Dynastic Polity (王朝国家)

The term "Dynastic polity" is the historical notion which refers to Japan's state regime in a transitional period during which it was in the process of transition from the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the Ritsuryo code) to the medieval national polity. It is also called a Dynasty state regime. It is considered this polity was established in early 10th century and continued to exist until the mid-11th century or late 12th century.

Based on the centralized political structure, Ritsuryo system's basic philosophy for ruling people/collecting tax was the people-based governance. In reality, however, this system was supported by local administrative bodies which were in charge of ruling people/collecting tax in each region. As the limitation of people-based governance/tax collection under the Ritsuryo system became clear in the late 9th century, policy changes, such as substantial delegation of authority to local administrative bodies and the switch from the principle of people-based governance to the principle of tax on land, were implemented in early 10th century. It is considered that the new regime which was established through the above process was the Dynastic polity regime.

As the medieval national polity, which corresponded to the establishment of shoen koryo sei (the system of public lands and private estates) and the advent of cloister government/samurai government, was progressively built up during the period from the mid-11th century to the 12th century/early 13th century, the period of dynastic polity ended around that time. However, there are several views on the time of dynastic polity's end.

The term "dynastic" derives from the fact that the Nara period and the Heian period were collectively called Dynastic periods in the pre-War period while the Kamakura period and subsequent periods were collectively called Feudal periods. With the study of Japanese history progressed after the War, the view which regards Nara/early Heian period, during which the Ritsuryo system was the basis of governance, and mid-Heian/late Heian period, during which the Ritsuryo system was not necessarily the basis of governance, as separate periods became dominant. Accordingly, the periodization of the former was named the Ritsuryo period and its state regime was named Ritsuryo polity. On the other hand, the periodization of the latter was named the Dynastic period and the term Dynastic polity, which refers to the state regime of the latter, became used.

Advent of Dynastic polity

The Ritsuryo system, which was established in early 8th century, adopted the principle of people-based governance (ruling individuals) and existed on the basis of the highly systematized Ritsuryo code of law/bureaucracy system/local administration system as well as the family registration system/keicho (yearly tax registers) etc. In particular, the structure of mental obedience to the chieftaincy of Gunji (local magistrates), who used to be the chiefs of village community since ancient times, as well as suiko (a kind of official loan system), which was supposed to guarantee the sustainable management of small-hold peasants, were quite important for maintaining the Ritsuryo system in Japan since this system was originally created in the context of Chinese society of the Tang Dynasty, a quite different society from that of Japan. However, as early as from late 8th century, the regime of people-based governance started to fray at the edges as the case of peasants' false registration, vagrancy and escape increased. Although measures aiming to maintain or restructure the Ritsuryo system were repeatedly implemented during the period from late 8th century to 9th century, peasants were increasingly split into a large majority of peasants in poverty and a small minority of wealthy peasants (wealthy peasants class). While peasants in poverty evaded tax by false registration or escape, wealthy peasants acquired additional farmland through reclamation, which they were allowed to own privately, and made poor peasants, especially those who escaped or were debt-burned due to private suiko, their subordinate people.

Although family registration and keicho were the foundation of people-based governance, the above situation clearly demonstrated the limitation of people-based governance/tax collection that relied on family registration and keicho. Further, individuals who were supposed to be subject to people-based governance were no more the people who were led by mental obedience consciousness to the chieftaincy of Gunji, the descendants of the chiefs of village communities. Instead, they had already changed into the subordinates of wealthy peasants, who had hoarded movables necessary for farming and had achieved sustainable management. Under such circumstances, the government was pressed to build up a new regime, in lieu of the then existing people-based governance, which enabled it to secure tax revenue.

When the Engi no chi (Reign of the Emperor Daigo), the last attempt for reviving the Ritsuryo system led by the Emperor Daigo and FUJIWARA no Tokihira during the period from the end of the 9th century to the early 10th century, ended in failure, the emperor Suzaku, his successor, and FUJIWARA no Tadahira made a bold policy change from the principle of people-based governance to that of tax on land. This policy change was proven by the fact that the government ceased to conduct handen shuju (a system of periodic reallocations of rice land), whose premise was people-based governance under the Ritsuryo system, since the Suzaku era. Under the principle of people-based governance, the government imposes tax on individuals, but it becomes impossible to grasp the name of taxable people if the case of false registration and/or escape occurs frequently. Under the principle of tax on land, however, the government can collect tax from wealthy peasants who eventually manage the land in question only by confirming the existence of land. The above intention was the background of the policy change.

Although the idea of emphasizing tax on land existed in the era when FUJIWARA no Fuyutsugu was in power during the first half of the 9th century, it stopped short of reversing the principle of people-based governance. The principle of people-based governance was finally abandoned in the Suzaku era, early 10th century. At that time, the system of the nation under the Ritsuryo codes ceased to exist and the new regime which adopted the principle of tax on land, namely Dynastic polity, was established.

Concerning the time when the old system shifted to the system based on tax on land, there is a view asserting that the era of Kanpyo no chi (Glorious rule in the Kanpyo era), led by the Emperor Uda and SUGAWARA no Michizane, was the preparatory period for the transition to the Dynastic polity regime and Engi no chi (Reign of Emperor Daigo), led by Tokihira, was the transitional period to the Dynastic polity regime (Koji HIRATA, 2000).

Establishment and development of dynastic polity

What characterized the Dynastic polity regime was the adoption of the principle of tax on land as a replacement for the principle of people-based governance, which had been the basic principle of the Ritsuryo regime. As early as from the late 9th century, local administrative bodies, which were actually in charge of tax collection, tended to impose tax on land rather than collecting it based on family registration/keicho. It was early 10th century when the government adopted the actual situation of local administration as the basic policy of the nation.

In adopting the principle of tax on land, Koden (field administered directly by a ruler) was the base of the tax system. While Soyocho, three kinds of taxes under the Ritsuryo system, were imposed on individuals, tax was imposed on Koden under the new tax system. In the early 10th century, Koden was reorganized into the base for taxing called Myoden (rice field lots managed by a nominal holder) and the system called Myo-system, under which local wealthy peasants (Tato (cultivators)/Fumyoso (tiller of the public rice field)) were responsible for the management of Myoden as well as land tax payment, was established. This Myo-system was the base of Dynastic polity.

In the process of reorganizing Koden into Myoden, former handen maps (map of allotted farmland) were abolished and instead, Kijunkokuzu (standardized map of provinces), a register of Koden, was made. At the same time, kendenken (the right of cadastral surveys) was given to kokushi (provincial governors). These are considered to be the indexes of the establishment of Dynastic polity.

As strengthening the authority of the head of kokushi, who were responsible for local administration, was required in order to maintain the above system, a big transfer of authority from the central government to the head of kokushi was made in the mid-10th century concerning tax collection and military police. As a result, kokushi who had great authority in the governance of provinces, namely zuryo (the head of the provincial governors), appeared. Kokushi who were given great authority established, with the aim of demonstrating their executive power and strengthening administrative function, various organs at kokuga (provincial government offices), including mandokoro (administrative board), kumonjo (administration office), tadokoro, zeidokoro (tax office) and kebiishi dokoro (police and judicial office) etc. Local millionaires and tato fumyo (cultivator/tax manager) were recruited as governmental officials responsible for practical works at these offices and were in charge of local administrative jobs as Zaichokanjin (the local officials in Heian and Kamakura periods). Such situations became increasingly clear from 10th to 11th century.

Although the authority for tax collection tends to be focused, kokushi were also given great authority for military police. The pillars of the former military system were corps (ancient Japan), whose premise was people-based governance, and the kondei system (regular soldiers guarding kokubu (ancient provincial offices) or sekisho (checking station)), which was dependent on locally influential people (gunji). However, these systems became non-functional after the people-based governance system and chieftaincy of gunji collapsed. From the late 9th century, meanwhile, the wealthy peasant class strengthened not only their economic and political power but also military power with private soldiers at their command. Under such circumstances, disputes among wealthy peasants or those between kokushi and wealthy peasants increased. In order to cope with such situations, the central government started to adopt from the early 10th century a realistic policy, meaning the delegation of military and police authorities to kokushi. Thus, the kokuga forces system, military system organized by kokuga, was established. In the process of establishing the kokuga forces system, shodaibu (aristocrat lower than Kugyo) (military aristocrat) or samurai officials who specialized in military arts appeared and some of the military aristocrats went to various provinces, especially those of eastern Japan, in order to serve as kokushi. Families of military art, such as military aristocrats, were born from Kanmu-Heishi (Taira clan), Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan) and some of the Fujiwara clan and their descendants later became samurai (warrior).

In return for being given governing authority by the central government, kokushi were obliged to pay tax to the central government. In the wake of the transition from the principle of people-based governance to the principle of tax on land, former taxes, such as Soyocho, shozei (the rice tax stored in provincial offices' warehouse), zoyo (irregular corvee) and trading goods, were abolished and new items of taxation, such as kanmotsu (tribute goods paid as taxes or tithes) and rinji zoyaku (general term for odd-job tasks), were introduced. Kokushi were obliged to pay these newly introduced tax items (kanmotsu/rinji zoyaku) to the central government. It is believed that kokushi (zuryo) embezzled taxes through the process of paying it to the central government and obtained big profits. However, some people assert that the position of zuryo should not be understood as such a profitable one because they were also subject to severe penalty, according to the result of personnel evaluation called zuryo koka sadame, if they failed to pay taxes or failed to achieve a pre-determined amount.

Gradually, economical and political contradiction became serious between zuryo, who had big authority for ruling provinces, and gunji/tato fumyo class, who had economic power gained through the management of myoden or private estates. From the late 10th century, such contradictions became obvious in the form of Kokushi kasei joso (appeals or armed struggles against kokushi).

The arguments concerning the Dynastic polity theory are often made from the viewpoint of the central government's tax collection. As the forefront of tax collection is local administrative offices, the arguments concerning the Dynastic polity tend to focus on those concerning local administration. On the other hand, there is a view asserting that some administrative organization reform must have been implemented at the central government in association with the transition to the Dynastic polity. Although the concrete content of reform in the central government organization is not yet clear, some people assert that the establishment of sekkan-seiji (regency) and kanji ukeoisei (government office contract system) demonstrate the change in the central government corresponding to the Dynastic polity.

In the past, political/social situations in the early 10th century was thought of as a society where the central government abandoned almost of its ruling power and invited the state of chaos in the provinces. As explained above, it is now contemplated, thanks to progress in the study of Dynastic polity and its historical verification, that the central government actively built up the governing structure which could adapt to changing social situation. Lots of elements which later became the base of medieval society are included in the Dynastic polity. This period is exactly a transitional period from ancient times to medieval times since it had elements of the precursor to the medieval national polity while keeping the vestiges of the ancient Ritsuryo-based nation.

Reorganization and ending of the Dynastic polity

The status of Dynastic polity explained above started to change from the mid-11th century. What demonstrates the change of Dynastic polity occurred at that time are the establishment of Koden kanmotsu rippo (the law fixing the tax rate of kanmotsu, tribute), active establishment of bechimyo and the centralization of shoryo soron shinpanken (jurisdiction of the disputes concerning the ownership of land) to Dajokan (Grand Council of State).

Koden kanmotsu rippo, which was established by Dajokan around 1140, restricted kokushi's right to collect tax since it included the provision which fixed the tax rate in a province. It is contemplated that the reason why kokushi kasei joso disappeared around that time was because koden kanmotsu rippo restricted kokushi's right to collect tax and conflicts of interest between kokushi and gunji/tato fumyo were resolved. In the mid-11th century, myoden which were far bigger than existing ones, called bechimyo, were actively established. As bechimyo were established independently from existing local administrative organizations, namely gun and go, the governing structure consisted of nation, gun, and go collapsed. Further, the units for tax collection called ho, jo, and in were created under the nation on a parallel with the existing structure consisting of nation, gun, go, and bechimyo. Also, jurisdiction of shoryo soron, which was given to both the nation and gun up to then, was centralized to Dajokan from the mid-11th century.

These reforms of governing structure were actively implemented in the mid-11th century, especially around 1040s. There are many opinions concerning the nature of the above-mentioned movement. Shozo SAKAMOTO etc. defined this period as the changing period of the Dynastic polity and based on it, they separate the Dynastic polity period into the early Dynastic polity period and the late Dynastic polity period. They also set the end of Dynastic polity period at the end of 12th century when the Kamakura bakufu was established.

The changes in the governing structure and society that occurred in the mid-11th century were countermeasures taken by kokuga side (public land side) in order to counter shoen (manor in medieval Japan), which were rapidly increasing at the time and proceeding with ichienka (realization of complete ownership). Under the above trend, the ability of samurai, who had maintained their lives through the job of warriors under koden management contract (in other words, by becoming tato/fumyo), was increasingly expected in order to cope with the armed conflict between shoen and public land. They obtained the status of administrator of the local organization of the nation, meaning gun, go, bechimyo, ho, jo, and in, as well as that of shoen which had a large territory through ichienka, and eventually they became local lords. These movements implies the arrival of shoen koryo sei (the system of public lands and private estates), which was the social structure throughout the medieval age, and based on this fact together with the advent of cloister government, we can consider that the medieval age already arrived in late 11th century. From the above standpoint, some assert that the period of Dynastic polity, which should be regarded as the transitional period from the ancient times to the medieval age, ended in mid-11th century.

On the other hand, some people assert that the ruling system adopted by the Imperial court in 13th century should be included in the Dynastic polity period on the ground that the regime which should be regarded as the Dynastic polity was seen after the establishment of the Kamakura bakufu (Shinichi SATO, 1983 etc).

The history of the research

As the notion of Dynastic polity was proposed in order to understand how the ancient Ritsuryo-based nation shifted to the medieval nation, varieties of views have been asserted by researchers depending on their standpoint.

Kazuhiko TAKAO firstly proposed the notion of Dynastic polity in his book 'Shoen and Koryo' (manor and Imperial demesne) ("Japanese history course," volume 2, 1956). In this book, Takao asserted that the Dynastic polity was the coalition government of aristocrats who collected products from tato nomin (cultivating farmers) as land rent and in view of collecting products as land rent, the Dynastic polity had an element similar to that of a feudal nation. Thereafter, Yoshimi TODA defined the Dynastic polity as the early feudal nation which oppressed serf.

Shozo SAKAMOTO made a distinguished contribution to the progress of the Dynastic polity theory with his book "The Theory of Japanese Dynastic Polity" (1972). Sakamoto established the theory of Dynastic polity from the aspect of the history of land system. Thanks to Sakamoto, the establishment of the myo-system and that of Dynastic polity were coordinately understood for the first time. Further, the division of the early Dynastic polity period, which started in early 10th century, and the late Dynastic polity period, which started in the 1140's, was also proposed by him.

Sakamoto's theory received support from many researchers and since then, the study of the 10th and 11th centuries has been conducted in the form of deepening/criticizing it with Sakamoto's theory as a starting point. The study of central government organization, military systems, shoen policy, and local tax management systems during the Dynastic polity period has marked significant progress and another theory concerning the transition from the ancient times to the medieval age was proposed in lieu of the theory of Dynastic polity. Nevertheless, the theory of Dynastic polity still remains as the key issue of study of the period.