The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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Juggling Money: Tribute-grain Riots in the Qing Dynasty

Principal Investigator


Total Fund Awarded


Funding Source

RGC General Research Fund

Abstract of Project

        This project will investigate the “naocao” (鬧漕 tribute-grain riots) that occurred in the provinces along the Yangzi Valley (where most of them took place) from the late eighteenth century onwards. The project will collect all the instances of tribute-grain riots as recorded in private and government documents from 1700 to 1850, and then analyze their temporal and spatial distribution, and present a theoretical explanation for their occurrence.

        The “naocao” were the result of disputes between taxpayers and their county magistrates over the payment of tribute grain (caoliang漕糧), a tax levied on the rice-producing provinces to be paid in rice. The tribute grain was transported to the Capital to feed imperial families, officials, and the military troops stationed there.

        As preliminary research, I investigated cases of “naocao” in the eighteenth century and found that they suddenly became widespread in the last decade of the eighteenth century. I also found that they always followed a pattern: A taxpayer brought his rice to a granary; the granary clerk refused the rice, citing its poor quality, and demanded the tax payment in money, supposedly to buy a better quality rice from the shops himself. The clerk quoted the official prices of tax rice, both in silver tael and copper cash. The taxpayer did not accept these prices, accused the county magistrate of commuting the tribute grain tax, which was forbidden, and protested by rioting.

        This is an innovative project both empirically and theoretically. Empirically, the project is the first systemic research on the tribute-grain riots in the Qing dynasty. When analyzing the rising number of cases of “naocao” in the nineteenth century, I shall attempt to link them with the drastic changes in currency prices of the time. On theoretical grounds this project may shed light on the reasons for local riots in the Qing empire. Rioters were not rebels. Their aim was not to overthrow the state, but to create local disturbances serious enough to attract the attention of the imperial government. Therefore local riots were usually sparked by a legitimate grievance against local officials – in this case, their illegal and avaricious commutation of the grain tax for money.

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