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Big Plans, Empty Pockets: Local Exactions in Republican and Post-Mao China by Elizabeth J.Remick In twentieth century China, the collection of unauthorized taxes and fees by local governments has been both an enduring problem for central and provincial finance and a source of political and social instability. 1 The kejuan zashui, or "excessive levies and miscellaneous taxes," of the 1920s and 1930s have often been cited, by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in any case, as one important reason for the fall of the Guomindang (GMD) regime. In the last fifteen years, local government collection of unauthorized fees and levies has once again become a source of concern for the central government, since it has sometimes subverted central fiscal policy and has occasionally resulted in collective action protesting excessive taxes.2 Are the unauthorized tax collections in both periods fundamentally similar phenomena? If so, why has this problem reoccurred? Why did it not occur during the Maoist years? Is there a similar underlying cause for the practice in the two time periods? What can a comparison of unauthorized taxation in the two eras tell us about the nature of the Chinese local state and its evolution during the twentieth century? The kejuan zashui of the first half of the century and the kinds of local exactions that have troubled the center in the 1980s and 1990s are not exactly the same, but they have enough in common that they can be considered a single phenomenon. What exactly were the kejuan zashui? Probably the term meant different things to different people in the early part of this century; popular ideas about what specifically constituted an excessive local fee may not have been the same as provincial government definitions.3 By the 1930s, any kind of local exaction that was not explicitly permitted by the provincial government was labeled a kejuan zashui by provincial reformers, and for simplicity's sake I will use that definition in this paper. These kinds of exactions came about in great numbers once commercial taxes became acceptable official policy at the end of the nineteenth century. Local governments often levied taxes, frequently without official permission, on everything they could: specific kinds of commerce, local products, imports, and different kinds of activities. It was local taxes like these that were kejuan zashui; activities such as overenthusiastic collection of Twentieth-Century China Vol. XXV, NO.1(November, 1999): 43-70 44 Twentieth-Century China taxes, outright extortion, and corruption were really separate problems, though of course all of them could be associated with kejuan zashui. In the post-Mao era, the form of the exactions was not exactly the same; local governments were sufficiently controlled by their superordinates that they could not collect formal local taxes in the ways that their predecessors did. Instead, they often imposed fees on people doing business with them, collected user fees and tolls, required villagers to pay "levies," and compelled local enterprises to make payments of various kinds to them. They were usually named and represented in such a way that they could not be mistaken for taxes per se, because that would provoke immediate punishment from the province. Taxes were, by law and administrative order, to be determined exclusively by the center and the province, while other types of exactions were more ambiguously construed. However, in spirit and in fact the local levies really were unauthorized taxes. To this extent, like the Republican exactions they did not constitute what we normally think of as corruption, though they were certainly a species of what Wedeman (1997) calls "institutional corruption."4 What, then, accounts for the appearance of this unauthorized local taxation in the Nanjing decade and the post-Mao period, but not in the Mao years? The common thread relating the Republican and post-Mao periods is that in both times, local state building, either local-elite-led or centrally mandated, took place in the context of a fiscal sharing system which cut localities out of the best sources of revenue. When this conjunction of factors did not occur, as in the Mao years, the problem of unauthorized local levies diminished. In the Republican and post-Mao cases, the local (county...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 43-70
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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