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Zhang Juzheng’s Reform in the Ming Dynasty: Financial and Taxation Reform Amidst Social Crisis


By Wang Yingying & Zhao Wei, Research Team on “Methodology of Reform”, Research Department of Macro-Economy of DRC

Research Report [Special Issue No.49 (Total 1452), 2015] 2015-12-25

Abstract: During the middle-to-later period of Ming Dynasty, highly centralized political system grew increasingly corrupted, land annexation became extremely serious, and the people lived in dire poverty, all of which led to a ruling crisis of the Ming Dynasty. In 1572 when Zhang Juzheng was appointed Minister of the cabinet, he launched a reform by the name of “abiding by ancestors’ rules”. He started from rectifying administration with a series of measures such as reducing redundant personnel and enhancing assessment of officials’ performance. This improved officials’ quality and efficiency of administration, and based on such facts he launched relevant reforms in the fields of land, finance, and military affairs. In essence, Zhang Juzheng’s reform was a rectification of social maladies without offending the established political and fiscal system of the Ming Dynasty. Although it did not eradicate political corruption and land annexation, it positively relieved social contradictions. A review of the decade-long Zhang Juzheng’s reform could offer us some enlightenments from the perspective of the methodology-based reform: reform should touch upon deep-seated institutional obstacles, reformers should be entitled to both political power and legal power, reform should proceed in a stable and orderly way, and key problems should be tackled first.

Key words: Zhang Juzheng’s reform, financial and taxation reform, methodology