Well-field system

The well-field system (Chinese: 井田制度; pinyin: jǐngtián zhìdù) was a Chinese land redistribution method existing between the ninth century BC (late Western Zhou dynasty) to around the end of the Warring States period. Its name comes from Chinese character (jǐng), which means 'well' and looks like the # symbol; this character represents the theoretical appearance of land division: a square area of land was divided into nine identically-sized sections; the eight outer sections (私田; sītián) were privately cultivated by serfs and the center section (公田; gōngtián) was communally cultivated on behalf of the landowning aristocrat.[1]

The brown border between the farms resembles the character for well (井)

While all fields were aristocrat-owned,[citation needed] the private fields were managed exclusively by serfs and the produce was entirely the farmers'. It was only produce from the communal fields, worked on by all eight families, that went to the aristocrats, and which, in turn, could go to the king as tribute.

As part of a larger feudal fengjian system, the well-field system became strained in the Spring and Autumn period[2] as kinship ties between aristocrats became meaningless.[3] When the system became economically untenable in the Warring States period, it was replaced by a system of private land ownership.[4] It was first suspended in the state of Qin by Shang Yang and other states soon followed suit.

As part of the "turning the clock back" reformations by Wang Mang during the short-lived Xin dynasty, the system was restored temporarily[5] and renamed to the King's Fields (王田; wángtián). The practice was more-or-less ended by the Song dynasty, but scholars like Zhang Zai and Su Xun were enthusiastic about its restoration and spoke of it in a perhaps oversimplifying admiration, invoking Mencius's frequent praise of the system.[6]


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