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Land Distribution and the Hakka Property Rights in the Pingdong Plains during the Qing, 1700-1900

Qiukun CHEN (Academia Sinica)
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Within a half century after its seizure by the Qing dynasty in 1683, Taiwan had been transformed from an island on the frontier into the granary of southeastern China. A key cause of this rapid recovery of agrarian production was government policy. The Qing encouraged powerful families to reclaim wasteland, construct rice paddies, and expand production of rice and sugar. Elite landowning families of Tainan prefecture used their bureaucratic connections to obtain reclamation licenses that entitled them to assert control over large expanses of wasteland in the remote Pingdong area. They negotiated agreements with large numbers of tenants, including some Hakka from Guangdong, to do the actual work of reclamation. Private managers were hired to supervise the tenants and collect rents. The first goal of this essay is to analyze the process of land reclamation in the Pingdong plains by absentee landlords, by describing how these landlords established rent-exchange relations and contributed to the maintenance of the early socio-economic order. Second, the paper explores how tenants initially subordinate to absentee landlords were able to use their rights of permanent tenancy to accumulate capital and transform themselves into a new landlord stratum. The paper uses two cases of Hakka tenants to discuss the process of formation of Hakka ownership rights, and analyzes the reasons for the high level of corporate property in Hadda society.

Journal of History and Anthropology