Monday, September 8, 2008

The Ancient Chinese IRS

As I work on the book "Old Amoy in Foreigners' Eyes", using old texts and photos from my home library (Click here for a partial list), I come across some fascinating insights. This passage from one of MacGowan's books was about the ancient system of taxes, which was not overly oppressive, and the tactics of tax collectors--which were oppressive indeed. Read on to learn about the ANCIENT CHINESE INFERNAL REVENUE SERVICE!
Bill Brown Magic Xiamen--Guide to Xiamen and Fujian

Reverend John MacGowan, Lights and Shadows of Chinese Life, North China Daily News and Herald Limited, Shanghai 1909

With the exception of the dues collected at the various custom houses throughout the country, the only direct tax imposed by the Imperial Government is the land tax. Taxes for education, for the army and navy, for the defence of the Empire, as well as rates for the police, the poor, etc., are absolutely unknown. The civil list in China is a very model of simplicity, and gives the executive very little anxiety, for there are automatic systems that have been in existence from the earliest times that provide for the salaries and expenses of public servants in a manner highly satisfactory to everyone, excepting to the long-suffering masses from whom the money is extracted.

The land tax… is a fixed one and was settled in A.D. 1644, when the present dynasty came into power. The land registers were then revised, and the amount that every man’s farm or holding had to pay was fixed by the imperial authorities. This seems to have been done in a very fair and generous spirit. The Government which affects to be a paternal one showed in this case, at least, great anxiety that this tax should not be an oppressive one….

As lands vary greatly in fertility, there was no uniformity in the levying of these taxes…in all cases due care has been taken that the farmers shall not be unduly distressed.

The Ancient Chinese IRS
Now whilst the land tax is in itself a very moderate one, the method of its collection renders it very oppressive, and certainly at all times it is more or less a source of trouble and vexation. The Government has entrusted the collection of it to a body of men that are notoriously of ill-repute, and who fro the very nature of the case must be dishonest. Not only have they no salaries, but they have actually to purchase their positions. The only privilege they demand in return for this outlay of their money is a free hand to get as much out of the people, by guile, by ruse, or by cunning, as they can; only they must be careful that everything they do must have an appearance of legality. Law, and ancient custom, and hoary traditions are sacred in the eyes of the Chinese, but there are a thousand-and-one ways by which these may be evaded, while the semblance of respect for them is still maintained.

A free-handed system like this exactly suits the genius of the Chinese, who prefer oblique methods to direct ones. It opens out a boundless field, where money can be gained more easily than by settled salaries….

Day One

Greetings from Amoy (old name for Xiamen, Fujian). I tried this a couple years ago and never got anywhere. I'll try again. I'm in California but headed back to Xiamen in 5 days, after 10 weeks in California researching for a couple of historical books I'm writing about Xiamen, my home for over 20 years.
Visit our main website, AmoyMagic -- Guide to Xiamen and Fujian

Also check out the historical texts and photos for the Amoy Mission Project.

Enjoy Amoy!

Dr. Bill
Xiamen University
Xiamen, Fujian

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