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SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA

:
A SOCIO-CULTURAL APPROACH

BY

ROBIN D. S. YATES
(McGill University)

Abstract
This essay analyzes the nature of slavery in early China from a comparative socio-
cultural perspective, using the sociological approach of Orlando Patterson (Slavery and
Social Death, 1982). Marxist and other theoretical positions are rejected in favor of
viewing slaves not as the object of property, but rather seeing that slaves could not be
the subject of property. In other words, slaves are “dominated non-persons.” The focus
of the inquiry is on interpreting the diverse materials relating to slaves in the Qin legal
documents discovered at Shuihudi, Hunan Province, in 1975. Brief consideration is
given to other statuses, such as the convict status of lichen and liqie (male and female
bondservants), and whether they should be considered slaves or not. The conclusion
emphasizes the importance of analyzing early Chinese slavery within its culturally rich
context of ritual and cosmological conceptions and practices.

Introduction1

Over the last two decades, slavery has become the topic of numerous
studies to such an extent that one might say that slavery has become
1
An earlier draft of this essay was presented at the Conference on Ancient China
and Social Science Generalizations, Airlie House, Virginia, 21–27 June, 1986. I would
like to thank Perry Anderson and Lin Ganquan for their valuable comments on that
draft. A Chinese translation of an earlier version of this article, “Gudai Zhongguo
nulizhi bijiao lishi yanjiu 古代中國奴隸制比較歷史研究 ,” was published in Zhongguoshi
yanjiu 中國史研究 111 (1986), 21–34. This essay is dedicated to my late teacher and
mentor Professor Kwang-chih Chang, who throughout my career, even in his illness,
unfailingly gave me wise advice and generous support. I am also very thankful for the
valuable suggestions and corrections by Lothar von Falkenhausen, Robert E. Murow-
chick, and David Cohen. David Cohen also solved many software problems at the final
stages of the preparation of this essay. To him I am much indebted. I would also like to
express my gratitude to the Killam Foundation and the Canada Council for the Arts,
the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and Fonds pour la
© Brill, Leiden 2002 JEAA 3, 1–2

284 ROBIN D . S . YATES

an academic industry in its own right (cf. Karras 1991; Miller 1985;
Parish 1989). The reasons for this interest in slavery stem from, on the
one hand, the work of the so-called cliometricians, led by Fogel and
Engerman (1974), who developed new historical and statistical tech-
niques to reevaluate the nature and economics of the slave system from
the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries in the area that became the
southern United States, and on the other, from studies of ancient slavery
by historians of Classical Greece and Rome (Finley 1968, 1980, 1983).
In addition, Western Marxist scholars attempted to develop the scattered
and rudimentary remarks of Marx and Engels on the theory of pre-
capitalist modes of production into a rigorously scientific formulation.
They have tried to apply Marx’s methodology in general theoretical
terms as well as to the analysis of particular social formations in which
slavery has been found to exist. Perry Anderson (1974) has been among
the most prominent scholars in England to devote attention to the issues.
In France, the group of anthropologists around Claude Meillassoux
(1975, 1978) have examined much ethnographic material from Africa.
In Western studies of modern China, James Watson (1980a, b, c) has
written detailed ethnographic papers and developed more general, com-
parative theories on the relations between Asian and African systems of
slavery. Simultaneaously, Orlando Patterson (1979, 1982) developed his
own, highly original theories on the topic of slavery in general.
The question of slavery in ancient China, however, was passed over
by most Western experts on slavery and even by specialists on China,
despite this growing interest in the topic of slavery among historians in
general. In this essay, I would like to analyze some of the new evidence
relating to slavery in ancient China that has only recently come to light,
in the hopes that the discussions of the question of slavery will lead to a
better understanding of the economic and social basis of the traditional
Chinese state. In addition, I hope to bring the ancient Chinese evidence
to the attention of those involved in the international debate about the
nature of slavery and its role in the development of world history.
Since the volume of studies on slavery is enormous, in this essay I
intend to use material relating to the slave systems of ancient Greece and
Rome to help illuminate relevant issues in ancient China because of their
comparable antiquity and their importance for laying the foundations
of Western and Eastern civilizations respectively. By doing this, I do not
intend to cast any aspersions on the value of drawing comparisons with
other slave systems in other social formations, such as those in Africa and
America: I merely wish to limit the article to manageable proportions.

Formation des Chercheurs et de l’Aide à la Recherche, Québec, for financial support
in the preparation of this article.

SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 285

In addition, I will concentrate upon the period of the Warring States
and Qin China, the period when the foundations of the traditional
Chinese political, social, economic, and religious system were laid, and
therefore I will not enter upon an analysis of slavery in later imperial
times to any great extent.
In academic circles in China, the notion that there was, and will be,
an inexorable unilineal historical progression of modes of production,
from primitive communist, to slave, to feudal, to capitalist, to communist,
was generally accepted as valid until recently. The most influential of
these scholars was the late Guo Moruo (1973) (cf. Liu Weimin 1975)
who changed his mind several times on the date when the slave mode
of production gave way to the feudal. In fact, much discussion centered
round this question of periodization and by the 1980’s the consensus
seemed to be that the period of the Warring States to the Qin 秦 was
the watershed between the two modes of production. The Qin empire
ushered in the feudal mode of production which lasted until the end
of the traditional period, with the “sprouts of capitalism” beginning in
the late Ming 明 .
Yet despite this conclusion by their Chinese colleagues, a growing
number of Western scholars, both Marxist and non-Marxist, disagree
with this analysis in their empirical studies and theoretical essays. Finley,
for example, states “[a]lthough slaves have been exploited in most societ-
ies as far back as any records exist, there have been only five genuine slave
societies, two of them in antiquity: classical Greece and Classical Italy.”
He continues by declaring that the other three all were to be found in the
New World (Finley 1980: 9). Meillassoux contends that “[s]lavery always
appears in association with other relationships of production, so that it
does not constitute the only or even the dominant mode of production,
and the ruling class cannot be defined strictly only in relationship to it”
(Meillassoux 1975: 20–21, quoted and translated by Patterson 1979: 47).
Marxist analysis should not for that reason be abandoned, but rather
the argument suggests one must “reject any proto-Marxist shuffling of
prefabricated Modes of Production summarily borrowed from this or
that writing or remark of Marx or Engels.” Indeed, he believes that, as
of 1975, “no formal criterion has been brought to light which permits
the creation of a categorical distinction between slaves and all other
forms [of dependent labor]” (Meillassoux 1975: 21, my translation).
Anderson, on the other hand, is of the opinion that “[t]he slave mode
of production was the decisive invention of the Graeco-Roman world,
which provided the basis both for its accomplishments and its eclipse.”
On the other hand, slavery existed in many forms in other earlier and
contemporaneous societies but in them it was never “the predominant
type of surplus extraction” (Anderson 1974: 21).

286 ROBIN D . S . YATES

One of the most difficult problems facing theoreticians is the fact
that slavery has existed in many different societies at many levels of
socio-economic and cultural evolution. The slave plantations of the
New World were part of the developing capitalist mode of production,
and tied in to the world market, yet at the same time “[s]lavery is clearly
compatible with all types of post-neolithic economy” (Goody 1980).
What criteria should be used to define slavery as a mode of produc-
tion, and how did the idea develop that slavery was one stage in the
hierarchy of modes of production that all, or almost all, societies must
pass through? Robert Padgug (1976) provides the answer to the second
question. He notes that “it has been customary among Marxists, es-
pecially those in Eastern Europe, to designate slavery as the first form
of class division and to consider the early societies which contained
it—and most of them indeed did — to represent varieties of a single
type of slave society,” which stood at the beginning of a kind of univer-
sal slave stage. It was a speech by Lenin on “The State” that first gave
the theory currency and it was accepted by Stalin in the 1920’s and
1930’s to be the basis for academic discussions and analyses of world
historical development. From the Soviet Union, it passed into Chinese
scholarly circles. Padgug notes that the idea of this universal stage “has
gradually been abandoned in the USSR and elsewhere.” But, it should
be pointed out, in China it still has its adherents, although the issue of
slavery and Marxist theory has been of diminished intellectual interest
among early historians since the beginning of the 1990’s.
Theoretically speaking, there is no reason that, if the notion that
slavery formed a universal stage in history is rejected, it is necessary at
the same time to reject the theoretical possibility of a slave mode of
production. Indeed, Padgug (1976), Anderson (1974), and Hindess and
Hirst (1975: 109–77) all attempt to define the structure of this potential
slave mode. Patterson (1979: 49–52) provides some pertinent criticism
of the latters’ theory. They claim that a defining feature of slaves is that
they are separated from the means of production, but Patterson cor-
rectly observes that not only slaves but also workers in capitalist society
are so separated, such that this cannot be a distinguishing feature. Fur-
thermore, their assertion that there is no separation between necessary
labor and surplus labor apparent in the slave mode of production, he
argues, simply is not true. The slave-owner is quite well aware of the
difference between the labor input of the slaves and other factors of
production, and the costs of maintaining slaves is carefully assessed
against the value of their output.
In addition, Patterson finds fault with their assertion that a slave is
not forced to labor as a worker is in the capitalist system, for the slave
would not be fed if he did not work. Physical coercion being so common

workers are subject to physical abuse if they refuse to work and this forces them to contribute their labor. enabling the urban elites to indulge in unparalleled luxury. Rather. in his compelling and detailed analysis of the ancient Graeco-Roman world. but a polar condition of complete loss of freedom. whereas it is economic force that makes a slave work. I am not claiming that there were no slaves at all in early times. and it was only in the middle of the Spring and Autumn period that a market economy really developed. Thus Hindess and Hirst’s formulation of the slave mode of production is open to serious criti- cism. when the size of the slave population in relation to the free increased substantially. a similar transfor- mation took place. however. slavery and slave relations of production paralyzed technologi- cal innovation and the forces of production reached their limits: the slave mode of production gave way to the feudal. . along a gradual continuum. All members were to a certain extent unfree. Anderson. From that time on. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 287 to the slave’s everyday experience. Slaves labored primarily in the fields of the great latifundia estates. mode of production in fifth and fourth century bc Greece. At the height of the slave mode of production. So in capitalist societies. Slavery in Warring States China In China from the Neolithic to the late Western Zhou 西周 and early Eastern Zhou 東周 periods. let us now turn to the ques- tion of slavery in ancient China. With these preliminary remarks in mind. “the nature (of slavery) became absolute: it was no longer one relative form of servitude among many. Ultimately. this would not be sufficient to cause him to exert himself: removal of food would have the desired effect. As Rome con- quered the states and peoples surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and enslaved huge numbers of the defeated populations. slavery structured each of the micro-economies of the Greek city-state world and gave Greek civilization its special characteristics. however.” freedom entailed slavery and vice versa (Anderson 1974: 23). At that point. slaves were one of the most highly movable commodities in the ancient inter-city market exchange system and the surplus they generated provided the economic basis of ancient society. and the surplus that was extracted from them was consumed in the cities. argues that slavery became the dominant. but not the only. there was no strict separation in status be- tween the lowest members of the society and the highest. juxtaposed against a new and untrammelled liberty.

the most notable are Martin Wilbur (1943). Edwin Pulleyblank (1958). Li Jing (1985). but see also Shuihudi Qinmu zhujian Zhengli Xiaozu (1990). Just what role slavery played in Qin’s unification effort. Huang 1996: 94–95). which were only discovered in 1975 at Shuihudi 睡虎地 . and Ôba Osamu (1991). Among the greatest of Qin’s faults. YATES I wish to argue that there was a radical change in the nature of slavery in the middle of the Eastern Zhou period. Tomiya Itaru 1985. I will explain my interpretation of the nature of slavery in ancient China and the role it played in the social formation in the following pages. according to Wang. comparable to that discussed by Anderson in fifth and fourth century bc Greece. The bibliography on the Shuihudi texts is enormous.1. Xing Yitian (1987). Hubei 湖北 . A final reason for considering the question of slavery is that the nature of slavery goes to the heart of the nature of social status and the social structure not only of the early period in Chinese history. is of vital importance for understanding the internal dynamics of the Chinese historical process. Yates 1987). Wu Fuzhu (1994). and this form of legal enslavement for high treason continued down to the end of the Qing 清 dynasty. 3 The Shuo wen 說文 dictionary is one of the texts in which the opinion on the origin of slaves is to be found (Xu Zhongshu 1981: vol. And throughout the Han 漢 .3 The new laws paved the way for Qin’s successful conquest of its rivals and its founding of the Chinese imperial order in 221 bc. S . the usurper Wang Mang 王莽 proclaimed his inaugural edict in which he condemned the state of Qin for lacking the Way (Dao 道 ). Wang Yi-t’ung (1953). was that they established slave markets that were the same as those for oxen and horses. Huang 2001: 17). when slaves for the first time came to be bought and sold. In the West. It even has implications for social status in the twentieth century. I bring the attention of the reader only to the studies by Xu Fuchang (1993).2 These docu- ments provide essential information not available to previous scholars of ancient Chinese slavery. therefore.C. but also in the later traditional period as well.288 ROBIN D . in Yunmeng 雲夢 . 4 However. Yu Zongfa (1992). it was believed that many hereditary slaves were the descendants of criminals whose families had been enslaved under the laws of mutual responsibility (lianzuo 連坐 ) promulgated by the infamous legalist statesman Shang Yang 商鞅 or Lord Shang 商君 in Qin in the fourth century bc (Wilbur 1943: 72–79. 652). and Ch’ü T’ung-tsu (1972). I would like to point out that I shall draw much of my infor- mation from the Qin legal documents. . Hori Tsuyoshi (1988).4 2 My references in this essay are to Shuihudi Qinmu zhujian Zhengli Xiaozu (1978) (hereafter abbreviated SHD. because the Qing were anxious to maintain the proper hierarchy in society (Philip C. But before embarking upon this analysis. In 9 ad. Slavery was only formally abolished in China itself in the last years of the Qing dynasty (Philip C. the enslavement of ordinary “good” commoners was illegal under the Qing and punished severely.C.

and Hebei 河北 . drawing on the work of Finley. Let us first take up the question of slaves as property. even though outlawed (Watson 1980c: 245). On the mainland. is secondary (Watson 1980b: 8–9). the anthropological work of Meillassoux (1975. Slaves as property Most scholars who have studied the question have emphasized the fact that slaves were property. or out- siders to society. they kidnap them and sell them as brides to peasants in far off provinces such as Hubei. property was not easily alienable in China. There was no concept of absolute rights in rem (in the thing itself) (Patterson 1982: 20). which. the meaning of the concepts “freedom” and “status” in traditional China and the nature of slavery in ancient China can be better understood. This was a special charac- teristic of Roman private law. 6 Nieboer (1900: 7) defines slavery as “the fact that one man is the property or pos- session of another man.” he continues. it is a concept which had no meaning and no existence for most of human history. Through an analysis of slaves. the two main 5 I place the term “freedom” in quotation marks deliberately. As Finley (1983: 119–120) points out. But instead of fulfilling their promises. and that invention was possible only under very special conditions. and forced to work for him. The definition of slavery 1. Slavery goes to the heart of social status by a dialectical opposi- tion: slaves are quintessentially not free and not honored. Watson emphasizes the fact that slaves’ labor is extracted through coercion. Henan 河南 . SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 289 but survived until the Communist liberation in 1949 (Watson 1980c. and the sociological writings of H. 1978) in Africa. Nieboer. recent newspaper articles have brought attention to the fact that some unscrupulous entrepreneurs are luring young and naive peasant girls from provinces such as Sichuan 四川 with promises of employment in the cities.” “Freedom. while the fact that slaves are marginal. The present study will help to explain why.5 Of course. Recent studies suggest that the practice is still not defunct today. “[f]reedom is no less complex a concept than ‘servitude’ or ‘bondage’. In addition. was scarcely possible to say in nineteenth century Chinese. Unlike in Rome and generally in Western civil law. by a legal fiction. by “freedom” here I am not in any way implying that the notion of “freedom” in traditional China was at all the same as that in the West.6 has noted that this aspect is primary. Meijer 1980).7 In Rome.” 7 Ownership of a thing (res) could be passed in two different formal acts. Watson. gave a person absolute rights and control over an object. it had to be invented finally. either man .J. liminal people.

Second. the rustic praedial servitude. still this power was restricted to cases in which the owner lacked a legitimate heir. however. quoted in Harrison 1968: 202. Anglo-American law rejects the Roman civil view “[b]ecause. there can be no relation between a person and a thing. and it is quite possible that this legal fiction of absolute rights over things derived from the institution of slavery. including those in which there existed joint ownership and where there were easements. in the developed law. two years for real estate and one year for movable property. and much of Roman property law was based on the concept of dominium. the Romans made a clear distinction between possession and owner- ship. dominium could be achieved by simple usucapio (“acquiring dominium by use”) which required a relatively short period to elapse before the object fell into the user’s hands. Things were divided into two categories. cipatio or cessio in iuris (“cession in court”). even though this term is never defined in the extant sources of Roman law.. property seems to have been divided into two parts. S . Dominium could not be passed unless the person had the rights of dominium himself. never absolute. F. There was. they had no abstract word for ownership” (Harrison 1968: 201).” . and res nec mancipi. slaves. Although the right and power to alienate property had emerged by the fourth century bc. As Jolowicz and Nicholas state (1978: 140). certain animals such as beasts of burden and of draft (e. relations between persons with respect to some object are always relative. res mancipi such as land and houses on Italian soil. The latter could be transferred by simple delivery (traditio). such as a slave. In fact. and whosoever has the right can claim the thing he owns wherever it is and no matter who possesses it.g. . Schulz has concluded that “a Roman principle must have existed to the effect that the right of ownership was to be as unrestricted as possible and the greatest possible latitude given to individual action and initiative” (Schulz 1936. may be defined as the unrestricted right of control over a physical thing. while the individual had more freedom of decision with respect to the latter. Under the law of succession. “no general term to describe the law of property. note 2). and the sources are too fragmentary to permit more than a sketchy interpretation of the data. for example a sheep (Jolowicz and Nicholas 1978: 137). which included everything else. did not pass the right of ownership (Crook 1967: 141). Relations only exist between persons. and as Patterson (1982: 20) points out. “[t]he Roman law of classical times is dominated by what is commonly called the absolute conception of ownership which it has evolved and by the action through which this right is asserted. that which a man inherited (patrÓa) and that which he had created or accumulated himself ( £epiktntá) (Harrison 1968: 125). where it had been previously extremely limited. Indeed. first. where legal thinking was not as highly developed. The situation was different in Athens. and resulted in the definition of slaves as property. .” In Germanic and English systems of law. and full rights of ownership were restricted in several other ways. Mere transfer of an object. in fact. Nevertheless. The former was hard to dispose of at will. Ownership.290 ROBIN D . YATES sources of wealth were land and slaves. in both sociological and economic terms . the vindicatio. there existed only a relative right to possession. oxen) and one kind of easement.

their presence is equivalent to their recognition of their new neighbour. but were much more than property. or the state. Wilbur (1943: 63) defines a slave as “a person who is owned as actual property by another person. . and therefore it is not adequate to define ancient Chinese slaves purely in terms of their position as property (cai 財 ) as almost all scholars have done to date. In fact. “the balance shifted from alliance to descent. Watson (1982: 594) defines “lineage” as a “corporate group which celebrates ritual unity and is based on demonstrated descent from a common ancestor. Birge (2002). see Bernhardt (1999). personal. From the Song on. of course. Ebrey (1993). and this was true into the twentieth century. in essence. including Du Zhengsheng (1979) and Kwang-chih Chang (1976). in her study of Tongcheng 桐城 county in Anhui 安 徽 in the Ming and Qing dynasties. his immediate family and other relatives had rights of objection and pre-emption which did act as a brake on the rapid dispersion of estates among outsiders” (Beattie 1979: 8). group.9 It was therefore the traditional Chinese family or lineage that held the landed property jointly and. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 291 Ancient and traditional Chinese law seems to have lacked the notion of absolute rights over things. and who is accorded a distinct status as one of a group so owned and controlled. for example in the section “Purchase of Property.10 Two theories have been advanced by Japanese scholars on this mat- ter: one holds that family property was the sole. but so also did neighbors. and most lineages held towns or cities that were the ritual centers for their ancestral cults. Hutson (1919: 553).” While this may be true for the later period. who have to be invited to a feast. Whether the newly discovered Han 漢 laws from Jiangling 江 陵 throw some light on the early definition of slaves remains to be seen. he suggests the possibility that Chinese lineages as anthropologists know them today may not have developed until the end of the Tang 唐 and the beginning of the Song 宋 dynasties. this meant the male members of the lineage. J. the aristocratic elites were interested in forming alliances and were particularly concerned with matters of pedigree.” 10 James L. though it should be born in mind that property at this time and subsequently was never freely alienable by the individual owner.” In the conclusion to his article (Watson 1982: 617–18). Elites traced their descent from a common ancestor. There have been many studies of this phenomenon. it would seem that lineages in Watson’s definition of the term did exist in Shang 商 and Zhou China. possession 8 Niida Noboru (1944: 905–914) emphasizes this aspect. For recent scholarship on the changing rights of women to property from Song dynasty times on. whose services are therefore controlled. even though in some cases of the major lineages descent was claimed from a mythological ancestor.” notes that Yo chieh hsia pai (yuejie xiabei 約界下碑 ) is to go round the boundaries of the property along with the middlemen and neighboring landlords. corporation. not only did immediate family members and relatives have rights over such landed property. and McKnight and Liu (1999). Hilary Beattie. points out that “[p]rivate landhold- ings were of course always subject to fragmentation on the owner’s death. but it should be born in mind that the evidence of this definition of slaves as property (caiwu 財物 ) only derives from Tang and later sources. Before that time. however.8 They were indeed property. at least in parts of China. They possessed lines not lineages.” 9 Rev.

13 In addition. or shave their children and male and female slaves (nüqie 女妾 ) (SHD 4. or shave his children and slaves (chenqie 臣妾 ) this too was a non-public domain denunciation. again the authorities were to ignore him (SHD 4. or robs another person. 148) translates gongshi as “official. “[n]either criterion of property nor that of salability can be useful in separating slavery from simple kinship in African societies. non-adult male child. 12 Hulsewé (1985a: D 86. clothes. one male dog. 148–149). they themselves incurred guilt and if another third party took their side. house. in which Miers and Kopytoff have argued that an individual can be seen both as a member of the kin group and as part of the group’s corpo- rate property and constitutes lineage wealth.91. 4 “Sealing and Guarding” (fengshou 封守 ). and the latter is one in which a son or child robs his father or mother. cf. such that it is not the private property of the elders and superiors. only of appropriating common property.90. and ten mulberry trees (McLeod and Yates 1981: 137–39. no. 196.12 The former refers to a situation in which a person with murder- ous intent kills. in 4. YATES of the living common ancestor.292 ROBIN D . and they on their own responsibility (shan 擅 ) kill. S . Hulsewé 1985a: E3. Huang Zhongye 1991: 143–45). this too was a non-public domain denunciation. Inferiors and juniors may use the property with the permission of the elders. we find a definition of the distinction between a so-called public domain denunciation (gongshi gao 公室告 ) and a non-public domain denunciation (fei gongshi gao 非公室 告 ).91. . Hulsewé 1985a: D 87. and the authorities were not to prosecute. wounds. Qin and early Han. mutilate. Chinese law resembled that of traditional Africa. mutilate. 181–85). Supporting evidence for my view comes from section 5 of the Qin legal documents. two slaves. where a list of a commoner’s property is given as including wife.” and that junior members could not be accused of stealing. one male adult and one female non-adult. the questions and answers on points of law.11 I would suggest that in the period of the late Warring States. 11 Schurmann (1956) observes that “some form of joint family property has existed in China for at least two millennia. but is subject to the management of the latter. 195–96. Watson 1980b: 4–5). and the other is that it was held by ascendants and descendants in a direct line.” for kin members are treated in ways westerners would consider property” (Miers and Kopytoff 1977: 12. adult unmarried female daughter. if a child denounces his parents for a crime or if slaves denounce their master. and the authorities were not to take up the case.” 13 The first transcriptions of the Shuihudi legal materials found in SHD were presented unnumbered in Yunmeng Qinmu Zhujian Zhengli Xiaozu 1976a–c. Again. And if a master (zhu 主 ) were on his own responsibility to kill. they add. If the children persisted in their accusations. in section 4. And.

private ownership of land (SHD 4. and that they have certain rights over their children and slaves.138). The data available at present make it very difficult to determine with any precision Warring States conceptions of property. Generally speaking. on the other. I say “certain” intentionally because of the presence of the term shan “on their own responsibility” in the definitions. are alternatively referred to as masters (zhu 主 ). she is treated as part of her husband’s property. Did the ancient Chinese distinguish between ownership and possession. all the references to land in the documents seem to imply that the state was the sole owner: only one reference to the “people’s fields” (mintian 民田 ) suggests. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 293 Here we can clearly see that the parents (fumu 父母 ). Loewe 1994: 221–26. like those of the Athenians? Cer- tainly there is no theoretical explication of any such concepts in the legal documents found at Shuihudi. slaves) horses. An Zuozhang 1981. cf. that one could bring into one’s house people (renmin 人民 ) (i.. husked and unhusked grain. . Han scholars frequently claimed that the scourge of the accumulation of landed property in fewer and fewer private wealthy hands derived from Qin land tenure practices and specifically from Lord Shang’s destruction of the “well-field” (jingtian 井田 ) system (Gao Min 1979. 164) translates mintian as “fields of commoners. 14 Hulsewé (1985a: D 135. as the Romans did. and it is im- portant to note that the mother is included. but does not prove. Poo 1998: 69–101). the parents were expected to request permission from the authorities before carrying out the punishment. oxen. Rao Zongyi and Zeng Xiantong 1993: 408. and. We find further support for this view in the almanac texts (rishu 日書 ). she has property rights over her children. where we read on the shouri 受日 (“Receiving day”). if Gassman’s (2000) interpretation of the difference between ren 人 and min is correct. the children and slaves cannot have derived much comfort from the legal provision. take in wives and other things (tawu 它物 ) (Shuihudi Qinmu Zhujian Zhengli Xiaozu 1978: plate 117. This gave the children and slaves some legal protection from arbitrary savagery. Xiong Tieji and Wang Ruiming 1981. Liu Lexian 1994: 33. or were their ideas more vague. Min 民 here might refer to members of the aristo- cratic lineages of daifu 大夫 rank as well as commoners or to members of those lineages that did not belong to the ruling clan of Qin. slip 752. We can also see that the wife was in some ways in an anomalous position vis-à-vis her status as property: on the one hand. the tenth in the twelve day Qin week. it is not just the father. Furthermore. As is well known. yet since the parents were not subject to prosecution even if they carried out the maximum penalty.e.14 This is not to say that there was no private ownership of land in the Qin.” who probably could be awarded or attain up to the eighth rank in the ranking system.” I prefer to use “commoner” in a more technical legal sense of those with the commoner status of “member of the rank and file. Kalinowski 1986.

Shaughnessy 1993). that a stone stela dating from the Eastern Han dynasty was discovered in 1973 near Yanshi 偃師 county. middle. Because of the military needs of the early Qin state. In another way. all that the peasants (slaves. Lord Shang evidently adopted the land divi- sion system of Zhao 趙 . When it was enfeoffed.500 cash (Du Zhengsheng 1990. the system of “changing-fields” was the same as the later tuntian 屯 田 “colony” system. 17 The Shi ji 史記 (Takigawa Kametarô 1979: j. Zhang Chuanxi (1985: 77–96). Henan 河南 . cf. Ning Ke 1982). When Lord Shang reformed the laws in Qin in the fourth century bc. they were required also to perform military service (fu 賦 ). S . where dan is the name of an association at the village or sub-village level.294 ROBIN D . For a recent analysis of bronze inscriptions concerning transfer of title over land and related disputes in the mid-Western Zhou. but in the former. (cf. While this analysis has many valuable points to it. This land-sale contract provides solid evidence of one form of joint ownership of land: twenty-five individu- als. in which the land was divided into three grades according to quality. The earliest land system was. I am not in agreement with all of Lin’s and the other scholars’ arguments concerning the early Qin land system. be it the “well-field” or the early and later “changing-field” system. and instituted the fu 賦 military service tax in 348 bc under Lord Shang. to buy 82 mu of land for 61. who are named.16 while taxing the peasant population to which the land was either given or lent. . and thereby he merely redrew the so-called qianmo 阡陌 field boundaries of the “well-field” system to create his new system. Xiong Tieji and Wang Ruiming 1981: 71. Guo Huaruo 1978: 494–496). according to the new Sunzi 孫子 (Yates 1988: 218). In this regard.17 It would appear from the Qin legal 15 Lin Jianming argues that the early Qin state never had a well-field system of land apportionment. Thus Lin suggests that this system developed into one in which there was a single allotment which was returned to the state when the individual reached the retirement age of 60 years. Huang Shibin 1982. Another description states that each family was given 100 mu 畝 of land which was not to be changed. however. however. Yet in neither system. For other views on the Qin land system. and not to the workers who were slaves (nuli 奴 隸 ). see Lau 1999. it was a nomadic pastoral people. and the allotments and residences were changed every three years. and lower. Huang Jinyan 1981: 61–73). if it ever was a reality. 200 mu of land was to be changed once (every three years). therefore. and each family was given a fixed area of each. superior. and 300 mu of land to be changed twice (every three years). Yu Weichao 1988. YATES Zhu Shaohou 1981. It is worth noting. the well-field system was already breaking down. and Hulsewé (1985b: 215–218). 42) records that the Qin began to tax the land in the form of grain (chu zuhe 初租禾 ) in the seventh year of Duke Jian 簡公 (408 bc). formed a special group called the fulao dan 父老僤 of Shiting 侍 廷 village. that of the so-called “changing-field” (yuantian 轅 /爰田 ). and it all belonged to the slave-owners. too. Lin Jianming 1981). the “changing-field” system was different from the “well-field” system. in Lin’s view) were required to perform for the state was labor in the fields. 16 Zhao had an acre (mu) of 240 paces (bu 步 ). see Li Jiemin (1981). was breaking down by at least 500 bc: each of the aristocratic lineages which was fighting to seize control of the moribund state of Jin 晉 had its own land division and land tax system (Zhongguo Renmin Jiefangjun Junshi Kexueyuan and Zhanzheng Lilun Yanjiubu Sunzi Zhushi Xiaozu 1977: 162–63. 15.15 New evidence demonstrates. that this system. because before its enfeoffment with the old rich farming lands of the Western Zhou. he reintroduced the “changing-field” allotment system but without the practice of changing every three years. it did not institute the decaying “well-field” system but the “changing-field” allotment with its military implications. did the workers have rights or powers (quan 權 ) over the land. In the latter. cf.

they are to be bestowed according to the brand-marks. for it would take us too far afield. For example. it is essential to record the brand-mark. Third. the government confiscates or impounds this property when the commoner is under investigation for a crime. provide us with some evidence regarding movable property that can be interpreted as providing support for the notion that private ownership existed and that ownership was held to inhere in a private individual.(gong 公 ) owned property to private individuals. even though other literary sources suggest that by Later Warring States times. it should be written with vermilion or lacquer. this suggests that there were articles that were privately (si 私 ) owned. states: Government armour and arms are each to be incised or branded with the name of the office concerned. one of the statutes on Artisans (gonglü 工律 ). These included oxen and tools. slaves. 59. (such armour and arms) are all to be confiscated by the government.18 This is a highly complex issue that cannot be discussed here at any length. as pointed out above. a dog.” but at present it is not possible to determine whether land could actually be stolen or not. By implication. as well as military equipment. SHD 71–72). we can see that certain other types of articles were considered property. a commoner’s property could include family members. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 295 documents that a substantial part of the land was exploited directly by the state. if we review the data in the Qin legal documents. When armour and arms are loaned to commoners. they are to be charged ac- cording to the Statutes on Equipment (Hulsewé 1985a: A56. using slave and convict labor. These 18 Hulsewé (1988: 173). observes that only one rule in the Qin law refers to “the misappropriation of land. First. Second. as well as when it is not the brand-mark of the office concerned. there are a number of laws specifying the rules relating to the loan of public or state. The Qin laws do. on those that cannot be incised or branded. in Hulsewé’s translation. however. land was being bought and sold at least in some areas by some authorized individuals. . Does this mean that the Qin commoner lost his property rights if he was accused of a crime. which would have been used for produc- tion. When loaned (armour and arms) are handed in and they have no brand-marks. that property rights were contingent upon his good behavior? Or was this legal maneuver merely intended to ensure that those responsible for his behavior under the mutual liability laws could be held accountable and that fines could be assessed against him? Further research needs to be carried out on this issue. and there is no evidence at all of buying and selling of land in them. clothes and mulberry trees. In the case quoted.

. But to define slaves in ancient China just in terms of property is insufficient and we must adopt a more satisfac- tory definition. rather than being confiscated (SHD 4. 169). 224. including kidneys (these would be presumably considered public property). Hulsewé 1985a: D 17. 125). SHD 4. it is stipulated that her maidservants (ying 媵 ). YATES include mulberry leaves. her property is not to be confiscated by the government (SHD 4. we find the interesting principle that “a father stealing from his children is not a case of theft. just as he had the power of life and death over them. as we have seen above. Hulsewé 1985a: D149. oxen. 142–44. If the parents lived separately.18. 169). offerings from the official sacrifices. a son could steal from his father and mother (SHD 4. Finally. 20 The latter passage specifies that the father and son are “co-residents” (tongju 同居).11.000 cash. clothes. cash.20 and a wife could hold property separately from her hus- band. pigs. clothes and utensils are to be given (bi 畀 ) to her husband. pearls and jade (apparently state property). Similarly. 195–196. Hulsewé 1985a: D 86.152. Hulsewé (1985a) D 89. In the case in which her husband commits a crime and she denounces him before the authorities are aware of its commission. Hulsewé 1985a: D 150. but note especially SHD 5. 148. McLeod and Yates (1981): 5. 19 There are many examples in the Qin laws. 159. if a wife commits a crime for which she is arrested. 159–160. 190–91. slaves.90. The property of the wife is presumably her dowry and as such was kept legally separate from the property of her husband. a slave and slave-woman were considered to have robbed their master when they robbed their master’s parents only when the parents were actually living with the master as household members or co-residents. the slaves were not deemed to have robbed their masters (SHD 4. state money placed in a storehouse. at least in Qin.11: 255–56. The father possessed a kind of patria potestas over his children in the matter of property. S . 197–198. Hulsewé 1985a: D 18. and shoes. 224–225. 21 These rules relating to foster-fathers and to master’s parents possibly reflect Lord Shang’s attempts to break the power and solidarity of the family by emending the law in Qin to hold that no more than one adult child could live together with its parents under the same roof. is robbed of 10. a horse. if we are to understand the nature of slavery and its full social significance in that society.151. 149–150). a goat with a rope round its neck. a person of the lowest rank in the social hierarchy above a commoner.19 artisanal equipment (possibly government property).94.21 From this evidence.296 ROBIN D . 125–126).17. Hulsewé 1985a: E12. Fur- ther.” but a foster-father is stealing from his foster-children (SHD 4. grain. we may deduce that property rights in ancient China were based to a large extent upon a) blood relationship and b) co-residence. Fourth. where a gongshi 公士 . and crossbows and bolts.

cf.” 23 Hulsewé actually translates this item.23 Undoubtedly. with this critical difference: the slave was a slave not because he was the object of property but because he could not be the subject of property” (Patterson 1982: 28). And parents could kill or punish their children for showing lack of filial piety (xiao 孝 ). Hulsewé 1985a: D 56. 2. The Marxist theoreticians Hindess and Hirst also argue that “slaves cannot own 22 The length of hard labor was probably five years. 148). and that the parents were not liable for murder. “[w]hen a child robs his father or mother. mutilate or shave their children as well as their male or female slaves. or when a father or mother unauthorizedly kill. He concludes that “property is indeed an important (though secondary) factor in defining both the legal and the socio-economic status of the slave. 140). the child of a slave. for we find another item of the law stating that such murder would be punished with tattooing of the face and the cheng- dan hard labor sentence for both father and mother (SHD 4. the authorities would investigate the matter to make sure that a robbery had indeed taken place. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 297 Before we pass on to discuss a more adequate definition of slavery. 139. The woman’s punishment was called chong 舂 “pounding grain. a slave was a slave because he could not own property: all he had possession of was.90. It is remark- able that even in this case the state claimed the authority to punish the guilty slave and it is not the slave owner who possesses sole rights over his property and has the sole right to punish the murderer. The master merely allowed him to make use of the property the slave possessed. the slave could never claim to be the owner of that property. Hulsewé 1985a: D 86. Hulsewé 1985a: D 59. because it is more culture-oriented.61. Slaves as Dominated Non-Persons I would like to pass on to what I consider to be a more adequate defini- tion of slavery for the Chinese case. 195–196. But children who were considered “not whole” (buquan 不全 ) could be killed with impunity.22 It is in the case where a child robs its parents that the latter may kill it in revenge (SHD 4. if the child had been killed solely because the family was already too large. however. that of Orlando Patterson.58. these are not cases of official denunciation. has the same protection under the law as a free individual. parents could not arbitrarily kill their children. In this way.” . in fact. he would be returned to his owner (SHD 4. 181. Even infanticide was punished as murder. the only difference being that after he had served his term of hard labor. Reed 2000). In other words. Qin law also stated that a slave (rennu 人奴 ) would be punished in the same way as non-slaves for killing his child. 183. the property of his master. I should like to note that under Qin law.

they did not own the means of production stricto sensu. Hulsewé 1985a: E 15. was required to have his possessions sealed and guarded (fengshou 封守 ). including Boulais (Meijer 1980: 336.24 Even if slaves owned slaves. violent domination of natally alienated and generally dishonored persons” (Patterson 1982: 13). as Meijer argues against several scholars. but he does not seem to consider the issue that concerns me here. This is a crucial point to which we will return below. not possible to determine whether slaves owned slaves in the Spring and Autumn period.14. Boulais 1924: section 362).298 ROBIN D .14. It is. under the Northern. supposedly a record of a debate held at the Han court in 81 b. unfortunately. therefore. 146–147). Sui. I will use it as a basis to examine in greater detail the nature of the institution and social process of slavery that can be inferred in the light of present knowledge and from the documentation of late pre-imperial and early imperial China. What is meant by “natally alienated and generally dishonored per- sons” in the ancient Chinese context? Let us first consider the evidence from the Discourses on Salt and Iron (Yantielun 鹽鐵論 ). Niida also points out that. between the legalists led by the financial expert Sang Hongyang 桑弘羊 (cf. for the state continued to maintain the ultimate right of ownership. but since the document does not state what actually belonging to the slave was confiscated by the government. Is it appropriate to call them slaves? Niida Noboru observes that in the Yuan 元 dynasty slaves could own slaves and that is possible that the term for such “double slaves” (chongtai 重臺 ) originates in the list of statuses presented in the Zuozhuan 左傳 (Duke Zhao 昭公 year 5) where the lowest status is given as tai 臺 . regardless whether they were free or unfree. YATES the means of production (or possess them) — ownership is confined to freemen/non-labourers” (Hindess and Hirth 1975: 127). see Li Jiping (1986). . Wu Hui 1981) and the 24 For a broad analysis of slaves in the Tang. but in my opinion the slaves merely possessed this property at state discretion.e. Nevertheless. it would be remiss not to mention the fact that the Qin slave who is denounced to the government for the crime of being a scold (han 悍 ) and not obey- ing his master’s orders. On the level of human relations. 193–194. Nevertheless. Patterson offers the following definition of slavery. and Tang dynasties. since the material relating to the lower orders in those times is extremely meager. McLeod and Yates 1981: 5. His definition is “slavery is the permanent. in late imperial China. S . they did not own it. This may imply that the Qin slave had possessions over which he had control. it is difficult to draw conclusions about this matter (SHD 4. This procedure was demanded for all those under investigation for a crime. slaves were also given fields (tian 田 ) orchards (yuan 園 ) and houses by the state. it does appear that slaves could own property.c. 259–260.

cutting off the nose. Sang Hongyang advocates the use of punishments to stop corruption. for they are crucial for understanding the way in which slaves and convicts were conceptualized in early China. He was a socially dead person. whereas his Confucian antagonists prefer moral inculcation. It is for this reason that the Confucians in the Discourses on Salt and Iron say that criminals are not human. . the individual was rendered unwhole and therefore polluting and unable to serve at and participate in the religious observances of ancestor worship. At first glance. Sang Hongyang begins his comments by declaring. a foot. 26 There is considerable disagreement on the question of length of the Qin hard labor punishments: some scholars even argue that hard labor was for life. We put aside the details of the debate and concentrate on two state- ments made on either side. Thus the individual was essentially cut off from all family ties. These were accompanied in Qin and Han times by terms of hard labor service varying from one to five or six years.26 By this mutilation. but in fact this is not so. believes that the length was the same as that in the Han period because the histories record no changes. pian 57 “Zhou Qin”: 189). (1985a: 16–17).25 All punishment involved some form of mutilation from the lightest punishment that of shaving the beard and whiskers through to the more serious mutilations of shaving the head. The debate expanded to cover all topics. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 299 Confucians on government policy. iron. in my interpretation. and alcoholic beverages. even in the cutting off of the facial whiskers. Naturally. “In the Spring and Autumn Annals (of Confucius). both statements may strike one as bizarre and ex- traordinary. Such an interpretation is quite possible. both his parents and his children. A slave and a criminal in early traditional China lost his rights and obligations and relations to his family. Hulsewé. And the Confucians note that gentlemen (junzi 君子 ) do not approach criminals (xingren 刑人 ) because criminals are not human (xingren fei ren ye 刑人非人也 ). both in foreign relations and in domestic matters (Loewe 1974). Humans are humans because they are tied into a network of kin relationships which constitute the world of social life and which define their social being. and in one of the last chapters the matter of punishments was argued. or castration. criminals lack names and appella- tions (wu minghao 無名號 ). The reason was to debase (jian 賤 ) those who were punished (xingren 刑人 ) and to cut them off from human relationships (renlun 人倫 )” (Lin Zhenhan 1934. and in China humans are humans because of the direct line and link between themselves and their ancestors or ascendants and their offspring or descendants. They are referred to as bandits. particularly that of the monopolies on salt. Further evidence for this interpretation can be gathered from the item in the Qin law that I have already quoted: a deformed (not whole) 25 The term is Izard’s (Meillassoux 1975: 22).

kidnapping 3.W. then. or considered a member of the clan (cf. Roman speculation on the origins and nature of slavery also emphasizes this point. because the Shang (second millennium bc) obviously en- gaged in frequent raids on their neighbors. for the latter posited that all men were naturally equal. it is said. however. of slaves? Cross-culturally speaking. Patterson has noted that there are generally eight ways in which a free person can undergo the institutional process of enslavement (Patterson 1982: 105): 1. much as the northwest coast American Indians often engaged in orgies of slave killing in their potlatches to gain prestige among their . “slaves” in the Shang can be seen as a form of wealth to be destroyed on appropriate ritual occa- sions. debt 5. self-enslavement 8. in fact. capture in warfare 2.” It was. in fact. may be slain: to make them slaves is to save their lives. Zuozhuan Duke Zhao year 7. A conflict was seen to exist between the ius gentium (law of nations) and the ius naturale (natural law).300 ROBIN D . vol. And we find in the Zuozhuan a case in which a lame elder brother is barred from inheriting his father’s rank for precisely the same reason: he is not human (fei ren ye 非人也 ). capture in warfare (cf. Gassman) and so cannot serve at the ancestral altars (Hung 1966. servus and mancipium are derived from capture in war. Buckland (1908: 1) trenchantly observes. As. not human. Slaves were not equal because they were captured in war between nations. Slavery as Social Process What. birth Patterson observes that in China the only legal means of enslavement was the first way. Yu Haoliang 1985a). to acquire victims for sacrifice to their ancestors and to accompany the dead Shang kings and aristocrats that many scholars have argued that the Shang was a slave state which used their victims as productive labor in addition to killing them. particularly the Qiang 羌 . 1: 367. YATES (buquan 不全 ) child can be killed by its parents with impunity because it is. W. hence they are called servi ut servati and thus both names. “[c]aptives. 535 bc). tribute and tax payment 4. abandonment and sale of children 7. S . and that prisoners of war were first assimilated to the status of convicts before being enslaved. punishment for crimes 6. in Chinese social terms. Perhaps.

chen 臣 . 482) has shown that they were “shamaness participants in the ritual of ancestor worship. indicating a prisoner of war with bowed head. 28 See Li Hengmei (1999) for a recent discussion of slaves in Spring and Autumn times. extending to their offspring. and zai 宰 as they appear in the oracle bone inscriptions. Guo argued that they were of the same status as chen 臣 which shows that. pu 僕 . 1969: 369). The conclusion is clear: Shang was based not on slave labor but on forced labor. so were the former. not that the slaves were subject to less severe treatment. there is no evidence concerning the percentage of the population that was free as opposed to slave. As for qie 妾 . effectively dispenses with the arguments advanced by Guo Moruo (1973) and others that certain groups of forced laborers in the Shang can be identified with slaves. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 301 communities (Kan 1989). but that their bondage was perpetual. even though there are some discrepancies between the definitions of the terms employed by him and the ones that I am accepting in the present paper.27 I would rather concentrate on the Warring States and Qin periods to illuminate the question of the relation between convicts and slaves and to examine the role this forced labor played in the economy of those times and thereby determine whether it is valid to posit the existence of a slave mode of production in ancient China. if we may judge from Han practice. which is the modern xin 辛 . and occupations. and therefore chen were slaves. on the other hand.” 27 Keightley 1969: Appendix 1 “Slavery in the Shang Dynasty. even though perhaps some of them became human sacrificial victims. Finally. Keightley concludes that there is no evidence that Shang state labor employed slavery. nor any concerning the tasks prisoners of war were forced to perform. qie 妾 . He shows that Guo has misread the two inscriptions which purport to mention the word nu and that the element in the ancient graph . Finally. I do not believe that there is sufficient evidence as yet to compare the number of genuine slaves in the work-force to other categories of forced labor to determine whether there really was a slave mode of production. . the inscriptional evidence suggests that the xiaochen 小臣 were rather “members of the royal administration who performed the king’s orders by leading the peasantry in various tasks” (Keightley.” But even if they were sac- rificial victims. status. or that people were owned like property. including their origin. whereas that of convicts (not presumably those guilty of crimes for which the law of shounu 收奴 (the arrest and enslavement of offenders’ wives and children) was imposed — the principals in those cases would have been executed) was. Guo has once again misread the relevant graph . may represent a decorative tail: thus pu probably refers to a figure of relatively high status dressed in ritual garb. Pulleyblank (1958: 201). With regard to zai 宰 . however that be defined in Marxist terms. in Shang times. Pu therefore has nothing to do with slaves. because these terms come to be applied to servile and semi-servile statuses in later times. which may in fact be the ancient form of kou 寇 and probably refers to high status army officers.28 For the Han dynasty. ventures the conjecture that the distinction “would be. this does not prove that they were slaves in the strict sense of the term. since the latter were slaves. limited to a period of years. Keightley analyzes the terms nu 奴 .” 357–79). Guo argued that the archaic graph represents an eye in the vertical position. Shima Kunio (1958: 337. with regard to chen 臣 . Nevertheless. Wilbur (1943: 80–85) draws the distinction between convicts (tu 徒 ) and slaves (nubi 奴婢 ). In fact.

but which both indicate that the defeated considered himself dead (Yang Ximei 1956). as will be seen below. not a pardon from this death: as Katrina McLeod and I have pointed out elsewhere (McLeod and Yates 1981: 136. however.302 ROBIN D . This belief is apparent in the richly symbolic ritual of surrender in war in the Spring and Autumn period as recounted in the Zuozhuan of which there seems to be two types. YATES The important point to remember is that enslavement was always thought to originate in being a substitute for death. In another case. while his lords (daifu 大夫 ) are dressed in mourning clothes and his knights (shi 士 ) bear his coffin (Hung 1966. there is no mention of self-enslavement. 195. 1. and tribute and tax payment of slaves in these documents. Slavery was a conditional commutation. it will be his command. subject to the total domination. with shoulder bare as in mourning and leading a goat. A case of kidnapping. says to his captor that if the latter wishes to enslave Zheng’s people (chenqie zhi 臣 妾之 ). exploitation. S . and disposition of their masters. those whom the state of Qin captured in war in the fourth and third centuries bc. note 67. But. bound. though the data cannot be treated exhaustively. the Viscount of Chu 楚子 . if they were not massacred. First of all. especially that relating to convicts. cf. since there is such an abundance of it. vol. Duke Xi 喜公 . and holding a jade bi 璧 disc in his mouth. the Earl of Zheng 鄭伯 . the defeated Baron of Xu 許男 presents himself to his captor. In one case. Liao Meiyun (1995: 19–24) has pointed out that many of the women captured in warfare in Spring and Autumn and Warring States times became government musicians and slaves concerned with the preparation and serving of wine and food. only a conditional remis- sion. became convicts. McKnight 1981). starvation. Slaves in the Qin Laws It is now necessary to examine in greater detail the evidence of convict and slave status in the Qin laws. Duke Xuan 宣公 year 12). not slaves. archetypically death in war. is recorded . and exposure. or the death commuted was a capital offense. The jade disc was usually placed in the mouth of a corpse prior to interment. kidnapping. and he admits that he had committed a crime (zui 罪 ) against Chu by not serving it (Hung 1966: vol. or from misery. vanquished by Chu. It is this notion that lies behind the treatment of slaves as outsiders. she 赦 in ancient Chinese did not mean an amnesty in the sense of a complete forgetting (amnesia) of the crime. 1: 97. abandonment and sale of children. year 6).

as a result of this order (Wilbur 1943: 259. many robber bands roamed the countryside. because. in 228 bc. where the robbers cut off the foot of their victim. a very heavy cash fine. are also to be found in early China. 24. This was a feature of the Han and later dynasties: whenever the central government broke down and the laws against this highly profitable activity were unable or unwilling to be enforced (Wilbur 1943: 90–92). but the precise cash equivalent of which is unknown.129.: j. that Emperor Gaozu 高祖 of the Han issued an order permitting the sale of children and allowing the parents to migrate to safety in Sichuan (Wilbur 1943: 266.: j.d. the normal general term for convict. it is highly likely that. preying on the unfortunate populace and selling them into slavery for their own profit. with severe famine hitting many areas. In the Han.: j. 8B. and most of the slaves were sold because of extreme poverty. at least in the Huainan 淮南 region (cf. he will be easier to sell (Guo Qingfan 1978: j. cf. Appendix).d. if not redeemed within three years. in fact. which was a common way in the later period in which poor families fell into bondage in times of great economic hardship. Hulsewé 1985a: D 126:162. . and birth. on whose labor they built their famous iron mining and casting fortune. economic conditions in fact reached such a pass. Such creditors and those debtors who of their own accord handed over the guarantee were fined two sets of armor. 64A “Yan Zhu zhuan 嚴助傳 . 30 Hulsewé does not venture an opinion as to whether the pledge is to be understood as a person or as an object. Ru Shun’s 如淳 comment on Wang Xianqian n. was tu 徒 and that of male slave nu 奴 and female slave bi 婢 although there are several other terms of lesser importance that 29 Watson (1980c: 223) notes that in the later traditional period nearly every peasant household was affected by slavery. who were exiled there by the Qin when they captured the state of Zhao. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 303 in the contemporaneous Zhuangzi 莊子 . in the chaotic social conditions of the third century bc during the wars that led up to the Qin conquest and unification of China. Wang Xianqian n. 860). gained many of the slaves. With regard to enslavement for debt. 8b). so mutilated. as has been mentioned. 214–215.29 the Qin laws had the stipulation that a creditor could not forcibly seize the guarantee (zhi 質 ) of the debt in lieu of payment.30 Such pawns in the Han. were permanently enslaved.” 4a). The other three methods of enslavement listed by Patterson. as well as during the collapse of the Qin dynasty ten years later. punishment for crimes. 9b. In addition. It is probable that the Zhuo 卓 family. a person (SHD 4. 91. During the wars accompanying the overthrow of the Qin. the Zhuo’s homeland. Here the guarantee was probably. Wang Xianqian n. capture in warfare.d.

as far as I can determine. and renqie 人 妾 or qie 妾 for a woman. 58–59. 116). and SHD 1 Yao 1: 76–80. In another case. “When levying conscripts for work inside a settlement. or whether slavery and/or convict labor played an important role in the economy of the Qin and Warring States social formation. the term refers to the workers at the lowest level in craft workshops and stables. YATES need not be of concern here (Wilbur 1943: 64–71. Hulsewé (1985a: D 159. 63) translates the latter rule.16. and “builders of walls from early dawn” (chengdan 城旦 ) for males and “pounders of rice” (chong 舂 ) for females also appear. Tu occurs seven times. 27–30. from work in the fields. it refers to some kind of guard for state ambassadors.” and lichenqie 隸臣妾 “male and female bondservant. the terms are different. in SHD 4. In the Qin legal documents. “robber guard” (sikou 司寇 ). Finally. The major question that has divided scholars of these new documents is this: are these bondservants slaves or are they convicts? Were they a permanent hereditary status. let me review the data on the status that can be definitely understood as slave.”31 and there are two ways of indicating slave status: rennu 人奴 . Li Xinda 1978). Hulsewé (1985a: A 46. A 55. Gong 31 SHD 1 Gong 4: 70–71.” The latter appear with great frequency and the Qin state seems to have relied very heavily on them for every type of productive and non-productive labor. In addition. especially note 21. to fighting in the army and acting as prison warders. 229.304 ROBIN D . the hard labor punishments of “watchman” (hou 候 ). All these labor terms are known from the Han except the first and lightest “watchman. or a life term (cf. rennuchen 人奴臣 and renchenqie 人臣妾 .160. renchen 人臣 . or chen 臣 for a man. hence it could mean convicts or free laborers. order is given to guarantee the earth walls for a full year. . 112–13). A 9. 144–145. There is no doubt that the evidence is conflicting. and in another. 172–173) finds this item extremely hard to understand. There are two more terms li 隸 “bondsman.21. See SHD I Jiuyuan 3: 33 (Hulsewé 1985a. Hulsewé (1985a).” The Han term for female slave (bi 婢 ) does not appear. 140–141. Tang Zangong)? If we can resolve these questions. These individuals. Hulsewé 1985a: C 16. with only two of them possibly having the meaning of “convict. 29–30).” In three other passages.12. The former means “a person’s male slave or servant” and the latter “a person’s female slave or servant. in foundries and workshops. “collector of firewood for sacrifices to the spirits” (guixin 鬼薪 ) for males and “sorters of rice” (baican 白粲 ) for females. so before I discuss the question. to tending pasture animals. also some type of infantry guards (SHD 3. S . 136–38 (Hulsewé 1985a C 11 and C 12.11 and 3.” probably a general term for “servant” or “slave. or were they convicts serving a fixed term. 110).” Possibly this punishment died with the Qin. however. Hulsewé 1985a: C 21. SHD 3. it refers to soldiers on guard in the palace grounds who are responsible for killing marauding tigers (SHD 3. we can determine to a far greater extent than hitherto possible whether there was a slave mode of production in the Qin and Warring States.

35 It is important to note that the state claimed the right to punish such delinquent slaves. People in this type of status were considered to be property of their owners and not human in the social sense. 147–148.15: 260–61. Hulsewé (1985a: 169). raping. 259–260.63.14.64. 259–260.63. 159–160. and is not liable for any other crime. he first has to state that he has never been manumitted. rather than the owner who rewards him. 193–194. 163. Hulsewé 1985a: D 60. they were definitely held responsible for their crimes and punished by the government. are private slaves in con- trast to lichenqie bondservants. In addition to being punished. raping them (presumably this applied primarily to mistresses) (SHD 4. . and planning the murder of the master/mistress were probably comparable to those in the Qing dynasty. Being a “scold” was one of the seven legitimate causes for divorce in traditional law (Johnson 1997: 167. 194–195. the slave has his foot cut off.14. Hulsewé 1985a: E 16. 146–147). but her occupation is not given. Article 189.4. 33 The slave is tattooed on the forehead and cheekbones and then returned to the master.61. unauthorizedly killing their child (SHD 4. Hulsewé 1985a: D 62. it is stated that it is the state that rewards the individual who ar- rests a male or female slave for stealing 110 cash. even though their masters could mete out the punishment themselves. In one case. is not sick. Hulsewé 1985a: D 18. However. where a male slave is a scold and refuses to work in the fields. McLeod and Yates 1981: 5.122). 152–153. selling it. and fleeing the state (SHD 4. 125–126.62. Hulsewé 1985a: E 15. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 305 Changwei and Song Min (1982) have argued.33 robbery (SHD 4. where a female slave confesses that she is a scold.140). McLeod and Yates 1981: 5. (Meijer 1980: 335). whom they interpret as state slaves. Immediate decapitation was the punishment for beating the master and fornication with the master’s main wife or his daughter.32 secretly planning to murder their masters (SHD 4. 34 In the latter case. The lingshi 令使 a low official in charge 32 The punishments for beating and raping the master/mistress were the same.34 and finally being a scold (han 悍 ) and refus- ing to work in the master’s fields. planning to steal their master’s ox. 184. but not stated in the documents. The punishments meted out to the slave in Qin times for the crimes of beating. Hulsewé 1985a: D 119. 159–160). This was one more way in which the Qin state tried to dominate all members of society and gain exclusive control over their lives. McLeod and Yates 1981: 5.18.15. and is made a chengdan forced laborer (SHD 5. Hulsewé 1985a: 169). 146–147. beating their child so that it dies of its wounds (SHD 4. 140–142). Hulsewé 1985a: E 15. no hard labor is stipulated.14.14. yet at the same time. Hulsewé 1985a: D 59. Hulsewé 1985a: D 4. 35 SHD 5. Crimes mentioned include beating their mas- ters (zhu 主 ) (SHD 4.122: 211. taking the proceeds. subcommentary). 140). SHD 4. and were not considered to be suffering from diminished capacity in the legal sense. with strangulation after the assizes for such fornication with a master’s con- cubine. slaves could be sold to the government at the fair market price. 183. 193–194. SHD 5.

In the Qin. the owner had committed a serious offence. 317. the slave is sold to the government and made a chengdan forced laborer. Other evidence suggests a cost of 20. 53). but she/he could also be a convict for having committed a crime. W. This price is confirmed in the fragmentary evidence from the Juyan 居延 wooden slips.15 “Denouncing a Female Slave. The appearance of the term “fair market price” confirms the fact that the Qin had slave markets. 2. YATES of records (Yu Haoliang 1985b: 109) makes a medical examination of the slave and certifies his state of health. probably sometime during the Qin period.000 cash. which was an important form of cur- rency. In 5. 11b. being attached to all organs that were involved in financial transactions.000 cash for one adult female. Wilbur. not trusting the word of the owner. Biot 1969: vol. if such was the case. The shaonei 少內 treasurer and his assistant determine the price and make the transaction. 2 j.000 to 30. where we find that it cost 20. 5. because. 27. a state of affairs also recorded in the Zhouli 周禮 where people renmin 人民 are noted as saleable items (Sun Yirang 1983: vol. hence the medical examination. Pulleyblank 1958 192–193). pian 31. 1. a woman was bought. a person could not only be a slave. 52–53). In the record of a law case dating from 196 bc translated in the Appendix to this essay. state of health. all items on sale above the value of one cash were required to have a price tag (SHD 1 Jinbu 5. 57. as Wang Mang claimed.” the female slave has her nose cut off by the authorities 36 Hulsewé (1978: 199) and (1985a: A 40. 17: 25b. note 9) has demonstrated that the sha- onei treasuries were part of the metropolitan and regional governmental organization.36 It was important to prove that the slave had not been freed and then forcibly re-enslaved. and a non-adult male was worth 15.306 ROBIN D . for 16. 1943: no. 50.K. 37 Su Yiwu 蘇夷吾 . depend upon his health. In the Qin.37 In the Qin. S .000 cash. at this exchange rate. over 1100 cash. the au- thorities ask the slave himself about his status. The value of slaves in the Han dynasty was much higher. had his marquisate abolished for this reason in 18 bc (Hongjia 鴻嘉 year 3) (Wang Xianqian n. A humorous story in the Hanfeizi 韓 非子 records that a female slave in Wei 衛 cost more than 100 rolls of cloth (Wang Xianshen 1956: ce 3.: j. marquis of Pu 蒲侯 . Liao 1959: vol. depending on her age. Hulsewé 1985a: A 44. Hulsewé 1985a: A 46. was stated to be the equivalent of 11 cash (SHD 1 Jinbu 3. . a roll of cloth. and therefore undoubtedly slaves wore such tags when they went on sale.14 “Denouncing a Slave” mentioned above. as we know from a Han source. 102. and general disposition. 56.000 per adult slave (Xu Yangjie 1981: 169).d. The price of the slave would also. 419). As can be seen from the above. Thus a female slave could have cost. of course. In 5. 8).

who were being held to redeem mutilating punishments and the death penalty and who were held for chengdan and chong labor. being made chengdan convicts and then being returned to their masters (SHD 4. if they were held to work with the chengdan and chong forced laborers (SHD 1 Sikong 12. did not have to suffer the indignity of wearing red clothes and being shackled. and therefore it is unclear whether their masters could petition to have their slaves returned to them on these occasions. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 307 and is tattooed. Hulsewé 1985a: A 68. and thus were not structurally equivalent to slaves. If he lacked the means. Another case in the slips refers to slaves being mutilated. 89–90. 67–71). 6 cash if the convict received food 38 Hulsewé (1985a: 69. and like guixin collectors of firewood and baican sorters of grain convicts and a status called qunxiali 群下吏 . 122).38 This difference between slaves and regular “free” convicts redeeming their crimes or fines is of utmost importance. but rather that the redeemable crimes could be paid off in cash all at once if the criminal had the financial resources. The Qin obviously drew a careful distinction between redeemable crimes and non-redeemable crimes and between regular convicts and slaves. Hulsewé 1985a: D 4. Slaves could also be used by their masters in the same way as oxen and horses to be held by the government to pay off their fines and debts. as some scholars have maintained. be shackled. On the other hand. This surely indicates that the forced labor punishment was for a fixed period of time. The rate was fixed at 8 cash per day. that his labor was for life. 72–73). and be supervised. who had not suffered the punishment of shaving the whiskers (SHD 1 Sikong 12. Hulsewé 1985a: A 68. No mention of slaves is made in this connection. 84–87. 152–153.4. Such slaves had to wear red clothes. but this would be rather remark- able. in my opinion. and therefore convicts cannot have served life sentences. 84–87. but at the same time the term “non-redeemable” must be understood not as meaning that the convict never ended his term. I consider to be quite unlikely. Hulsewé 1985a: A 70. he was held until he paid off the crime. . just like other chengdan convicts who were originally of free status (SHD 1 Sikong 12. Slaves were treated in the same manner as individuals serving non-redeemable heavy labor sentences. It should also be noted that the Qin permitted their convicts to return to their homes to perform essential agricultural duties at appropriate times of the year. That this was possible. To be the owner of slaves was thus additionally beneficial. 67–71). individuals of the lowest aristocratic rank gongshi 公士 and commoners (shiwu 士伍 ). to see the difference between slave and convict status. note 10) observes that the phrase “gongshi or less 公士以下 ” probably refers to gongshi and commoners (shiwu).

39 In the Qin. because they were recognized as parents who could kill their children. before the authorities learn of the crime. . a very large sum for the average commoner to pay all at once. It is for this reason that I say that slave unions were recognized. concubines could not. as I believe. but if. which it could then put to good use to increase its military and public works budgets and enable it to field large armies for years at a time and pay for the construction of huge public works.950. in general. Unfortunately. 84–87. she is not subject to the law of arrest (shou 收 ) and her male and female 39 Harrison (1968: 177) remarks that in the case of Athens “although relatively permanent unions were in fact formed between slaves it is very doubtful whether these had any juristic validity” (cf. the labor terms ran from one to five years for the watchmen through to the chengdan the minimum might be 2920 or 2190 to a maximum of 14. S .” This is of great significance. and so slave unions were assimilated to this secondary form of marriage. however. Slaves are slaves because they are cut off from rights and obligations of family and their unions are not recognized as legitimate and binding on the rest of society. another important item quoted in section 4 of the legal documents states that if a husband commits a crime and his wife denounces him first.3 piculs (shi 石 ) or 73 piculs of grain. As mentioned above. qi 妻 .600 to 10. YATES from the government (SHD I Sikong 12. A further point with regard to slave status is that the wives of slaves were apparently not graced with the term that meant legitimate wife. then it received lump sums of cash. however. evidently slave unions were recognized. Fogel and Engerman 1974: 49 and 142–144). for if it did not acquire the forced labor of the criminals. they are always referred to as qie 妾 “concubine. Yet in the customs of the time only legitimate wives could perform duties in the sacrificial rites to their husbands’ ancestors. for it is a practice common to other slave systems through- out the world (Patterson 1982: 186–190). 67–71). but were not considered legitimate: con- cubinage was. Hulsewé 1985a: A 68. slave owners kept such families together to encourage better performance of duties. condoned for the free population. such as the Great Wall. the First Emperor’s tomb and the many palaces in the Wei river 渭河 valley. that the government of the Qin state must have benefited immensely from this practice of cash payment. in a 365 day year. which would work out as 97. Their “families” could be separated by their owners entirely at their owners’ discretion. In other words. it is nowhere stated what the cash equivalent of the various hard labor service punishments were. We might note. since the price of grain was fixed at 30 cash per picul. although.308 ROBIN D . the convict would pay off 2920 cash or 2190 cash.

were able to hold property independent of them and that confiscation of prop- erty on the commission of a crime was not automatic. 5 pian 19. are also not confiscated. under Lord Shang’s laws. a person could receive grades of rank and an appropriate number of slaves (li) as a reward for cutting off heads in battle (Zhu Shiche 1974: 73. however. Hulsewé 1955: 327. it is recorded that someone who catches a person sending a written communication to the enemy is given two such slaves. In the documents. with the development of the beginnings of a commodity market system in the late Spring and Autumn and early Warring States periods. Another passage states that prisoners of war were given to successful officers.” 41 Keightley (1969:210–216) argues that these chenqie were not slaves in his definition of the term. Duyvendak 1963:15. It is also clear that the government gave gifts of slaves (chenqie 臣妾 ) to private individuals for meritorious deeds. And if the wife commits a crime. who accompanied her to her husband’s home. In other words. the ch’en’s primary ties were to their family units and to the land” (213). Duyvendak 1963: 298). In addition. to determine the extent to which Zhou 40 I adopt Hulsewé’s explanation of the term toushu 投書 because it makes better sense in the context in contrast to that of the SHD editors who interpret the term as “to lodge an anonymous complaint. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 309 slaves and maidservants (ying 媵 ). which leads us back to one of the modes of enslavement mentioned earlier (Wang Xianqian n. Many Qin chenqie slaves may have been the descendants of the chenqie recorded in Western Zhou bronze inscriptions as being transferred be- tween the Zhou ruling house and other members of the Zhou aristoc- racy. and utensils (presumably her dowry) are not forfeited either. indicating “that we are dealing with groups of people whose previous social organiza- tion or regional location took precedence over their status as ch’en. Takigawa 1979: j. This indicates that wives. although in some respects property of their husbands. Hulsewé 1985a: D 43. I want to make a few more remarks about slaves. these chenqie began to be sold as individuals. 7b. But before we turn to this issue and that of the so-called bondservants (lichenqie 隸 臣妾 ).d. No doubt.44.: ch. clothes. Zhu Shiche 1974: j. The reasons are that chen were never transferred as individuals but in groups or families (jia 家 ) and that geographical names were frequently attached to them. 68: 9. Another of the major sources of Qin slaves must have been birth. Duyvendak 1963: 299–300). The term chenqie certainly appears in the Zuozhuan and I would argue that there is a strong possibility that.79. 174–175. government slaves became private slaves. Huang Ranwei (1978) doubts the interpretation of the terms as indicators . male and/or female (SHD 4. A husband or wife could retain the property of their spouse if they denounced them first. 23. a number of slaves in the Qin government’s hands were originally private slaves confiscated when people failed to denounce their spouses. 134–135). but given to her husband. however.41 It is impossible. her maidservants and slaves.40 In this case. even though they were originally captured by the Western Zhou aristocratic rulers.

if you bring in lodgers. YATES slaves reproduced themselves and therefore to make any conclusions at all about breeding practices and the extent to which the slave popula- tion of those times reproduced itself. for it was believed that within a short period they would replace their masters. For another analysis based on a comparative perspective. were some kind of forced laborer. on the other hand. “Do not bring lodgers in on xinyou 辛酉 days. For example. Slaves could also gain their freedom by having their relatives redeem of geographical origin. slips 1138–1139 state that to bear children on the renyin 壬寅 day was unlucky or in- auspicious: a girl born on this day would become a doctor (Yunmeng Shuihudi Qinmu Bianxiezu 1981: plate 164). But it is not impossible that children born on these days would have been killed if the parents thought that they could avoid prosecution by the authorities for murder (Yunmeng Shuihudi Qinmu Bianxiezu 1981: slips 1139 and 1142. S . Therefore fundamental questions about the economic viability of the slave system cannot be answered. Perhaps it had something to do with beliefs in word magic. Ji 己 . they will inevitably take over living in the residence. The data regarding this issue is also lacking for the rest of the imperial period. reads. some days were considered inauspicious for bringing slaves and lodgers (jiren 寄人 ) into a house. Musha 1980). Actually. Perhaps they thought that such a tree would come to no good end (Yunmeng Shuihudi Qinmu bianxiezu 1981: plate 126. 43 Yunmeng Shuihudi Qinmu Bianxiezu 1981: plate 120. Liu Weimin (1975: 118–22) considers the evidence from bronze inscriptions as well as literary texts and concludes that they. 42 Perhaps the reason for these prognostications lies in the beliefs associated with word magic. I am not sure exactly why these days were considered so inauspicious. Chen Hanping 1988: 259–60.42 Again.” . This is regrettable given the advances that have been achieved in this aspect in studies of the slave system in the Western hemisphere. see Hu Liuyuan and Feng Zhuohui (1988: 317–415). slip 874). plate 128. some days unlucky. trees (mu 木 ) were not supposed to be watered (澍 ) — perhaps the graph is an alternative form for shu 樹 “planted” — on wei 未 days because the graph is a representa- tion of a tree with a cut across the trunk. The almanac texts express the fears of Qin parents.43 It would seem that these disadvantaged individuals could gain rights and obligations quite easily. together with the various other types of low-grade workers.” indicating that the self would die if born on that day. slip 786. slip 853). and children born on the jisi 己巳 and dingwei 丁未 days were thought to grow up to be slaves.310 ROBIN D . The graph ding 丁 meant an individual” and wei 未 “not yet”: the complete term dingwei 丁未 might have been thought to indicate that the person would not exist. rather believing them to be types of servants (chenpu 臣僕 ) (cf. meant “self ” and si 巳 sounded like si 死 “die. Quite clearly it must have been relatively easy for free members of Warring States society to fall into servile status by the methods we have already discussed because in the almanac texts (rishu) there are a num- ber of passages which indicate what will happen to children born on a particular day: some days are lucky.

jianmen 監門 ). He therefore proclaims that gate-guards (jiamen 叚 門 . who are then responsible for clothing and feeding them. there remains the problem of the meaning of men. Indeed. yet at the same time it did permit the poor some means of subsistence.. very clearly. in which the king proclaims that it is not the state’s fault that sometimes. . Wu Rongzeng (1995a. including corvée labor service. disagrees and makes a convincing argument in favor of reading jia as jian 監 . Hulsewé 1985a: F 1.or gate-keeper. Indeed. Un- fortunately. But these migrants. although they still had to register as grandsons of such semi-servile people (SHD 292–294. pawns.44 And this prohibition would last for three generations. 208–209).d. presumably in those of great economic hardship. presumably in the government. 48–49) slave girls not yet of serviceable age (weishi 未使 ) loaned out to the common people (baixing 百姓 ). and this failure to work in the fields was considered a crime in Warring States China. probably another type of pawn or step-father. with the full term jianmen 監門 meaning a low-status “door. Nevertheless. according to Liu Xiang’s 劉向 Shuoyuan 說苑 in the mid-Han. his efforts to show the importance of gates (men 門 ) for markets have little to do with the meaning of this status or functional/occupational term. Males in Wei could perhaps have also been loaned out. 1995b). The SHD editors (293. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 311 them with cash or equivalent goods. but whether this was a common practice throughout China is unclear (Liu Xiang n. Among the Qin documents is also preserved one item of the house- hold statutes of the state of Wei 魏 . migrants or sojourners (nilu 逆呂 = 旅 ) and pawns (zhuixu 贅婿 ) and houfu 後父 . because land and houses were also given to such householders by the state. Although registration in households entailed payment of taxes. Lord 44 Hulsewé translates nilu as “innkeepers. and I remain unconvinced at present.. common people. however. We find in the Statutes on Granaries. i. Only after this time lapse could they be allowed to gain employment. note 4) interpret the former as jiamen 假門 to be read as jiamen 賈門 . for example 1 Cang 17 (SHD. and gate-guards were prevented from engaging in agricultural work.e. we have another way in which semi-servile in- dividuals were disadvantaged in relation to the free. has been the subject of some debate. may not be allowed to establish households and receive fields and houses from the state. the state of Lu 魯 in Confucius’ day provided funds from the state treasury to redeem Lu slaves held in other states. it is not impossible that jia should be taken as it stands. with the meaning of “traders” or “merchants” (shangjia/gu 商賈 ). and the term jiamen should be understood as low-status bondservants or slaves who had been loaned (jia 假 ) out by the government to private individuals: Li Jiahao points out that in Lu dialect the two words jia and jian were interchangeable (Wu Rongzeng 1995b: 171). demanding their wives and daughters. 7: 23ab). the people abandon their homes in villages to go and dwell in the countryside and enter the houses of orphans and widows.c. in this interpretation.: j.” The precise meaning of the terms jiamen and nilu however. probably promulgated in the year 252 b. Here.” Yang Heding (1983) rejects his conclusions and attempts to prove that the first interpretation is correct.

however. First of all. The king even implies that they should be killed outright.” In the Yuan. they should be used to fill in the moat as human waste when the need arose during the siege of a city. . 294–295. A child born of this union while the father was still a bondser- vant. 45 I follow the rendition of the SHD editors: Hulsewé’s translation does not seem appropriate here.312 ROBIN D . which. the authorities proclaim that such indigents should be pressed into the army where the generals should not show them any mercy (SHD. Hulsewé 1985a: D 154. and the union of the couple was considered legitimate. if not outright. In another Wei state statute preserved with the household statute in the Qin tomb. 209–210). YATES Shang’s laws stipulated enslavement for the idle (Takigawa 1979: j. Duyvendak 1963: 15). she herself became a bondservant (SHD 4. S . and. inherited his father’s status. It is interesting to note that. for the wife was called qi 妻 . continued in full force. a male bondservant could have a wife not of bondservant status.” 90). when an assault on the walls was considered necessary. Indeed. 169–170). and this was true in ancient and modern times both in the East and the West (Patterson 1982: 131). 68: 8–9. marriage to a male slave resulted in the free woman accepting his status. a form of punishment (Guanzi 1934: ce 3 pian 78 “Kuidu.155. however. I believe that Liu Hainian (1985. such that the child inherited “the status of the parent with the lower status. If on the father’s death. Unlike slaves. some scholars interpret as convicts and others as government slaves. the wife tried to conceal the circumstances of the child’s birth. quite clearly some of them were convicts and probably served three-year hard labor terms. This situation gives further evidence that the number of grades in the orders below the “free” commoners (shiwu 士伍 ) was considerable. as I have already mentioned. and the Guanzi 管子 suggested that they be sent to the frontier to perform guard duty.45 Bondservants Let us now turn very briefly to the question of the bondservants (lichenqie). in later Chinese custom. the rule was changed and the wife took on the status of the husband (Patterson 1982: 141–144). inherited their status from their father in the following way. 225–226. Others. generally speaking. the principle of deterior condicio that the rule in the Qin exemplifies. Hulsewé 1985a: F 2. 1986) is correct that some bondservants were convicts whose sentences were of limited duration and others were permanent government slaves.

Were these indi- vidual prisoners of war permanently enslaved or did they merely serve a three-year term? One provision of the statutes of army rank (junjuelü 軍爵律 ) indicated that bondservants who cut off enemy heads in battle and received the rank of gongshi. given by it . is unclear at present. And artisan bondservants who gained similar rank could be freed to become artisans. 93–94.. i. most were not. in the Han. fields. as should slaves who are seeking to expur- gate their crime and wish to expurgate their shame (Liu Yin 1975: j. If they were not whole. and that those from the southern regions were more tractable and easier to absorb by the Chinese as slaves. most of the war captives were non-Chinese. which could. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 313 Qin enemy who surrendered were also made bondservants (SHD 3 Za 24. the military systems of the other states in competition with Qin are less well known. These slaves were either appropriated by the government. That the Qin cannot have been alone in recruiting low status in- dividuals into the army can be seen from the military text Liu tao 六 韜 . the whole population of a defeated city was enslaved en masse. 117–118). cf. Two ranks could be exchanged for either a father or mother who was a bondservant. In the Six Dynasties 六朝 and Sui 隋 periods. What a strange situation that a bondservant could gain aristocratic rank! Perhaps we should interpret the situation as follows: the bondservant is substituting or exchanging his own social death by or for the death of the enemy. as we know. 83). Wu Rongzeng 1995a). but which of them used low-status soldiers. mitigate the severity of all punishments. Hulsewé 1985a: C23b. where it is noted that debt-slaves (zhuixu) and captives who wish to conceal their tracks and proclaim their names should be gathered into a separate regiment (zu 卒 ).” 16. We do at least know that some of them rewarded cutting off heads in battle with gifts of gold.e. captives were also sometimes enslaved and forced to join the conquering army. especially Xiongnu 凶奴 and those from the minority regions in southwest and south China. on occasion. could return that rank to the state and. and. they became so-called “hidden office artisans” (yinguangong 隱官工 ) (SHD 1 Junjue 2. be freed (mian 免 ) and made commoners. Wilbur (1943: 98–117) devotes a chapter of his book to the question of whether prisoners of war were enslaved in the Han or not. 146–47. they were mutilated in some way. Given the difficulty of absorbing large numbers of non- Chinese-speaking nomadic warriors. and houses. The medium of exchange is rank. Unfortunately. and whether they rewarded meritorious soldiers with rank. 3 pian 53 “Lianshi. he concludes that. He argues that. the lowest of the aristocratic ranks (jue 爵 ). Hulsewé 1985a: A 91. although some Xiongnu prisoners of war were enslaved. in exchange.

Given the relative backward state of the Qin economy in comparison with the more advanced states of the central plains. but probably not their armor). Five years of frontier duty would be sufficient for a female bond- servant (SHD 1 Sikong 14. if not most. pottery. forever alienated from their natal ties. this cloth was crucial for the economic survival and success of the Qin. I believe that it is only reason- able to conclude that. Female bondservants who were tailors or seamstresses could. and in the construction of transport vehicles. but in the advanced sector too. this is eight cash per day. and slaves (soldiers in the army were expected to provide their own uniforms.46 as could replacement for old and young adult male bondservants by male adult individuals. It is in this context that I wish to emphasize that we should not take the ideological attack by Lord Shang and the legalists.314 ROBIN D . 1 pian 2. a kind of money. but also because they wove cloth that was used as an important medium of exchange. There were. 8. on trade and merchants too seriously. to manumit such a slave would be the equiva- lent of 14. other ways in which bondservants could be freed. The Qin legal documents provide ample evidence that the state was directly engaged in all sectors of the economy. in lacquer. 73. in fact. 54–55. and leather production. often the victorious generals. cloth. The Qin recognized the importance of markets for the overall health of its economy and to provide the necessaries to supply its huge armies (Zhu Shiche 1974: j. the fundamental occupation. As in other states. and so I reserve judgment on this matter. who would become bondservants themselves. . and possessed strict rules about the functioning of markets (Hulsewé 1985b). however. convicts. Two adults could redeem one male adult bondservant. “If someone for the redemption of banishment wishes to pay money. 45–46). or forcibly resettled in a new area far from their original homeland (Wang Yi-t’ung). the Qin seems to have monopolized many. in fact they were permanent slaves. in iron foundries. Hulsewé 1985a: A 72. Hulsewé 1985a: A 35. not only in agriculture. 91–92. although they were technically convicts.” It has been suggested to me that if lichen were slaves and the status was considered the equivalent of 5 years at the frontier. of these markets. In that these seamstresses could never be redeemed. never be redeemed (SHD 1 Cang 25. This certainly indicates how important the textile industry was to the Qin state. for not only would these seamstresses provide clothes for the state’s royal court. which had been using metal currency for several hundred years. and whose labor was ruthlessly exploited by the state in its quest for strength and universal dominance. S . but it may not be correct to place this slip in this location. Duyvendak 1963: 181–182). YATES to private individuals. and the government workshops were 46 The editors place slip 153 at the end of this rule. This is possible. and even the Confucians. In Hulsewé’s translation.600 cash.

” 22. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 315 probably located close by to reduce transportation costs and permit ease of sale (Qiu Xigui 1980). mode of production. Under Lord Shang’s laws. together with the poll tax. par- ticularly in the agricultural estates. the latifundia and also in mining. 57. members of the community (SHD 1 Jinbu 4. if he so chose. when the centers of the villages or towns were the religious buildings.2. and which therefore has a strong claim to be labeled a slave mode of production (Anderson 1974: 53–107. not to men- tion its use of great amounts of corvée labor. although the large number of laws concerning agriculture and grain storage. discovered in 1973. return the rank and receive an official position instead.48 Nevertheless. but I am not sure if this was always true in Qin. Unlike Rome. provided the main source of government income. and probably related to the Warring States text Weiliaozi 尉繚子 . Cho-yun Hsu (1965) gives many examples of low status individuals rising to the high- est ranks in other states. as I have argued elsewhere (Yates 1987). where slaves were a far greater component of the total population and where slave labor was employed on a vast scale. an individual who was awarded rank for cutting off heads in battle could. with their remarkable detail. Commoners there may have only risen to the equivalent of the eighth rank in the rank hierarchy. 48 The level to which commoners could aspire in the Qin bureaucracy is unknown. in China this mass of “free” commoners was a predominant force and certainly owned some of 47 Qiu Xigui accomplished the difficult task of deciphering slips 875–890. there was a slave. or at least forced labor. The reasons for my opinion are that it is likely that. show that taxes in the form of grain and hay. especially 62ff). . the Qin registered traders on rolls separate from the rest of the population to ensure the greatest control possible of these essential. may have been one of the decisive factors in their success in defeating the other states and unifying China. 215). in certain occupations in the urban economy and in education. Indeed. Liao 1959: vol. the vast bulk of the population were members of the “free” commoner class. a policy which Hanfeizi deplored (Wang Xianshen 1956: ce 4 pian 43 “Shuoyi. I therefore believe that. As in the Han.47 This is very different from earlier times. I would have to say a tentative “no” in response. ancestral temples if the urban agglomeration were large enough to be the center of a lineage. Does this mean that in Qin times the basic mode of production was the slave mode? In the current state of research. in a group of newly published texts. it is advocated that in the center of all settlements (yi 邑 ) there should be a market (Linyi Yinqueshan Zhujian Zhengli Xiaozu 1985). and that it was they who provided most of the agricultural labor and most of the personnel for the Qin armies and aspired to positions in the Qin bureaucracy. Hulsewé 1985a: A 45. if ideologically suspect. 53). the Qin’s exploitation of slave and convict labor in the advanced sector of the economy.

S .49 who were denied rights to land. on the lowest level. But the evidence for the Qin on the break between commoners and aristocrats is extremely limited.175. pawns. this item is extremely obscure. Probably commoners. As Hulsewé observes. and registration in households. whose children were forced to go and take care of their master. 235. they were still considered polluting and could 49 One such status was the “man-marmot” (renhe 人貉 ). migrants. they were not be confiscated. but there is also the possibility that they could purchase them and win them by producing exceptional quantities of agricultural surplus. after completion of their sentences. however. as in the Han dynasty. These we have mentioned above. but there was clearly a wide range in financial circumstances between the richest and the poorest of them. In the first place. inherit from their fathers. they provided him with food. Although all convicts served for only fixed time periods. YATES the means of production. or by performing other meritorious deeds for the government. . which commoners could acquire by cutting off heads in battle. such as oxen and tools. the legal sta- tus for a male commoner was shiwu a “member of the rank and file. they were confiscated by the gov- ernment. even if at present the extent to which they were able to own the land itself is open to question (Hulsewé 1985b: 215–18). the common people were the pingmin 平民 “level people” and were known also by the term shuren 庶人 or shumin 庶民 . rather than taking care of him. and other low statuses. a distinction was drawn between those who had to wear special red clothing and shackles. 177). if they had been mutilated. could not expect to be promoted above the eighth rank in the aristocratic hierarchy. In non-technical legal language.” This status is to be compared and contrasted to lower orders. a hierar- chy that stretched up to the king and through him to the cosmos as a whole. those who served up to three years. and the lesser hard labor service convicts. Hulsewé 1985a: D 174. these commoners could own slaves themselves. yet at the same time. Below them were the convicts. but given back to their master (SHD 4. they still did not regain full commoner status or rights. it must be recognized that there was a range of low statuses below that of the common people. houses. Manumission or freedom from convict status always used this latter term. As we have seen. and their wealth certainly was not at all equal to that of the aristocrats. If.316 ROBIN D . and cut off from the ranking system were the gate-guards. Below the commoners. and then slaves. If they did not. Conclusion What other conclusions can be drawn from the data presented above? First of all. and to the so-called aristocratic ranks (jue). However. Within the convict status.

of course. Significantly. because punishment cut the family members off from their natal ritual ties. this was known as “drowning” (mo 沒 ). it was the state that claimed the right to determine status within the family. and if they had been bondservants and mutilated. But the actual situation with regard to convicts and slaves in the Qin was much more complex than we had previously believed. the slaves and the family members. as the Discourses on Salt and Iron and the Zuozhuan so eloquently put it. a word that strongly implies social death. just as within the really dead there were also different statuses. could inherit their status and become permanent bondservants. they could be re-arrested for their original crime. still retain some rights as commoners—they could still have wives and children who were not taken into government service. as I have explained. they could be called up again for service by the government. In times of crisis. if they commit- ted another crime after an amnesty (she) had been declared.” and thus it is true that at least some Han slaves must have been descendants of such criminals. Such punish- ment radically affected the organization of such families and lineages. SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 317 not participate in the ancestral religious rites. Thus there were clearly difficulties in determining short-term bondservants from long-term bondservants. But within that death there were degrees. Children of bondservant convicts. if criminals’ families were enslaved by the government. but to the entire Chinese conceptual scheme and social order (McLeod 1978. truly the most liminal or marginal of all the groups we have discussed. when they were “freed” they were still registered separately from the rest of the commoner population. Secondly. the li 禮 “rites” were destroyed and the individual became polluting not just to his family. With the breaking of those ties. but also even by trying to punish parts of the lineage’s corporate property. Yates 1997). from the powerful dead kings and aristocrats. Poo 1998). By Warring States times. they were all socially dead and not human. the property of their own- ers. however. Li itself seems to have been a general term for “slave. however. provided. that the law of arrest (shou) had not been applied to them. to the ordinary dead commoners and the ghosts (gui 鬼 ) (cf. Below the convicts were these slaves. who were truly socially dead. The precise status of all these low groups is often difficult to determine accurately because with respect to the common people. Convicts did. who had no rights vis-à-vis their families. thus altering the status relationships within the whole family and lineage. To take even a manumitted maidservant and make her a legitimate wife who had specific ritual duties to perform in the ancestral rites was thought in the Tang dynasty to disrupt the principles of heaven and . not only by giving ranks to adult male members.

From this conceptual ordering of the world. During most of Chinese history. YATES earth. I believe I am correct in asserting that the social institution of slavery. female slaves and courtesans in the Tang. neither male nor female. Finally. . polluting and dangerous (cf.” For a comprehensive study of concubines. I have not been able to confirm the existence of a slave society or that the slave mode of production was ever the dominant mode in ancient China. If a person makes the wife a concubine or makes a slave the wife. and thus by their very nature were of the same category as slaves. and common folk. the ultimate slaves. In this case too. injures the true way of husband and wife. Douglas 1966). those who commit such crimes are punished by two years of penal servitude. 51 It might be valuable to apply the cultural analysis suggested in this article to the study of eunuchs in Chinese history. society in the conceptual scheme of things might explain why eunuchs. The subcommentary reads as follows. They did not accept the rites and the agricultural way of life which defined the social and economic life of the truly Chinese. If the distinction between upper and lower classes is upset and ritual and principles are scattered. and were “pure” enough to be able to come into contact with the sacred emperor. and insults the principles of human relationships. We can also see why convicts and even more so slaves were considered to be total outsiders. together with its associated penal system. 50 Wallace Johnson (1997: 155) translates the Tang code and subcommentary on this matter. The anomalous position of slaves in. they were permitted to do so because they were degendered males. liminal people. S . we can understand how crime was considered to be disrupting to the entire hierarchy that held the cosmos together. for both they and the corpses were dead. they themselves could touch the really dead. this violates and sets aside an agreement that was decided upon. who were Yin (quintessentially female in relation to the emperor) because they were degendered. see Liao Meiyun (1995). they stayed within the imperial palace ministering to the emperor’s private needs and to those of his empress and his harem. Nevertheless. Yates 1997). they medi- ated between the sacred Yang (quintessentially male) emperor and the general mass of the bureaucrats. we can note how difficult it was for the Chinese to accept on equal terms peoples on their periphery. of the rites. It was thus no accident that the ancient Chinese felt few qualms in enslaving them when the opportunity or the necessity arose. such as the nomads on the northern border and the native tribes of the south and southwest. Because they were cut off from normal human relationships and were thought of as socially dead. courtiers. were so hated and yet so necessary. Slaves are inferior and basically not of the same class as commoners. however. “The wife is an equal as was said of the states of Ch’in (Qin) and Chin (Jin). Concubines can be bought and sold and so are very different from the wife. At various points in time. as genuine human beings.51 In this essay.318 ROBIN D . and were polluting to the rest of human society (cf. we need to note a remarkable implication of the concep- tion of slaves and convicts as marginal. with its emphasis on the preservation of family ties. or rather outside. And finally.50 It would appear that this was already true in Warring States times.

That he sold you was appropriate. The rest is as Lu (states). in the second month. But you went off and absconded. I ought not to have been considered a slave again. (saying). Assistant Ao) investigated Mei. and sold me. jiashen being the first day of the month. were former- ly Dian’s slave. My name was not written down or enumerated. She is forty years old. “You. Ao 驁 . she absconded. “Mei formerly was Dian’s slave. The price was 16. I surrendered and became a Han. Li Xueqin 1993. But then in the third month. I went off and absconded. jisi day. dingsi day. I (originally) had pledged myself. He again enslaved me. you did not write down or enumerate (yourself). I bought the slave Mei at the member of the rank and file (shiwu) Dian’s place.” • I (i. I captured Mei. You (Mei) thereby again became a slave. Dian captured (you) and registered and enumerated you. I went off and absconded. In the time of Chu.e. second month. you went off and absconded. I sought and captured Mei. In the time of Chu. Accordingly. Mei said. ‘I should not be considered a slave. and surrendered and became a Han. So then I went off and absconded.” • I (Assistant Ao) questioned Mei. saying: “In the sixth year. Peng Hao 1993. In . eighth month. There is no other explanation. I absconded. In the sixth year. Mei. “Formerly I was Dian’s slave. and sold her to Lu’s place. ventures to submit to higher authority the (following) case: In the third month. I had pledged myself. “In the time of Chu. The rest is as in the deposition. Yates 1996). SLAVERY IN EARLY CHINA 319 was a crucial factor in the creation of a unified Chinese empire and thus fundamentally affected the course of Chinese and consequently world history. Although in the time of Chu.’” • Mei said. the Dafu Lu made a statement. she absconded.000 cash. The text of the official report reads as follows. bingxu day. Mei did not yet have a name and was not yet enumerated. The rest is as Lu and Mei (state). Appendix One of the early Han legal cases found at Zhangjiashan 張家山 docu- ments how a female slave Mei 美 attempted to reject her re-enslave- ment by her former master Dian 點 and subsequent sale to the Dafu Lu 大夫祿 (Jiangling Zhangjiashan Hanjian Zhengli Xiaozu 1993: 22.. He sold me to Lu’s place. Dian captured me and registered and enumerated me again as his slave. I should not suffer enslavement (again). Assistant of Jiangling. Then I registered and enumerated her. Dian then became a Han.” • Dian said. The eleventh year. What is your explanation?” • Mei said. Mei formerly was Dian’s slave. • I (Assistant Ao) judged the case.

” This document is very interesting on a number of points. . an ordinary commoner. • The official (li) matching (dang 當 ) is: Tattoo Mei’s face and . but this may have been discussed in another county. Even though it is recorded in 202 bc that Han Gaozu seems to have manu- mitted slaves who had fallen into bondage as a result of poverty in the previous period. • I suspect Mei is guilty of a crime. Dubs 1938 vol. for example. in 236 bc. she absconded and surrendered to be a Han. She hoped that since her master. must have been born well before the Qin unification. 4b. She was captured. . p. An alternative states. YATES the time of Chu. Dian. thus upholding the validity of Dian’s re-enslavement and subsequent sale of her. 1B. is that Mei failed to register herself as a free commoner after she had absconded and sub- mitted to Han authority. I think that the Han official is suspicious about the circumstances 52 The contention in my article Yates (1987) that shiwu indicated commoner status and was not the name of a punishment is fully born out in the present case. when I referred (it) to higher authority the response was that the post [investiga- tion] was to be similar to the Granary Laws(?).320 ROBIN D . and sold her to Lu’s place. and evidence that Han officials closely followed Qin legal forms and proce- dures. according to Li Xueqin (1993: 30) and Peng Hao’s (1993: 32) calculations.53 here it appears that one legal opinion was that she should be punished with tattooing of the face and returned to bondage in Lu’s house. The crux of the issue. She is forty years old. as Li Xueqin points out. The slave Mei. had also surrendered to the Han. Dian captured (her) and registered and enumerated (her). reads. S . being forty years old at the time of the case. “She matches (deserves) to be a commoner (shuren). though the “time of Chu” probably refers to the time of the recreation of the Chu kingdom under Xiang Yu 項羽 after the collapse of Qin imperial authority. the pledge of her person as debt-slave to Dian under Qin rule had been invalidated and she should no longer be considered a slave. but she did not write down her name or enumerate (herself). 53 Han shu j.” . I venture to submit (the case) to higher authority. It provides information. “As to those people who because of famine or hunger have themselves sold their persons to be slaves or slave-girls. But Mei went off and absconded. presumably in the state of Chu. All (the above-mentioned facts) have been care- fully investigated. let them all be freed and become common people.52 It is the latest in the collection from Jiangling: the date of As- sistant Ao’s submission corresponds to 196 bc. . on the price of slaves in the early Han. and thus both of them had changed their recognition of what was the legal authority. 1: 104. and give her to Lu. for the shiwu Dian owns the slave Mei. He made her a slave again.

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