Why did ancient peasants prefer to be exploited by landlords rather than reclaim wasteland?

 Why did ancient peasants prefer to be exploited by landlords rather than reclaim wasteland?

But in the movies, TV plays and historical books, we can see the misfortune and poverty of the ancient poor who were oppressed by landlords. They are often exploited, and their pay is not directly proportional to their income.

Unfortunately, the ideal is full, but the reality is very skinny.

The production cost is too high to open up wasteland

In modern times, the reclamation is only a choice of empty space, with machines, cattle, and then no spade to dig over the soil and apply fertilizer to fix it. But in ancient times, it was much more difficult to open up wasteland independently, just like ordinary young people starting a business.

First of all, you have to have land.

In ancient times, although the land was vast and sparsely populated and wasteland was everywhere, it was the land of kings under the whole world. It doesnt mean that the government allows you to reclaim wasteland. Although the government occasionally mobilizes the poor to reclaim wasteland, it is mostly in times of famine, and not everyone can meet such a policy.

On the other hand, in ancient times, social productivity was very low, and there was neither transportation tools nor irrigation equipment. Generally, cultivated land is close to the water source to facilitate irrigation, or collectively dig wells and build ditches to ensure the irrigation of grain. The cultivated land near the water source has been basically developed.

Therefore, even if the policy allows, they can only go far from the water source for reclamation, and such land is generally not suitable for planting grain. Of course, you can also go to remote and uninhabited areas to look for water sources and open up land. But in this way, housing becomes a problem. Either walk back and forth ten miles a day to plant the land, or build a house nearby. But this time cost, material cost, is not an ordinary farmer can afford.

Even if youre lucky enough to apply for a piece of fertile land near the water source, theres a big problem you have to solve:

Although there were no tractors, harvesters and other labor equipment in ancient times, it was obviously impossible to open up the wasteland with both hands. You had to have tools. Take the just needed farm cattle as an example, which is not a small expense.

How expensive was it for the ancients to buy a cow?

The market price of cattle fluctuates with the times. Take the Song Dynasty as an example, song Huiyao records that the average price of an ox in the early Northern Song Dynasty was about three Guan Qian. In the middle and late period, it soared to 10 Guan Qian, and even more so in the Southern Song Dynasty. It remained at the high price level of 40 Guan Qian a cow for a long time. In extraordinary times, it even rose to the price of 100 Guan.

In the early Northern Song Dynasty, the monthly salary of ordinary civil servants was usually 10 Guan Qian. During the reign of emperor Renzong of the Song Dynasty, the highest monthly salary was 15 Guan.

Therefore, even in the official family, buying cattle can only be achieved by saving for a few months without eating or drinking. It is even more difficult for ordinary farmers to buy cattle.

However, it doesnt matter if you cant afford it. As long as you have the right age, the state can control it!

For example, when Zhu Yuanzhang was in power in the early Ming Dynasty, in order to fully recover the economy, he allocated funds to buy farm cattle four times and distributed them to the northern reclamation farmers. Each time, the scale was tens of thousands of heads, and large distribution of farm cattle became a common practice.

To Yongle years, not only to send cattle, but also to send you matching tools!

You have to be able to raise cattle.

In ancient times, there was a saying that an ox and a horse cost five peoples food. It costs ten Guan to buy a cow, but to raise a cow, you have to eat the usual forage money every month. This is not cattle raising. Its simply asking for a golden beast.

Therefore, in the Song Dynasty, renting cattle farmland was a very common phenomenon in rural areas. Even in the 1990s, several families raised one cow together in rural areas, and those who could raise one cow alone were called big families.

If someone is lucky enough to solve all difficulties and open up the wasteland, can he live a pastoral life of feeding horses, cutting firewood and watering farmland?

Its not so easy.

Heavy taxation is another obstacle on the way to open up wasteland independently

As we mentioned earlier, in order to develop the farming economy, the imperial court also issued preferential policies to encourage farmers, but this is only a short-term one. As long as the time comes, there will be no less than one cent of the rent and tax that should be collected.

For example, during the reign of emperor Renzong of the Song Dynasty, which was known as benevolent government and loving people, there was Bao Qingtian on his head to uphold justice for the people, but the heavy taxes were not reduced at all.

In addition to the daily two taxes, more than a dozen items, such as farm tools, cattle hide, salt and iron, should be paid with additional taxes. The well-to-do families with a little bit of money have to be taken to labor. This is why there were more than 400 peasant uprisings in the three centuries during the Song Dynasty.

According to the truth, in the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, Emperor Taizu of the Ming Dynasty, sent cattle and complete sets of tools to encourage farming, and in the early Ming Dynasty was known as light corvee and meager tax. At this time, farmers life should be more prosperous and very happy, right.

For example, in the Hongzhi period of the Ming Dynasty, the southeast region increased the rural taxes by more than 50 kinds of additional taxes through conversion. During the Wanli period, it increased more than threefold again.

As a result, tens of thousands of peasants who could not pay taxes were reduced to tenant farmers, who could only work hard for the landlords to support their families.

The southern tenant farmers have been unable to sustain themselves, and the situation of peasants in the north with low productivity is even worse!

Because of the same land area, the productivity may be less than half of that in the south, but taxes still have to be paid. Where does the money come from? The landlords naturally exploited the tenants more seriously.

The poor peasants were so poor that they could not even afford to eat, but they had to pay heavy taxes to the landlords.


In the thousands of years of feudal history, farmers have always been involuntarily, which shows that they have no choice to open up wasteland. This is like a thousand years later, some people may be curious:

In the 21st century, why dont the poor go to work for the capital instead of being their own boss?

Its not that they dont want to, but most of them have no choice.


(function(){( window.slotbydup=window .slotbydup||[]).push({id:u5811557,container:ssp_ 5811557, async:true }This article is from Lin Qihui, editor in charge_ NB13068