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China, peasant revolts in the empire

Leonard H. Lubitz

Subject History
Social Movements » Collective Behaviour

Place Eastern Asia » China

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1600-1699, 1700-1799, 1800-1899

Key-Topics agriculture, rebellion, revolution, rural

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00347.x


In premodern China the overwhelming majority of the population were peasants. Unlike their European counterparts, laws and traditions allowed this sector of society to lease or own land as well as to be mobile in choice of location in which to live. However, these rights did not alleviate the greater burden thrust upon peasants, which was the heavy and often intolerable burden of taxation. During the second half of this millennium, population grew at extraordinary rates. In response to the potential Malthusian quagmire that could have driven this populace toward massive starvation and the turmoil expected to accompany such social pressures, the peasant class responded with a stoic focus on survival through intensive labor. Agricultural output in this pre-industrial period also steadily increased. This was a result of the process of involution, whereby progress is realized through intensive physical labor rather than an increase in productivity or improved technology. This pressure, combined with the burden of taxation, made rebellion a reoccurring course of action over the centuries. The Ming Dynasty was established in the fourteenth century as a result of peasant rebellion. In 1368 Zhu Yuanzhang became the imperial emperor of China, being the third and last peasant to rise to that auspicious position. Two hundred and sixty years later, the dynasty which was established with enlightened ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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