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The Government Should Emphasize Agriculture and Regulate Business

Chao, Cuo 1 (ca. 200-154 BCE)

   The people in a country may be free from hunger and cold, not because the emperor feeds his people by tilling the soil and clothes his people by weaving, but because the emperor provides his people a way to tap their natural resources. In ancient China, there were nine years of flooding during the era of Emperor Yao of the Tang dynasty and seven years of drought during the era of Emperor Tang of the Shang dynasty. However, there were no people then who abandoned their children or became sick because of food shortages. The government avoided these disasters by storing enough food. Now China is unified. The current territory and population are not less than those during the era of Emperor Yao or Emperor Tang. However, our government's food storage cannot compete with the ancient times because the resources of land and people are not fully utilized: The land that can produce grain is not fully cultivated; the resources of mountains and rivers are not well used. Furthermore, there are degenerates who fail to join the farming forces.

    When people become poor, crime increases. Poverty results from a shortage of natural resources. The main cause of these shortages in China has been an insufficient number of people farming. If people do not farm, they will not stay in one place for long. This is because poor people who want to make a living may easily abandon their families and leave their hometown like birds or animals. Even tall city walls, deep moats, and severe laws cannot stop their leaving. When one feels cold, he will take anything to cover his body no matter how much warmth it provides. When one feels hungry, he will eat anything without regard to how it tastes. When one is cold and starving, he does not have any concept of shame. A person will be hungry if he does not eat for a day. People will suffer cold if they do not weave for a year. It will be difficult even for a kind mother to keep her children if there is no food when they are hungry and there are no clothes when they are cold. Under such conditions, how is it possible for an emperor to lead his people? A wise emperor understands this truth, so he urges his people to farm and plant mulberry trees to feed silkworms that provide staples for industry. In addition, he will reduce taxes and save grain to increase food storage and to lessen the impact of natural disasters. Then people will follow him loyally.

   How people choose their profession depends on government policy. People generally go where money is, like water flows to low lying places. They can go in any direction. Jewelry, gold and silver are not edible when one is hungry and cannot clothe one's body when it is cold. However, people collect them and value them highly because the government will exchange food or clothing for them. They are light, portable, and can be easily concealed. One can use them everywhere to obtain goods. The desire for treasure may make a subject rebel against his emperor and lure people from their homes. Actually, jewelry is a robber's target and a fugitive's portable asset. Grain and cloth come from the earth. It takes a lot of time to grow and requires a lot of effort to harvest. One cannot produce them in one day. 50 pounds of grain or cloth require a strong man to lift. Thieves are not interested in them. However, if one does not have them for one day, he will feel cold and hungry. Consequently, a wise emperor values grain and despises gold.

    Nowadays, there are five people in a typical family of a farmer. Two of them have to do labor or military service for the government. The farmland that the other three family members' labor can support is no more than 100 acres. The grain harvest for these acres is less than 3,000 bushels. In spring, they till; in summer, they cut weeds; in autumn, they harvest; in winter, they store. In addition, they have to cut trees and build or remodel the government offices. In spring, they cannot avoid dusty wind. In summer, they cannot avoid scorching sun. In autumn, they cannot avoid gloomy rain. In winter, they cannot avoid freezing cold. All the year around, they never have any time to rest. People have their social lives: "They have to receive guests and say farewell to friends who move. When a friend is sick, they care for him. After a relative dies, they console his family. They have to take care of the old and young as well." Although farmers work very hard, they are mistreated by government policy. Heavy taxes may be implemented at any moment. After one receives the tax notice in the morning, he has to pay the amount in full by the evening. If a farmer has extra grain, he will sell it for half-price. If a farmer has no extra grain, he must borrow money from a usurer to pay taxes. If he cannot pay off the debt in due time, he will be forced to sell his farmland, house and sometimes even children. However, big merchants take advantage of this to hoard goods and corner the market. They also lend money with high interest. Small merchants use their profit to store exotic goods and sell them when the price is high. They hang around downtown all day long. When they hear that a certain item is in urgent demand, they will sell it for double the usual price. Therefore, merchant men do not cultivate; their wives neither feed silkworms nor weave. However, the clothes they wear must be fancy; the meals they eat must be choice. Merchants never work as hard as farmers, but they acquire farmers' crops. Because of their financial power, they are well-connected with princes and dukes. Thus their power exceeds that of the government. They take the best coaches and ride the best horses. They wear silk shoes and have flowing ribbons around their waists. This is why merchants take away farmers' crops and why farmers get banished from their farmland.

    Although the current law disfavors merchants, merchants are already rich and powerful. It favors farmers, but farmers are already poor and not well respected. Consequently, those who people respect are actually those who the emperor despises, and those who officials despise are those who the law favors. Thus the emperor and the people have opposite views and pursue opposite goals. Under such conditions, it is impossible to make the country rich and strengthen the law's credibility. Therefore, there is nothing more important than urging people to farm. The way to make people farm is to increase the value of grain. The way to increase the value of grain is to let people use grain to gain rewards and to avoid punishment. Now our government should motivate people to donate grain to the government by rewarding them with baronages and pardoning their crimes. Then rich people will have status, farmers will have money, and grain can be widely distributed. Those who can afford to acquire a baronage must have extra savings. The government can use these extra savings for its expenditure enabling it to reduce taxes for the poor. Thus the adage "Using rich people's money to help the poor" can be adopted as our government policy which will benefit all people. This policy will not only be welcome by everyone, but it also has the following merits:
1. The government will have enough money for its expenses.
2. The government can reduce taxes.
3. It encourages farmers to produce more grain.
However, our current law states that if one donates a war-horse to the government, he can exempt three people from services to the government. The law exempts people from services because our government needs war-horses as military equipment. However, the Father of Chinese Agriculture taught people a lesson with the following story, "Suppose a city is surrounded by a stone wall that is 50 feet tall with a moat 100 feet wide, and is defended by a million armed soldiers. If there is no grain, the defense will fail." In view of this lesson, grain is very important to an emperor and is the foundation of politics. Therefore, I suggest that the government offer baronage to people who donate grain. Furthermore, if one donates 90,000 bushels of grain, he can exempt one person from service to the government. This proposal is much better than rewarding people who donate war-horses.

   Making baronages is the emperor's privilege. They are coined by the emperor's mouth and can be produced repeatedly. Grain is planted by farmers, and can be grown almost anywhere. Everyone desires to gain high status and avoid punishment. If many people donate grain to our border fortresses to gain baronages or to avoid punishment, then the food storage in our border fortresses will be plentiful within three years.


1 Cuo Chao was a native of Ying-chuan City (present day Yu-zin City in Henan Province) during the Western Han dynasty. He was a distinguished politician. During Emperor Wen-di's reign, he was a member of the Royal Academy. He often analyzed and commented on contemporary events. During Emperor Jing-di's reign, the Huns frequently invaded China. The emperor consulted scholars to deal with the problem. Chao's strategy was valued highly, so Emperor Jing-di promoted him as his advisor. Later, Chao proposed to reduce the extent of each king's domain. This proposal caused seven kings to rebel against the central government. In exchange for peace, the seven kings demanded that the emperor kill Chao. Under the pressure of the situation, Emperor Jing-di did kill him to appease the kings. However, Chao's death did not stop the rebellion. Therefore, the officials in the emperor's court and common people thought that Chao had been treated unjustly. Chao's story is a good example of a brave Chinese scholar who devoted himself to solving his country's problems despite the danger involved.