On Ryot Rents.
Ryot Rents are, with a few exceptions, peculiar to Asia.(1) They are produce rents paid by a laborer, raising his own wages from the soil, to the sovereign as its proprietor. They are usually accompanied by a precarious right on the part of the tenant, to remain the occupant of his allotment of land, while he pays the rent demanded from him. These rents originate in the rights of the sovereign, as sole proprietor of the soil of his dominions. Such rights, we have seen, have been acknowledged at some period by most nations. In Europe they have disappeared or become nominal; but the Asiatic sovereigns continue to be, as they have been for a long series of ages, the direct landlords of the peasant tenants, who maintain themselves on the soil of their dominions. Indications present themselves occasionally, which would lead us to conclude that in portions of that quarter of the globe, a state of things once existed, under which the rights to the land must have been in a different state from that in which we see them: but it was in an antiquity so remote, as to baffle all attempts at investigation. Within the period of historical memory, all the great empires of Asia have been overrun by foreigners; and on their rights as conquerors the claim of the present sovereigns to the soil rests. China, India, Persia, and Asiatic Turkey, all placed at the outward edge of the great basin of central Asia, have been subdued in their turn by irruptions of its tribes, some of them more than once. China seems even at this moment hardly escaping from the danger of another subjugation. Wherever these Scythian invaders have settled, they have established a despotic form of government, to which they have readily submitted themselves, while they were obliging the inhabitants of the conquered countries to submit to it.
The uniformity of the political system adopted by them, is a striking peculiarity; and becomes more striking, when seen in contrast with the free constitutions established by the Germanic hordes, which, in the western division of the old world, took possession of countries more wealthy and civilized than their own. It has been supposed, that the difference may be traced to the previous habits of the Tartars as pastoral tribes. But the Germans too consisted of pastoral tribes, and the difference of their institutions must be sought in some other cause than this. It may be found perhaps, in a great measure, in the different character of their original seats. Amidst the fastnesses and morasses of his native woods, the German, when not actually at war, was in tolerable security; his habits of military obedience, we know, relaxed, and he enjoyed that rude and indolent freedom, which the warlike barbarian never relinquished but from necessity. Some of the tribes of the Affghans exhibit remarkable instances of the different degrees of submission to authority, produced among pastoral nations under the prevalence of the different feelings of security, or of peril. They are only slowly and partially abandoning migratory habits: during part of the year they are stationary, in a country in which they feel secure; in another part of the year they move to distant pastures. While safe and tranquil, their institutions are. as free as those of the ancient Germans, and in many points of detail resemble them with remarkable closeness. When they begin to move, and the approach of danger and the necessity of united exertion begin to be felt, they pass at once to a despotic form of government: a Khan, whose authority, while they are stationary and safe, is disclaimed, is at once invested with supreme power; and so helpless do they feel without him, that when from private views he has wished to remain at court, or employ himself elsewhere, he has been recalled by their clamor, to receive their submission, and to put himself at their head.(2) But the Tartars of central Asia inhabit vast plains, traversed in every direction by mounted enemies. The task of guarding their property and lives, is a constant campaign; and their habits of military submission have no intervals of relaxation: they are born, and they die in them. it is possible that when they became masters of the fair empires of exterior Asia, they found already established, in some instances, the right of the sovereign to the soil; not as a remote or nominal superior, but as the actual and direct proprietor. Such a right may have been a relic of former conquests, or in some remoter instances, the growth of circumstances, similar to those which induced the natives of Africa, Peru, or New Zealand to acknowledge, on applying themselves to agriculture, the right of their sovereigns to dispose of the territory which the nation occupied. However this may be, it is certain that the Tartars have every where either adopted or established a political system, which unites so readily with their national habits of submission in the people, and absolute power in the chiefs: and their conquests have either introduced or re-established it, from the Black Sea to the Pacific, from Pekin to the Nerbudda. Throughout agricultural Asia, (with the exception of Russia) the same system prevails. There are neither capital nor capitalists able to produce, from stores already accumulated, the maintenance of the bulk of the people. The peasant must have land to till or must starve. The body of the nation is therefore in every case dependent upon the great sovereign proprietor for the means of obtaining food. Of the remainder of the people, the most important part is, if possible, more dependent: they live in the character. of soldiers or civilians, on a portion of the revenue collected from the peasants, assigned to them by the bounty of their chief: intermediate and independent classes there are none; and great and little are literally what they describe themselves to be, the slaves of that master on whose pleasure the means of their subsistence wholly depend. The experience of many long centuries of monotonous oppression has sufficiently proved the tendency of such a state of things, once established, to perpetuate the despotism it creates.
Although a similar system prevails in all the great empires of Asia, it presents itself with distinct modifications in each; arising from differences in the climate, soil, and even government; for despotism itself has its varieties. Of these modifications a very slight sketch must suffice here.
On Ryot Rents in India.
It seems probable, that the ancient Egyptians, and the Indian worshippers of the Brahminical idols had a common origin, but whence they came; or in what state of things their peculiar institutions originated, can only be dimly conjectured. In India, ryot rents have subsisted since the invasion of the people whom the Brahmins led, or accompanied; perhaps longer. The sacred books of the Hindoos found the claims of the sovereigns to the land on the rights of conquest.
"By conquest, the earth became the property of the holy Parasa Rama; by gift the property of the Sage Casyapa; and was committed by him to Cahatriyas (the military cast) for the sake of protection, because of their protective property; successively held by powerful conquerors, and not by subjects cultivating the soil. But annual property is acquired by subjects, on payment of annual revenue, and the king cannot lawfully give, sell, or dispose of the land to another for that year. But if the agreement be in this form, "you shall enjoy it for years," for so many years as the property is granted, during so many years the king should never give, sell, or dispose of it to another, yet if the subject pay not the revenue, the grant being conditional, is annulled by the breach of the condition. But if no special agreement be made, and another person desirous of obtaining the land, stipulate a greater revenue, it may be granted to him on his application."(3)
With the spirit and letter of this often quoted law, the practice of the various sovereigns of India, native and foreign, has very accurately corresponded. Those subordinate rights of the people to temporary possession which have grown up in peaceful times, have ever remained precarious and imperfect: but the right of the ruler is the right of the strongest; and when either intestine wars or foreign invasion have brought a new master to a district, his sword has restored the sovereign's claim in all its primitive clearness.
The proportion of the produce taken by the sovereign, has on some ground or other perpetually varied; that is, when he has pretended to confine himself to any definite proportion at all. The laws seem to fix it at one-sixth, but in practice, this law or rule has been utterly disregarded. Strabo mentions, that in his time, , µ , where by straining the Greek a little either way, the rent may appear to have been one-fourth or three-fourths of the produce. The Mogul conquerors exacted their rents in proportions, which varied considerably with the quality of the land, more particularly with its command of water. But no definite rate of rent has ever prevailed long in practice.
Under the Hindoo governments, there had been a disposition to allow many subordinate claims to the possession of the soil, and to offices connected with the collection of the revenue, to become hereditary. Of the offices, the most important was that of the Zemindars. These were entrusted with the collection of the revenue in districts of different sizes, were entitled to a tenth of its amount, had sometimes lands assigned to them, and were endowed with very considerable authority. They were much in the habit of making advances of seed and stock to assist the cultivator, and of stipulating for repayment in the shape of produce. When the son had been allowed to succeed the father for some generations in such an office, the ties and interests which connected him with the people under him were so many and strong, that the displacing a Zemindar, unless for gross misconduct or for failure in payment of the sovereign's rent, was thought by himself and the ryots, to be an act of tyrannical oppression. The ryots very generally occupied their lands in common, and were collected into villages under officers of their own, who distributed to the cultivators and tradesmen their respective shares of the produce. The village offices and various trades became hereditary. The ryot too himself, the actual cultivator, was yet less likely than the superior officers to be disturbed in the possession of his lands. Provided the sovereign's share of the produce was paid, he had no interest in disturbing the humble agents of production, and a very great interest in retaining them. From similar reasons, a claim to mortgage or sell his possessory interest, was suffered to establish itself.
But then all these subordinate interests were only respected in peaceful times, and under moderate governors; and these were rare in India. It has been hitherto the misfortune of that country, to see a rapid succession of short lived empires: the convulsions amidst which they were established, have hardly subsided, before the people have begun to be harassed by the consequences of their weakness and decay. While any really efficient general government has existed, it has been the obvious interest, and usually the aim of the chiefs to act upon some definite system; to put some limit to their own exactions; to protect the ryots, and foster cultivation by giving reasonable security to all the interests concerned in it. The Mogul emperors acted in this spirit, while exercising a power over the soil, which had no real bounds, but those which they prescribed to themselves. But as the empire grew feeble, and the subordinate chieftains, Mahometan, or Hindoo, began to exercise an uncontrolled power in their districts, their rapacity and violence seem usually to have been wholly unchecked by policy or principle. There was at once an end to all system, moderation, or protection; ruinous rents, arbitrarily imposed, were collected in frequent military circuits, at the spear's point; and the resistance often attempted in despair, was unsparingly punished by fire and slaughter.
Scenes like these, in the ancient history of India, have been frequently renewed, and succeeded rapidly short intervals of repose. They were of course disastrous. Half the rich territory of that country has never been cultivated, though swarming with a population to whom the permission to make it fruitful in moderate security, would have been happiness; and nothing can well exceed the ordinary poverty of the ryots, and the inefficiency of their means of cultivation.
The English, when they became the representatives of the Mogul emperor in Bengal, began by pushing to an extreme their rights as proprietors of the soil; and neglected the subordinate claims of the Zemindars and ryots, in a manner which was felt to be oppressive and tyrannical, although not perhaps in strictness illegal. A great reaction has taken place in their views and feelings; perceiving the necessity of restoring confidence to the cultivators, and anxious to shake off the imputation of injustice and tyranny, they showed themselves quite willing to part with their character of owners of the soil, and to retain simply that of its sovereign. An agreement was in consequence entered into, by which the Zemindars assumed a character, which certainly never before belonged to them, that of the direct landlords of those ryots, between whom and the supreme government they had before been only agents; agents, however, possessed of many imperfect but prescriptive rights to an hereditary interest in their office. The government, instead of exacting rents, was content to receive a fixed and permanent tax; for which the new landlords were to be responsible.
There can be no doubt of the fair and even benevolent spirit, in which this arrangement was made. It seems however to be now generally admitted, that the claims of the Zemindars were overrated, and that if something less had been done for them, and something more for the security and independence of the ryots, the settlement, without being less just or generous, would have been much more expedient.
On Ryot Rents in Persia.
Of all the despotic governments of the east, that of Persia is perhaps the most greedy, and the most wantonly unprincipled; yet the peculiar soil of that country has introduced some valuable modifications of the general Asiatic system of ryot rents, and forced the government, unscrupulous as it is, to treat the various interests in the land subordinate to those of the crown, with considerable forbearance.
One of the most remarkable geological features of the old world, is that great tract of sandy desert, which extends across its whole breadth, and imposes a peculiar character on the tribes which roam over its surface, or inhabit its borders. It forms the shores of the Atlantic on the western coast of Africa, and constitutes the Zahara or great sandy desert, which has contributed to conceal so long the central regions of that quarter of the globe from European curiosity. It forms next the surface of Egypt with the exception of the valley of the Nile; stretches across the Arabian wastes, to Syria, Persia, and upper India; and turning from Persia northwards, threads between Mushed and Herat(4) the Elburz and Parapomisan mountains, parts of the Caucasian or Himalayan chain; runs north-eastward through Tartary, and rounding the northern extremity of China, sinks finally, it is supposed, beneath the waves of the Pacific. The greater part of the territories of Persia either consist of this desert, or border on it; and partake so much of its parched and sterile character, that the eye at a short distance can hardly trace the boundary.(5) This soil can be made fruitful only by irrigation. But water, says Frazer, is the most scanty boon of nature in Persia; its rivers are small and few, and rivulets, by no means common, can only be applied to a very limited quantity of cultivation. In the best districts, the small proportion of cultivated land resembles an Oasis in the desert, serving by contrast to make all around it more dreary.(6)
As the natural springs and streams are insufficient to support the cultivation by which the people must exist, the Persians establish with great labor and expense artificial sources, called cannauts. They sink on the sides of hills long chains of wells, of different depths, and communicating by a channel, which conducts to the lowest the water collected in them: thence the stream is distributed over the fields which it is to fertilize. These works, always costly and important, are of various sizes; the chain of wells is said to be occasionally thirty-six miles in length, and a cannaut is spoken of in Chorassan, into which a horseman may ride with his lance upon his shoulder;(7) more ordinarily, the channels are small, and the chain of wells does not exceed two miles in length. Whenever, by these or other means, water is brought to the surface, scenes of oriental vegetation spring up rapidly and luxuriantly. If from war, or oppression, or accident, or time, the works of man are destroyed or neglected, the scene of fertility vanishes, and the desert resumes its domain. The plain of Yezid-Khaust in the route from Shiraz to Teheran, was once celebrated for its beauty and fertility: Mr. Frazer passed over it in 1821, and thus describes it. "The plain of Yezid-Khaust, which extends in the line of our route all the way to Komaishah, presented, towards the latter place, a truly lamentable picture of the general decline of prosperity in Persia. Ruins of large villages thickly scattered about, with the skeleton-like walls of caravanserais and gardens, all telling of better times, stood like memento moris to kingdoms and governments; and the whole plain was dotted over with small mounds, which indicate the course of cannauts, once the source of riches and fertility, now all choked up and dry, for there is neither man nbr cultivation to require their aid."(8) The district of Nishapore was another celebrated seat of Persian cultivation. "It was added," says Mr. Frazer, (speaking of the information he received concerning this place;) "that in the different departments of Nishapore they reckon 14000 distinct villages, all inhabited, and irrigated by 12000 cannauts and 18 small rivers from the mountains. This magnificent detail is no doubt greatly exaggerated, being but a reiteration of the traditional account of this place in its days of high prosperity: no such vast population or cultivation now exists; most of the villages are ruinous; the cannauts, the remains of which, covering the plain, may serve almost to attest the truth of the above statement, are now choked up and dry."(9)
Now the principal revenue of the monarchs of Persia is derived from the produce of the earth, of which they are the supreme owners. It could not escape even their eyes, blinded .as they are by greediness and habits of rapine, that the cost of thus wresting cultivated spots from the desert, and maintaining them in fruitfulness, would never be incurred, unless the undertakers felt really secure that their property in them would be subsequently respected. By the laws of Persia, therefore, he who brings water to the surface, where it never was before, is guaranteed by the sovereign in the hereditary possession of the land fertilized by him, and while a reserved rent of one-fifth of the produce is paid to the Shah, the possessor disposes of it as he pleases, and is effectually its proprietor, subject to a rent charge. If he chooses to let out the water, at money rents, to other persons who have lands, which already pay the royal rent in produce, then the rent of the water is his own: the crown profits only by additional fertility thus bestowed upon spots, in the produce of which it shares. Among the Persians of property, most usually those in office, making cannauts is a favorite speculation; the villagers, too, often join and construct them, and these are the best proofs that this guarantee of the sovereign is faithfully observed.
Making proper allowances, however, for the more steady respect for subordinate interests, which the outlay for artificial irrigation makes necessary on the part of the Persian sovereigns, their management of the territory they own is very similar to what we have seen prevails in India. The ryots inhabiting villages cultivate the soil in common, or in allotments determined among themselves; their interest in the land is hereditary. "The original customary law concerning property," says Mr. Frazer, "clearly provided with much consideration for the security of the ryot. The rights of the villager were guarded at least as carefully as these of his lord: his title to cultivate his portion of land descends to him from the original commencement of the village to which he belongs, and can neither be disputed or refused him, nor can he forfeit it, nor can the lord of the village eject any ryot while he conducts himself well and pays his portion of the rent."(10)
The rent at present exacted from the ryot is one-fifth pert of the produce; it has varied and been differently amused at the discretion of different Princes, more particularly Nushirvan and Thour. The Persian. now state that by ancient custom only one-tenth was due: that the other tenth was agreed to be paid on a promise that the saaduraut or irregular taxes should cease; but that though the additional tenth has been exacted, the taxes remain at least as oppressive as before.(11)
Above these hereditary cultivators is a subordinate proprietor, often called by Fraser the lord of the village, who is entitled to one-tenth of the crop. In this man the Indian Zemindar is immediately recognised: but though the word Zemindar was originally Persian, it does not appear to be in familiar use in Persia at present. The right of hereditary succession to this intermediate interest cannot have been fully recognised for any very long period. Chardin states that in his time the practice of taking leases for 99 years from the crown was only beginning to establish itself. Bernier distinctly denies that such a thing as private property in land was known in Persia. The interests of this class of men have naturally gathered strength and permanence in Persia. even more rapidly than in India, from the necessity of advances for the purposes of irrigation, which were usually made by them. Their right to the tenth of the produce seems to be now so completely severed from the duties of collection, that the jealousy of the Persian monarchs forbids them sometimes even to reside in their villages, to prevent, it is said, their tyrannizing over the ryots,(12) more probably to get rid of their interference in resisting the exactions of the government officers, which it is found they can do more effectually than the ryots themselves.(13)
There are persons in Persia who boast, perhaps with truth, that these estates, as they call them, have been in the hands of their family for a long succession of years. Did there exist a real body of landed proprietors in Persia, as secure in the possession of their heritage as these men are in their limited interests, the despotism of the Shah would at once be shackled. But men entitled to collect one-tenth of the produce from tenants hereditary like themselves, while the great sovereign proprietor is collecting a fifth at the same time, are little likely to acquire an influence in the country, sufficient to protect either the subordinate ryots or themselves; and accordingly the chief weight of what is probably one of the worst governments in the world, rests upon the necks of the cultivators. "There is no class of men (says Fraser) whose situation presents a more melancholy picture of oppression and tyranny than the farmers and cultivators of the ground in Persia. They live continually under a system of extortion and injustice, from which they have no means of escape, and which is the more distressing, because it is indefinite both in form and extent, for no man can tell when, how, or to what amount demands upon him may without warning be made. It is upon the farmers and peasantry that the whole extortion practised in the country finally alights. The king wrings from his ministers and governors; they must procure the sums required from the heads of districts, who in their turn demand it from the zabuts or ketkhodahs of villages, and these must at last squeeze it from the ryots; each of these intermediate agents must also have their profits, so that the sum received by the king bears small proportion to that which is paid by the ryots. Every tax, every present, every fine, from whomsoever received or demanded in the first instance, ultimately falls on them, and such is the character of their rulers, that the only measure of these demands is the power to extort on the one hand, and the ability to give or retain on the other."(14)
On Ryot Rents in Turkey.
When the Turks, after subduing the provinces of the Greek Empire, finally quartered themselves upon its ruins, the foundation of their system of revenue and government, like that of other Tartar tribes, rested upon an assumption that their leader had become the legitimate proprietor of the conquered soil.
The rent imposed upon the cultivators appears to have been originally calculated at one-tenth of the gross produce; and the estimated value of each district, at that rate, was at a very early date registered in the treasury. The registers are still used, in accounting with the Pachas of the different provinces. But as the rent paid by each district never varies, whatever changes take place in its cultivation, the decay of agriculture and population has loaded many of the peasants with much heavier burthens than they at first bore. One-seventh of the produce where the cultivator is a Turk, onefifth where he is a Christian, have appeared to later travellers in Greece to be about the average actual payment to the crown.
The violence with which the Turks exemplified in practice their Asiatic notions of the supreme right of their leader to the soil, will be best judged of by their next measure.
The Sultan granted a considerable portion of his proprietary rights to others, for the purpose of forming a sort of feudal militia. The officers of rank received allotments of land called ziamets and timars, in which their rights represent those of the sovereign, and the number created of these exceeded 50,000. The ziamet differed from the timars only in being larger. For these grants they were bound to perform military services, with a specified number of men. Their forces constituted, till the rise of the Janissaries, the main force of the Empire, and amounted it is said to 150,000 men. Similar grants are known in India by the name of Iaghires, in Persia by that of Teecools, but they were established less systematically in those countries than in Turkey. There these lands have never become hereditary. They are still strictly lifehold. In the early days of their institution, use was made of them to excite military emulation. On the death of the possessor, one of the bravest of his comrades was immediately appointed to his estate, and one timar has been known to be thus granted eight times in a single campaign.(15) The disposal of them, however, has long become wholly venal. An Aga not unfrequently purchases during his life the grant of the reversion to his family; but if he neglects to do this, his relatives are dispossessed at his death, unless they outbid all other applicants.(16) With the exception of these interests for life, and of the estates vested in the Ulema or expounders of Mohammedan law, there are no distinctly recognized proprietary rights in Turkey. Although there, as among the ryots of India and Persia, and elsewhere throughout the east, there exist claims to the hereditary possession of land. While the peasant pays to the Sultan, or to the Aga to whose Zaim or Timar he belongs, the legal portion of his produce, his right to occupy and transmit his lands is not contested, and is secure, as far as any thing is secure there. In Greece the lands were, before the present convulsion, very generally cultivated by the ancient mortitae or metayer tenants, who paid to the Agas half of their produce. Whether the lands thus cultivated consist exclusively of the domain lands attached to the Aga's Timar, or whether this rent is paid in consideration of stock advanced to the rayah. to enable him to cultivate better the lands of which be is himself the hereditary tenant, I have no materials for judging. It is probable that mortitae are found of both descriptions.
There are evidently some advantages in the Turkish system compared with those of India or Persia. The permanence and moderation of the miri or land rent, is a very great one. If collected on an equitable system, that rent would be no more than a reasonable land tax, and the universal proprietorship of the Sultan would be reduced to a mere nominal or honorary superiority, like that claimed by many of the Christian monarchs of Europe. We may add, that the Turkish government has never been so wholly unequal to the task of controlling its officers, as the feeble dynasties of Delhi in their decline: nor so rapacious and capricious in its own exactions as the Shahs of Persia: but its comparative moderation and strength have remained useless to its unhappy subjects, from a degree of supineness and indifference as to the malversations of its distant officers, which may be traced, partly perhaps to the bigotry which has made the commander of the faithful careless about the treatment his Christian subjects received from Mahometan officers: and partly to an obstinate ignorance of the ordinary arts of civilized governments, which the vanity of the Ottomans has cherished as if it were a merit, and which their bigotry has also helped to recommend to their good opinion. Near the capital, and in the countries where the Turks themselves are numerous, there are some bounds to the oppression of the Pachas and Agas. The Turks, secure of justice if they can contrive to be heard by the superior authorities, have found the means of protecting their persons and properties, by belonging to societies, which are bound as bodies, to seek justice for the wrongs of individual members. But in the distant provinces no sect is safe. The cry of the oppressed is easily stifled, and if faintly heard, seems habitually disregarded. The Sultan indeed abstains, with singular forbearance, from any attempts to raise the revenue paid to himself; but provided it is regularly transmitted by the Pachas of the provinces, he cares little by what means, or with what additional extortions, it is wrung from the people. The consequences are such as might be expected. The jealousy of the government allows the Pachas to remain in office but a short time, the knowledge of this inflames their cupidity, and the wretched cultivators are allowed to exist in peace upon the soil, only while they submit to exactions which have no other limit than the physical impossibility of getting more from them.
Volney has accurately described the effect of this state of things in Syria and Egypt. "The absolute title of the Sultan to the soil appears to aggravate the oppression of his officers. The son is never certain of succeeding to the father, and the peasantry often fly in desperation from a soil which has ceased to yield them the certainty of even a bare subsistence. Exactions, undiminished in amount, are demanded, and as far as possible extorted, from those who remain; depopulation goes on, the waste extends itself, and desolation becomes permanent." It is thus that a scanty and most miserable remnant of the people are found occupying tracts, which were the glory of ancient civilization; and of which the climate and the soil are such, that men would multiply and would enrich, almost without effort, themselves and their masters; did the general government think fit to protect its subjects with half the energy it sometimes exerts, to force the spoilers to disgorge a miserable pittance of plunder into the imperial treasury.
Of Ryot Rents in China.
We know enough of China to be aware, that the sovereign is there, as elsewhere in Asia, the sole proprietor of the soil: but we hardly know enough to judge accurately of the peculiar modifications which this system of imperial ownership has received in that country. The manner in which the Chinese government assumes possession of the land, and imposes a rent upon it in the case of new conquests, is curiously illustrated by a letter of a victorious Chinese commander to the Emperor, published by Mr. Patton.(17) Although one-tenth of the produce is the nominal rent in China, it is not unlikely that a very different portion is actually collected. It would be very interesting to have more multiplied and detailed observations on the practical effects of the system among the Chinese, than the jealousy of the government is likely soon to give opportunity for obtaining.
The progress and effects of ryot rents in China, must almost necessarily have been very different from those exhibited by India, Persia, or Turkey. In these last countries, the vices of the government, and the oppression and degradation resulting from them, have left us little means of judging what might be the results of the system itself, if conducted for any considerable period by an administration more mild and forbearing, and capable of giving security to the persons and property of the cultivators. In China this experiment seems to have been fairly tried. The arts of government are, to a certain extent, understood by the laboriously educated civilians, by whose hands the affairs of the Empire are carried on; the country has, till very lately, been remarkably free from intestine convulsion or serious foreign wars, and the administration has been well organized, pacific and efficient. The whole conduct indeed of the Empire, presents a striking contrast to that of the neighbouring Asiatic monarchies, the people of which, accustomed to see violence and bloodshed the common instruments of government, express great wonder at the spectacle of the Chinese statesmen upholding the authority of the state rather by the pen than the sword.(18) One effect we know to have followed from the public tranquillity: the spread of agriculture, and an increase of people much beyond that of the neighbouring countries. While not one half of India has ever been reclaimed, and less still of Persia, China is as fully cultivated, and more fully peopled than most European monarchies.
Whether any class of subordinate proprietors exists between the crown and the persons paying produce rents like to the Zemindars, of India; whether the persons actually liable for the pro. duce rents, are the cultivating peasants themselves, or a class above them, we have no sufficient data to determine. In some cases, at least, the actual cultivators are persons hiring the ground from those liable for the crown, and paying them half the produce.
There are abundant indications that the Chinese population has, in some parts of the Empire, increased beyond the number for which the territory can produce a plentiful subsistence, and that they are in a state of the most wretched penury. The very facilities for increase which good government gives to a ryot population, will usually be followed by such a consequence, if in the progress of their multiplication a certain advance has not taken place in the habits and civilization of the mass of the people. The absence of that improvement may flow from various causes, which in unfolding the subject of population, it will be part of our business to distinguish. We know enough of China to be sure, that obstacles to the amelioration of the habits and character of the mass of the people, exist in abundance there, and therefore the rapid spread of population, up to a certain point, would certainly be the first effect of a mild administration. According to Kiaproth, the number of ryots (paysans contribuables) at the time of the Mantchou conquest in 1644, was registered as twenty-six millions, while all other classes were estimated at eleven millions. And since that time he calculates that the whole population has quadrupled.
The revenue of China amounts to about eighty-four millions of ounces of silver. Of this revenue, about thirty-three millions is paid in money, and about fifty-one millions in grains, rice, &c., consumed for the most part by the local administration of the provinces. A portion only, of the value of about six millions of ounces, is annually remitted to Pekin. The receipt of this huge revenue, in the primitive shape of agricultural produce, is a striking proof that the power and means of the Emperor of China, like those of other eastern sovereigns, are intimately connected with, or rather founded on, his rights as universal proprietor of the soil.(19)
There are other considerable countries in Asia in which we have good reason to conclude, that ryot rents prevail; consisting, first, of the countries between Hindostan and China, the Birman Empire, and its dependencies, Cochin China, &c.; and, secondly, of the states inhabited by agricultural Tartars, north of the Himalaya mountains and east of Persia, Samarcan, Bokhara, and the states of Little Bucharia: but the peculiar modifications the system may receive in these countries, and the details of the relations there between landlord and tenant, are at present even more out of our reach than in the case of China.
Mixture of other Rents with Ryot.
On examining, where we are able to do it minutely, the state of the countries in which ryot rents prevail, we are immediately struck with the fact, that they are sometimes mixed up with both labor rents and metayer rents. The land then presents a strange complication of interests. There is an hereditary tenant, liable to a produce rent to the crown, and by custom and prescription irremoveable while he pays it. This same tenant, receiving some assistance in seed and implements, pays a second produce rent to another person, whose character fluctuates between that of an hereditary officer of the crown, and that of a subordinate proprietor; and sometimes a third rent is paid to this subordinate proprietor, in labor, exerted on land cultivated for his exclusive benefit.
To begin with the labor rents, thus engrafted on ryot rents. The Ryot of Bengal often grants a plot of his ground to a ploughman who assists him. This is a pure labor rent, paid by the under-tenant. The Zemindars often demand from the ryots themselves, a certain quantity of labor, to be performed on their domain lands. This demand is often excessive, and is the source of grievous oppression and frequent complaint, both in India and Persia. When moderate however, it is considered legal, and then forms another labor rent, paid by the ryot himself. The Agas of Turkey often force the rayahs of their Zaims or Timars, to perform a certain number of days' work on their own private farms. This is unquestionably altogether an illegal exaction; but is so customary that it must be counted in practice as an additional rent.
Metayer rents too have a constant tendency to spring up and engraft themselves on ryot rents throughout Asia, wherever the moderation and efficiency of the government is such as to ensure protection to the property advanced to the cultivator, or wherever the relation of the party advancing stock to the cultivator, is such as to give a peculiar power of enforcing payment, and a peculiar interest in assisting cultivation. Both the government and the Zemindars in India occasionally advance seed and stock to the ryot. The government reluctantly, and only when it cannot avoid it: the lands thus cultivated on the part of government, are called coss and comar; and to get them into the hands of ryots, who can cultivate themselves, seems to have been always an object of policy. The Zemindars more readily and habitually make such advances, and as their share of the produce is then regulated wholly by their private bargain with the ryot, he no doubt is occasionally much oppressed: but this is not always the case. In Persia particularly, this arrangement is considered the best for the tenant; because in that country, it is only in this case, that the Zemindar or subordinate proprietor undertakes to ward off the extortion of the officers of the crown, and to settle with them himself.
Summary of Ryot Rents.
There is nothing mischievous in the direct effect of ryot rents. They are usually moderate; and when restricted to a tenth, or even a sixth, fifth, or fourth of the produce, if collected peacefully and fairly, they become a species of land tax, and leave the tenant a beneficial hereditary estate. It is from their indirect effects, therefore, and from the form of government in which they originate, and which they serve to perpetuate, that they are full of evil, and are found in practice more hopelessly destructive of the property and progress of the people, than any form of the relation of landlord and tenant known to us.
The proprietary rights of the sovereign, and his large and practically indefinite interest in the produce, prevent the formation of any really independent body on the land. By the distribution of the rents which his territory produces, the monarch maintains the most influential portion of the remaining population in the character of civil or military officers. There remain only the inhabitants of the towns to interpose a check to his power: but the majority of these are fed by the expenditure of the sovereign or his servants. We shall have a fitter opportunity to point out, how completely the prosperity, or rather the existence, of the towns of Asia, proceeds from the local expenditure of the government. As the citizens are thus destitute from their position of real strength, so the Asiatic sovereigns, having no body of powerful privileged landed proprietors to contend with, have not had the motives which the European monarchs had, to nurse and foster the towns into engines of political influence, and the citizens are proverbially the most helpless and prostrate of the slaves of Asia. There exists nothing therefore in the society beneath him, which can modify the power of a sovereign, who is the supreme proprietor of a territory cultivated by a population of ryot peasants. All that there is of real strength in such a population, looks to him as the sole source not merely of protection but of subsistence: he is by his position and necessarily a despot. But the results of Asiatic despotism have ever been the same: while it is strong it is delegated, and its power abused by its agents; when feeble and declining, that power is violently shared by its inferiors, and its stolen authority yet more abused. In its strength and in its weakness it is alike destructive of the industry and wealth of its subjects, and all the arts of peace; and it is this which makes that peculiar system of rents, on which its power rests, particularly objectionable and calamitous to the countries in which it prevails.
In countries cultivated by ryots, the wages of the main body of the people are determined by the rent they pay, as is the case it will be remembered under all varieties of peasant rents. The quantity of produce being determined by the fertility of the soil, the extent of his allotments of land, and the skill, industry, and efficiency of the ryot: the divition of that produce on which his wages depend, is determined by his contract with the landlord, that is, by the rent he pays.
In like manner the amount of rent in such countries is determined by the amount of wages. The amount of the produce being decided as before, the landlord's share, the rent, depends upon the contract he makes with the laborer, that is, upon the amount deducted as wages.
The existence and progress of rents under the ryot system is in no degree dependent upon the existence of different qualities of soil, or different returns to the stock and labor employed on each. The sovereign proprietor has the means of enabling a body of laborers to maintain themselves, who without the machinery of the earth with which he supplies them, must starve. This would secure him a share in the produce of their labor, though all the lands were perfectly equal in quality.
Ryot rents may increase from two causes, from an increase of the whole produce, effected by the greater skill, industry, and efficiency of the tenant: or from an increase of the sovereign's proportion of the produce; the produce itself remaining the same, and the tenant's share becoming less.
When the rent increases and the produce remains stationary, the increase indicates no augmentation of public wealth. There has been a transfer of wealth, but no increase of it; and one party is impoverished by the precise amount that another is enriched. But when ryot rents increase because the produce has become larger, the country is enriched by an addition of wealth to the full amount of the increase. Its power of maintaining fleets and armies, and all the elements of public strength, have been augmented to that extent; there has been a real increase of wealth, not a mere transfer of what before existed, from one hand to another. Such an increase too indicates an augmentation of the revenues of the ryots themselves. If the tenth or sixth of the sovereign has doubled, the nine-tenths or five-sixths of the ryot have doubled also.
The increase of rents which is thus seen to go hand in hand with the, improvement of the general wealth and strength, is that which alone in the long run can really benefit the landlord. While an increase of produce rents has its source in greater crops, it may go on till the skill of man and the fertility of the earth have reached their maximum, that is, indefinitely. Asiatic tenants, cultivating with their own soil and climate, and the skill and energy of the best European farmers, might create produce much greater than any yet known in that quarter of the globe, and be greatly improving their own revenue while they were paying increased rents to the sovereign. And while the prosperity of the ryots thus kept pace with the increase of rents, the result would be, not merely an increase of the crops on the lands already cultivated, but the rapid spread of cultivation to other lands. A protected and thriving and increasing population would speedily reclaim the rich wastes of Turkey and India, and call back their vanished fertility to the deserted plains of Persia, multiplying at every step both the direct revenue of the sovereign landlord, and his resources in the general wealth of his people. Taking Asia as a whole, such a progress seems visionary, but it is occasionally exhi bited, on a smaller scale, in a manner which very distinctly proves it possible, and indeed easy on the greatest.(20) An increase of rents derived from a stationary produce, and a diminution of the ryot's share, are unfortunately more common in Asia, and lead to no such results. In the state in which the ryots usually exist, to decrease their revenue is to injure if not to destroy their efficiency as agents of cultivation. A serious invasion of it is very usually followed, and carried to a certain extent it must be followed, by the desertion of the cultivators and the abandonment of cultivation, and a total cessation of rent. The greediness of eastern rulers ordinarily snatches at the bait of present gain, and overlooks or disregards the very different ultimate consequences which follow the augmenting their landed revenues, from the one, or from the other, of these sources of increase. Hence in a great measure the actual state of Asia, the misery of the people, the poverty and feebleness of the governments. An examination into the nature and effects of ryot rents, receives are almost mournful interest from the conviction, that the political and social institutions of the people of this large division of the earth, are likely for many long ages yet to come, to rest upon them. We cannot unveil the future, but there is little in the character of the Asiatic population, which can tempt us even to speculate upon a time, when that future, with respect to them, will essentially differ from the past and the present.
1. They have been introduced by Asiatics into Turkey in Europe. They exist in Egypt; and may perhaps hereafter be traced in Africa.
2. Elphinstone's Caubul, Vol. II. p. 215. When the people are collected into camps, they are governed by their own Mooshirs, without any reference to the Khaun, and when they are scattered over the country, they subsist without any government at all: but when a march is contemplated, they immediately submit to the Khaun, and where they have to pass an enemy's country, he is appointed head of the Chelwashtees, assumes an absolute authority, and becomes an object of respect and anxiety to all the tribe. A proof of the importance of the Khaun during a march, is `shewn by the conduct of the Nausser at one time, when Junus Khan, their present chief, refused to accompany them in one of their migrations. He was anxious to remain in Damaun with 200 or 300 of his relations, to assist Surwur Khaun against the Vizeerees; but his resolution occasioned great distress in the tribe, who declared it was impossible to march without their Khaun. So earnest were their representations, that Junus was at last compelled to abandon his former design, and to accompany them on their march to Khorassaun
3. Colebroke's Dig. of Hindoo Law, Vol. I. p. 480.
4. For the course of these sands on the confines of Persia and Tartary, see Fraser's Khorauan, p. 253.
6. Fraser, p. 168.
7. This perhaps is a fable, but the cannauts must sometimes discharge very considerable bodies of water. Mr. Fraser, who first met with them at Kauseroon, says: The cannauts or subterranean canals have frequently been described, and constitute almost the only species of improvement requiring outlay, still carried on in Persia: because the property thus acquired is protected, and the profit considerable, and not very remote: indeed, they are most commonly constructed by persons in authority, who dispose of the water thus brought to the surface at very high rates. Several new ones have been lately made in the Kauseroon valley, and some notion may be formed of the value of such property, when it is understood that the small stream at Dalakee brings in a revenue of 4000 rupees a year; and that one cannaut, lately opened by Kuib Allee Khan, governor of Kauseroon, affords a stream at least five or six times more considerable. Among other uses, it serves to irrigate a garden which contains some of the finest orange trees both bitter and sweet, shaddock, lime, and pomegranate trees, that can be found in the country. Fraser's Khorassan, p. 79.
8. Fraser, p. 118.
9. Fraser, p. 405.
10. Fraser, p. 208.
11. Fraser, p. 211.
12. Fraser, p. 205.
13. Fraser, p. 390. The Ketkhoda (head man of the village) observed that those ryots who account with their landlords, are better off than those who account directly to government, from the officers of which the poorer classes suffer great extortions.
14. Frazer, p. 173.
15. Thornton, p. 166.
16. Oliv. p. 192.
17. Patton, 232, 233.
18. Frazer, Appendix, p. 114. See Frazer's account of the Chinese administration in the provinces nearest Khorasan, and of the effect which the spectacle of that administration produced on the minds of merchants and travellers from other Asiatic states.
19. Bulletin des Sciences, No. 5, Mai 1829. p. 314.