicled millet (ji 稷), rice (dao 稻), sesame (ma 麻), soybeans (dadou 大豆), small beans (xiaodou 小豆), wheat (mai 麥), sorghum (liang 粱), and water oats (Zanzania, gu 苽). Fields were often laid fallow for one or two years to recover the fertility of the soil in a three year period (new fields zi 菑, two year fields xin 新, and three year fields yu or she 畲 that often were fertilized by burning grass and weeds).

Craftsmen (baigong 百工) had a quite low social status and had to dwell in quarters within the capital. Merchants' (shangjia 商賈) activities were restricted to official markets (shi 市) in the capital and were tightly controled by the government. The currency of the Western Zhou period was a coin shaped like a cowry shell (bei 貝) with the currency unit peng 朋. Another currency was the lüe 鋝. Both currencies were inherited from the Shang period 商. Of course, in the countryside natural goods were the normal currency among the population, greater debts were often payed with fields as immovables. In such cases, contracts were made between the debtor and the recipient or buyer.

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