Shoen (荘園)

Shoen refers to the privately owned or managed land which was over a certain scale and not under public governance (or limiting the public governance as much as possible). And it is also used as the translation of manor (English) or Grundherrschaft (German) as seen in medieval Western Europe or Central Europe.

Japanese shoen

Japanese shoens started when the private ownership of newly cultivated land was allowed to increase the farmland under the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code) during Nara period (shoki shoen (early shoen)). During the Heian period, the tax-exempt shoen estates which consisted of small scale farmlands developed first and later the donated-type of shoen (manor) became mainstream, which was donated to powerful people such as the Imperial Family, sekkan-ke (the families which produced regents), main temples, shrines, and so on. During the Kamakura period, the dominion of shoens began to be usurped frequently by shugo (provincial constable) or jito (manager and lord of manor). Also during the Muromachi period shoens continued, but while the rights and duties of central aristocrats, temples and shrines, samurais, local lords and so on began to be complicated in a multi-layered way, the autonomous control by the independently emerging village = soson (a community consisting of peasants' self-governing association) started and shoens began to disappear slowly. During the Sengoku period (period of warring states) (Japan), the Ichien chigyo (complete proprietorships) by the daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) in the Sengoku period was realized and shoens lost substance increasingly and disappeared finally with the nationwide land survey by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. There is little literature on shoens and the form of ownership of shoens in those days was peculiar. The ownership differed in each field, even in the same shoen and in some particular cases (the shoen was temporarily regarded as kokugaryo (territories governed by provincial government office) to increase the burden ratio of cost for the sengu (transfer of a deity to a new shrine building) of dominant shrines such as Ise-jingu Shrine and so on) the rights and control of shoen were duplicated and transferred (the name of the same shoen was differently described in the documents) and thus it is difficult to recognize shoens in an unequivocal way.


Before the sixth century, each gozoku (local ruling family) directly governed the land and the people. In the seventh century, the bureaucracy system, the local system, the statute system and so on were gradually streamlined and from the late seventh century to the early eighth century, the Ritsuryo system was established. By this, the gozokus' government over the land and people were denied and the unitary government over the land and people by the central government was established. The foundation lay in the system such as handen shuju sei (a system of periodic reallocations of rice land), koseki (the household registers) and so on. And based on the equal-field system under the Tang Dynasty, the land system under the Japanese ritsuryo system was established.

Early shoens

During the early Nara period, the land and people were governed by the central government based on the Ritsuryo system, but in 722, with the increase in population and financial demands, a large scale land development program was formulated to increase the national income by the government. In 723, as a part of the land cultivation promotion program, Sanze-isshin Law (a law allowing farmers who cleared new lands to own them for a period of three generations) was promulgated and the private ownership of newly cultivated land was approved though it had a time limit. However, when due, the cultivated land was publicly confiscated and the cultivation declined. Then the government promulgated Konden einen shizai Law (a law allowing farmers who cleared new lands to own them permanently) as a new promotion program in 743. As the law admitted a permanent ownership of cultivated lands, central aristocrats, large temples and shrines and local rich men (formerly the class of gozoku), who had capital, actively cultivated lands and then a large scale private ownership of land appeared. The large scale private ownership of land at that time was called shoki shoen. Shoki shoens concentrated especially on the Kinai region (the five capital provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto) and did not spread evenly across Japan.

The administration office and warehouse were located on the spot for the management of a large scale private ownership of land and it was called 'sho.'
And the administrative zone of 'sho' was called 'shoen' (it was originally a Chinese name, but brought to Japan).

The cultivated lands could be privately owned, but they were yusoden (rice field subject to taxation) and the owners had to deliver soyocho (a tax system, corvee) from their harvest. Also in those days, shoens were directly managed and thus cost a lot economically and in personnel. For this reason, shoki shoen declined until the tenth century.

As for famous shoki shoen, there are Chimori no sho estate in Echizen Province (the estate of Todai-ji Temple and Shoenezu (a pictorial map drawn in order to clarify the territories and solve disputes caused by the complications of such) still exist), Ikaruga no sho (the Ikaruga shoen estate) in Harima Province (the estate of Horyu-ji Temple) and so on.

The tax-exempt shoen estate

Among lords of shoen, some established a relation with the central government and made them approve the tax exemption of denso (rice field tax). Daijokan (Grand Council of State) and Minbusho (Ministry of Popular Affairs), which had the authority concerning denso, issued fu (tally) and the shoen approved for tax exemption by the tally was called Kanshofu sho (a shoen enjoying immunity from taxation by virtue of having official documents from both the Council of State and the Ministry of Popular Affairs).

In the tenth century, the tax system consisting of koseki system and handen shuju sei in ancient times collapsed and started to transfer to kokushi ukeoi (a system to make local government officials cope with all local taxes in their provinces) which made kokushi (provincial governors) undertake the land tax payment. By this transfer, the role of kokushi became stronger in local administration and the shoen, for which the kokushi approved the tax exemption, also appeared. It is called kokumen sho (a shoen allowed exemption from so or other tribute in the benpo or binho system). Kokumen sho was valid only during the kokushi's service, who approved the exemption.

In the line of kokushi ukeoi, kokushi imposed taxation such as kanmotsu (tribute goods paid as taxes or tithes), zatsueki (odd-job tasks) and so on to tato (cultivators, powerful farmers) since last half of the 10th century.
(Later, kanmotsu changed to nengu (land tax) and zatsueki to kuji (public duties).)
The tato served kokushi in a certain contractual relationship and was also called yoriudo (a dependent, frequently one who served a noble house or proprietor). The farmland on which the taxation was imposed was divided into the unit called myoden (rice field lots in charge of a nominal holder). Some tatos tried to ease the burden by having the kokushi approve menden (duty free agricultural field). These shoens are called the tax-exempt shoen estates. The tax-exempt shoen estates were approved for each tato (yoriudo) or each myoden and did not have territorial contiguity and was managed in a relatively small-scaled way.

The shoen manors exempted from miscellaneous labor taxes

When the right of cadastral surveys was transferred to kokushi from the central government, the shoens and private lands (lands of local lords such as gunji (district managers), goji (a local government official under the ritsuryo system) and so on) without chiden (small scale land already developed by tato) or kugen (official documents authorized by kokushi or gunji (local magistrates) for transfer of the ownership of private property) were confiscated one after another into kokugaryo (territories governed by provincial government office) in order for them to secure tax revenue (it is clear that this authority was strong because when the shoen of sekkan-ke in Wakasa Province was confiscated by kokushi and it was pointed out that FUJIWARA no Yorimichi, the chief adviser to the emperor, was wrong in kugen, the judgment of kokushi was justified (in the description on September 1 and 13, 1025 in "Shoyuki" (Diary of FUJIWARA no Sanesuke)). However, on the other hand, kokumen sho by the remission of tax by kokushi rapidly increased. This was mostly because kokushis got the gift items from aristocrats, temples, and shrines just before their service ended and in return over issued the remission of tax, though there were the unavoidable cases of the substitution of national benefits (fuko (a vassal household allotted to courtier, shrines and temples), shozei (the rice tax stored in provincial offices' warehouse)) for aristocrats, temples, and shrines. Tax exemption for kanmotsu needed the approval from Daijokan (Grand Council of State) and Minbusho and so kokumen sho was basically zatsueki menden which approved the exemption of odd-job tasks.

The shoen manors exempted from the miscellaneous labor tax accumulated zatsueki menden and were scattered and just a given area was appointed in a certain region (gun, go, sho) without shitaji (land) fixed and were exempt from taxation. Furthermore, kokugas and landlords (temples, shrines, and aristocrats) shared kanmotsu and zatsueki as a system (half tax exemption) and kokuga had the right of cadastral surveys and so the status of the landlords was unstable (naturally, they did not have funyu no ken (the right to keep the tax agents from entering the property)). Thus, the shoen manors exempted from the miscellaneous labor tax were imperfect as the shoen and had a transitional character before the territorial shoen manor of the twelfth century which got the complete right of tax exemption. However, like the yosegori (the donation of koryo (an imperial demesne)) of Shimazu no sho estate in Sekkan-ke, there was a special exemption from the miscellaneous labor tax where ryoke (a lord of the manor) had the right of cadastral surveys.

Donated-type of shoen (manor)

From around the eleventh century, the rice-field donation to the powerful men in the central government started. Especially in the Kinai region, the rice-field donation to dominant temples and shrines became active. The moves were for the purpose of tax exemption and the shoens which had not only the right of tax exemption but also funyu no ken (the right to keep kendenshi (investigator of a rice field), who were sent from the central government for the survey of rice field, from entering the property) also appeared. By the spread of these rights, the private governance of the land and people started.

Tatos developed rice fields centering on menden and went ahead with territorial land governance. These tatos are included in kaihatsu-ryoshu (local notables who actually developed the land). Kaihatsu-ryoshu donated rice fields to the central powerful men or temples or shrines and the lords of shoen who received the donation were called ryoke. And some ryokes donated to more powerful aristocrats such as Imperial Families or sekkan-ke and the highest ranking lord of shoen was called honke (the owner of the highest-graded patches of land under the stratified land ruling structure of shoen). Among honke and ryoke, the lord of shoen who effectively controlled shoen was called honjo (proprietor or guarantor of manor). Like this, the shoen which had a multilayered ownership relationship by the donation was called the donated-type of shoen (manor) and had a territorial contiguity.

Kaihatsu-ryoshus became zaichokanjin (the local officials in Heian and Kamakura periods) as yoriudo of kokushi and advanced to the local administration and were appointed to shokan (an officer governing shoen (manor)) such as geshi (a local official to manage a shoen estate), kumon (a local shoen official below the geshi in rank) and so on by honjo and tried to secure the rights on shoryo (territory). Among kaihatsu-ryoshus, many took their post as kokushi in the local regions and became indigenized lower-ranking nobles. Especially in Togoku (the eastern part of Japan), many lower-ranking nobles from the samurai class were indigenized as kaihatsu-ryoshus and they often solved land disputes by force, but they gradually became closely united by forming groups of samurai and laid down the foundation for the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun).

Shoens increased by the donations, but about 50 percent of the rice field remained as koryo (public lands) (kokugaryos). The governance of the land and people after the eleventh century consisted of the two: the shoen and koryo. That is, the public burden was eased by the expenditure of the shoen which was the domestic governing institution of the great and powerful, and now the theory by Yoshihiko AMINO is a common view that this governing form should be called shoen koryo sei (The System of Public Lands and Private Estates).

To prevent the upsurge of the donated shoens, the Manor Regulation Acts was promulgated each time the Emperor changed, but the office work for arranging shoens was done by kokushi and often became ineffective. The Emperor Gosanjo, who was enthroned in 1068, promulgated Enkyu manor regulation Acts in 1069 and set up kiroku shoenken keijo (kirokujo: land record office) in order to process the office work for arranging shoens in the central government. Unlike the previous Manor Regulation Acts, the Acts also judged the sekkan-ke lands and achieved a big result by the strict judgments. This became the landmark which led to the start of cloister government. And ironically, kaihatsu-ryoshus donated to the cloister (Retired Emperor and Cloistered Emperor) which played a central role of the office work for arranging shoens and this self-contradiction led to the breakdown of the policy for arranging shoens.

The donated-type of shoen (manor) began to spread nationwide after the late eleventh century when Enkyu Manor Regulation Acts was promulgated and culminated from the middle of twelfth century, the late Heian period, to the late of twelfth century.

Shoens during the Kamakura period

The early Kamakura bakufu, established in 1180, appointed the jito who was responsible for the office work of tax collection and the control and police power in shoen and koryo from gokenin (an immediate vassal of the shogunate in the Kamakura and Muromachi through Edo periods). And thus, the status of gokenin as the local lord was secured not by honjo which was originally the lord of shoen, but by the bakufu. Naturally the honjo side objected to this and as the result of negotiation between the central government and the bakufu, the set up of jito was limited only to Heishi mokkanryo (land rights confiscated by the Kamakura bakufu from the Taira family) and muhonninryo (land rights confiscated by the Kamakura bakufu from rebels). The bakufu however, got the right to appoint the jito in shoen and koryo of various provinces, when the rebellion of MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune happened in 1185.

As the result of Jokyu War in 1221, the imperial court centering on the Retired Emperor Gotoba was defeated by the bakufu and all the lands of the aristocrats and samurais who were on the side of the Retired Emperor were confiscated. The number of these confiscated lands was up to 3000, centering on the Kinai and Saigoku (western part of Japan (esp. Kyushu, but ranging as far east as Kinki)) regions, and the gokenins were appointed to the jitos of the confiscated lands as onsho (reward grants) (Shinpo-Jito, new estate steward for territories confiscated from the imperial court). This caused many of Togoku samurai (a group of samurai in the eastern part of Japan) to move to the Kinai and Saigoku regions and the influence of the bakufu widely spread across Japan.

The jitos operated the kanno (encouragement of agriculture) in shoen and koryo and expanded their dominance and so many disputes with the lords of shoens happened. The lords of shoens filed a suit to the bakufu on these incidents (shomusata, trial dealing with land-related issues), but surprisingly there were many cases where the side of the lords of shoens won a lawsuit and the side of the jitos lost (which means that the fairness of the bakufu's litigation system was secured). However, as the jitos tended to solve the disputes by force and many results of the lawsuits were not effective, the lords of shoens were compelled to do jitouke (the contract system that the manor's owner entrusts a jito to manage his manor and pay the customs), where the jitos did not undertake the payment for a certain amount of nengu (land tax) and instead controlled the shoens. These shoens are called jitoukesho (the shoen manor under the contract with a jito that the manor's owner entrusts him to manage the manor and pay the customs). Jitokuke laid it down that a certain amount of nengu must be paid in spite of the success or failure of the crop yields and so the burden of the jito side was not small.

As the other way of dispute settlement, there was shitaji chubun (physical division of the land). The shitaji (lands) were divided into halves and there was wayo chubun (territorial division agreed to by compromise) where the lands were divided into halves by the compromise between the both sides and in some cases the bakufu divided the lands following the claim of the lords of shoens.

Through these processes, jitos gradually strengthened their dominance over shoen and koryo. In shoen and koryo in those days the center of production activity on the spot was myoshu (owner of rice fields) of high-ranking farmers. Myoshus built their houses, governed low-ranking farmers such as genin (servants who served to their masters as slaves) or shoju (retainers) and so on and owned good rice fields called tsukuda (directly-managed rice fields by a lord or an officer of shoen) near their houses, undertaking the cultivation of myoden from local lords and jitos.
(Tsukuda was also called gosaku or shosaku.)
The taxes which myoshus bore for the lords of shoen and jito were nengu, kuji, buyaku (labor service) and so on.

At this time, the techniques of agriculture remarkably developed and with the spread of a two-crop system and iron farming equipments, the agricultural production also dramatically increased. For this reason, the class of farmers began to get economic power and the awareness of their rights against local lords and jitos heightened.

Shoens during the Muromachi period

From the demise of the Kamakura bakufu in 1333 to the Kenmu Restoration or the early Muromachi period, the maelstrom of war continued and the ownership relationship of shoen were also fluidized. For this reason, in the shoen before the Kamakura period, the dispersed rural settlements where the houses were sparsely scattered were normal, but in the Muromachi period the common people increasingly tended to consolidate as a village unit for self-defense.

The newly inaugurated Muromachi bakufu strengthened the power and authority of shugo positioned in each province in order to prevent the maelstrom of war and organize the local samurais. In 1346, the bakufu gave to shugos the power and authority of control of karita-rozeki (to reap rice illegally) and of shisetsu jungyo (process for implementing bakufu's decision on conflicts regarding property ownership). Furthermore in 1352, the bakufu admitted that only three provinces of Omi, Mino and Owari had hanzei (the system in the Muromachi period where the Muromachi bakufu allowed Shugo to collect half of the taxes from manors and demesnes as military funds). Hanzei was admitted temporarily and in a limited way, but the admitted areas gradually increased and so constantly admitted.

Like this, great power and authority were given to shugos. Shugouke, where shugos undertook the collection of nengu from lords of shoen, started to be done actively and shugos' governance of shoens was strengthened. Shugos established the territorial governance of the whole of one province. Shugos during the Muromachi period were called shugo-daimyo.

On the other hand, the common people living in shoen and koryo formed villages and aimed for their independence. These villages were called soson. In the Kinai region, the formation of soson was tremendous and the common people's tendency for solidarity and independence was strong. In the Tohoku, Kanto, and Kyushu regions, the villages were loosely formed as a wider unit of shoen and koryo and they were sometimes called goson (autonomous village). These sosons and gosons improved their self-governing capabilities and jigeuke was also done, where they undertook the collection of nengu directly from lords of shoen.

The shoens gradually collapsed with the aggrandizement of shugo-daimyo and the independence of sosons and gosons.

Shoens during the Sengoku period

Sengoku-daimyo during the Sengoku period strengthened the regional governance more than shugo-daimyo did. As Sengoku-daimyos established their own regions of influence by force, they dissolved the previous rights and often gave their regions to the retainers, temples or shrines. Meanwhile, shoens were also governed by Sengoku-daimyos and gradually decreased. Even if the disputes over the ownership of shoens happened, there did not exist the authority which could settle them, and thus those who had the power came to govern the shoens. Among them, like the Tosa Ichijo clan, some central aristocrats who were the lords of shoen went to the shoen to maintain the governance of shoen and were indigenized there to become Sengoku-daimyo.

The demise of shoen and land survey

After 1580's, the land survey was conducted nationwide by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI (Taiko-kenchi). The other Sengoku-daimyos also conducted land surveys, but the characteristics of Taiko-kenchi by Hideyoshi was to admit only one cultivator in each land. Thus, the multilayered land ownership relationships as seen in the traditional shoens were all dissolved and the shoen, which had began during the Nara period, finally ended.

In Taiko-kenchi, the jigeuke, which had been a customary practice since the Muromachi period, was succeeded and the murauke system (village-wide, collective responsibility for tax payment), where one village was responsible for the collective tax payment, was applied and the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) also succeeded the murauke system.

After that

Also after shoens disappeared, the job titles of shoya (village headman) or the names of places such as XXX sho (荘, 庄) and so on remained as their remnants. And in the modern era, the academic studies on shoens also progressed and "Shoenshiryo" (Dictionary of manors in Japan edited by Masatake SHIMIZU) was edited in 1933 and the study on Kuroda no sho of Iga Province by Tadashi ISHIMODA and so on is well-known.

Moreover, from the late twentieth century, the local areas increasingly form the identities by the historical fact that they were formerly shoens. For example, in Tashibu no sho in Bungo-Takada City, Oita Prefecture, the view of shoens of the early medieval times remains unusually even across Japan and they promote regional development through this. In this sense, the shoen is said to be reviving in modern times.

The prehistory

Since the Han Dynasty in China, there had existed lands called 'sho' or 'en' that the Empress, the imperial families and the rich owned, which were the origin of shoen. However, 'sho' or 'en' in those days were mainly villas for entertainment and they included attached gardens and furthermore the surrounding rural areas, mountains, and forests. In the Nan-Dynasty during the Rikucho period they were called bessho (villa) or betsugyo (villa), some of the Ciangnan aristocracy had hundreds of fields (of rice and other crops), but they were regarded as a part of the villa.

Shoens during the Tang and Sung dynasty

After the middle of Tang dynasty the equal-field system collapsed and the imperial court, aristocrats, warriors, local ruling families and so on increasingly tended to own the fields (of rice and other crops) as their asset and in various regions shoden (field within a manor) and shoen came to be formed. During the Five Dynasties period the class of aristocrats was impoverished and during the early Sung dynasty, while kakyo system (the Imperial Examination System) was streamlined, the strength of warriors was oppressed and so the bureaucracy was born from the local ruling families, who protected the bureaucrats to develop the shoens for them and their families. The fields (of rice and other crops) which made up the shoens included the land from the Emperor, the new rice field, the land by purchase or by pawning or donation and also land acquired by robbery with violence and so on. For this reason there were various types of shoens, for example, they made shoen throughout the regions, drew lines between the shoens with natural objects such as mountains, rivers, and so on, and regarded the dispersed lands as one shoen and so on and some of them possessed many shoens across the roads. The shoens during the Tang and Sung dynasty did not have the right of tax exemption and the right to keep the tax agents from entering the property, but the lands from the Emperor were exempt from taxation and the shoens owned by bureaucrats had the right of tax exemptions and so some farmers donated their shoens to the bureaucrats so as to escape from heavy tax burden. Furthermore, considering this, some non-bureaucrats who owned shoens also tried to escape from tax payments, which was not normally allowed, through their personal connections with the government or bureaucrats. As a result, the finance of the central government was influenced by this and during the Sung dynasty in 1022, the proposition that the manors owned by a bureaucrat be limited to 30 and shorigozenmaeshoen to 15 was issued but it failed and later the regulations of tax exemptions were promulgated to impose the restrictions on the range of tax exemptions and the donations. However, the imperial court or the authority themselves were big owners of shoens and there also existed the shoens belonging to the imperial court (the naishotakushi during the Tang dynasty and the gosho during the Sung dynasty), eidenkansho (the manor cultivated for the military purpose) or tondengunsho (the manor cultivated for the military purpose) which was made around military strategic spots in order to secure army provisions by the cultivation and settlement of ex-legionary, the manors such as botsukanden (confiscated fields) and so on.

The management of shoens during the Tang and Sung dynasty

The shoens during the Tang and Sung dynasty consisted of gardens, farmlands, and several cultivated lands. Shoin (manor) and Shotaku (manor) consisted of the owners of shoen, their families, the managers called kansho (the caretaker of the manor), kanjin (the caretaker of the manor) and the servants who did household chores. Sometimes the owners were directly involved with the management of shoens, but the managers who were hired by the owners supervised denko (tenant farmers) or slaves, collected the land tax or farm rent in the form of products or money from them and at times gained the amount of difference by investment using the market price. After the bao-jia system (an administrative system organized on basis of households) was enacted, managers were hired from the denko and made the denko organize the ko and the head of ko, who helped the collection of taxes and farm rent, was set up. The direct cultivators included denkos, slaves, and other employees. The denko was also called shokyaku, jikyaku, tsukudaboku, kyakko and among them some independent farmers who had his own land played a role of denko for a living. Dozens of or hundreds of the houses for denko were built in shoens and some lived there and others went there from outside. They received necessary farming implements and cattle for cultivation from the owners or the managers, cultivated the farmlands in shoens, paid taxes and farm rent and did labor services in the shoens. As for slaves, some were characteristically domestic slaves and others had an independent house and were characteristically similar to denkos. Slaves were in the tradition of shinuhi (privately-owned slave) and buqu (a serf) and until the Tang dynasty they had played an important role in the labor service in shoens, but in the Sung dynasty the cultivation by denko cost less for the owners and the managers and gradually the labor was charged to denko and slaves progressively became employees. In spite of this, slaves were not completely omitted as the members who cultivated the directly-managed lands.

Shoens during the Ming and Ching dynasty

Also during the Ming and Ching dynasty, the government-owned land of the previous dynasty, the confiscated fields (the confiscated shoens of the previous dynasty affiliates) and the denuded lands during war-torn eras and so on were given to the imperial court, the shoo (princes who didn't receive any proclamation to be an Imperial Prince), the relatives who did a distinguished military service, the bureaucrats and so on as shoden (field within a manor) and shoen and so on. These shoens were managed by a government official of the central government or a koi (a military officer), but sometimes the powerful men on the spots were appointed to the head of shoens and charged with the office work. The Ming dynasty put the imperial manors which were directly managed by the imperial court in different parts of the country. During the Ching dynasty, instead of the imperial manor, the Imperial Household manor or Shengjing Ministry of Revenue and Ministry of Rites are set up in Hokuchokurei or Manchuria which were the bases. The head of shoen who was descendant of the Han race and had the right of tenant farming was put in the manors and he collected the tax from the manor and paid products (in later times, money) to the imperial court.

The controversy on Chinese shoens in Japan

Concerning the understanding on Chinese shoens in Japanese academia (mainly the contrast between 'the basic principle of world history' and European shoens in medieval times), opinions have been divided roughly into two theories and disputed. One theory by Yoshiyuki SUDO, Toshikazu HORI and so on is that with the demise of the Equal-field system, the land ownership principle by peasant folks collapsed, the large landholding began, the owner and the denko were born and in the Sung dynasty the class of owners became the bureaucrats who came to manage shoens using the denkos. Denkos were put in the situation where they could not earn a living without economical support by the owner, did not have the freedom of transfer and were locked in the land, which, they think, was a kind of serf system. The other theory by Ichisada MIYAZAKI and so on is from the viewpoint which does not acknowledge the operation of the Equal-field system, the development of shoens by the large-landholders and the cultivation by poor folks were done and led to the shoen in later times from the Han dynasty. The buqus during the Tang dynasty corresponded to the serfs in Europe, but during the chaos after the late Tang dynasty buqus became independent and the large landholding widely collapsed. As a result, shoens during the Sung dynasty, in fact, just regarded the collection of small lands as shoens for convenience and the owners and the denkos established contractual relationships as free men and based on it, shoens were managed by the tenancy system. These two theories are closely related with the periodization theory in Chinese history and Sudo's standpoint is that the Tang dynasty and the Five Dynasties period were 'ancient' and the Sung dynasty 'medieval' and Miyazaki's standpoint is that the age of the Han dynasty was 'ancient' and the Three Kingdoms period (China), the Tang dynasty to the Five Dynasties period 'medieval' and the Sung dynasty 'early modern,' and in both of their 'medieval,' there existed the shoens managed by the serf system which should be compared with the manors in medieval Europe. For this reason, the positioning of the shoens in Chinese history from both of the two sides are very different and in later life of Sudo and Miyazaki, with the demise of the Cold War structure, the concept 'the basic principle of world history' itself came to be criticized and thus the dispute itself stood still in the way. Later, the viewpoint eclectically mixing both of the two theories and the viewpoint seeking the possibility of the compatibility between them linking with the regional differences, ethnic problems and so on was proposed, but it is far from establishment as a commonly accepted theory.

Shoens in Europe

Manorialism or Seigneurialism in Europe is the word which refers to the economical and social structure as seen in the villages in west European villages or some villages in central Europe in medieval times. Characteristically in shoens in Europe, the legal and economical power was concentrated on the lord. The economical life of the lord consisted of the revenue from the directly managed land of his possession and the obligatory tributes from the subject serfs. The tributes from the serfs were in the form of labor services, products (actual spots) and rarely money (cash).

The words "manorism" or "seigneurialism" respectively originate from the words "manors" or "seigneuries" (they are translated into "shoen" in Japanese) which express the traditionally dominated region by heredity in villages. The status of lords of shoen was guaranteed by undertaking the demand of the superior lords (see the details in the feudalism). The lords of shoens also held trials based on common law or regional customs. And all the lords of shoen were not secular men and some bishops or abbots owned lands with tributes as lords.

In village society, the base of all the socio-economical factors was the land ownership situation. Prior to the appearance of shoens, two land systems existed. More generally, one system was the one which had the land under complete ownership (the system where there was no one who had the rights for the land except for the one land owner), and the other system was the tribute to the God (precaria) or the use of beneficium, which were ownership forms with some conditions. In addition to these two, the monarchs of the Carolingians created the aprisio which fused the shoen system with the feudalism as a third system. The first emergence of aprisio was in the Septimania region, in southern France owned by Charlemagne (Charles the Great). In those days, Charlemagne failed to invade Saragossa in 778 and then was urged to make the refugees who were west Goths following the army in retreat settle down somewhere. This problem was solved by allotting the uncultivated and barren areas in the land of the direct rule of the emperor (fisc) to the west Goths. This is regarded as the first emergence of aprisio. The earliest aprisio among the ones confirmed was found in Fontjoncouse near Narbonne.

In certain areas of the west European old empire, the villa system was established in the late ancient period and continued into the medieval world.

Common points in European shoens

The lands which made up the shoens were divided into the following three strata.

The demesne (the land of the direct rule of the lords) were the areas directly-governed by the lords and deprivation was done for the sake of the lords' families or the roto (retainers).

The land owned by serfs (also called villein) were the lands which supported tributes to the lords, such as labor services, products, and cash money (the custom was supposed to accompany the owned lands). These land ownerships by serfs is called villain tenure. See the details in the section on the serf system.

The lands owned by free farmers were exempt from the tributes like mentioned above. However, free farmers also belonged to the jurisdiction or custom of shoens and were put in debt for the lease.

In addition to this, the source of income of the lords included, as well as revenue from the court or revenue from each change of land lease, the royalties of the lords' water wheel, bakery, grape compressor for wine making and so on or fees for hunting and pig-breeding and so on in the lords' forest. As for the expense of the lords, the management of shoens cost a lot and that was why the small-scaled shoens were not likely to depend on the ownership of serfs.

The estate owned by serfs was notionally based on the agreement between the lords and the tenants (serfs), but in fact was obligatorily succeeded by heredity (on succession, the payment to the lords were imposed). The serfs could not abandon the land without the prospect of escaping with the population condition and economical condition. Likewise, without the lords' approval or customary payment, the serfs could not sell the lands to a third party.

The serfs were not free men, but were not slaves. The serfs could demand their legal rights or file a suit if paying the fee for the court (the supplementary income for the lords) and following the regional custom. It was not rare for the serfs to sublease their estate, and from the thirteenth century the payment of money began instead of labor services on the land (the land directly controlled by the lords).

Various forms in European shoens

Like the feudal system which forms the legal and organizational framework of feudal society as well as the shoen system, the shoen structure was also not a certain universal phenomenon in the society which was characteristically feudal. With the change of economical situations, the shoen's economy dramatically developed, but until the late medieval period, some regions had continued to remain where shoens had not existed at all or only partially.

And all the shoens did not consist of the above mentioned three kinds of lands. On average, the land (the land directly controlled by the lords) occupied more than one-third of the cultivatable lands and the lands owned by serfs were wider than these. However, there existed shoens which consisted only of the land (the land directly controlled by the lords) or shoens which consisted only of the lands owned by free farmers. Likewise, the ratio of the serfs' lands and the free farmers' lands largely varied in each region and thus the dependency on the wage and labor services concerned with the agricultural work in the lands also largely varied.

In the case of large shoens (if the lords had the large potential supply, that is, the compulsory service in the land directly controlled by the lords), the ratio of the serf's lands was large, but in small shoens, the ratio of the cultivatable area in the land tended to be large. The ratio of the land which free farmers occupied was in a certain range, but in small shoens the ratio tended to be somewhat larger.

Shoens showed wide varieties in the sense of geographical situations. There did not exist many shoens which consisted of only one village but mostly of two to several villages and most of them existed compositely with the other shoens. For this reason, few farmers lived far from the land owned by the lords and the farmers who lived far from there came to pay their dues in cash instead of doing labor services on the land directly controlled by the lords.

As the land owned by farmers consisted of a patch of land, the land directly controlled by the lords was also not a monolithic land. The land, centering on the lord's residence, consisted of the neighboring lands, asset properties and furthermore the group of patches of land which existed threading through the lands owned by free farmers or serfs. And the lords not only owned the other shoens which existed in a slightly distant place but also leased the assets in the neighboring shoens in order to supply products for a wider range.

Those who owned shoens were not limited only to the secular lords who did military service (or daisenno (paying dues in cash instead of in kind; commutation)) for the higher-ranking lords. Estimated from the records remaining in the great statistical survey book Domesday Book edited in 1086 in England, the shoens which the king directly dominated occupied 17 % and the larger ratio (more than one-fourth) was owned by bishops or monasteries. The shoens owned by the clericals had much wider serf lands than that of neighboring secular lords and gradually widened.

The influence of social circumstances over shoen economy was complicated and sometimes contradictory. In highlands the freedom of farmers was preserved (especially in livestock raising, the labor intensity was weakened and so the service of serfs was not needed), but on the other hand, the most oppressive governance of shoens was also seen in several areas in Europe. Among them, in the eastern England lower zone, a wide variety of farmers' freedom was secured, which was exceptional in those days, because of a part of Scandinavian settlers' heritage.

Likewise, the expansion of money economy appeared in the form of popularization of paying dues in cash instead of labor services. However, after 1170, money supply increased and thus inflation happened and as a result, the aristocrats came to impose the same labor service as the fixed value of paying cash which was literally diminished as well as regaining the leased lands and assets.

Geographical summary

The term shoen-sei (manorialism) is most often used when explaining the medieval west Europe. The system preceding the manorialism firstly appeared in the rural economy of the late Roman Empire. When the birth rate and population was decreasing, the important factor in production was labor. Successive rulers tried to maintain the imperial economy by fixing the social structure.

The son was supposed to succeed to the profession of his father. When the term expired the councilors retired and the class of cultivators called colonus was forbidden to move out from their living territories. These cultivators became serfs. With several factors, the subservient class called colonus, which had both the traditional status of slaves and traditional status of free farmers, was born. The law promulgated by Constantinus I in 325 not only ordained the half-slave status of colonus but also guaranteed the right of lawsuit in court. As the other ethnic groups (foederati), who were allowed to live in the empire, moved in and the number of colonus increased.

In the fifth century, as the Germanic peoples succeeded to the authority of the Roman Empire, the lords of Romans were replaced by other ethnic groups. As the Mediterranean trade collapsed during the eighth century, the self-sufficient system in villages came to be rapidly established. The historian Henri Pirenne presented the argument that the conquest activities of the Islamic world caused the significant villagization of the economy in medieval Europe and the traditional feudal system which was the local power hierarchy supported by the class of serfs (however, many people have different opinions).


In ancient India there did not exist the concept of absolute property right and the small farm house, which was self-sufficient, developed the forest, made it a field, became the owner of the land and was guaranteed the right to cultivate it by paying taxes to the king. The old village community in India consisted of such land owners. In the ancient caste system clan society, free purchase and sale or transfer of lands were not allowed, but around the fifth century B.C., they were loosely allowed with the development of society. And the king's governance of the land was established and the land could be given to Brahman or Ksatriya and they secured the status of large land holders by using the subservient people called Dasa.

However in 1793, the United Kingdom, which tried to colonize India, introduced the Zamindari system in the north of India, admitted the lords and landowners as those who had a modern landownership, but forcibly deprived the traditional local people of landownership and the right to cultivate and made them tenant farmers who belonged to the lords and landowners and systematically collected tax as cash money through the lords and landowners permanently. This was the introduction of India to medieval manorialism rather than the tenancy system and traditionally one-sixth of harvests in ancient times and one-third of them after the Dehli Sultanate period were levied, but the taxes on land were paid with fixed and expensive amounts of cash money and the lords and landowners undertook tax collection work and thus the farmers were put in a situation which was similar to that of serfs. In contrast to this, the influence of the village community was strong in the south of India and though the more loose Raiyatowari system was introduced there on the premise of traditional farmers' landownership, the lands were confiscated by government officials because of non-payment of 50 to 60 percent of land tax, or the lands were seized by money brokers who consisted of the lords and landowners because of tax payments for debts and through these, the land government system spread as in the north of India. This situation continued until the independence of India after the World War II.

Korean Peninsula

Also in the Korean Peninsula, small scaled shoens were formed by the aristocrats or temples from the unified Silla period, but they became fully in progress during the late Goryeo period when the military government was established and the attacks of the Mongolian Empire continued. During this period the land and tax system based on Jeonshigwa (the Stipend Land Law) began to collapse and Soshin (the Imperial Family of the Yi Dynasty), Yangban (traditional ruling class or nobles of dynastic Korea during the Joseon Dynasty), temples and warriors began the large scaled tochikenpei (land unity) in various regions. The manors during the Goryeo period were called noso (manor), denso (manor), bessho (villa) and so on, and in addition to the cultivated areas they included mountains, fields, forests and so on and there the farmhouses, towers, schools, Buddhist temples, and so on were built and some had facilities inside for the management of cemeteries or Shylock for profit, but most of the owners usually lived in the city and the management was, in fact, conducted by the subordinates sent to the spot. The cultivators were the farmers, who did not have slaves and lands, but up to fifty percent of the farm rent and miscellaneous expenses such as shipping costs or dining and wining costs were also levied on them. Tochikenpei or tax collection sometimes involved violence and when the dispute over lands happened, both parties concerned were sometimes levied doubly by tenant farmers. The manors in Goryeo did not approve the right of tax exemption and the right to keep the tax agents from entering the property, but if the owners were powerful men, as a matter of practice, the rights were in effect by political pressure.

During the formation process of the Yi Dynasty Korea, the land system was reformed, the rank-land system (kwajonbop) and the "office land" (chikchon) system were introduced and lots of existing manors were confiscated. However, on the other hand, such reforms led to the reorganization of the new manor system, where the owners were the Imperial Family of the Yi Dynasty and meritorious retainers. However, the reforms ruled out the possibility of tochikenpei by violent deprivation such as seen during the Goryeo period by heightening the possibility of land expansion by buying and selling lands. And the living bases of Soshin and Yangban moved from cities to local manors and they started to show aggressive management. However, by the four wars of Jinshin waran (the Bunroku War in Korean), the Japanese Invasion in 1597, the First Manchu invasion of Korea and the Second Manchu invasion of Korea, the "office land" (chikchon) system collapsed and during the late seventeenth century, kyuso or tonsho which were given the privilege of tax exemption from the nation were set up and the constraints on the purchase and sale of land were increasingly loosened and the shoen system culminated. And the social status of slaves moved up and subservience also lowered and thus the manor system came to change. That is, professional managers called dosho and shaon managed the manors and the flat-rate pricing farm rent system began to spread and payment came to be mainly by gold or money.