The Mongols gave strong support to the peasants and peasant
economy of China, believing that the success of the peasant
economy would bring in additional tax revenues and ultimately
benefit the Mongols themselves.
Relief measures including tax remissions, as well
as granaries for the storage of surplus grain were
thus provided for peasant farmers in North China, in the areas
that had been devastated during the war between the Mongols
and the Chinese. And early in their reign, in 1262, the Mongols
prohibited the nomads' animals from roaming in the farmlands
and thereby undermining the peasant economy.
The Mongols also sought to help the peasants organize themselves
and initiated a cooperative rural organization a self-help
organization comprising about 50 households under the direction
of a village leader.
These rural cooperatives had as their principle purpose the
stimulation of agricultural production and the promotion of
land reclamation. The village/cooperative leader had the task
of guiding and helping his organization through everything
from farming, planting trees, and opening up barren areas,
to improving measures for flood control and increasing silk
production. In addition, the cooperatives conducted a periodic
census and assisted in surveillance over recalcitrant Chinese
and other possible saboteurs of Mongol rule. They also served
as a kind of charity granary to assist the unfortunate during
poor harvests or droughts, providing food and other supplies
to orphans, widows, and the elderly.
The Mongols also devised a fixed system of taxation for the
peasants. Rather than having to anticipate unpredictable and
extraordinary levies, as in the past system they had much
resented, peasants under the Mongol system could know exactly
how much would be required of them.
Perhaps the one area in which the Mongols did not much take
into account the interests of the peasantry was labor obligations.
During their rule the Mongols embarked on a series of extraordinary
public works projects throughout China, including the extension
of the Grand Canal to Daidu (present-day Beijing), a vast
postal-station system, and the building of a capital city
in Daidu. All these projects required vast investments of
labor, and most of this labor was recruited from the peasantry.
This policy became one that generated much animosity from
the peasant ranks. [Also see
The Beginnings of Mongol Collapse: Public Works Failures]