Tea growing was a prosperous industry in Sichuan when Wang Anshi's
New Policies created a Tea Market Agency to buy up Sichuanese tea
and trade it to Tibetan tribesmen for cavalry horses. At first the
highly autonomous Agency not only acquired the needed horses but
made a profit. After the Jurchen conquest of North China, however,
market realities changed and the combined Tea and Horse Agency's
once successful policies ruined tea farmers, failed to meet quotas
for horses, and ran a deficit. Smith details the workings of
Sichuan tea farming and the tea trade, examines the geopolitical
factors that forced the Song to buy horses, and graphically
describes the difficulties of driving them more than a thousand
miles through rugged mountains with only inexperienced conscripts
as trail hands.
In this study of fiscal sociology, Smith also explains how the
Tea and Horse Agency transformed the Sichuan local elite, which was
notorious for its resistance to state power, into imperial civil
servants eager to tax their own region. He draws on modern theories
of corporate behavior to explain what made the inner workings of
the Agency an extraordinary departure for the Chinese civil
service; and he demonstrates how the Agency put into practice the
most radical New-Policies theories of state economic activism. The
Agency made entrepreneurs out of bureaucrats, but ultimately became
ruinously tyrannical as the system of state rewards and punishments
drove its personnel to actions that crippled key sectors of the
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