Proposal preview

Merchants, Markets and Commercial Taxes: State Institutions and Local Practices in Late Imperial and Modern China

The late 19th century Chinese state, like other late-developing states, faced many challenges. One of the chief challenges was how to pay for a modernizing agenda that included building a modern military and industrial base, constructing new transportation and communication networks and modernizing the educational system. In the Chinese case traditional sources of state revenue which included taxes on land, domestic trade and a small number of special commodities were insufficient to meet the new demands. At the same time, taxes on rapidly growing international trade were pledged to repayment of foreign debt and loans. Under these circumstances, the late-Qing and Republican states set ambitious policy agendas, while transferring responsibility for raising revenue and implementing the agenda to provincial and sub-provincial government units.

Our session looks at the roles of institutional legacies and challenges in meeting the demand for increased revenue. We begin with an examination of the Qing system of commercial taxes and their impact on markets and the circulation of goods, and then turn to a critical exploration of late-Qing early Republic local efforts to raise revenue within the context of the larger political economy. Our papers are based on previously unexplored sources—including records of the Qing dynasty domestic customs stations, records of national government revenue bureaus, steles from merchant associations, county fiscal archives, and 20th century social surveys. Using these sources we provide estimates of quantitative changes in tax revenue, show the impact of commercial taxes on the circulation of commodities, and explore the new institutions—part public, part private—that were created by provincial and county governments to collect a rapidly expanding variety of commercial taxes in local and regional markets.

Our studies, which focus on links between market systems, the circulation of goods, assessment of commercial taxes, and the roles of merchants and other state and non-state agents in the collection of taxes, provide new approaches to understanding the development of the modern Chinese fiscal state and legacies that continue to shape fiscal practice in contemporary China.


  • Linda Grove, Sophia University,, Japan
  • Wei Zhang, Nankai University,, PRC

Session members

  • Tan Xu, Nankai University,
  • Limin Zhang, Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences,
  • Jinzheng Li, Nankai University,
  • Fumei Gao, Beijing Academy of Social Sciences,
  • Zhiyuan Wu, Zhengzhou University,
  • Jidong Ren, Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences,
  • Feng Xu, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • R.Bin Wong, UCLA,
  • Toru Kubo, Shinshu University,