Changes in Land Ownership in Ancient China from the Perspective of Historical Materialism

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.1, 2020


Changes in Land Ownership in Ancient China from the Perspective of Historical Materialism

(Editor's Note)


Zang Zhifei, Zhou Guolin, Geng Yuanli, Li Huarui, Zhao Siyuan, and Liu Zhiwei


Ownership of the means of production is the basis of social production relations, and land is the most important of these means. In-depth analysis of historical land ownership is the basis for understanding and interpreting history, and more than that, is the basis for understanding and interpreting the bloodlines of culture, the genes of civilization and institutional systems and for enhancing cultural self-confidence. It has therefore always been an outstanding tradition and distinctive feature of Chinese Marxist historiography. Since the emergence of Chinese Marxist historiography, and especially since 1949, research on land ownership in ancient China, with a focus on the form of feudal land ownership, has obtained fruitful results and tremendous achievements, occupying a unique position and gaining widespread attention in international historical circles; it could be said to have a “Chinese style and manner” and a Chinese atmosphere. Since reform and opening up, the discovery of new materials, an increase in archeological finds, the use of interdisciplinary methods and the expansion of horizons have enabled historians to reach a subtler and deeper understanding of ancient Chinese land ownership. As socialism with Chinese characteristics enters the new era, it is our view that in-depth discussion of the close relationship between the evolution of land ownership in ancient China and the period’s state governance and social development is a prerequisite for the deep understanding of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important expositions such as “History determines us” from “deep history.” We must promote the construction of an academic system for the study of history through innovative achievements that live up to the new era and are based on the excellent tradition of Chinese Marxist history, thus laying a solid foundation for scientifically demonstrating the road taken by and the laws governing Chinese history. For this reason, we have invited Professor Zang Zhifei from the School of Social Sciences at Soochow University, Professor Zhou Guolin from the School of History at the Central China Normal University, Professor Geng Yuanli from the School of History and Culture at Henan University, Professor Li Huarui from the School of History at the Capital Normal University, Associate Professor Zhao Siyuan from the School of Humanities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and Professor Liu Zhiwei from the Department of History at Sun Yat-sen University to write this set of special articles on the topic “Changes in Land Ownership in Ancient China from the Perspective of Historical Materialism.” On the basis of inheriting, summing up, and analyzing previous research findings, they thoroughly have explored the main issues closely related to changes in land ownership from the Warring States to the Ming and Qing dynasties. Based on detailed historical data, the articles expound the nature, characteristics and laws governing the evolution of ancient Chinese land ownership in terms of the nature and form of land ownership and the relationship between household registration-based taxation, land policies, land regulations and land ownership, as well as the operation of the market in land. They reflect new achievements and trends in the study of ancient Chinese land ownership in the new era and the level of related research in the new era. This concentrated discussion of ancient Chinese land ownership represents an addition to the “five most heatedly discussed issues” (aka “five golden flowers”) in Chinese historical circles. We expect this set of articles will serve as a model, under the principle of keeping to principles and pursuing innovation, it will assist Chinese Marxist historiography in the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Due to their different perspectives and views, of course, these contributions may have some points that need further discussion, even though the manuscripts were scrupulously scrutinized by our review experts and conscientiously edited by the editorial department. We look forward to criticisms and corrections from all sides.