2. Man-Land Relations in Pre-colonial Times
Increase in population and needs for defense made a concentration
of authority necessary. States were founded with a ruler as
head. The costs of governing and defending these states were
covered by gifts at first, but soon by levying regular taxes,
usually a share in the yield of the cultivated land. This
tax reduced the cultivators' land rights.
The centralized states had to employ officials for administration
and tax collection, and had to maintain a military force for
defense. Often, officials were paid a share of the tax they
collected. Especially the officials who worked far away from
the capital and those who had to fulfil duties involving expenses
(maintaining roads and passes, supporting military forces,
etc.) were sometimes granted the taxes from certain areas
as remuneration. Such grants comprised the tax from the land
only, not the land itself. In the course of time, such grants
were made not only for services rendered, but for loyalty
and as a favour, and soon given for a lifetime and made hereditary.
I n addition, officials obtained cultivation rights on land
belonging to the state, but never on peasants lands.
The rulers' increasing financial requirements led to two
policies that influenced the man-land relation: strict control
of the tax system and measures to cultivate more land.
Strengthening the tax system meant an exact assessment including
the use of such criteria as soil quality, etc. so that each
cultivator had to pay according to his abilities. Later, taxes
had to be paid in cash, too. This also meant the control of
tax collectors so that they collected the taxes due, but not
more. Thus, the peasantry was to keep strong enough for productive
cultivation, and there was an incentive to bring more land
under cultivation. The larger the cultivated area, the higher
was the food production for the growing population including
the military forces, and the larger the rulers' share in the
produce, the tax. The expansion of the cultivated area played
the main role in increasing production.
In the course of history, however strong rulers alternated
with weak ones and, over long periods, a power struggle between
the ruler and his aristocratic officials took place. Under
weak rulers, officials quite often pressed more tax than due
from the peasants and filled their own pockets. Over time,
this weakened the peasants, some times to such an extent that
the existence of states was endangered. While, in principle,
peasants had the right to cultivate their land as long as
they paid taxes, it was not uncommon that impoverished peasants
lost their cultivator's rights and became labourers or insecure
tenants under the officials who became wealthy, legally or
illegally. The institution of tenancy spread, differences
between rich and poor became more marked, and land rights
became more and more diversified.
The example of India:
When states were founded with one ruler at their head, financing
the government became a problem, Soon, the king was given
the right to a share of the produce as tax, and he was entitled
to the uncultivated land lying between the villages. The tax
collectors were remunerated with a share of the collected
taxes and a plot of crown land, called "watan land",
which was tax free, inheritable and transferable. Thus, out
of the need to account of the government allotting land to
As the governments' tasks increased and because of the size
of the country, it became important to simplify administration.
Therefore, the ruler directly allotted the tax revenue from
specific areas to people who had to maintain troops in the
provinces, make roads passable, etc. Later, favourites were
also provided for in that way, and these cessions often became
When the Moghuls conquered India, they hardly touched the
man land relations. Peasants could continue to cultivate their
land if they paid the usual tax. Former small rulers we a
often appointed tax collectors and received 10 % of the collected
tax as remuneration, They were strictly controlled so that
they could not collect more than due. The Moghuls tried to
increase their income by strengthening the tax system. Akbar
replaced taxes in kind by monetary taxes, which were collected
according to average instead of actual yield, thus shifting
the risk onto the cultivator. A land register was introduced,
in which land was classified according to soil quality.
But later, when the power of the central government decreased,
control over tax revenue was lost In order to recurs revenue
at all, tax collectors' posts were leased to the highest bidders
against a fixed sum. Tax collectors were then free to extort
as much as possible from the cultivators, causing the living
conditions of the peasantry to deteriorate.
The transfer of the tax collectors' right regarding specific
regions, introduced in pre Moghul times, then became very
common. These "jagirs" were transferred all the
rights the government held, i.e. taxes, claims to uncultivated
land, police power social responsibilities, etc.,but not the
claims to the cultivators' land. Whenever the tax collectors
became landlords in the course of time, this was due to their
reclaiming wasteland or confiscating the land of peasants
who owed taxes. These landlords usually cultivated the land
The Example of Korea:
In Korea, the emerging central state took over the control
of land. Soon, the expansion of the administration led to
a powerful class of bureaucrats who were selected on the basis
of the bone-rank system according to their social position
at birth and not according to their qualification. These officials
were paid a share of the tax, but the king often could not
control them. It became very common that the oifkials encroached
upon the peasants' rights, and the latter were oppressed to
such a point that many of them left the land.
The following Koryo dynasty tried to reduce the tax to one
third of the harvest. The king's loyal followers received
land (tax) grants, which formed the basis of their wealth
that was increased, later on, by money lending. In order to
control the officials, the king concentrated them in the capital.
This and the fact that only the king could grant land the
basis of the aristocrats' wealth made them dependent. In the
course of time, however, much land came under the officials'
control and made them independent from the state. Of importance
was the regulation passed by the fourth king of the Koryo
dynasty, who redistributed land according to rank and status.
This allowed the retired official to retain the land he held
because of his rank, now, because of his status. The officials'
independence from the state again caused the illegal oppression
of peasants, who again left the land.
The new Yi Dynasty (Jonseon Dynasty) confiscated the materiel basis of the
Koryo elite, the land, and gave it to the new elite, but with
some precautionary measures: officials were never posted in
their home areas, were transferred every three years, and
central government officials were given land only near the
Around 1600, more thorough changes took place regarding the
control of land in connection with the development of the
yangban class. To become a official, one had to pas an examination
in Chinese and Confucian classics. Accordingly, devoting oneself
to intellectual pursuits opened the way to the control of
land. To remain yangban, each family had to have at least
one member in office, while the remaining members could live
on the estate and engage in leisurely activities.In time,
hereditary land grants became common and finally led to private
lands. The tax collector became landlord, the tax payer, tenant.
From the very beginning, the yangban developing from literati-officials
to landlords is a contradiction in itself: as officials, they
were supposed to work for e strong government based on Confucian
virtues. But these very virtues included obligations to their
families such as increasing family holdings and wealth which
was against the interest of the state. The. institution of
hereditary grants strengthened the aristrocracy and made it
easy for yangban to give priority to their families.
Besides, during that period, a class of "farmer landlords"
developed. The state encouraged the reclamation of uncultivated
land by granting tax exemption for ten years. These farmer
landlords invested in cultivation and rented the land to tenants.
Fixed and share rent became widespread.
Thus, in time, permanent private control of land developed,
even if the rights on land consisted of usufruct and tax rights
only Landlord tenant relations emerged, absentism, various
forms of tenancy exploitation, insecurity and wide differences
in the level of living between aristrocracy and peasantry.