CHAPTER XVI. LAND AND PEOPLE

What sort of folk were the masses of China, upon whom the ruling classes depended, then as now, for their support? In the year 594 B.C. the model state of Lu for the first time imposed a tax of ten per cent, upon each Chinese "acre" of land, being about one-sixth of an English acre: as the tax was one-tenth, it matters not what size the acre was. Each cultivator under the old system had an allotment of 100 such acres for himself, his parents, his wife, and his children; and in the centre of this allotment were 10 acres of "public land," the produce of which, being the result of his labour, went to the State; there was no further taxation. A "mile," being about one-third of an English mile, and, therefore, in square measure one-ninth of an English square mile, consisted of 300 fathoms (taking the fathom roughly), and its superficies contained 900 "acres" of which 80 were public under the above arrangement, 820 remaining for the eight families owning this "well-field" - so called because the ideograph for a "well" represents nine squares: a four-sided square in the centre, four three-sided squares impinging on it; and four two-sided squares at the corners; i.e. 100 "acres" each, plus 2-1/2 "acres" each for "homestead and onions"; or 20 of these last in all. Nine cultivators in one "well," multiplied by four, formed a township, and four townships formed a "cuirass" of 144 armed warriors; but this was under a modified system introduced four years later (590). It will be observed that the arithmetic seems confused, if not faulty; but that does not seriously affect the genuineness of the picture, and may be ignored as mere detail.

The ancient classification of people was into four groups. The scholar people employed themselves in studying tao and the sciences, from which we plainly see that the doctrine of tao, or "the way," existed long before Lao-tsz, in Confucius' time, superadded a mystic cosmogony upon it, and made of it a socialist or radical instead of an imperialist or conservative doctrine. The second class were the trading people, who dealt in "produce from the four quarters"; there is evidence that this meant chiefly cattle, grain, silk, horses, leather, and gems. The third class were the cultivators, and in those days tea and cotton, amongst other important products of to-day, were totally unknown. The fourth class consisted of handicraftsmen, who naturally made all things they could sell, or knew how to make.

Another classification of men is the following, which was given to the King of Ts'u by a sage adviser, presumably an importation from orthodox China. He divided people into ten classes, each inferior class owing obedience to its superior, and the highest of all owing obedience only to the gods or spirits. First, the Emperor; secondly, the "inner" dukes, or grandees of estates within the imperial domain: these grandees were dukes proper, not dukes by posthumous courtesy like the vassal princes after decease, and the Emperor used to send them on service, when required, to the vassal states; they were, in fact, like the "princes of the Church" or cardinals, who surround the Pope. Thirdly, "the marquesses," that is the semi-independent vassal states, no matter whether duke, marquess, earl, viscount, or baron; this term seems also to include the reigning lords of very small states which did not possess even the rank of baron, and which were usually attached to a larger state as clients, under protectorate; in fact, the recognized stereotyped way of saying "the vassal rulers" was "the marquesses." Then came what we should call the "middle classes," or bourgeoisie, followed by the artisans and cultivators: it will be noticed that the artisans are here given rank over the cultivators, which is not in accord with either very ancient or very modern practice; this, indeed, places cultivators before both traders and artisans. Lastly came the police, the carriers of burdens, the eunuchs, and the slaves. By "police" are meant the runners attached to public offices, whose work too often involves "squeezing" and terrorizing, torturing, flogging, etc. To the present day police, barbers, and slaves require three generations of purifying, or living down, before their descendants can enter for the public examinations; or, to use the official expression, their "three generations" must be "clear"; at least so it was until the old Confucian examination system was abolished as a test for official capacity a few years ago. Of eunuchs we shall have more to say shortly; but very little indeed is heard of private slaves, who probably then, as now, were indistinguishable from the ordinary people, and were treated kindly. The callous Greek and still more brutal Roman system, not to mention the infinitely more cowardly and shocking African slavery abuses of eighteenth- century Europe and nineteenth-century America, have never been known in China: no such thing as a slave revolt has ever been heard of there.