Slavery in China
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Slavery in China has taken various forms throughout history. Slavery was reportedly abolished as a legally recognized institution, including in a 1909 law fully enacted in 1910, although the practice continued until at least 1949.
- 1 History of slavery in China
- 1.1 Shang dynasty (second millennium BC)
- 1.2 Warring States Period (475–221 BC)
- 1.3 Qin dynasty (221–206 BC)
- 1.4 Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD)
- 1.5 Xin dynasty (9–23 AD)
- 1.6 Three Kingdoms (220–280 AD)
- 1.7 Tang dynasty (618–907 AD)
- 1.8 Song dynasty (960–1279 AD)
- 1.9 Yuan dynasty (1271–1368 AD)
- 1.10 Ming dynasty (1368–1644 AD)
- 1.11 Qing dynasty (1644–1912 AD)
- 1.12 20th century
- 2 References
- 3 Bibliography
- 4 External links
History of slavery in China
Shang dynasty (second millennium BC)
The earliest evidence of slavery in China dates to the Shang dynasty when, by some estimates, approximately 5 percent of the population was enslaved. The Shang dynasty engaged in frequent raids of surrounding states, capturing slaves who would be killed in ritual sacrifices. Scholars disagree as to whether these victims were also used as a source of slave labor.
Warring States Period (475–221 BC)
The Warring States period saw a decline in slavery, which had been popular in the previous centuries. The slave system had shifted to a feudal system, despite this, slavery was still widespread during the period, despite being on the decline. Since the introduction of private ownership of land in the state of Lu in 594 BC, which brought a system of taxation on private land, and saw the emergence of a system of landlords and peasants, the system of slavery began to decline over the following centuries, as other states followed suit.
Qin dynasty (221–206 BC)
The Qin government confiscated the property and enslaved the families as punishment.
Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD)
Deriving from earlier Legalist laws, the Han dynasty set in place rules penalizing criminals doing three years of hard labor or sentenced to castration by having their families seized and kept as property by the government.
Xin dynasty (9–23 AD)
In the year AD 9, the Emperor Wang Mang usurped the Chinese throne and instituted a series of sweeping reforms, including the abolition of slavery and radical land reform. Slavery was reinstated in AD 12 before his assassination in AD 23.
Three Kingdoms (220–280 AD)
Tang dynasty (618–907 AD)
Tang law forbade enslaving free people, but allowed enslavement of criminals and foreigners. Free people could however willingly sell themselves. The primary source of slaves came from southern tribes and young slave girls were the most desired on the market. Although various officials such as Kong Kui, the governor of Guangdong, banned the practice, the trade continued. Other peoples sold to Chinese included Turks, Persians, and Korean women, who were sought after by the wealthy. On the silk road slave girls were a major item and much more expensive than silk. Silk was up to five times less than the value of a slave girl.[clarification needed][how?] Central Asian slave girls were exported from Central Asia Iranian areas to China. It is believed that the wealthy merchants and aristocratic noblemen of the Chinese capital of Chang'an were the consumers for the huge amount of Central Asian slave women brought by the Sogdians to China to sell to the Chinese. The Central Asian foreign women in the Sogdian owned wineshops in the Chinese capital are also believe to have been slaves since Chinese poets depicted them as homesick, sad and melancholy and they would service travelers by keeping them company overnight. Merchants and literati would frequent the wineshops. The Sogdians reaped massive profits from selling slave girls and so did the Chinese government by taxing the sale of the slaves. Slave girls were one of the major products Chinese bought from Sogdians. Persian poets often wrote about wine and women since the wineservers were often girls and this wine culture with girl servers seems to have spread to China. There were many Sogdian wineshops and Persian shops in Chang'an along with a large slave market. The wineshops were staffed with young girls who served wine to customers and danced for them. Most of the slave girls were 14 or 15 years old. They provided services like sex, dancing, singing, and served wine to their customers in Chang'an as ordered their masters who ran the wineshops. A Sogdian merchant, Kang Weiyi 康尾義 had Indians, Central Asians, and Tokharistanis (Bactrians) among the 15 slave girls he was bringing to sell in the Chinese capital of Chang'an.
Song dynasty (960–1279 AD)
The Song's warfare against northern and western neighbors produced many captives on both sides, but reforms were introduced to ease the transition from bondage to freedom.
Yuan dynasty (1271–1368 AD)
The Yuan dynasty expanded slavery and implemented harsher terms of service. In the process of the Mongol invasion of China proper, many Han Chinese were enslaved by the Mongol rulers. According to Japanese historians Sugiyama Masaaki (杉山正明) and Funada Yoshiyuki (舩田善之), there were also a certain number of Mongolian slaves owned by Han Chinese during the Yuan. Moreover, there is no evidence that Han Chinese suffered particularly cruel abuse.
Korean women were viewed as having "jade snow" like skin (肌膚玉雪發雲霧) by Hao Jingceng 郝經曾, a Yuan scholar, and it was highly desired and prestigious to own Korean female servants among the "Northerner" nobility in the Yuan dynasty as mentioned in Toghon Temür's (shùndì 順帝) Xù Zīzhì Tōngjiàn (續資治通鑒): (京师达官贵人，必得高丽女，然后为名家) and the Caomuzi (草木子) by Ye Ziqi (葉子奇) which was cited by the Jingshi ouji (京師偶記引) by Chai Sang (柴桑).
Ming dynasty (1368–1644 AD)
The Javans sent 300 black slaves as tribute to the Ming dynasty in 1381. When the Ming dynasty crushed the Miao Rebellions in 1460, they castrated 1,565 Miao boys, which resulted in the deaths of 329 of them. They turned the survivors into eunuch slaves. The Guizhou Governor who ordered the castration of the Miao was reprimanded and condemned by Emperor Yingzong of Ming for doing it once the Ming government heard of the event. Since 329 of the boys died, they had to castrate even more. On 30 Jan 1406, the Ming Yongle Emperor expressed horror when the Ryukyuans castrated some of their own children to become eunuchs in order to give them to Yongle. Yongle said that the boys who were castrated were innocent and didn't deserve castration, and he returned the boys to Ryukyu and instructed them not to send eunuchs again.
Later Ming rulers, as a way of limiting slavery because of their inability to prohibit it, passed a decree that limited the number of slaves that could be held per household and extracted a severe tax from slave owners.
Qing dynasty (1644–1912 AD)
The Qing dynasty initially oversaw an expansion in slavery and states of bondage like the booi aha. They possessed about two million slaves upon their conquest of China. However, like previous dynasties, the Qing rulers soon saw the advantages of phasing out slavery, and gradually introduced reforms turning slaves and serfs into peasants. Laws passed in 1660 and 1681 forbade landowners from selling slaves with the land they farmed and prohibited physical abuse of slaves by landowners. The Kangxi Emperor freed all the Manchu's hereditary slaves in 1685. The Yongzheng Emperor's "Yongzheng emancipation" between 1723 and 1730 sought to free all slaves to strengthen his authority through a kind of social leveling that created an undifferentiated class of free subjects under the throne, freeing the vast majority of slaves.
The abolition of slavery in many countries following the British emancipation led to increasing demands for cheap Chinese laborers, known as "coolies". Mistreatment ranged from the near-slave conditions maintained by some crimps and traders in the mid-1800s in Hawaii and Cuba to the relatively dangerous tasks given to the Chinese during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s.
"Slavery exists in China, especially in Canton and Peking ... I have known a male slave. He is named Wang and is a native of Kansu, living in Kuei-chou in the house of his original master's son, and with his own family of four persons acknowledged to me that he was a slave, Nu-p'u. He was a person of considerable ability, but did not appear to care about being free. Female slaves are very common all over China, and are generally called . . .
YA-TOU 丫頭. Slave girl, a female slave. Slave girls are very common in China; nearly every Chinese family owns one or more slave girls generally bought from the girl's parents, but sometimes also obtained from other parties. It is a common thing for well-to-do people to present a couple of slave girls to a daughter as part of her marriage dowery. Nearly all prostitutes are slaves. It is, however, customary with respectable people to release their slave girls when marriageable. Some people sell their slave girls to men wanting a wife for themselves or for a son of theirs.
I have bought three different girls; two from Szű-chuan for a few taels each, less than fifteen dollars. One I released in Tientsin, another died in Hongkong; the other I gave in marriage to a faithful servant of mine. Some are worth much money at Shanghai."
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s the Yi people (also known as Nuosu) of China terrorized Sichuan to rob and enslave non-Nuosu including Han people. The descendants of the Han slaves, known as the White Yi (白彝), outnumbered the Black Yi (黑彝) aristocracy by ten to one. There was a saying goes like: "the worst insult to a Nuosu is to call him a "Han" (with the implication being that "your ancestors were slaves")".
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