Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 February 2022
As research over the past few decades, including the studies in this volume, has revealed, there is ample evidence indicating that a vibrant market economy, including highly specialized cash-crop farming, was practiced for sustained periods of time in certain parts of China from the northeastern and southeastern coasts to the Yangzi river delta and valley to the north China plain and the Shanxi plateau between the year 1000 and 1800. This chapter is concerned with the question whether the legal framework of imperial China facilitated or hindered the development of China’s market economy during this period.
Imperial China was largely an agrarian society. Alongside the widespread agricultural activity came the long and winding history of landownership that eventually saw the legal protection of private property rights in land during the Song dynasty (960–1279), which helped regulate economic activity more effectively. The law was highly relevant to the lives of the farming population, as it required the legal establishment of landownership as well as land transfers to family members and non-family members in order to sustain continuity and development in agriculture.