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Bao Shichen and Agrarian Reform in Early Nineteenth-Century China

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Known primarily for his reformist proposals in the areas of military affairs, foreign policy, the salt monopoly, and the grain tribute system, the influential early nineteenth-century literatus Bao Shichen 包世臣 (1775–1855) also made throughout his life numerous suggestions regarding the improvement of agricultural practice and of rural life. Contrary to the arguments of his older contemporary Hong Liangji that the empire was facing an imminent demographic and provisioning crisis, Bao argued that there was ample possibility for increasing crop yields, and improving popular livelihoods, if a more rational approach was taken to cropping decisions, farm labor allocation, agricultural commercialization, and local-level social organization. Bao was fond of quantification, and, far more than Hong, employed statistical analysis (albeit crude) to bolster his arguments. Fundamentally committed to increasing the power and wealth of the imperial state in the face of threats both foreign and domestic, Bao was highly optimistic that this could be achieved simultaneously with fulfilling his other basic commitment, relieving what he saw as widespread popular immiseration.


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